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‘Rogue One’s’ Jyn Erso is No Rey — and That’s Great

by  in Movie News Comment
‘Rogue One’s’ Jyn Erso is No Rey — and That’s Great

How about that “Rogue One” teaser trailer? I found it to be exhilarating and darker — in a good way — than pretty much every promo cut for a “Star Wars” movie; there’s no Millennium Falcon shot eliciting euphoric nostalgia, and there aren’t even any jokes. There’s a solid smartass comment (“This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel”), sure, but a sense of dread permeates the 90-second clip. Judging by this first look, “Rogue One” is a “Star Wars Story” unlike any we’ve seen before, one without lightsabers and Jedi and senate meetings and plucky heroes. It’s dirty, it’s intense and it seems to exist in the darkest tonal outskirts glimpsed in “Empire Strikes Back” and “Revenge of the Sith.” This is exactly the kind of movie I wanted to see in the “anthology” film series, and I cannot wait to see it.

Oh — and, duh, a vocal contingent of people on the internet are mad that Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso is the lead of “Rogue One.” A segment of the population was upset that the teaser for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” included a Black stormtrooper, and now there are people upset that two Star Wars films in a row star a woman. I really wish these particular Star Wars fans would go back to worrying about something that isn’t misogynist, like Han not shooting first or “Jedi Rocks.”

RELATED: Sound The Alarm: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” Teaser’s 9 Biggest Moments

The only real criticism I have about Jyn Erso is that she plays into the type that Star Wars apparently settled on when they cast 20-year-old brunette Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia forty years ago. The Star Wars movies love brunette white girls. Fisher, Natalie Portman, Daisy Ridley and now Felicity Jones; this franchise has a type and it sticks with it. So definitely, yes, “Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” both have brown-haired British women in the lead, women that — to be honest — really could be sisters.

But when it comes to Rey and Jyn Erso as characters? Going off of what we see in the “Rogue One” trailer, the two could not be any more different. Accusing them of being the same based on what’s shown in the teaser has to be justified by one rationale: they’re both women, and therefore they are identical. Nope.

Nearly every bit of information we learn about Jyn sets her apart from Rey. Yes, they’re physically similar (although Jones is almost a decade older and Ridley is noticeably taller), and they’re both orphans with fighting skills; those last two qualities are basically prerequisites for heading up a “Star Wars” movie, though. But when you get into the characters, nothing we see of Erso indicates that she’s anything like Rey — aside from being, you know, a girl.

Jyn Erso is a criminal. The teaser starts with her rap sheet being read: “forgery of Imperial documents, possession of stolen property, aggravated assault, resisting arrest.” We immediately learn that Erso is not only tough, but exists outside the law. She’s a walking moral gray area. That is not Rey. Rey, who lives a hard, lonely life on Jakku, could resort to theft in order to do basic things like eat and live. But no — she works as a scavenger, going on dangerous expeditions inside crashed Imperial crafts to sell them off for portions of food. You get the sense from “Force Awakens” that Rey literally risks her life every day for food. She’s not a criminal.

Jyn Erso is not respected. Mon Mothma calls her “reckless, aggressive and undisciplined” and then hangs her head with disappointment when Erso snaps back at her. After Erso gets the rundown on the dangerous mission the Rebels want to send her on, an officer sneers at her, asking “Is that clear?” Everyone she interacts with in the teaser regards her with contempt and suspicion. Rey? Rey gets hugged. A lot. Finn believes in her, Han offers her a job, Chewie “kinda likes her” and General Organa hugs her before even saying one word to her. Rey is welcomed into the Star Wars family while Jyn’s treated like the cousin we just don’t talk about.

Jyn Erso is also not happy. This one requires you to look at the acting going on; Jones is playing a hardened character with a stare that doubles as a middle finger when she says “Yes, sir” to that Rebel officer. There’s also the shot of her peering out the window of a transport with a dead and damaged gaze. There’s a reason Jones was nominated for an Oscar. None of that comes close to Rey. Ridley brought hope and brightness to Rey. Even her admission to BB-8 that she’s still waiting for a family that abandoned her is punctuated with a somehow hopeless-yet-plucky “They’ll come back for me, someday.” Maybe Erso will have moments of giddiness similar to the one Rey experienced when she bypassed the compressor on the Millennium Falcon? But even if so, the few shots in the teaser go darker than anything Rey does in “Force Awakens.”

And lastly, Jyn Erso is part of a different story and playing a much different role. They both may be their film’s only and/or last hopes, but the “Rogue One” teaser plays Jyn Erso as a wild card. It ends on a shot of her in a TIE fighter pilot uniform with a voiceover implying that she may rebel against the Rebels. Will that happen? Probably not — but then again, we don’t know. The advertising for “Episode VII” positioned Rey as a Luke Skywalker-esque hero, one striving to be more than she is. There was an optimistic filter over every shot of Rey in those trailers. Jyn Erso doesn’t get that, once. It’s bad (“I’ve been arrested”), worse (“All the Rebels are real jerks!”), worser (“And I’m running toward AT-ATs!”) and all-hope-is-lost (“Screw it, I’m an Imperial”). The lightness and hope of Rey and the grit and darkness of Jyn Erso actually reminds me of the classic Superman and Batman dynamic — you know, those two heroes who are both White men with black hair. Hard to tell them apart, I know.

To watch the “Rogue One” teaser and declare that Rey and Jyn Erso are the same character is to admit that you only look at a character’s gender — and maybe sweet explosions. Erso has basically the exact same arc that both Star-Lord and Deadshot have in the trailers for “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Suicide Squad.” Did anyone compare Will Smith’s prisoner-turned-last-hope-hero with Chris Pratt’s prisoner-turned-galaxy-saver? No? Because Jyn Erso is right there with them in the “I Don’t Care But I’m Saving The Day Anyway” category.

But even if Rey and Jyn actually had similarities that ran deeper than their looks, would it really be any different than the countless parade of interchangeable male heroes we’ve had since the dawn of film? Fans don’t flinch at the cast of “The Expendables,” which mostly consists of a lot of muscular old White guys. And which one of the bald and macho “Fast & Furious” guys is your favorite — the one that’s good with cars or the one that’s really good with cars? I enjoy the “Fast” movies tremendously, but it’s odd to me that people are fine with pretty much every action movie starring a variation on “Die Hard’s” John McClane, but back-to-back Star Wars movies featuring a female lead justifies a freak out.

And two films in a row with female leads is not too much, it’s actually not enough. Blockbuster, culture-defining franchises skew heavily, heavily> toward male leads. Just looking at big franchises that are ostensibly ensemble-driven, look at the ones with men in the leading roles: “Fast & Furious,” “Jurassic Park,” “Transformers,” “Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit,” “The Avengers,” “X-Men,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Star Trek,” “Mission: Impossible” — women play roles in those franchises, sometimes major ones, but they all feature men unquestionably in the lead. That’s not even mentioning all the franchises that men have devoted to them! Harry Potter, Batman, James Bond, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Superman, Iron Man, Captain America, Jason Bourne, Hulk, Indiana Jones — this is a list that just keeps growing and growing.

Of the top 50 top-grossing franchises on Box Office Mojo, women are the lead characters of three — three: “The Hunger Games,” “Twilight” and “Alien.” That’s it. Now two of the eight “Star Wars” live-action films have female leads, meaning 75% of them still star men. It’s a small, small change — and I feel it necessary to point out that Felicity Jones is the only top-billed woman in “Rogue One.” The cast we know of is all dudes (and Mon Mothma), so there’s no male erasure happening here. And to zoom out a tad, men that are bummed that a big ol’ man won’t be in charge of “Rogue One” can get their fill of guy leads this year in “Captain America: Civil War,” “X-Men: Apocalypse,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” “Warcraft,” “Independence Day: Resurgence,” “Star Trek Beyond,” “Jason Bourne,” “Suicide Squad,” “Doctor Strange,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” or “Assassin’s Creed,” to name but a few.

The Star Wars franchise is finally growing into a franchise where female representation isn’t carried on the capable shoulders of badass General Leia Organa alone. It’s more inclusive than ever and, for a film set in a far away galaxy, it looks like the world we all live in. And though Rey and Jyn Erso may look a bit alike physically, they aren’t presented similarly at all. And it’s ridiculous to act like fans haven’t dealt with similar-looking characters before and come out okay. To close, I present as evidence: G.I. Joe.

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