I’m almost hesitant to complain about Rogue One because the most recent Star Wars films both have female leads. But does that fact necessarily mean strong female characters? Jyn, our lead in Rogue One, is a reluctant heroine. She’s pulled into the Rebel Alliance unwillingly; her journey is Rebel-without-a-cause to Rebel-with-a-cause. She’s not defined by her gender, nor treated differently because of her gender; and she’s definitely not dressed per her gender. All wins. So with what can I possibly have a problem?
Jyn is surrounded by men. Now, first I want to note the diversity of Rogue One’s cast is admirable. Very few (if any) of those characters are defined by their ethnicity. This is important to me – diversity is the make-up of our modern world – and it seems to be done almost naturally, without much thought, within the film. However, Jyn barely interacts with other women and spends most of the movie talking to guys. It may seem like a snippy thing to mention, but imagine it the other way around. A male lead (reluctant hero), surrounded by women, rarely interacting with other men. It’s so easy to default minor characters to male (especially villains), and it goes unnoticed by most viewers.
Jyn is isolated with no support system. She has an extreme emotional bond with her missing (& brilliant) father, but her mother barely registers as a blip. Her mentor is male. Her comrades, men. Thankfully we were spared the typical romance (for which I am eternally grateful) that’s usually shoved down our throats; but I do wonder how Jyn’s solitary lifestyle and character impacts the young girls watching these new Star Wars movies.
My issue with Jyn presented as the sole female character with a strong story arc is this: it enhances the idea that we, as women, live in a world of men. And that’s simply not true. Sure, we currently live in a patriarchal society – many fields are dominated by men – and women work twice as hard to get half as far in some areas. But why is that? Partly, I believe, it’s because we keep reinforcing the idea over and over again – even when trying to sell a strong female film – that men are the majority.
If you were to switch Jyn to a man I admit that some of my complaints would fall to the wayside. However, then (in keeping with my experiment) you would also have to swap the gender of every single character around her, and suddenly you have a film filled with female characters. That abundance would give more depth to the female perspective.
So, as much as I appreciate how Disney is attempting to bring Star Wars into the modern era with strong female leads, and casts with diverse backgrounds, let not pretend it’s perfect. Let’s ask for more. Strive for better. Until we get to a point where movies with flawed characters are equal parts male and female.
Bechdel Test: Passes
To see or not to see: Honestly, Rogue One is resting on the laurels of it’s forefathers. Without the previous Star Wars films, it wouldn’t hold up.