There’s a moment in the first trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story when Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) looks Rebel leader Mon Mothma straight in the eyes and snarks, “This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.”
You either loved this line or you hated it. Some thought it was childish and rather corny. (To them, I ask: Have you ever watched a Star Wars movie?) Others, however, reveled in Jyn’s arrogance. Here was an abrasive troublemaker not unlike that stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder we once knew. Early promotional materials touted Jyn as a rebel without a cause. She was angry. Fierce. Scrappy. The kind of rebel who mouthed off to authority, like how she responded to General Draven’s question with a petulant, “Yes, sir.” She was, in many ways, described as a female Han Solo. Even her look was “inspired by Han.” And yet that’s not the character we got in Rogue One.
In the trailer, Jyn is seen in shackles, held at the Rebel Alliance headquarters on Yavin 4. Mon Mothma rattles off Jyn’s rap sheet: “Forgery of imperial documents, aggravated assault, possession of stolen property, aggravated assault, resisting arrest. On your own since the age of 15. Reckless, aggressive, and undisciplined.” It told us everything we needed to know about Jyn, our rootless protagonist. However, that scene was cut entirely from the film, and thus a lot of her attitude was cut along with it.
Instead, the Jyn that the film presents isn’t much of a rebel. She’s just aimless, a young woman who had everything taken away from her with only one coping mechanism: indifference. But underneath that protective shield, there’s a warm heart, a natural-born leader who becomes a beacon of hope for the Resistance. When Jyn returns to the Rebel base, she tries to convince the leaders to go after the Death Star plans. “We have hope,” she says. “Rebellions are built on hope.”
But where’s the girl who once defiantly said, “I rebel”?
It’s no secret that Rogue One went through extensive reshoots. /Film’s Peter Sciretta painstakingly combed through the scenes from the trailers and promotional teasers that were left out of the finished film, noting that early reports suggested that screenwriter Tony Gilroy “reworked the Jyn character to make her less arrogant and abrasive and more empathetic” — and more like Daisy Ridley’s Rey, the determined lead of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
By watering down Jyn’s attitude, Rogue One has created yet another “genuinely female” hero — one who, according to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, is “not necessarily just taking on male characteristics.” Translation: Jyn Erso is a genuinely female hero because she is likable. Meanwhile, scoundrels like Han Solo still get to fly around the galaxy and be cool.
When we first meet Han in A New Hope, he’s a (drug) smuggler with a bounty on his head. He’s a liar, a cheat, and a selfish rake who shoots first and asks questions later. He’s allowed to banter and be downright rude to people, especially to those in authority. He has swagger, sure, but he fucks up, again and again and again. And yet he’s arguably the most popular Star Wars character. Why? Because Han Solo has never had to be likable. He was just himself — a charismatic dick with a heart of gold.
But female characters, especially in the Star Wars universe, aren’t afforded the same luxury. As the face of Rogue One, Jyn Erso has to be the extremely capable everywoman. She has to be able to hold her own in battle. She has to be hopeful. She has to inspire millions of girls and boys. Because in the end, you have to root for her, and more importantly, you have to empathize with her. Stealing the Death Star plans and handing them off to the Rebellion isn’t enough to make Jyn the hero of her own story; she has to be likable too. It’s telling that critics are calling K-2SO, the snarky droid voiced by Alan Tudyk, the “breakout character” of Rogue One. Gizmodo Australia even says he’s the “most likable character in the entire film.” Like Han Solo before him, K-2SO is also kind of a dick, and does nothing but endlessly drag Jyn.
I’m not saying that Jyn isn’t a great character. In a film with an overwhelmingly male cast, Jyn Erso stands tall, leads a rogue group of rebels to a bittersweet victory, and single-handedly saves the day. (If only she could have saved herself from Director Krennic, but apparently even capable, genuinely female heroes need saving by their male counterparts.) It’s just a shame so much of Jyn’s fiery personality was cut from the finished product.
“I am playing a Disney princess,” Jones recently told Glamour. “A very contemporary, kick-ass Disney princess!” But we already have our princess — who’s a general now — and we have Rey, our Chosen One. What we’re looking for is our Han, a female character who’s allowed to be morally nebulous and, at times, even downright unlikable.