Recently, in anticipation of SOLO coming out this month, my brother and I got into a debate about which was the best STAR WARS film. He argues that A NEW HOPE is a classic, and the series as a whole wouldn’t exist without it. While he’s not wrong, I don’t think A NEW HOPE is the best STAR WARS film. In my opinion, that honor belongs to ROGUE ONE — and a lot of that comes down to its protagonist, Jyn Erso.

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ROGUE ONE was fresh and different in a franchise that is too often plagued by familiarity and nostalgia. It plays around with different aspects of this strange and fascinating world. We meet amazing new people, travel to stunning new worlds, and experience whole new levels of tragedy. But when it really comes down to it, ROGUE ONE is just a fantastically written story that would not have been as successful with anyone other than Jyn Erso as its hero.

ROGUE ONE

When I first heard that Disney was making a stand-alone film called ROGUE ONE, I was excited. Surely, I thought, they would be adapting the Rogue Squadron books? As a long-time fan of the Expanded Universe — especially the X-Wing novels — I was pumped to finally see them get their due.

Of course, that’s not what happened. I admit I was pretty peeved. Not only were they not making a Rogue Squadron movie, but they were making a movie about something that, in my opinion, didn’t need one. In the books, the acquisition of the Death Star plans is a blurb. It’s barely even a mention in the Han Solo books and various video games. Why retread that path? Why not make something new, instead of contradicting the previous canon?

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Courtesy of Disney’s STAR WARS.

Then I saw ROGUE ONE, and I was blown away. ROGUE ONE is a sweeping treatise on hope, rebellion, and doing the right thing no matter the cost. I instantly fell in love with the characters, especially Bodhi Rook and the Guardians of the Whills. Plus, ROGUE ONE was delightfully diverse for a franchise that has severely struggled in this regard; none of our heroes were white men, for starters.

As far as needlessly rewriting old canon, I have to admit that what ROGUE ONE presents is far more captivating. Jyn’s struggle against her father’s legacy, Cassian’s need to justify his actions for the Rebellion, and the Jedhans’ need to avenge their planet all make for a far more compelling story.

And ROGUE ONE plays flawlessly on our emotions. My original thought on the EU situation was “oh well, I guess she’s dead now.” But I can’t stop thinking about what happened. ROGUE ONE’s ending is so poignantly beautiful that I continue watching it even knowing I’m going to sob uncontrollably.

Who is Jyn Erso?

In the EU novel Rebel Dawn, there’s a young female Rebel who successfully steals the Death Star plans. Bria Tharen had previously been a paramour of Han Solo. Their story was almost tragic… except for how little we actually care about Bria. The grand hero who steals the plans is nothing more than a throwaway character in the EU.

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What we get in ROGUE ONE is lightyears better. Jyn Erso is our protagonist, and she delivers. We first meet Jyn as a child. She is the daughter of Imperial scientist Galen Erso, who designed the Death Star. Galen is captured by Imperial science officer Krennic and taken back to the Empire to continue his work. His wife Lyra dies trying to stop them from taking him — all while Jyn watches.

Jyn grows up to be angry, bitter, and tough. She is “rescued” from a prison by Rebel troops, who want her to get in touch with an old friend, Saw Gerrera. Jyn learns that her father has been a traitor to the Empire, and sent her a message on how to destroy his creation. Jyn reluctantly agrees to the Rebels’ plans.

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Courtesy of Disney’s STAR WARS.

Over the course of the movie, Jyn grows from closed-off and extremely untrusting, to a bonafide hero. She works with her reluctant partner, Cassian Andor, to plan an attack on an Imperial base on Scarif to get the plans. Jyn knows that her father has left them an opening to destroy the Death Star.

All she needs to do is get the Rebels the information they need to succeed.

Daughter of a Traitor

One of Jyn’s central conflicts in ROGUE ONE is grappling with the legacy of her parents. Lyra was easier. Jyn had to watch her mother die, sure. But Lyra died trying to save her husband from the Empire, or save the galaxy from her husband, depending on your interpretation. She advised Jyn to trust the Force and left her a kyber crystal necklace. The necklace — Lyra’s legacy — is important to Jyn throughout the film.

Galen was harder. The scenes with young Jyn show how important Galen was to her. He told her he was working to protect her. But it was hard for Jyn to accept that. When she sees her father leave with Krennic, she feels a little betrayed.

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Courtesy of Disney’s STAR WARS.

Jyn was more or less raised by Saw Gerrera, a fanatic rebel. Under his tutelage, Jyn grew into a fierce fighter. Her hatred of the Empire — sparked by the murder of her mother — grew. But she could not be Jyn Erso. If Gerrera’s rebels knew she was the daughter of Galen Erso, she would have been a target herself.

It’s actually her name that gets her discarded by Gerrera. When his rebels started to figure out who she was, he left her behind for her own safety. Tired of men leaving her to “protect” her, Jyn grows bitter. When she is later asked to confront both Gerrera and Galen, it’s tough.

In the end, though, Jyn is able to reconcile with her father’s legacy. The legacy Galen left her was not the name of a traitor, but the opportunity to strike a blow against the Empire. When she finds the data file named “Stardust” — her father’s nickname for her — she realizes that he was protecting her. More than that, though, he trusted her to finish his work.

Spark of Hope

Before Jyn can even begin to reconcile with her father’s legacy, though, she has to reconcile with herself. Who is Jyn Erso? More importantly, who does she want to be? She has no love of the Empire, after what they did to her family. But she also struggles against the Rebellion.

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Courtesy of Disney’s STAR WARS.

Saw Gerrera’s rebels were considered too violent for the Rebellion. Considering that she used to be one of them, she has some disdain for the lofty Rebellion. She sees them as too high and mighty to get their hands dirty doing what needs to be done.

It also doesn’t help that, by the time the Rebellion finds her, Jyn is closed off. Her time in prison made her wary. She has committed herself to not caring about anyone but herself since everyone else seems to have abandoned her. So when grim Cassian Andor tells her Rebellions are built on hope, she scoffs.

What sort of fight is that? Hope and prayer mean nothing to someone who has no faith. But throughout the movie, Jyn learns the value of hope. Seeing her father again gives her hope that he still loves her. Knowing he built a weakness in the Death Star gives her hope that she can finish his work and avenge her mother.

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By the end of the film, Jyn is the spark of hope. A great moment in THE LAST JEDI comes when Poe Dameron states that the Resistance is “the spark that will light the fire” to freedom. Well, in ROGUE ONE, Jyn Erso is the spark. She sparks hope throughout Rebellion ranks and leads them to their first victory. All of it rests on her.

Stardust

Jyn Erso is more than just hope, though. She is tragedy. The story of Jyn Erso is one that leads you to sweeping heights and cavernous depths of emotion. The emotional component of her story is what makes ROGUE ONE equal parts traumatizing and beautiful.

That is not to say that other characters don’t have tragic appeal. After all — spoiler alert — everyone dies in ROGUE ONE. The movie ends with pure carnage. All the characters you have become attached to, believed in and related to and hoped for, are dead.

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Courtesy of Disney’s STAR WARS.

But Jyn’s story is perhaps the most tragic of all. There’s a sense of fatalism in her path. Perhaps, simply by way of being Jyn Erso, she was always meant for tragedy. Perhaps that is the only way her story could have played out. But there is no way that Jyn Erso was going to go quietly into that dark night.

Life beat Jyn down from day one. The Empire murdered her mother in front of her. Krennic took her father away. When she found another parental figure in Saw Gerrera, he abandoned her. Her attempts to live a quiet life lead to her being imprisoned. The Rebellion doesn’t trust her and orders her father’s assassination. They refuse to follow her into battle on Scarif.

But Jyn Erso never backs down. She fights and fights until she achieves her goal. When the Rebellion doesn’t trust her, she rebels. She leads her own charge. And, in the end, she is successful. So although Jyn Erso may die a tragic death on Scarif, she is at peace because she accomplished her mission. It’s tragic, yes, but also beautiful and empowering.

Jyn Erso is Necessary

Where would we be without Jyn Erso? Well, for starters, ROGUE ONE wouldn’t be anywhere near as satisfying. Any other protagonist would have been a pale approximation of what we got in Jyn. ROGUE ONE is a story of rebellion, to be sure. But it is also the story of one particular rebel.

Without Jyn Erso, we would not have had the same story. Without the knowledge that the Empire was hunting for his daughter, Galen would have likely given up or killed himself rather than serve the Empire. It was his love for Jyn that lead him to sabotage the Death Star.

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Courtesy of Disney’s STAR WARS.

Without Jyn Erso, Saw Gerrera would have never helped the Rebellion. It was only his reluctant love of his would-be daughter that led him to trust them. Jyn also gained the attention of Chirrut Imwe (and Baze Malbus) through her kyber necklace and spine of steel.

Without Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor would never have gone against orders. Jyn captivated his attention to the point where he could not envision betraying her. He also believed in her enough to recruit other spies and saboteurs for her mission to Scarif.

Without Jyn Erso, we would never have had the climactic battle. Jyn’s speech before the council is the definition of inspiring. While she could not convince the council as a whole, her speech was enough to gain support, especially of the military. Their support was necessary to get the plans off Scarif. And that was what led to Princess Leia’s involvement, so without Jyn, we likely wouldn’t even have A NEW HOPE.

Legacy

The story of Jyn Erso is a story of legacy. Her life was a struggle to live up to her parents’ legacies. How could she compete with a mother who was willing to die to save the world? How could she undo her father’s reputation — or how could she finish his work? And how could she work with the Rebellion when Saw Gerrera raised her?

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Courtesy of Disney’s STAR WARS.

In the end, though, despite all her struggles against these legacies, Jyn’s legacy is the one that really matters. Her mother’s sacrifice did nothing to stop Krennic from taking Galen. Galen’s work would have been nothing without Jyn leading the attack on Scarif. And Saw Gerrera died alone as his planet was destroyed beneath his feet, his only lasting legacy Jyn Erso.

But Jyn’s legacy lives on. It lives on in small ways, like how the famous Rogue Squadron is named after their ill-fated mission aboard Rogue One. It lives on in big ways, like how Princess Leia was able to get the plans to the Rebellion and destroy the Death Star. Jyn’s legacy even leads to Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi, as his involvement with the plans would not have happened without her first acquiring them.

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Poe Dameron is right that the Resistance is the spark that will destroy the First Order. But way before the First Order, before even the Rebellion got itself in order, Jyn Erso was the spark. She lit a fire of rebellion and hope that eventually burned down everything the Empire tried to build. ROGUE ONE is the story of Jyn Erso, and how she became the most unlikely of heroes.

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