A new video essay analyzes the screenplays of the two latest Star Wars films, The Force Awakens and Rogue One, to examine the differences between their respective protagonists – Rey and Jyn Erso. Both projects have helped usher in the Disney era of the galaxy far, far away, earning a positive reception from critics and fans, as well as earning massive amounts of money at the box office. Despite their merits, each isn’t without their detractors. Some felt The Force Awakens borrowed too heavily from A New Hope to soft reboot the franchise, and in the case of Rogue One, the characterizations were somewhat undercooked in favor of jaw-dropping visuals. A recurring argument has been Episode VII offers stronger protagonists to latch on to, while Rogue One takes more daring storytelling risks.
It’s a debate that likely won’t go away anytime soon, and there’s no denying it makes for an interesting discussion. Even the most die-hard Star Wars fans are capable of providing some constructive criticism for Lucasfilm as they develop a full slate of new films. One viewer in particular has taken it upon himself to explore the strengths and weaknesses of Rey and Jyn in an effort to figure out why audiences connect with one more than the other. You can watch the video below.
Originally posted on the YouTube channel Lessons from the Screenplay, the essay tackles topics such as the old adage of “showing, not telling” (i.e. visual storytelling) and how an active protagonist differs from a passive protagonist. The narrator theorizes that Rey is a stronger main character primarily because audiences get to actually see her life in isolation on Jakku. He highlights her six minute introduction that establishes her sense of loneliness and various hardships at home. In contrast, Jyn’s backstory is told to the viewers through dialogue in exposition scenes, such as the rundown of her criminal record. It’s harder to form a connection with Jyn because moviegoers don’t get a chance to truly empathize with her in Rogue One‘s first act. After depicting the collapse of her family in the cold open, the film immediately cuts to Jyn as an adult, and we’re informed about her backstory through what people say.
In addition to Rey’s narrative being more compelling from a visual perspective, another key difference between her and Jyn is that Rey is an active protagonist – meaning she causes things to happen. Through her actions, viewers learn various traits about Rey’s personality, setting her up as a kind-hearted, adventurous scavenger eager to help others. On the other hand, Jyn has things happen to her, which prevents light from being shed on her character. For the movie’s first half, Erso is quite passive, and it isn’t until the climactic third act that Rogue One picks up steam and generates some forward momentum. But in the unbalanced early going (which is criticized for being overly complicated), viewers do not get to learn much about Jyn through her actions, making everything less engaging.
While the essay seems to favor Rey’s characterization over Jyn’s, it still points out flaws in both films and provides a fair commentary. For example, Rey’s arc is said to be relatively weak, since the lie she believes never holds her back. And, while the video offers a critique of some of Rogue One‘s larger issues, the narrator doesn’t bash the spinoff or claim it’s a bad movie. He ends by saying the two have given the fans much hope for the future of Star Wars on film, thanks to the vision of Kathleen Kennedy and the story group. This is simply a fascinating analysis of the two works – which, it should be noted, had different goals and objectives. As the first installment of a new trilogy, The Force Awakens benefitted from setting up its characters so they can be developed later in the sequels. Rogue One was going to kill off the main cast and was more about the Rebellion and connecting the dots between the prequels and A New Hope. They’re both strong additions to the canon.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story are both available on Blu-ray.