Welcome back to the Zurn Blog! Today we're continuing our study of the movie, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," as I'll be teaching on this movie at two conferences in March. Today we're examining the two characters in the story who get the most screen time: Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor, and as roleplayers there is a lot that we can learn from how their story arcs progress over the course of the film.
Also, spoilers below. You've been warned.
Before jumping into the analysis of each, though, I think it's fitting for the overall theme of trust in Rogue One (to reiterate, and we'll flesh this out even more so in our next post on K2S0 and Bodhi Rook, the main theme in Rogue One is trust, not hope, but more on that next time) that the first two characters of the "Magnificent Seven" in this movie that we get to meet are Jyn and Cassian. Their first scenes show the reason for their insecurity and lack of trust.
I. Jyn Erso: The Loner
Jyn got a lot of chatter before the movie was released. "Is this Rey's mom?" "Is this Jan Ors from the Dark Forces games?" "Is she going to be a strong, independent woman, or a 'princess in the tower' for the boys to rescue?" Lots of theories started circulating from a few lines in the trailer and promotional posters.
What we got in Jyn was better than I could have imagined (and "I can imagine quite a bit," to quote the great philosopher Han Solo): we got a character who was none of these things. We know from the timeline that it doesn't work out for Jyn to be Rey's mother (unless Rey looks really good for being in her mid-30s). She is also not quite Jan Ors, though she displays some similar character qualities.
And she's also not your typical 21st Century heroine. She's not a masculine woman, nor is she simply a love interest for another member of the cast. Instead she's a person: a female person who displays both the strengths and weaknesses of a woman.
Everything about Jyn makes her an exceptional lead character. She's dressed well - she's not like so many Hollywood actresses nowadays: she's dressed practically, with shoes and clothes that allow her to jump, climb, run, and fight (which is what you expect for someone on a secret mission). She is not self-confident, and yet she is fearless when the need arises. In a word, she has balance, and that's a quality that makes for a good character.
Jyn's introductory scene tells us a lot about the plot, but it also gives us insight as to why she is a loner. After seeing her parents murdered and then being raised by a renegade (who, we later learn, also abandoned her), we understand why she has trust issues: everyone she has let herself get close to has left her.
And over the course of the movie we see her slowly open up to trusting people - some of which are people that we wouldn't typically trust. Which leads us quite nicely to Cassian...
II. Cassian Andor: The Lackey
Cassian is introduced to us in a way that no film company has ever introduced a hero: by having him shoot a defenseless person right after he assists him. And on my first viewing, this agitated me. Why introduce a hero (he works for the Rebellion - clearly a hero!) with him betraying a contact who risked everything to help him?
But as the story progressed, I appreciated why they did this. It showed the desperation of the Alliance - they were willing to do anything for a victory against the Empire. It also gives us a glimpse into Cassian's character as he starts: he will do as he is told by Rebel High Command. But most importantly it gives us real tension when he is asked to assassinate Gaelan Erso, and builds the pivotal climax on Eadu when he chooses for the first time to disobey orders (and justifies why he is willing to break with protocol to join the invasion of Scarif).
We later learn that Cassian has been asked to do many things he didn't want to do in the service of the Alliance. And the realization he comes to, mostly because of Jyn, is that he needs to learn to stand for something without compromise, and that requires him to place that conviction above the Alliance. And that will require something he hasn't known: trust.
III: Character Progression: Choosing to Trust
Both Jyn and Cassian have gotten the short straw from the universe: Jyn loved her parents and her guardian, and both left her (one by force, one by choice). Cassian joined up for a cause he thought he could believe in, and then became calloused as he was asked to do things he did not approve of because of "orders."
There is a pivotal scene where the walls start crumbling, where the crew is escaping Eadu and Jyn and Cassian get into a very honest argument (which, complete aside, I think adventurers need to have with each other more often - honest disagreements, if done the right way, can form the basis of trust, even of people you disagree with). Cassian is accused of going up the ridge to assassinate Gaelan (which we know 1) he was, and 2) he had a serious struggle not to, and won that struggle), and he retaliates by saying that he didn't, and that he doesn't have the luxury that Jyn has of disobeying orders.
Now, the irony of this is not lost on us, as Jyn's "luxury" stems from her being abandoned by everyone who was an authority figure for her (ergo no orders). But Jyn's response is key: "Orders? When you know you're wrong? Then you're just like a stormtrooper."
Now anyone being compared to a buckethead is a pretty low comment, but it hits the spot with Cassian. He's been living his life in the service of the Alliance, and he realizes that she's right: he's become like what he is trying to destroy.
And that's why he's willing to sacrifice everything - including risking his life - to go to Scarif to steal the Death Star plans. It's a 90-minute lead-up to his decision, but it makes his decisions going forward believable, as from that moment on he begins to trust Jyn.
IV: The Happy Ending of Rogue One
Rogue One doesn't have a typical happy ending. I went into the movie assuming that Cassian would be the love interest for Jyn, and by the end of the movie it became readily apparent: no one escapes Scarif.
So I waited to see the fate of Cassian and Jyn. And in a touching scene, on the shore of the sea, as the last light is falling on the planet - a scene that would totally work for a romantic getaway - we have two friends holding onto each other as doom approaches.
It's not a love story we're used to Hollywood showing us, and it's not a "happy ending" that we expect. There are no wedding bells, no kiss as the sun fades, and this is a fitting end to the story. The story is about trust, and as the end approaches we find two characters who have learned to trust each other, and to trust that the Rebellion will destroy the Death Star, and will never see it in their lifetimes. They found trust, not bliss.
And that's not bad - their story was complete. It's not a travesty when a character dies if their story is complete (see Chirrut and Baze's story in our other blog post here). And adventurers are used to the idea of characters not living forever (sometimes things just go bad), but that doesn't mean that the character's story was a waste because they died, so long as their story is complete when they heave their final breath.
So as you build a character, shoot for character development that completes their story - even if it kills you. ;) I love how the story wasn't just a lovey-dovey thrown-together love story: it had a theme, and it stuck to it - clung to it - until its final moments.
Next week we'll look at two of the less-appreciated characters from the "Magnificent Seven" in Rogue One: Bodhi Rook and Gaelan Erso.