We liked Rogue One when it hit theaters, but had some problems with it: we felt that the film’s central character, Jyn Erso, was thinly defined, as was much of the rest of the cast. Lessons from the Screenplay agrees, and in a new video essay, highlights how the two latest Star Wars films differ in how their characters interact move the story along.
In Rogue One, we discover that Jyn’s family was torn apart when she was a child, and when we meet up with her as an adult, we learn that she’s been tossed into Imperial prison. We see everything happening to her, or have the other characters tell us what she did. In The Force Awakens, with Rey, we see a different approach: we see her going through her mundane life on Jakku, and when the opportunity presents itself, she makes decisions that ultimately change her destiny. Where Jyn was essentially carried along for the ride in her story, Rey actively chose to be part of hers.
The essay does poke some holes in Rey’s story, noting that the challenges that she overcomes are pretty thin, and notes that the final act of Rogue One is much stronger, because the characters have the opportunity to shape their story a bit more. Some of the issues here with Rogue One probably come down to film’s production issues and reshoots, which saw some big changes late in the game.
The respective positions in the timeline feeds into how the films use their characters
One of the big points that goes unmentioned is the two films’ places in the Star Wars universe: The Force Awakens, is set at the end of the Star Wars continuity, and its story isn’t boxed in by another movie or book, which gives its characters a bit more leverage to forge ahead and be active in moving the story forward.
Rogue One doesn’t have that luxury: it’s inherently limited by the fact that it sets up A New Hope. The video points out a number of ways that Jyn and the rest of the team could have actively contributed to the story. Ultimately however, its position isn’t really conducive of that because its characters and story is designed to fulfill a plot point from the original film’s opening crawl. While this doesn’t make Rogue One a terrible film, it is a script problem that Lucasfilm is hopefully considering: it’s likely to continue to run into this same issue issue, given that the Han Solo standalone film is once again bracketed by existing canon.