Whilst sitting at home last week, surreptitiously scrolling tumblr with a cup of tea in hand, I stumbled across a set of title-cards for the new Star Wars film, Rogue One. They had been inspired by a YouTube comments section on one of the many trailers of the film, and they really tickled me. One of them proclaimed the film to be ‘feminist propaganda’, another that it was ‘liberal PC nonsense in space’. Another one read, ‘women should be in the kitchen, not in the galaxy’. I hoped that someone, somewhere would have the patience to explain to the author of the last review that kitchens are indeed within the galaxy, so the point is null and void.
It was actually these brief, yet pointed reviews that made me quite excited to see Rogue One. I am not, and have never really been, a fan of the Star Wars franchise. I sat through Episode 4, positively enjoyed Episode 5, can’t remember a single thing about Episode 5 and slept solidly through all of the prequels. However, I have seen Everything Wrong With for the prequels, so I feel like I’ve caught up with them okay. Despite not being a Star Wars fan (trekkie through and through), I absolutely loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There was a fantastic combination of action and humour, of old and new, of fan-service and a completely new look at the franchise. I laughed, I cried and I felt that this was my Star Wars. It spoke to me, it was made for me unlike the previous films. Rey was confident, clever and complicated. Finn was lost in the world, but his strength and loyalty made him a wonderful character.
The Force Awakens seemed to open itself up for a whole new generation of Star Wars fans. Instead of saying, ‘you can’t watch this unless you are a true fan’, it welcomed old and new fans with open arms. Yes, the narrative is almost a repeat of Episode 4. No, it’s not the most unique film that’s ever been made. Despite it’s flaws, The Force Awakens is self assured, cool and a whole lot of fun. It is completely accessible to never-before Star Wars fans, and I genuinely think that is why it satisfied so many viewers.
So then we come onto Rogue One. It was always going to have completely different tone, style and feel to The Force Awakens, but it’s sadly very difficult not to compare them – purely because they are the two latest installments of the franchise. They are, obviously very different films. The Force Awakens is (mostly) lighthearted. Physically, the colour scheme is bright with vibrant colours, beautiful set builds and an array of visually exciting scenes. The film depicts a new era, and though the main characters are fighting against forces of evil – there is a lot of optimism.
Rogue One plummets us into a war before we have even left the title credits. A young girl watches her mother die in front of her, her father drafted into enemy hands. The whole film follows this set-up – it’s dark, dank and depressing. The lighting is low, the characters dress in dark colours and there is a sense of desperation throughout. Rogue One depicts a war, rather than using the pre-film crawl to do so – as the other films in the franchise do. It’s darker than any other Star Wars film. It’s also kind of bland.
The main issue with Rogue One is that there is no narrative arch to speak of. We are introduced to the world, the main character (Jyn Erso, Felicity Jones), and then introduced to her mission. Go with the alliance, find the pilot who has her father’s message, decipher it and along the way, help bring down the Empire. She’s a reluctant hero (who isn’t, am I right?), but the story then plays out pretty much exactly how it is supposed to. There’s no third act plot twist, nothing appears to advance the plot and apart from Jyn’s very sudden change of heart about ‘hope’, everything goes along as expected. They all die, the end. The deaths themselves are inconsequential too, because we have barely got to know any of the characters before they get fatally killed in battle. It’s hard to care about someone when they’ve had less than 10 lines or any character development, and especially when people are dying on-screen left, right and centre.
I could go on, but what I actually want to talk about is the supposed ‘feminism’ of Rogue One. Let’s be clear, Rogue One is not a feminist film and Jyn Erso is not a feminist character.
Let’s begin with Jyn. Despite appearing to be in control of her own narrative, everything that Jyn does in Rogue One is governed by men around her. Nothing is of her own doing. She is only picked up by the alliance due to her relationship with two men; her father (Galen Erso, Mads Mikkelson) and her surrogate father, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker). Other than taking ‘daddy issues’ to a whole new level (a horrible trope in itself), it also means that Jyn has no actual reason for entering into this story. She is merely being used to get to the men in her life. Her father is a scientist, Saw Gererra is an accomplished (and psychotic) rebel, but Jyn herself is only useful to get to them. Sure, there is a scene where Cassian watches Jyn fight off several stormtroopers at once – realising suddenly that she doesn’t need his help. Not only is this a complete carbon copy of a certain scene in The Force Awakens, it isn’t followed up with any character development or context. The most development Jyn has is the very sudden change of heart about defeating the Empire.
Rogue One makes the most use of the absent father trope, and the idea of a motherless daughter. Fridging Jyn’s mother to enable her to ‘believe in the force’ (via a necklace) is at best lazy writing but at worst it’s a sexist trope which is far too regularly deployed – even just within the Star Wars universe itself. Remember Padme? Yeah…me too.
The real disappointment with Rogue One, however, is the distinct lack of female characters other than Jyn. We can count them on one hand; Jyn, her mother, Mon Mothma and the other female council member. We see two other female pilots towards the end of the film. Six if you count the CGI Princess Leia before the credits roll. To be fair, six female characters is more than you get in most action/sci-fi flicks these days, but what truly stumped me was just how male the Alliance was. All of those who volunteer to help Jyn retrieve the plans, are male. There is not one single woman among them. Just having a female lead character is simply not enough – diversity does not begin and end in one white woman. Despite this obvious lack of female characters, and complete disregard for intersectional feminism – a great many publications are calling Rogue One and Jyn feminist heroes (here, here or here).
Perhaps the MRA reviews were right, and a woman’s place simply is not in the galaxy as there seemed to be a completely disproportionate amount of men to women in every single scene. Disproportiate is perhaps the wrong word… invisible seems to be more relevant for Rogue One. It’s interesting that the screenwriters and producers, who are fond of claiming just how diverse they want to make the Star Wars franchise, think that having a female lead is enough. I suppose there is a small consolation in that the Empire is still a old, white man’s game, and who better than old white men to represent the equivalent of space nazis, eh?