Welcome back to Nerds & Beyond’s first Women’s History Month series! As a reminder, throughout the month of March, we will be highlighting different women in pop culture — fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — who we think exemplify accurate and honest portrayals of women in the mainstream media and use their voices to empower and uplift.
Today we’ll be talking about one of the greatest unsung heroines of the Star Wars universe — Jyn Erso. Portrayed by Felicity Jones, Jyn was introduced to audiences in the 2016 film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Rogue One takes place shortly before the inaugural Star Wars tale A New Hope, following the story of the brave Rebels that sacrificed their lives in order to steal the plans to the Death Star.
Jyn Erso is a young woman who’s found herself on the wrong side of the law one too many times, forced to fend for herself after a childhood full of loss and abandonment. Her father, Galen, ends up entangled with the Empire and is responsible for working on a new planet-destroying superweapon. When Galen passes along a warning about the Death Star to the Rebel Alliance by way of an Imperial defector, the Rebels extract Jyn from her imprisonment and offer her freedom in exchange for her help. Teaming up with Captain Cassian Andor, the two embark on a harrowing mission, obtaining several new allies along the way. Driven by her father’s promise of a purposeful engineering flaw with the power to destroy the Death Star, Jyn’s story culminates in the Battle of Scarif, in which a band of Rebels infiltrates the Citadel Tower to transmit the priceless information, an exchange that costs them all their lives. These plans would go on to be a central plot point of A New Hope, being passed from Princess Leia, to R2-D2, to Obi-Wan Kenobi, and finally making their way to the leaders of the Rebellion, which resulted in Luke Skywalker’s fateful shot that destroyed the Death Star.
For Luke Skywalker, this achievement was a historic moment that would then lead to the rest of his heroic adventures across the franchise, making him a pivotal figure of the Star Wars franchise. But the complete and utter destruction of the formidable Death Star would not have been possible without the Rogue One squad and its central hero Jyn Erso. It was both inspiring and moving to learn that the chain of events that set off everything that took place in the Alliance’s battle against the Empire in the original Star Wars trilogy had a strong and determined female character at the root of it all. Jyn’s fellow allies like Cassian, K-2SO, Chirrut, Baze, and Bodhi were all incredibly important along the way, but given that the entirety of the plot was tied to her in one way or another — from her father’s work on the Death Star, to her connections with Saw Gerrera, to her rallying of the Alliance to fight back after receiving Galen’s message, to the fact that the plans themselves were hidden with a codename only she would recognize (Stardust) — Jyn Erso herself is the most indispensable pawn on the board here. She’s the heart and soul of this story.
Jones’ Jyn Erso shares the screen in Rogue One with a heavily male-dominated cast that includes few other female characters, like Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma and Valene Kane as Lyra Erso. Her male co-stars all portray characters that are brilliantly memorable in their own right — the excellent lineup of new (and old) characters is part of what makes Rogue One such an incredible Star Wars film! — but it’s far too easy for a female lead to fall to the wayside in this type of situation. However, Jyn truly holds her ground as the focal point of the film thanks to her excellent characterization (and of course Jones’ wonderful performance).
Jyn isn’t the first strong female character in Star Wars, but what makes her stand out is how ordinary she is. She has no great lineage that she descends from, nor is she Force sensitive. When we meet her in Rogue One, she’s rather rough around the edges, having spent much of her recent years as a petty criminal. After being abandoned time and time again, Jyn had to learn to rely on herself, fighting to endure the challenges of simply trying to get by in such an unforgiving world. Although her live-action time in the Star Wars universe was regrettably short-lived, the reality of her difficult adolescent years was further fleshed out in Beth Revis’ novel Rebel Rising and other various book, comic, and animated appearances. The odds were consistently stacked against Jyn time and time again, and yet she survived.
In a recent interview with StarWars.com, Jones reflected back on her time as Jyn Erso as the film reached its five-year anniversary. In regards to her performance, she explained, “I approached Jyn very physically, I wanted it to feel that she’s been learning to fight her whole life and she navigates the universe in such a way that she’s ready and prepared to attack whenever she might need to.” And in looking back on Jyn as a character, Jones said, “I loved all those aspects of Jyn — her leadership qualities and her instinct for survival and also a sort of inner peace that made her feel ‘what happens, happens.'”
Jyn Erso is not the Chosen One; she is a self-sufficient, fierce, and resilient woman that manages to overcome her circumstances and ultimately helps to save the galaxy from the devastating clutches of the Empire. Laser swords and space wizards may not exist in the real world, but Jyn Erso is a reminder that we’re all capable of rising up to be extraordinary heroes, no matter how ordinary we may think we are.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is now streaming on Disney+.