Internet misogynists, surprisingly, are this week complaining about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s the first in a series of planned spin-offs from the Star Wars films we’re already familiar with (the main saga comes with numerical “Episode” subtitles, like last year’s Episode VII: The Force Awakens). These online warriors are, rightly, thrilled that they’re getting an annual Star Wars offering. What worries the little trolls is that this is the second Star Wars film in a row to feature a female lead. We’ll pause while you gasp in horror. The good news for the rest of us is that this film’s Jyn Erso may be even better than last year’s Rey, and she leads the toughest, darkest Star Wars movie yet.
Our heroine, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, on form), is a young woman whose father (Mads Mikkelsen) was taken by the Empire and forced to build an enormous new weapon for them. Let’s call it a “Death Star”. Jyn grows up often alone and increasingly cynical, but all that changes when her father smuggles a message to the Rebellion. He has hidden a fatal flaw in his weapon of mass destruction, and if Jyn and her friends can secure the plans to the station, they can demolish it relatively easily.
As you may have guessed from that description, this all takes place before the very first Star Wars film, 1977’s A New Hope. Rogue One explains how Princess Leia got those plans she hid in R2 in the first place, so we know where it’s going. Still, there are major surprises along the way. The sort of surprises that mean you should probably think twice before bringing younger kids with you, or anyone who might be upset by the Empire’s more ruthless tactics.
This is Lucasfilm’s first step into a wider Star Wars universe, away from the Skywalkers and their soapy family tree (my father is the Biggest Bad in the galaxy! I accidentally snogged my brother!). And it largely rocks, with a genuinely edge-of-your-seat running battle in the last act. The film has a brilliantly insolent droid (voiced by Firefly’s Alan Tudyk) and a casually diverse, insanely talented male supporting cast that includes Mads Mikkelsen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen and Ben Mendelsohn.
These fathers and daughters are the emotional spine of the movie, the source of its warmth and the thing that keeps it from becoming just another sci-fi war story, as it might with a male lead
And at its heart it offers an emotional story about fathers and daughters. Jyn’s love for her long-lost dad drives the entire plot; in seeking to redeem him, she could save the galaxy. And that is not the only father-daughter relationship that matters. Jyn also had a surrogate dad in Forest Whitaker’s rebel hardliner, who softens only around her. Even Princess Leia’s adoptive dad Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) turns up. Asked, by Rebel bigwig Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), if Bail has someone he trusts to send for help, he smiles: “I’d trust her with my life.” You guys! He means Leia! Someone hand me a hankie.
These fathers and daughters are the emotional spine of the movie, the source of its warmth and the thing that keeps it from becoming just another sci-fi war story, as it might with a male lead. And it’s a sort of tribute: those of us who grew up geeks (hi!) often did so because our fathers introduced us to their favourite sci-fi stories. That may change for the next generation, but in the meantime this is like a thanks to the geeky dads out there who included us in their fandoms.
Of course, the hysterical internet bros still believe that this is the latest step in our feminist plot to steal all men's toys and, I dunno, turn them into lipstick cases or something. Never mind that Rey and Jyn followed six consecutive male leads. Never mind that Rogue One only barely scrapes a Bechdel pass and is almost entirely populated by men beyond Jyn. Never mind that, while the credits seem to have more female names behind the scenes than they used to, the tough soldiers sent off to war with Jyn are all male (because sexism belongs in a galaxy far, far away?). Never mind that women comprise an ever-growing section of the cinema-going population – even for Star Wars movies – and deserve to see themselves reflected onscreen. It must be a “gimmick”, right?
Well, nuts to that. Jyn’s every bit as cool as Han Solo, and as inspired as Luke Skywalker, and as capable as Princess Leia. She earns her spot in the Star Wars pantheon. And given that the next stand-alone Star Wars film, in 2018, will be a Han Solo movie, the guys will have new toys to play with very soon. We just get our own action heroine as well.