You might have noticed that the internet broke this morning. That’s because we finally got our first look at Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, after Lucasfilm put out the first teaser trailer for the film. Rogue One, which will be released this December, is set just before Star Wars: A New Hope and tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance stole the Death Star plans. At the middle of it all is a brand new character named Jyn Erso, played by Academy Award nominated actress Felicity Jones.
With the introduction of Jyn, Rogue One marks the second Star Wars film in a row to have a female lead. The first, of course, was Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which introduced us to one of my new favorite characters: Rey. Rey alone was a huge move for a franchise that has largely been based around fathers, sons, and (metaphorical) brothers. On-screen, it’s largely been the story of men. There have been great female characters like Leia Organa and Padmé Amidala, but they were never the stars. They were never the focus.
Rey changed all of that and disproved the antiquated studio idea that “boys” (the collective term for what studio executives thought the primary audience was) didn’t want to see movies where “girls” were the star. We’d seen idea disproven in franchises like The Hunger Games, where Katniss Everdeen was the central character, but Star Wars never had that female lead until The Force Awakens. After a slew of smashed records, and its place as the third biggest movie of all time when not adjusted for inflation, we now know that audiences not only accept but are in love with a young heroine at the center of Star Wars.
Unfortunately, not everyone is in love with that idea. An incredibly small but sadly vocal minority of fans don’t like the fact that two Star Wars films in a row have a female lead, with at least two more to come (with Rey likely being at the center of Episode VIII and Episode IX). For some reason this has bred a notion that men aren’t important in Star Wars anymore, or “Social Justice Warriors are ruining Star Wars.” Never mind the fact that there were six Star Wars movies in a row where there was a male lead. Never mind that Finn and Poe Dameron are also the heroes of The Force Awakens. Never mind the fact that, other than Jyn and Mon Mothma, the entire cast of Rogue One is a group of (racially diverse, which is great) men.
No, apparently, Felicity Jones being in the lead role is what will ruin Star Wars forever.
Diversity is a good thing. We need more of it. It leads to more creative stories. How many more Star Wars movies do we really need to see that are about a conflict between fathers and sons, whether literal or metaphorical? That was still in The Force Awakens with Kylo Ren and Han Solo, but it wasn’t at the core of the movie anymore. It wasn’t the story that defined the central character anymore. With Rogue One, we’ll have something brand new, unconnected to the saga of the Skywalkers, with an all new character to go along with it. That leads to new themes, new ideas, and new stories.
One of the best things to come out of The Force Awakens was young girls seeing someone they can relate to on the big screen. Young girls and women have always been able to relate to characters like Luke Skywalker, just as young men can also relate to characters like Rey and now Jyn. But there’s truly something magical about seeing someone just like you on the big screen. It’s something that men take for granted, because most movies (particularly in the action and sci-fi genres) are filled with male leads. The complaints coming from men who think “another” female is “ruining” Star Wars not only diminish how important characters like Rey (and, hopefully, Jyn) are to people, but they also prove just how important diversity is and why we need more of it. The men who are complaining need to learn how to relate to people other than white male protagonists.
Hopefully, Star Wars will help them do that. Because in the changing movie landscape, they can either adapt or be left behind.
(Full disclaimer: I am a white dude, so my perspective is obviously skewed in that I’m used to seeing people just like me on the big screen. If you think I’m missing something in my perspective here, please tweet at me! I want to hear from you.)