As with all great debates, this began in Forbidden Planet as a discussion about which Funko Pop! figure Jared should buy for his desk at work. We take Funkos very seriously here (an discussion for another day), and, before we knew it, a simple Rey/Jyn decision had spiralled out of control.
Also, contains spoilers for Rogue One, The Force Awakens and, in case you're Kimmy Schmidt, the original trilogy.
Jared: I like Jyn for a lot of reasons. She's a do-er, she's flawed, she's talented, she's a lot of fun to watch when she calmly does her thing - eating nuts and kicking butts, a la Squirrel Girl. But I also like Jyn for what she isn't: a Jedi. She's an ordinary extraordinary person, someone who became amazing through hard work, not space magic.
No matter how much I adore the Skywalker family, I can never actually be one. Jyn's infinitely more empathetic in that way. She represents a place in the space opera future for those that aren't born with mutant powers, or pre-selected by Campbellian cosmic powers.
As someone else with a low Midochlorian count, can you still empathise with Rey to the same degree?
Anne: Oh, yeah, totally. Jyn is a stone-cold badass, but she's also a soldier - if not initially literally, then figuratively. She's been fighting her entire life; she's never lived in a world that isn't about chaos and rebellion and death. Rey's a dreamer. She can take care of herself, but fighting to survive is not her be-all and end-all, as it is with Jyn (at least Jyn at the beginning of Rogue One). And where Jyn is roped into the rebellion more or less unwillingly, Rey gets involved as the result of an act of kindness, by saving BB-8 from the scavenger Teedo. Yes, Rey is also ludicrously force-sensitive, but that's basically icing on the cake of her overall awesomeness.
For me, the biggest Rey moment was when she lit up that light-sabre and went after Kylo Ren. I liked her and I had been enjoying the film very much before then, but at that moment I went from enjoying The Force Awakens to 100% all-in. That one scene genuinely changed the way I felt about the film. Did you find you had a similar moment with Jyn in Rogue One?
Jared: That is, without a doubt, an amazing scene.
(I've seen that get some flak on the interwebs for not being realistic because sad-eyed-genocidal-Kylo has, like trained his whole life with the light-sabre - presumably in front of a mirror, striking really badass poses for imaginary crowds - and Rey's just a silly girl who knows nothing. Because that's what matters.)
I love that scene too because it is the moment where Rey - argh - 'actualises'. You point out that Jyn spends a lot of time on the run, but, until then, Rey's doing a lot of running herself. This is where she spins around and says 'enough', and that's really powerful, right?
For Rogue One, and Jyn, I can't think of a very clear equivalent. Possibly the moment where she stomps out of the ineffectual Rebellion meeting and you know she's off to Get Shit Done by herself. But even then, the emotional air-punch comes from the reveal that other people are going to follow her.
Part of this may have to do with the way they develop? With Jyn, you got the impression that all her training was in the past - hell, they even allude to it. Whereas with Rey, you're there, watching her learn and grow. Do you think this is part of her appeal?
Anne: The more I think about that scene with Rey the more I realise how much of my affection for her - and the film, and the entire new Star Wars thing - comes from it. I didn't realize until that moment that I'd literally been waiting my whole life to see a female character pick up a light-sabre and fight the force-wielding villain. I mean, I absolutely love Leia, but the original Star Wars trilogy is, ultimately, Luke's story; as important as Leia and Han are, they're still secondary to Luke and his journey. (But that's a discussion for another day.)
You're right; there's not the same air-punch moment with Jyn in Rogue One - but there is a scene as powerful, I'd argue, though it's a quieter one. Both Rey and Jyn begin their respective arcs as independent but very isolated characters, and the emotional climaxes of both films feature these two characters discovering their connection to something larger. For Rey, her light-sabre moment connects her with the force and its mythology in a way that both she and we the audience can appreciate. But Jyn's big emotional climax is, I think, the 'welcome home' exchange between her and Cassian before they all fly off to Scarif. It's a moment that allows her, and the audience with her, to appreciate what being connected to something larger than oneself really means, and how inspiring it is.
And it's worth pointing out that both these big emotional climaxes situate the two characters firmly in a uniquely Star Wars world: Rey connects with the Force and Jyn with the Rebellion, two of the key components of the entire Star Wars mythology. It's really well done from both a character perspective and a world-building perspective.
I do think that a large part of Rey's appeal as a character is that the audience gets to see her discover all this amazing stuff - piloting ships in outer space, seeing new places, kicking ass, discovering her own power, literally discovering the entire universe - alongside her. I mean, the fact that she gets to do a lot of that discovery with people like Han Solo and Finn at her side is great, but The Force Awakens is truly Rey's story, about Rey discovering that she doesn't have to wait forever on Jakku to find out who she really is. Jyn's story in Rogue One is very different: she's a bit more Han Solo, trying not to get involved and definitely not to get invested, than Luke Skywalker (who wants to be involved so hard, yo.)
NB - if you accept my extremely carefully thought-through thesis that Rey is Luke and Jyn is Han, who's Leia?
So what's the core of Jyn's appeal for you? Was there a single moment where you found yourself suddenly totally invested in her, or did it happen gradually over the course of the film?
Jared: I completely buy that carefully composed and well-thought parallel. I'd also add - and prepare for a million voices to cry out at this one - Jyn and Rey are just better characters than Luke and Han. Rey has a far greater struggle before being anointed the Chosen One - growing up as she did is harder hardship than Luke whining about being bored in the suburbs. And Han, Fordian charisma and all, takes two-and-a-half movies before committing to a cause. Jyn gives us that complete arc - from outlaw to antihero to hero - in half the time, and always as more of an underdog.
Maybe the amazing thing about Leia is that she's unique? She's also, to think about it for a moment, the one hero that comes from a position of privilege. She's the revolutionary that's throwing away her life in the galactic 1% to roll up her sleeves, swim in a trash compactor, and use her finishing school training to marshall galactic scum into a revolutionary army. That doesn't make her better, necessarily, but it does make her very different from the others - and also explains why she's constantly earning the others' respect (and succeeding at it).
I was with Jyn from the beginning. The first act of Rogue One is a hot mess (why, Forrest, why?!), but the opening scene, with plucky Jyn running into the cave and hiding... that was brilliantly done, clearly from a director that knows how to do a horror movie. It also gave us that fascinating new perspective on life in the Star Wars universe: it is terrifying. The first movies set up a cosmic battle of good and evil, but, from the first shots of Rogue One, we get life on the ground. In the world of Star Wars, you need a bomb shelter. You need to train your little children on what to do when the space-fascists come for you. You need safe spaces and code words and trusted friends that fully expect to raise your children for you someday. It isn't just that little Jyn has to hide in her shelter, it is the fact that she's been raised to do so - that hiding is familiar to her.
Compare that to Luke's sheltered childhood, where the worst thing that happens to him is not getting to go play space pilot (yet).
You don't get that level of stark realism again until that gloriously bleak end sequence - showing that, for all the magic and loftiness of the Star Wars universe, it is freaking terrifying for ordinary people.
Rey or Jyn - which of them actually reflects the 'real' Star Wars experience?
Anne: Those are all great points, and the more I think about it the angrier I become that bloody Boba Goddamned Fett gets a stand-alone movie before Princess Leia. Because you're right; she is unique in the Star Wars universe and deserves better.
One of the issues with the original trilogy is that the stakes don't feel real to me, and they never have. This is down to my familiarity with the films; I know my heroes all survive and evil is defeated. And I can't reach back in my memory to a time I didn't know how Return of the Jedi ends. I literally can't remember a time I didn't have these films cycling around in my head. So one of the pleasures of Rogue One and TFA is that they're new, and all bets are now off. And there were some genuine surprises in TFA, but nothing to match the moment during Rogue One when I suddenly realised that the characters I'd spent 2 hours becoming invested in were not going to make it. Very likely all of them. (I don't know when that moment came for you, but for me it was when K2 died.)
Lots of folk have said that Rogue One puts the 'war' back in Star Wars, which is a thought I've been chewing on for a while. It's bleaker and grittier than the original films and TFA* not because more death happens on-screen, but because the film itself is forcing us to become invested in the characters who die in Rogue One. They're not just a squadron of nameless rebel pilots who die in the background while Luke blows up the Death Star and then flies off to go be a Jedi. They're real people to us, characters who've lost everything, and we know it: we see it happen on-screen. We can't help rooting for them to survive because we know what they're fighting for. And their deaths are devastating, but complicated, because we also know that the events of the original series can't happen without their sacrifice. Luke and Leia and Han and Chewy and R2-D2 and Fine-Ass Lando and Admiral Awesomesauce Ackbar all get to do what they do in the films we already know and love because of the sacrifice of the characters in Rogue One - which makes thinking back Rogue One a bittersweet experience, the kind of feeling generally reserved for reflecting on films like The Bridge over the River Kwai, not Star Wars.
But that's only one aspect of the 'war in Star Wars' line of reasoning. The other is absolutely that 'ground-up' sense that you mention: from opening on young Jyn running in fear, to the blasted streets of Jeddah, to the squad's suicide run through the tropical beaches of Scarif, this really was a war movie instead of a science fiction movie. Space ships blowing up, even planets being destroyed, is destruction on a scale that is essentially meaningless. But the Jeddah scenes resonated with uncomfortable echoes of the photographs coming out of Aleppo, and the battle at Scarif reminded me of my grandfather talking about fighting on the Pacific Front in World War II. War from the ground up, indeed.
All of which is a really long-winded way to getting around to your question. I think both the Rey and the Jyn perspectives supply different aspects of the 'real' Star Wars experience. Rey has the top-down, traditional experience, where she starts out feeling tiny and insignificant, and gradually discovers that she's part of something huge. She becomes invested, first-hand, in the actual mythology of her world; the Millennium Falcon and Han Solo are legendary for her, and then suddenly she's piloting one and shouting at the other. Jyn, meanwhile, gives us the bottom-up perspective; she's stuck in the middle of something huge even though it's the last place she wants to be, and gradually discovers that it's exactly the right place for her.
Both contribute something of value to the larger Star Wars universe, and both change the way we the audience consume the original three films - which is an incredible feat in and of itself.
*I'm not including the prequels because I only saw them once each and hated them, and generally just try to forget about them.