Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Sets Feminism Back Light Years

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has a good enough plot and great effects. But this film makes it apparent that Disney just wants to turn StarWars into its next dumb Disney Princess franchise. Review.

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aNewDomain I no longer go to movies with the expectation I’ll enjoy them. I just take my family and watch them watch the movie. That’s what I did with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. My wife and son really liked it, and I watched them like it.

But I had to watch the new Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for myself.

The effects were pretty great. I thought the Princess Leia bit at the end was magnificent, even though Tarkin did look a little off.

And as a story, Rogue One held up pretty well. The editorial decisions were brave. Rogue One director Gareth Edwards let the heroes die — all of them.

My problem with the movie, and it was a big one, had nothing to do with any of that.

rogue one a star wars story feminism faii disney princess jason dias movie reviewHere’s my review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. 

Meet Jyn Erso

There’s a strong female lead in Rogue One. That’s Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), and in this film she goes on the heroes’ journey, moving from rejection of responsibility at the start of the film to embracing it at the end. She is willing to die for something and she has a director willing to let her die for it. That’s good stuff.

But don’t be fooled.

Rogue One is no step forward for feminism, which is what some reviews are claiming. They are dead wrong. For feminism in general and Star Wars in particular, Rogue One is a big step back for women.

Where is Ellen Ripley when you need her?

Consider how much of a better job Ridley Scott did with Alien.

sigourney weaver star wars rogue one disney princess a hard fail for feminismIn that original 1979 flick, Sigourney Weaver’s lead role was, actually, somewhat of an accident.

She read for the part of Ripley in the audition, which was a part written for a man. Now, there were no meaty roles for women back in the late 1970s. Weaver had no choice.

Like Peter Dinklage reading for The Station Agent, Weaver just ignored the type listings and went for it. She got the part. And so Ellen Ripley was born, a character that not only survived the movie but easily out-tough-guyed all the film’s tough guys. In Alien, Ripley bested the alien. And she did it in her underwear.

When Aliens came along as the sequel to Alien, James Cameron kept pushing that envelope.

By 1986, audiences were willing to accept women as soldiers. In Aliens, Jenette Goldstein plays Vasquez, a tough-talking, gun-toting workout fanatic and a futuristic space marine.

In that sequel, Vasquez got great action scenes and lots of great lines: “Have you ever been mistaken for a man?” “No, have you?”

Vasquez also gets the most violent of violent onscreen deaths in that film. It was a movie where nearly half the marines were played by women, where nearly everyone dies in a gory way, gender aside. 

vasquez jenetteNo wonder Aliens was such a hugely successful sequel.

A hard fail for feminism

In Rogue One, though, almost every soldier and pilot is a male. When Rogue One lifts off on its suicide mission, Jyn Urso is the only woman on-board. Fighter pilots die. In Star Wars: A New Hope, we saw the fireballs engulf the pilots and they screamed out their last breaths.

No women got this fate. The women in Rogue One die, but they die discreetly.

Also, like so many Disney productions, the number of other women in the cast is negligible.

Women play a few bit roles as fighter pilots, but they are vastly outnumbered by the guys. They are even outnumbered by the aliens.

There’s Genevieve O’Reilly as Mon Mothma expanding a bit part from “A New Hope.” But really that’s just about it.

On IMDB, I count 92 unambiguously male cast names and just 12 female roles, and two of them play the same character at different ages. That’s an on-screen ration of 7.7 to 1, and that’s just
the cast.

Is it still tokenism if a female gets the lead role?

But it isn’t just the dearth of female characters in Rogue One that drives a stake through the feminist heart, but it sure helps finish it off.

What happened, Disney?

In Rogue One, Jyn doesn’t get run through with a light saber like Obi Wan or Qui-Gon Jinn or Han Solo. She isn’t shot with a blaster like Princess Leia (may Carrie Ficher rest in peace) or Chewbacca, or blown up like C3PO.

She slips away into the like of a thermal event, gently, while holding hands with a man.

What happened between 1986 and 2016?

What happened is that we are notably less feminist.screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-12-12-25-am

Overall diversity was high in Rogue One. We do need diversity in film. Why would everyone be white or talk with an American or a British accent? Why would everybody be equally abled or similarly young or sexy or whatever? Great. And if you ignore the gender of the characters, this is a great movie.

If you spend five minutes thinking about the casting of women in this flick, or the lack thereof, or how they die, the tokenism will drive you nuts. 

Think about it. Why did the blind samurai have to be a man anyway? Donnie Yen did a great job. I loved him in this movie. But was Zhang Ziyi busy? Or Maggie Q? Or a million other actresses with the talent and presence to pull off the role? And why does a droid need a male voice? Alan Tudyk did a great job voicing K2S0.

But is he the only one who could have done it?

What about Uma Thurman or Dame Judi Dench or any of a million women with, you know, voices?

With 7.67 male characters for every female one in Rogue One, why would it be necessary they be male?

Back in 1986, we were willing to accept female space marines. We were willing to watch them be murdered by xenomorphs, more than willing to watch them die in their own hand-grenade detonations to save their friends and go down swinging.

Thirty years ago, we were better at feminism than this.

Come on, Disney. Don’t turn Star Wars into yet another lame Disney Princess franchise. Don’t sell out the Star Wars universe and all the players in it just in the name of selling more toys for more boys.

There’s meat on the bone here, enough to go around. 

For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias. 

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Image credits: Felicity Jones: via IMDB.com, All Rights Reserved;  Sigourney Weaver in Alien, via: Collider.com, All Rights Reserved; Jenette Goldstein as Vasquez in Aliens, via: 3bp.blogspots.com, All Rights Reserved; Jyn Erso action figure mockup, via HollywoodReporter.com, All Rights Reserved.

About the author

Jason Dias

Jason Dias, PsyD is an existential psychotherapist who breathes words. He’s a senior columnist at aNewDomain.

11 Comments

  • Why is this article not written by a female? Just another critic who doesn’t like movies, at least he admits it. Why spend your life looking for something wrong in a film and writing about it? You do it for the paycheck, so who’s really whoring themselves out? Go find a way to make a real contribution to the world and let somebody who enjoys movies write about them.

    • Hi, Randy. I’m the female who edited the article and gave it the “whored out” headline. To be honest, when I first read it I had the same reaction as you — I wanted to take all references out to feminism, which I would much rather hear (just speaking re personal preference) from a woman. If at all. But I thought about it and did some research, saw the movie and found I really agreed with this thoughtful author. Feel free to email me your thoughts — I’m at gina@anewdomain.net ….

    • Hey, Gabriella, I’m Gina, the eic of this site and also the editor who posted this piece and gave it the virulent headline. Interesting. I had the same first reaction, thought it was just me. Do email me at gina@ginasmith.com. I’m curious and would love to probe why I (and you, apparently) had the immediate reaction we did to a guy talking about feminism. By the way, Jason’s point wasn’t she had to act like a man, just that they treated the character as a throwback weakling. Which is kind of true. Did you see the movie? Intrigued to know your take .. gs

  • No problem with the author being a man. I just don’t buy the reasoning here. This movie is by far one of the bigger steps towards diversity in film. Just because the movie isn’t 50/50 male/female does not mean it’s a step backward for feminism, which is this article seems to imply. By that reasoning, unless there is a dead even split in demographics in the cast members then it should be regarded as overly “white.” Also the reasoning that female cast didn’t die “gloriously” is just utterly ridiculous. This article plays like a Women’s Studies course essay desperately searching to find something anti-feminist in pop culture.

    • Hmm, sounds like a good point. I’ll let Jason respond to it …

      Hey, if you ever want to write a retort column or commentary to anything you see here, I’d love it. Just email me (gina@anewdomain.net) a few grafs a text and a developed argument. We fancy ourselves as a kind of platform for voices, and the more opinionated, the better! I’ll send Jason over in the means. gs

      • You seem fair minded, so please consider this:

        Nowhere have we found a society where men aren’t dominating the masculine roles, and women the feminine. Exceptions exist, and everyone should have the freedom to follow their talents, but to simply ignore men’s tales, and insert the preferences of a blank slate philosophy?

        What stands out, about Rogue One, is that Jyn doesn’t need to overcompensate. She’s capable of handling herself in a fight, but so is everyone on her team. They need her. She needs them. And she realizes, it’s not just her story. They all have tragedies too.

        But what really impressed me, wasn’t that she could beat Stormtroopers in combat. By the time of Rogue One, the clones are all dead, and they’re just like local cops.

        What impressed me was when she could calm a mentally ill man’s paranoia. When she could give a droid a gun.

        It meant the world to him.

        When she humanized characters that would have just been the wallpaper for someone else’s hero’s journey, that’s a feminine strength. A feminine perspective. No, Rogue One isn’t perfect.

        But is it a step back for feminism?

        Only if you believe any hint of weakness, destroys a woman’s credibility. Only if you think being part of a team makes it any less her story. Only if you believe Jyn represents anyone more than herself.

        Judge her or condemn her an individual. Not as an avatar of all women, everywhere.

        She deserves that much.

  • Yes, Jyn Erso, Disney Princess. She will be going to the Suicide Pact wearing Callous Bitch. And why weren’t there more female terrorists, I mean rebels? Well feminism taught me men are naturally more violent, so I’m guessing the women are probably staging protests and Mon Mothma support rallies at their universities.

  • What a remarkable non-issue. I’m fairly certain that had the film been an equal opportunity slaughterfest, then the problem would have been its exploitation of violence against women. Neurosis, thy name is feminism.