Rogue One: Wearing Pants And Taking Names
by: Celine Dirkes
My favorite part of Rogue One is that Jyn Erso never wears a dress. Never, not once. In fact, she also never has a sexy-time scene, or the Miss Congeniality-style makeover we all recognize, where the klutz, tomboyish leading lady has her Cinderella moment. This was very important to me. Not because I have a vendetta against dresses, or because I don’t like Miss Congeniality because–all cards on the table–I really like Miss Congeniality.
It’s because of what that makeover trope means in pop culture.
Characters like Gracie Hart (pre-makeover) and Jyn Erso live in the traditionally masculine zone of beating up bad guys and saving the world. And while I give Miss Congeniality tons of props for proving that you can still be a badass and save the world while wearing a dress, at the end of the day that dress reminds the audience that Gracie is a woman, and should exist squarely in the feminine zone, where she has secretly belonged all along, underneath that masculine veneer. But Jyn Erso never wears a dress. Jyn Erso never makes that gesture that reminds the audience: Hey! There are tits and child-bearing organs under this badass verneer! Don’t forget that it’s just as (if not more!) important that this heroine be fuckable as it is that she be a developed character!
Jyn Erso exists, first and foremost, as Jyn Erso the hero, not Jyn Erso the woman. I, for one, really appreciated that. Rogue One is a baby step on the road toward developing a new, social sense of gender that doesn’t rely on oppressive, enforced gender roles. Oh boy, things just got very academic very fast didn’t they? Let me break it down like this:
Right now, only those of us who take the time and initiative to actively study gender understand that it is a performance. That means each person’s gender (academically speaking) breaks down to a set of roles, actions, social signifiers, and personality traits loosely and (usually implicitly) outlined by society as signifying either masculine or feminine identity. Like a lot of our personal identities—race, class, religion—our own gender forms in the collision between a mix of internal, personal traits (liking dolls or the color pink, for example) and the way our society categorizes those traits (in this case, traditionally feminine).
I only learned these kinds of things in college, and only after taking a personal interest in it. To most people, gender—and specifically the gender binary where masculine and feminine are seen as complementary opposites—are a fact of life, often equated to a person’s biological sex.
However, as the Trans* rights movement gains visibility in America, our culture as a whole must come to grips with the fact that it’s not our bodies that dictate gender—it’s our less tangible selves, our minds and hearts and souls, that develop it like we develop any other aspect of our personality.
Science fiction has always been a porthole to the future. By the very rules of its genre, science fiction catapults humanity to the farthest imaginable extremes and gives us a framework to understand ourselves in relation to technology as it advances. But science fiction—especially pop-culture sci-fi–also throws a magnifying glass over our societies right now, because it is created right now. To use the sci-fi term, it’s creating a quantum loop by letting us look into our own possible future.
Rogue One shows us a future (okay, okay George Lucas I know it’s actually “A long time ago…” but you know what I mean) where our female protagonist exists on her merits as a fighter, a problem solver, and a selfless hero, which is great, but actually not as original as you might think. In fact, Leia did a lot of that in the original trilogy.
But what Jyn does differently, and what I think is even better, is that she gets to keep those traits without getting shoehorned into an oppressive, superficial version of a feminine identity (slave bikini anyone?). A new, social sense of gender is already evolving, along with everything else in our culture as time pushes us towards the very real, very high-stakes future. But can it be one where gender exists without the need to unilaterally enforced it as a social signifier, but rather to allow each person’s gender to blossom as a natural outgrowth of each person’s humanity?
Rogue One says we’re already thinking about it. And the box office seems to say yes.
Celine Dirkes is a theatre-maker currently studying English, Performance, Creative Writing, and Theatre arts at Rutgers University. When not writing about science fiction, Celine does other nerdy things like play PokémonGo, draft fantasy novels that may never see the light of day, and stage Shakespeare plays for free in basements. Celine is a gold member of audible but doesn't have a Netflix account.