"Star Wars" gets a bad rap for being a boy's club, and sometimes rightfully so, but the truth of the matter is that women have always been an integral part of the George Lucas-created world and the franchise's fan base. On screen, the names Leia, Amidala, and Rey are as instantly recognizable and known as any others – and none were ever just playing "the girl."
With this now 39-year-old tradition in mind, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" introduces a new heroine to the ranks – Jyn Erso, an abandoned child of war who must decide what she believes in as the world devolves into chaos. Director Gareth Edwards talked about developing the character and settling on the idea that "Jyn isn't just a woman – she's a person."
"I wanted to make a character that I would want to be. Not to fancy her or want to marry her, but want to be her. It was just a cool person," Edwards continued.
He and the team at Lucasfilm settled on English actress Felicity Jones, 33, to play the part. Already an Oscar nominee for her portrayal of Jane Hawking in "The Theory of Everything," Jones had been making a name for herself in smaller projects, like the indie romance "Like Crazy." But recently, she's been dipping her toes in larger-scale films, like "The Amazing Spider-Man" sequel.
Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy was drawn to Jones's ability to bring a sense of gravitas and importance to everything, while also exhibiting a "real whimsy."
"For years I've been constantly looking for these kinds of parts and these kinds of films and the opportunity to make it on such a large scale was pretty hard to turn down," said Jones, who also appears in the upcoming fantasy tale "A Monster Calls" and opposite Tom Hanks in "Inferno."
Jyn, unlike the other classic "Star Wars" heroines, gets the full weight of an origin story in "Rogue One," which is now in theaters. Her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), is a scientist who once worked for the Empire, left that life behind, and, at the beginning of the film, gets drawn back in to help finish the Death Star – leaving his young daughter behind to fend for herself.
As an adult, she's forced to confront her past in various ways, especially when she becomes entangled with the rebel alliance.
"I like her determination," Jones said. "She doesn't let go of something until she succeeds. She is very, very focused and tenacious in the face of when she's set a task."
Jones trained intensively to portray this hardened fighter working closely with stunt teams who she said spent hours humoring her need to practice constantly. Fittingly, her costume is not a fussy dress or a metal bikini, but rather one of a warrior.
"Jyn is someone who's had to survive on her own and at any moment she's going to have to be running away from someone, she's going to have to defend herself physically," Jones said. "She has really built a little shell around herself, so her costume had to reflect the needs of her life and unfortunately she's not going to that many parties."
And while Jyn is not a princess or a queen or, well, whatever Rey turns out to be, Jones does think she shares similarities with those who came before her.
"They are quite forthright but they are instinctive and they kind of – they don't mess around," Jones said. "She's very true to the other 'Star Wars' heroines in that way."