Character Archetypes in Rogue One

So. Rogue One happened. And as someone who is just old enough to demark their lives by the time before Star Wars and after Star Wars, you can probably guess what my next couple blog posts will be about. That's right. So let's get with the spoiler space. 

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So, for those who went through this with me on Episode VII, you'll remember I use the Dramatica archetypes, but for those just joining us, let me remind you, briefly, about archetype pairs again.

In the Grand Argument Theory of storytelling put forth by Dramatica, the characters are broken into archetype pairs who each take one side of an argument. How these character interactions turn out make the story's ultimate statement on that aspect of the argument. For instance, the sidekick and skeptic character argue the merits of doubt and faith (through their actions, if not directly). How these characters fare show the story's message on which is more important: faith or skepticism.

So the archetypes are as follows:

Protagonist/Antagonist: Hero/Villain. These two are pretty self-explanatory.

Reason/Emotion: These two characters argue the merits of intellect versus passion.

Sidekick/Skeptic: These two characters argue the merits of faith versus doubt. Loyalty vs self-interest.

Guardian/Contagonist: The guardian tries to keep the protagonist on the true path, while the contagonist tries to steer them down a crooked path. For instance, most people think that Darth Vader is the antagonist in the Star Wars trilogy. He isn't. He's the contagonist because his ultimate goal is to corrupt Luke, not to kill him. He doesn't oppose Luke, he opposes Obi-Wan. Fatally, in fact.

So I don't know if Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy consciously use these archetypes. Dramatica didn't invent them, they produced them from observing and distilling many, many successful stories. However, they have an interesting take on at least two of the Interactions. One I've used myself. So let's examine how this all pans out in Rogue One.

Protagonist/Antagonist: Obviously, Jyn Erso and Orson Krennic. Jyn is our plucky hero and Krennic our Nazi-like villain. There isn't anything very surprising here.

Reason/Emotion: K-2SO/Boshi Rook. Our mentally damaged droid and our mentally damaged pilot. It's most interesting in the fact that they almost never interact. The movie doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling on this argument. It actually brushes K-2's side under the rug by making him come from a place very close to emotion most of the time, and what arguments it makes about reason and emotion it tends to make with through our protagonist and contagonist, leaving these characters to carry more emotional character arcs, which I'm fine with because K-2's is arguably the most moving in the film. I can't complain they only pay lip service to reason. "I won't tell you the odds of her using it against you. But it's high."

Sidekick/Skeptic: Chirrut รŽmwe/Baze Malbus. Our character of faith and our fallen faith character. I don't think there's any question where the film places the winner in this argument. In fact, even when the skeptic is being all skeptical, he is still absolutely loyal. "I don't need luck. I have you." The most interesting thing they did here, and one of my personal favorite tricks, is making the two inseparable best friends. Essentially, making them two halves of the same person, only truly complete when they act together. These two, in many ways, were the heart of the film.

Contagonist/Guardian: Cassian Andor/Galen Erso. It's no surprise that Galen is the guardian. His first act is to sacrifice his own freedom to save his daughter, and his every act after that is to keep her, and after that the galaxy, safer. His final acts are to get the word of the Death Star to the Rebellion. The interesting part comes in Cassian, who's tasked with killing him, and can't bring himself to do so. However, if you expand the contagonist to include the Rebellion leadership as a whole (or at least elements of it) you can at least argue that the contagonist still does him in.

The really interesting take is the protagonist and the contagonist. In most stories, the contagonist is trying to turn the protagonist away from their true path, but Rogue One follows where Return of the Jedi originally led us. In this story, the protagonist is having none of that, and it's here job to bring the contagonist back to the light. And she does so. Does Jyn change? Yes, but in her core principles she never really wavers and once she decides that the Rebellion's cause is worthy of her attention, after her reconciliation with the path her father took, she begins warping everyone around her to her way with the strength of her personality.

Cassian, K2, the Rebellion itself. One by one, she brings people to her side. Only Chirrut sees her for who she really is at the beginning of the movie, and it isn't terribly surprising since she's been hiding from everyone, including herself. In fact, you could make the strong argument that until she stops hating her father and sees the Death Star in use, she doesn't really see herself either. Only in that moment does she realize that she isn't the person who can just stand around and let the Empire win.

Maybe the most interesting pairing in the movie Rogue One is Jyn vs Jyn. The Jyn we know at the beginning, the scarred, discarded little girl that Saw Gerrera pulled out of that hole all those years ago, and the hero waiting within, that awakens when she realizes that her father wasn't a monster, and heroes can sacrifice their lives not just by dying for a cause, like her mother, but by living for one.

Like her father.