Let’s continue our walk through a gallery of recurring Star Wars character archetypes. We are doing it by looking at film characters whose forerunners appeared elsewhere, and we are searching for recurring characteristics. We started with the double portion of Kylo Ren/Rey compared to the “Legends” story of the Solo twins. This time, let’s focus on another protagonist of a recent film: Jyn Erso, and her less known forerunner, Bria Tharen.
The Woman With Death Star Plans
Bria Tharen is a character who appeared in a (now no longer canon) book trilogy written by A. C. Crispin (The Paradise Snare, The Hutt Gambit, and Rebel Dawn). Who was she? A former drug addict and a member of a cult that made her an addict in the first place. A young woman searching for a purpose in her life, who eventually joined the Rebellion and started anew. According A. C. Crispin’s tale, she was with the group that was responsible for transmitting the Death Star plans to Princess Leia. Last but not least, she also happened to be Han Solo’s girlfriend – and, if we are to trust the story, his one “serious” girlfriend (apart from Leia).
This links Bria not only to Jyn Erso, but also to Emilia Clarke’s character in the new Solo film. We can’t say anything specific about Qi’ra (as Emilia Clarke’s character is called) yet, so let us reserve all further comparisons until after the story is out. Whatever the case, Qi’ra aspires for sharing the “important woman in Han’s previous life” slot with Bria Tharen.
Rebels With A Cause
Let’s focus on Jyn Erso instead. Jyn’s similarity to Bria is chiefly limited to the Death Star incident. What’s more, in A.C. Crispin’s story, the incident largely happens off-screen: the book is about Han Solo, and Bria’s fate, after she departs from him, is secondary – however still very important.
Bria lacks many characteristics that make Jyn what she is. No problematic relationship with her father (at least not in the same sense), no aggressive rebellious streak (Bria is a bit more timid, and maybe a bit more idealistic, and is more purposefully seeking to find her purpose in life), and at the same time, not the charismatic leadership gift Jyn shows later in Rogue One. But just like Jyn, Bria is an outcast who joins the Rebellion and finds it to be the chief purpose for her life (however briefly). They are both introduced as young girls with messy lives who end up taking the responsibility for transmitting the Death Star plans in a desperate situation.
We can already see a pattern emerging here. The chief values connecting Bria and Jyn are independence and willingness to take on the responsibility for a cause. They are modeled by their originally purposeless lives and finding them in serving the Rebellion. The motive is somewhat different, even though they overlap in some ways. Where Jyn is initially swept into the center of the events outside of her own volition, Bria’s decision is formed by the need to deal with her life and overcoming her former addiction. She also wants to “do some good” and make the Galaxy that has been so unkind to her a better place. Jyn Erso, on the other hand, goes through important changes of her perspective, and not small part of it is decision to “finish what her father started”, so to say.
However, both Jyn’s and Bria’s character development is from a sheltered life (for Jyn briefly with her parents, for Bria in the drug-haze “paradise” of the cult) through radical change and being thrown into a life where they are on their own, towards finding a meaning in the higher cause. Both embrace it radically, up to the willingness to lay down their lives if need be.
Who’s A Mary Sue?
Let me still briefly stop at the value of independence, which is a chief personal characteristic of both (in the classic sense of “independent, strong woman” archetype). In Bria’s case, it even manifests in details such as that it’s her who leaves Han Solo (for the Rebellion!!!) and not the other way around, as one could expect from a free smuggler who could find a date in every port. In the reversal of the worst cliché, Han simply wakes up one morning to find a letter from Bria, telling him that she has to leave. (This is presented as a catalyst for Han’s future attitude towards the Rebellion, his suspicion towards Leia, but also as catalyst for his desire to eventually join. I won’t spoil, but this is the part the last of A. C. Crispin’s trilogy manages to work beautifully.)
I haven’t really seen Jyn Erso accused of being a “Mary Sue”. A lot more could be said about Bria Tharen. Let me state bluntly all the negative things that could be brought against her character. She is a Mary Sue in the worst sense: a pretty young girl, and after being saved from the cult that brainwashed her (by Han Solo, no less), it turns out she is very handy with a blaster and participates in some of the most epic missions for the Rebellion. She has a romance with Han Solo, and it is HIM who is head over heels into her (unlike in the case of Jyn, whose romantic relationship with Cassian Andor is implied at best).
You could bury Bria Tharen and her life story mercilessly under all this, except… except it’s a really good story. Cheesy? Maybe, if you only look at the outline. But A. C. Crispin’s writing makes Bria’s tale seem genuine and her struggle real. Compelling and well-developed characters are recognised by that however cliché their story may be, it seems believable. I daresay Bria’s may be even more than Jyn’s.
And What Of The Princess?
Let us finish by mentioning the first Star Wars female archetype, so important simply because for years and years, she has been the only one. The self-confident, blaster-wielding Princess of Alderaan has set a certain archetype that, so far, has appeared in the form of every film female protagonist. Both Jyn and Rey have a bit of Leia in them, especially in their independent streak. Bria Tharen was intentionally written as Leia’s forerunner, so she, too, has something in common with the princess – however, there are intentional bits that separate them. Jyn Erso is separated from Leia by her original “lawless” streak and disregard for the cause – you could say, cynicism. Bria Tharen was never cynical, quite the opposite – she has always been too idealistic and trusting for her own good. If we look at it from this perspective, Leia seems like a kind of “missing link”: a woman with high ideals, but quite practical mind.
I have no anticipations regarding Solo: A Star Wars Story, but purely for the sake of comparison, it will be interesting to see where does Emilia Clarke’s character fall on this scale. Is she going to take anything from Bria that we haven’t seen in Jyn or Leia, that will make her different from them? Somehow, I doubt she is going to be milder and more idealistic. She could be the woman who makes Han Solo wary… which can be quite an awful cliché to borrow, especially if she is also “bad” in other ways. Bria dumped Han, but in an unexpected manner, because she was nice and kind and she did it all of a sudden, because she needed to deal with her own life first, and didn’t want to depend on Han too much. I doubt Qi’ra is going to be like that. But in one way or another, she could be also used as “catalyst for Leia”. I only hope she won’t be turned from a character into a plot device. Because however much a “Mary Sue” Bria Tharen was, she was also presented as an individual with her own dreams and struggles. And that’s the difference between a subject and an object that story-writers should always bear in mind.