Sorry, But Ignoring Rose Tico Kind of Ruins 'Star Wars'
Even weeks after its premiere, some of us can't stop obsessing over Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker. Many left the movie in a state of confusion, with a laundry list of questions ranging from "How is Palpatine still alive?" to "Why was this almost $300 million big-screen adventure a less satisfying Star Wars experience than a handful of Baby Yoda GIFs?" But one creative decision that really sticks in our space-craw was how it cast aside Rose Tico, played by Kelly Marie Tran.
When Rise Of Skywalker opened, some fans immediately took issue with how little time the movie afforded to Tran (just over a minute). In the following weeks, interviews with the creative team have only made the situation more confusing. Co-writer Chris Terrio claimed that they wrote a lot of scenes featuring Rose with Leia, but then most of them had to be scrapped due to technical issues with their digital Carrie Fisher zombie. Then he recanted that statement and claimed the scenes were actually cut during the script phase. Which is ... weird
According to co-editor Maryann Brandon, she "tried very hard" to highlight Rose's importance and wanted "to make her character sing." Which is why they "cut to her a few times in the end battle" -- again, contributing to a total screen time that's roughly a third the length of a Smash Mouth song. These explanations aren't just unconvincing but flat-out contradictory. So the big question is this: Did The Rise of Skywalker minimize Tran to placate racists?
In The Last Jedi, Kelly Marie Tran became the first woman of color to play a leading role in a Star Wars movie. She was subsequently bullied off of social media by racist fans. In a 2018 op-ed for The New York Times, she wrote: Their words seemed to confirm what growing up as a woman and a person of color already taught me: that I belonged in margins and spaces, valid only as a minor character in their lives and stories. So it's more than a little galling to see her relegated to the margins of The Rise Of Skywalker.
The Star Wars franchise has often modulated itself based on racial politics, but historically, it's endeavored to be more progressive, not less. In response to criticism that the original Star Wars was "one the most racist movies ever produced," for The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas created Lando. In an early script, "half of the troops, as well as citizens of [Cloud City]" were black. For some reason, that never happened, and some critics slammed Lando for being a "token" black character and a "stereotype." Still, when Return Of The Jedi came out, Lando didn't spend the majority of the movie, say, doing his taxes off-screen. He blew up the second Death Star (and didn't cheat using sorcery like Luke).
In The Rise Of Skywalker, the filmmakers similarly seem to be modifying the story's trajectory in response to backlash, but this time they're taking cues from an objectively terrible group. These are the kind of people who changed Rose's Wookieepedia entry to a miasma of slurs and profanity. Normally we wouldn't assume that Disney would make major creative decisions just to pacify trolls ... except they did exactly that while The Rise Of Skywalker was being made.
In 2018, James Gunn was fired from the Guardians Of The Galaxy series after some shitty jokes he'd made nearly a decade earlier (and had apologized for) resurfaced. Who resurfaced them? Alt-right personality Mike Cernovich, whose resume also includes promoting Pizzagate and claiming that date rape isn't a thing. Clearly Cernovich wasn't genuinely offended by Gunn's dumb jokes. Instead he targeted Gunn for his "public anti-Trump stance."
Disney eventually reversed this move, but the fact that they buckled at the smallest sign of backlash, even one manufactured by a fascist goon, may be illuminating. Despite the fact that The Last Jedi received an "A" CinemaScore and that a good chunk of the online negativity surrounding it was generated by trolls and bots, it's possible that the studio anticipated similar blowback with The Rise Of Skywalker. Regardless of the specific intentions behind it, what remains clear is that there was an intentional effort to sideline Rose in Episode IX. The clearest example of this can be seen in the film's visual dictionary, in which Rose gets a mere half-page character entry.
For comparison, Beaumont Kin -- the dude who spends the movie hanging around the Resistance base mumbling lines that probably could have gone to Rose -- gets two full goddamn pages. The only reason for this character to exist is if some Hollywood exec is playing Iconic Trilogy Bingo with Dominic Monaghan.
For the sake of argument, let's say that this wasn't done for the benefit of shitty fans. The Rise Of Skywalker is pretty much the cinematic equivalent of a toddler snatching his PAW Patrol toy away from another child. Director J.J. Abrams upends, reverses, or completely discards much of what was introduced in The Last Jedi. It's possible that Rose was collateral damage in this metatextual tug-of-war between filmmakers. Which is crappy for a few reasons.
For one, Rose is a great character. She's basically a Star Wars fan who gets to become a Star Wars hero -- a mechanic who gets to go on an adventure with Resistance celebrity Finn. In many ways, she embodies director Rian Johnson, the wide-eyed new addition to the crew. Fittingly, Rose's speech about "saving what we love" was seemingly inspired by a quote from another Star Wars director, The Empire Strikes Back's Irvin Kershner. Her storyline is funny and tragic, and in a reversal of the First Order's child soldier recruitment, her trip to Casinoland allows her to instill hope in a group of scruffy kids.
Even if Terrio's claim is true, that's still a fundamental mishandling of that character. Her journey took her from being an angry technician to a passionate adventurer. To have her bail on Finn and Rey in favor of analyzing blueprints negates her entire arc in the previous movie. It would be like if Ghostbusters 2 found the gang randomly returning to academia for no reason. And her kissing Finn is never even mentioned in The Rise Of Skywalker. (Though on second thought, two co-workers repressing the memory of an awkward makeout might be the most realistic thing in the movie.)
Rose's erasure is also a slap in the face to fans who have actively embraced her, evidenced in the ovation Tran received at Star Wars Celebration last spring, the "Rally For Rose" at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con, and a 2019 Valentine's Day promotion featuring a bouquet of "one dozen Roses."
Regardless of the reasoning, this is a bad look for Star Wars. At best, it highlights the franchise's authorial inconsistency. At worst, it affords power to a demographic whose bigotry has no place being legitimized by pop culture. Star Wars has never been perfect, but even when it's made missteps, those in charge have historically tried to make things right, albeit in occasionally clumsy ways. A lot of fans may need mysterious, inexplicable Sith technology to resurrect their affection after this.
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