The writers of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, could have done right by Rose Tico but chose to take a much darker path.
“That’s how we’re gonna win, not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”
I remember hearing these words from Kelly Marie Tran’s character, Rose Tico, as I watched the final scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and for a moment whatever other emotions I might have experienced concerning the direction of the film drained away. This was that moment the sequel trilogy needed.
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This was the new: “Try? Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”
No one could doubt the Ticos were true believers. Paige, Rose’s sister, had given her life early in the film to ensure Resistance forces could take down a First Order Dreadnought. Not long after, Rose put Finn in his place when he attempted to steal an escape pod so he might flee the conflict altogether.
Later, Rose would offer the one token she kept as a reminder of her fallen sister, a Haysian smelt pendant, in order to allow Benicio Del Toro’s character, DJ, to disable the First Order’s light speed tracking device. And finally, during the battle of Crait, when Finn attempted a self-sacrifice that would ultimately be as doomed and as empty as Paige’s, Rose nearly gave her own life to save a man she’d come to love.
True believers indeed.
After saving Finn from certain death and on the verge of her own expiration, Tico explained why she’d done what she’d done. “That’s how we’re gonna win, not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”
Thematically, that statement encapsulates all the good that has led so many of us to love Star Wars since A New Hope hit the big screen in 1977. Sure, the special effects were cool. Darth Vader was one of the best villains in cinema history. Luke was our inspiration, Han our favorite scoundrel, and Leia was a woman capable and tough and a natural born leader. They were great. The droids were great. But that is not why we hold Star Wars so dear.
No. Star Wars has a special place in so many fans’ hearts because those on the side of good understood the thing that separated them from the darkness.
Not for a cause but for each other. It’s the reason Han showed up while Vader bore down on Luke during his final pass at the first Death Star. It’s why Luke left Dagobah to confront Vader in the Cloud City, why every character showed up at Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi, and why Luke ultimately cast aside his light saber to face death rather than striking down his own father. They cherished what they loved more than they disdained the evil they hated.
So, yes, I found myself with that familiar feeling after Rose uttered those words, the feeling that my favorite franchise had once again tapped into the magic that gives people hope, that allows the most mortal of us to overcome evil in a quest to see good forever triumph.
And then it happened. If you have social media and use the Internet, you know what I’m talking about. Long before Episode IX would bury Rose Tico as any part of the ongoing story, a grotesquery of would-be Star Wars “fans” rose up and deplored the character and the actress on social media.
It was as if the Emperor had never died. As if everything Luke and Leia and Han and Chewy and R2 and 3PO and BB-8 and Finn and Poe and Rey and Lando and Akbar and the rest had stood for had been quashed by the Imperial fleet.
As a thinking person, I found it hard to understand how or why the bullies and trolls that led Kelly Marie Tran to discontinue her use of Instagram would single out this specific character. It made no sense.
At first I ignored the questions that bounced around in my brain as real life demanded my attention, but then my 13-year-old son asked me why Rose had disappeared. I knew not what to tell him. How does one answer that question? “Well, you see, son, a bunch of misogynistic and racist internet bullies complained and the writers and directors of Rise of Skywalker caved in.”
First of all, I didn’t know enough about the situation to say as much with certainty. Secondly, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of telling my kid that the worst parts of the human condition had won out. It’s not a lesson a parent is excited to share.
By this point I’d read the spin from Chris Terrio who collaborated on the script of Rise of Skywalker with J.J. Abrams. He’d told Awards Daily Rose had been paired with Leia in the final installment of the Skywalker saga and Carrie Fisher’s tragic and untimely passing had led to complications.
They deemed it impossible to handle the CGI needed to make the scenes work. It didn’t seem to hold water, especially since Rose and Finn were linked as characters as opposed to Rose and Leia, but at least it was an excuse. Yet, a couple of days later, Terrio was back correcting himself. He told Vulture he adored Kelly and the character but that it had nothing to do with CGI concerns because nobody wants to ruffle feathers at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) studios… Something like that.
Yes, the spin engines were churning, but I wanted to know why people had been so upset with Rose in the first place. I watched videos on Youtube, which left me feeling empty and ugly inside. Complaints that should have been directed at Rian Johnson for creating a plot line that made little sense somehow landed on Tran. They were laced with racism and misogyny that I will not repeat . I then checked blogs and online forums and found more of the same. The character was being paralleled with Jar Jar Binks.
One such discussion asked, “Is Rose Tico the Worst Star Wars Character of All Time?” There were several contributors who insisted that she was.
It made no sense. Kelly Marie Tran is a talented actress whose character served as our moral compass throughout The Last Jedi. She is not a supermodel. She is not Caucasian. She is not male. In my research it became apparent that these things were not acceptable for a person in the role she’d been cast.
At first, I simply decided there are creeps in this world who believe they’ve somehow been tasked with upholding the canon of a science fiction franchise, and in doing so have allowed their flawed and disgusting personal beliefs to bleed out into social media. They targeted an actress who had nothing to do with writing the script in the first place. They’re the same creeps who tortured Leslie Jones over her role in the 2016 reprise of the Ghostbusters franchise, and it’s no accident that in both cases, these movies appealed to a generation from the ‘70s and ‘80s who require both dedicated fan service and who liked the world better then, when men were men and women stayed quiet and if racial inequality existed, well, just keep it out of the headlines.
It was the easy way out for me, to simply blame the deplorable jerks who would find the easiest target and fire away. Lay this at the feet of bullies and move on. But it bothered me. There was something more to this, something bigger, and as January ended and February began, I found myself unable to ignore it away. I did, after all, owe my son an explanation.
What continued to bother me so much that I could not drop it was simple. Finn and Rose were linked to one another. Perhaps the link was romantic. Perhaps it was simply a love between friends who have been to the edge of cataclysm together. The kind of experience that galvanizes a friendship forever. The kiss in The Last Jedi could have been romantic, or perhaps it was simply a display, in that critical moment, of the kind of love that led Rose to risk her life for Finn in the first place. Either way, they’d been through enough together that it was simply impossible to believe that they’d then go their separate ways without so much as a fist bump in The Rise of Skywalker.
And in considering the relationship between these characters, it struck me. What in the name of Padme Amidala was J.J. Abrams thinking? Not only did he cave in completely to the worst creeps in the dark corners of the Internet, but he’d gone out of his way to make sure that every single one of us knew he’d done it on purpose.
“What?” you might ask. “On purpose?”
Without a doubt. Think about it. The sole interaction between these characters in The Rise of Skywalker consists of Finn inviting Rose on their quest to find the pyramid thingy, and Rose declines because she has to study some star destroyers. What? I’m sure you’re saying that right now and so am I, even though I’ve thought about it many times.
“What?” Indeed. After declining to go with Finn in order to study star destroyers, that’s it for Rose. I mean, she hugs Chewie at the end. But for all intents and purposes, that’s it.
But it’s J.J. Abrams’ and Chris Terrio’s treatment of Finn that makes absolutely clear they’ve given in to the dark side of the Internet. Finn first joins the “gang” to chase a couple of video-game caliber Macguffins – the Sith Wayfinder (said pyramid thingy) and a Sith Dagger. They bounce around from planets to moons, shooting, running, shooting, shouting, running, force lightning, running. It’s exhausting.
At last they reach the moon Kef Bir where the second Death Star’s debris landed and Finn encounters what J.J. and Chris apparently believe to be an appropriate love interest for our favorite ex-storm trooper.
Who is it? Not Rose. The Rise of Skywalker, if anything, is a complete rejection of all things “Last Jedi,” and it is apparent the writers of Episode IX believe that a potential Finn/Rose romance (not to mention a Finn/Poe romance) is unacceptable. Therefore they pair him with the only logical mate. Jannah.
Get this. Jannah (played by Naomi Ackie) is a black woman who was recently enslaved by the First Order as a stormtrooper. It’s as if Finn has found the female version of himself, as he is a black man who was recently enslaved by the first order as a stormtrooper. It only makes sense to put these two these two together, right?
Let me know what you think I should tell my 13-year-old son about the treatment that Rose Tico, not to mention Finn, received from J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio, and by extension, Kathleen Kennedy, in The Rise of Skywalker.
You can use the comments section if you’d like. Give me some tips on how to convey the message they’ve given to all of us. Heck, if you’re able, draw a line from Rose’s statement, “that’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love,” to the treatment the character received both by the writers of The Rise of Skywalker and “fans” of the entire franchise.
Rose Tico deserved something more than this. So did Kelly Marie Tran. And, let’s be honest, so did my 13-year-old son.