May The Force Be With Episode 9 (Ep. 2)
This is part 2 of my review of Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi. For part 1, check my previous post.
Problem #2: Underdeveloped New Characters
Star Wars: Rogue One was faced with a near-impossible task: bridging two trilogies by addressing a myriad of open-ended plot points in a single movie while forging an emotional connection to a swath of new characters the audience knew would be dead by the time the final credits rolled.
Never mind the added pressure of producing a movie that’s part of one of film history’s most loved and adored franchises.
Rogue One’s team was able to do just that, receiving accolades for both its ambition and its execution. It did so while smoothly broaching a topic that’s received increased scrutiny in the past few years: the Star Wars universe’s overwhelming whiteness.
Of particular note was Diego Luna’s portrayal of Cassion Andor, as audiences lauded the decision to allow his natural accent to shine through rather than to suppress it. The movie also included key roles played by Jiang Wen, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen and Forest Whitaker, making the film the most diverse Star Wars film to date.
Which brings us to Rose Tico, played by Kelly Marie Tran.
Her place as a prominent character in the main Skywalker story is a major win for diversity, as it gives Asian girls the chance to dress as a character that looks like them rather than donning Rey’s garb and being relegated to the status of “Asian Rey”.
That opportunity exists. But I’m skeptical of how much it will influence the female Star Wars cosplay audience.
Simply put, Rose’s character is shallow. In conversations with my friends, we have generally come to the same conclusion that her purpose in the film is to give Finn a pal to talk to. While it’s true that her necklace proved valuable in her and Finn’s escape from jail in Canto Bight/Montecarlo via Ibiza, that particular point could have been written a million different ways to get a similar item into Finn’s hands.
For giving her character background, the writing team threw every melodramatic sympathy device on her character hoping something would stick.
Unrequited love for a primary character? Check.
Selfless sacrifice later for that same character (thereby saving his life but possibly sabotaging the group’s plans)? Check.
Subjugation of her family by a materialistic upper-class devoid of humane concern? Super check.
Dead sibling? Opening scene of the movie.
The result is a character of sympathy points, rather than one rich in backstory with which audiences could truly empathize. It’s why I think girls will still elect to be Asian Rey than Rose: Rey is a badass who does badass things while remaining relatable. Rose is a fumbling attempt at manufacturing an emotional connection.
To Tran’s credit, you could tell she was working incredibly hard to bring to life the material she was given. However, she was held back by the writing and the lack of chemistry between her and John Boyega. In my opinion, the scenes they shared seemed like they were filmed with stand-ins due to both stars having conflicting schedules.
She wasn’t alone in being hung out to dry: so, too, were Benicio Del Toro’s codebreaking jailbird, Supreme Leader Snoke and Vice Admiral Holdo, though the Holdo character’s intentions were a well-kept secret until the moment they were revealed. Snoke was disappointingly two-dimensional, though breaking with the tradition of an all-knowing evil atop an ominous throne might benefit the story in the long run. The codebreaker’s betrayal came as no surprise (though perhaps it didn’t need to be), but at least provided perspective on how those not directly involved in the galactic scuffle view the conflict.
Finally, Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma was left by the wayside, going out in what I felt to be all too short of a fight sequence to merit her character’s previous levels of intimidation. This was supposed to be Finn’s greatest adversary, and one for which the audience felt total disdain. That her downfall felt unremarkable is an injustice to the previous work done to establish her character.
Episode 3 coming in about a minute!