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How Lucasfilm Failed Rose Tico

And how Kelly Marie Tran fixed it.

Kelly Marie Tran at The Rise of Skywalker premiere | credit Getty / David M. Benett

The debates about the Sequel Trilogy revolved mostly around The Last Jedi. And it’s as irritating today as it was back in 2017. But as time marches on, there will be the same nostalgia for these films as people now have for the Prequel Trilogy.

Unfortunately, there are grievances that cannot be forgiven and forgotten. When the cast of The Last Jedi was announced, we had the first Asian-American female co-lead in Star Wars, Rose Tico, played by relative newcomer Kelly Marie Tran. On a grander scale, Tran was the first woman of color lead in a Star Wars film. It was a great moment for those of us who were wondering if Star Wars had room for non-brunettes. Not only that, but the character had a sister, Paige Tico, who looked awesome in her bomber outfit.

But things quickly went south through no fault of Tran but a combination of the ugliest part of fandom, aided unintentionally (and then intentionally) by Lucasfilm.

But this is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, so we celebrate Kelly Marie Tran’s triumph through all of this, to come out on top.

The Three Sins of Lucasfilm Against Rose Tico

1. The Aesthetics

Rose Tico makes her Star Wars Vanity Fair debut. However, from the very beginning (from her small photo on the movie poster to this photoshoot) she was marginalized | credit Annie Leibovitz and Vanity Fair

Star Wars is first and foremost a film franchise with a very defined aesthetic. The 70s style and design sets the franchise apart from others and is iconic in pop culture. And there is a reason why Annie Leibovitz and the Vanity Fair photo shoots are so popular every time a new film releases: We get some first looks at all the cool creatures and costume designs.

I don’t remember when I first saw the character design for Rose Tico, but I remember my first thoughts: How? How could the team that knocked it out of the park for Rey and even the Leia regal gown in The Last Jedi come up lacking for this historic representation. It’s easier to understand seeing how stunning Kelly Marie Tran is in real life why the costume and hair she was given in The Last Jedi was disappointing. The decision to make her a technician was already not inspiring for the kind of merchandising franchises use to gauge the popularity of characters. The color and look of her jumper for her petite frame also did not help.

Is this surface-level criticism? Yes and no. Ultimately, if the character is well-written and has a compelling arc, the costume design should not matter. But this is Star Wars. Characters who are on screen for two seconds can get a figure if they look cool. And, although the number of action figure releases or the Sequel Trilogy were not at the level of previous films, Rose was a major character so she was going to get an action figure. But someone forgot to tell the costume supervisor, David Crossman. Her figure became a notorious peg-warmer and was a part of a clever, but slightly cruel, Entertainment Earth promotional “One Dozen Roses” for Valentine’s Day gag gift for $19.99 to clear out their inventory of Roses.

credit Entertainment Earth

The costume and hair/makeup departments improved Rose’s look in The Rise of Skywalker, but the damage must have already been done according to Lucasfilm because she did not get another figure release (along with Finn, Poe, Leia, Luke and many others).

Kelly Marie Tran meets a Rose Tico at The Last Jedi premiere | credit @admsamys

Side note: While I feel that the costume and hair for Rose Tico was lacking in The Last Jedi, this is my business mind speaking on the studio’s failing. It still mattered for many people who saw themselves in Star Wars for the first time. And here’s to many Rose Tico cosplays at many Star Wars Celebrations to come.

2. Rian Johnson and the Genre Commentator

Rian Johnson is an auteur director who has worked across multiple genres. His signature form of storytelling, however, is genre commentary. He directs and writes films that function more as meta commentary on the film’s particular genre. Brick was a commentary on film noirs, Knives Out was a commentary on the murder mystery. Not surprisingly for Rian Johnson fans (but surprising for a lot of Star Wars fans), The Last Jedi was a commentary about Star Wars.

And in his films, Johnson always has a character that acts as a commentator, observing the world they occupy and helping to make sense of it for the viewer. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays this role in Looper, while Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc takes it on in Knives Out.

For The Last Jedi, this role was given to Tran’s Rose Tico. Rose is the one that lays out the cost of war in the galaxy and who benefits on Canto Bight. She also has that line (after kissing Finn and stopping him from killing himself).

History will be kinder to this line, as it is one of the most poignant points made in Star Wars | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

In Johnson’s other films, this worked for most audiences (most recently in Knives Out, although some murder mystery fans also took issue with the “mystery” of the story). But the black comedy mystery, Clue (1985), also helped prepare mystery lovers for the level of self-awareness presented in Knives Out.

However, for many Star Wars fans, Rose was too much in an already overwhelmingly different Star Wars film than they were used to seeing (and had just seen with Rogue One and The Force Awakens).

And Kelly Marie Tran took the brunt of that frustration and anger. Tran being the first Asian-American woman represented in Star Wars was the icing on the cake for some to continue to air out their toxicity from the female lead in Rey and the black Stormtrooper in Finn. Kelly Marie Tran, in her first major role, was a sacrificial lamb for Lucasfilm’s risk. Yes, Rian Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy also got a lot of criticism but Kennedy is an industry giant and Johnson could brush off and move on to his multi-million dollar Knives Out franchise. The toxicity of Star Wars fandom threatened to bring down Tran before her career even started. And Lucasfilm did NOTHING to back her up. Which brings me to the worst sin…

3. The Back Step

While Rose got a character poster for The Rise of Skywalker (something she did not get for The Last Jedi) it was overshadowed by her significantly less screen time | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

This is the most egregious thing that J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio, and Lucasfilm did and cannot be labelled as anything other than cowardly.

Instead of doubling down and giving Rose equal screen time with the rest of the crew, they back stepped in the worst way, giving her character 76 seconds of screen time. 76 seconds. J.J. Abrams put his friend, Dominic Monaghan, in the film and gave him more time than Tran.

The depleted role caused noise on social media, with the hashtag #RoseTicoDeservedBetter trending and people calling for her own Disney Plus series. To add insult to injury, Chris Terrio made an excuse that Kelly Marie Tran’s cut scenes were due to technical issues in relation to the late Carrie Fisher:

One of the reasons that Rose has a few less scenes than we would like her to have has to do with the difficulty of using Carrie’s footage in the way we wanted to. We wanted Rose to be the anchor at the rebel base who was with Leia. We thought we couldn’t leave Leia at the base without any of the principals whom we love, so Leia and Rose were working together.

As the process evolved, a few scenes we’d written with Rose and Leia turned out to not meet the standard of photorealism that we’d hoped for. Those scenes unfortunately fell out of the film.

The last thing we were doing was deliberately trying to sideline Rose. We adore the character, and we adore Kelly — so much so that we anchored her with our favorite person in this galaxy, General Leia.

Chris Terrio interview with Awards Daily

Whoops! | credit Salon

Ok…but Tran, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly before the film’s release talked about scenes she filmed with Daisy Ridley which contradicts some of Terrio’s reasoning:

“It was really cool to have feminine energy on set. I wish I could tell you more but I’m really excited for people to see [Rose and Rey] interact. They both have the same objective which is to fight for the things you believe in and the people you love.”

Those scenes were also cut. I understand that some scenes have to get cut in movies, and Chris Terrio is capable of putting together a solid screenplay (he won an Academy Award for Argo). But that was in 2012 and with a smaller film based on a true story. Terrio had a more recent and relevant film that was a red flag: The Justice League, which was a jumbled mess of a story just like The Rise of Skywalker.

But this is not all on Terrio’s shoulders. The brunt of the blame lies with J.J. Abrams, who directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay with Terrio. Ultimately, the final cut lies with him and Lucasfilm, and that decision of 76 seconds, which might be the most memorable fact from this film.

Kelly Marie Tran’s Resilience

Fashion icon, Kelly Marie Tran | credit Tracy Nguyen for The New York Times

When history threatened to repeat itself with what happened to Jake Lloyd and Ahmed Best post- The Phantom Menace, Tran dropped an op-ed, I Won’t Be Marginalized By Online Harassment, for The New York Times in 2018. It validated marginalized groups with a shared experience and simultaneously shut down toxic fans.

But it also highlights the true failing of Lucasfilm: Kelly Marie Tran had to have her own back because Lucasfilm never did. Studios love to pat themselves on the back for inclusion; however, when it comes to backing that up with equal character development to their white counterparts, things seem to come up short. They fell short with Finn and Poe, they fell short with Val in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Unsurprisingly, when the time came to do right by Tran (after this powerful op-ed), they failed again with The Rise of Skywalker.

But Tran stated that she was encouraged by the recent strides made for Asian representation in media since The Last Jedi. In a more recent interview with New York Times, she admitted that she put too much pressure on herself by being a first in Star Wars, but now is not afraid to ask for things that she wants out of projects:

I’ve been very, very loud about the projects I do and don’t want to be involved in. I never want to further a stereotype or take a job that makes me feel like I’m perpetuating some sort of idea about what it is to be Asian. And I’ve been really, really adamant about my boundaries.

Kelly Marie Tran has had better luck with Disney proper as a Disney Princess. Raya and the Last Dragon, while having its own valid criticisms, gave Tran another first: The first Southeast Asian Disney Princess. No one can take this away from her. And, when Star Wars is ready (and if Tran is willing), Rose Tico will return, but on her own terms.

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