Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
No matter what you thought about The Last Jedi, Rose Tico played a major character in the film. More than any character in the movie, even Leia, the brave Resistance fighter personified what Star Wars has always been about—never losing hope in the face of darkness. Yet The Rise of Skywalker completely marginalizes her. And worse than giving her nothing to do, the film actively undercuts her best traits as a hero. It was an inexplicable failure of storytelling. But the far less forgivable sin is that by sidelining Rose, Lucasfilm simultaneously rewarded the hostile voices harassing Kelly Marie Tran for the past two years.
There’s nothing to gain by rehashing the debate over the merits of Rose Tico, either as a character or her role in The Last Jedi and the franchise. Some people, myself included, absolutely love Rose (she was my favorite character in one of my favorite movies). Others don’t. That’s fine. No one has to love every Star Wars character. There are people who have and always will love Jar Jar Binks, even if many others despise him.
But the way The Rise of Skywalker takes a major character from the previous film and essentially writes her out of the sequel–worse, without any explanation–is misguided and plain horrendous storytelling.
At the end of The Last Jedi, there were hardly any members of the Resistance left. Everyone who survived Crait became at minimum a de facto leader of the movement. Rose’s heroism certainly earned her that status. She continued to serve with dedication even after losing her sister. And even though her plan to infiltrate the First Order failed, she later almost died making sure one of the Resistance’s most important members survived. Finn is only alive because of Rose. Her last scene offered a final, touching moment in a difficult and important journey they’d gone through together. Her sacrifice to protect him clearly bonded them in a way few other characters share in the franchise.
Yet Rose does almost nothing in The Rise of Skywalker. She’s barely more relevant than Dominic Monaghan’s character, a random Resistance fighter (never named on screen, no less) you could delete from the movie right now without impacting anything. Anyone else in the Resistance could speak Rose’s lines. And even if you don’t love Rose Tico, that’s an insulting fate for both her character and Finn. It’s like if Lando had nothing to do in Return of the Jedi, or if Dooku died off-screen in Revenge of the Sith. And Rose’s lack of importance, of her contributing at all, is obviously a majorly disappointing if you love her and were invested in her own arc.
J.J. Abrams treated her with less respect than Jar Jar Binks received in Attack of the Clones, despite the Gungan having had significantly fewer supporters after The Phantom Menace than Rose Tico will always have. Jar Jar’s role was small in that film, but he was significant to the plot. He was manipulated into advocating that Palpatine receive the emergency powers that led to him becoming Emperor, a sad outcome for the kindhearted Jar Jar. But it made sense plot-wise, since that trilogy was always going to end in tragedy.
The sequel trilogy was always going to end with hope and love, the two traits that best defined Rose Tico. “We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love,” she said to Finn after saving him on Crait. That’s exactly how Luke Skywalker saved the galaxy in Return of the Jedi, and how Rey and Kylo Ren ultimately save it in The Rise of Skywalker. Love triumphs over hate, hope over fear. That’s the definitive message of Star Wars.
But what did Rose do or say in The Rise of Skywalker when Finn attempted to sacrifice himself again? Nothing. In fact, she ran the other way. This isn’t retconning a plot point, it’s retconning the character. It makes no sense in the context of the trilogy, for the character, for her and Finn’s relationship, or for the overarching theme of the franchise. Forget bad storytelling, that’s a betrayal.
Of course, Rose Tico is a fictional character, and ultimately when we talk about Star Wars we’re just talking about space movies for kids. But the worst part about Rose’s fate is that it effectively validates what Kelly Marie Tran as an actor and real-life individual has endured over the last two years. Kelly Marie Tran by all accounts (including our own) is a wonderful person, but following The Last Jedi, internet trolls attacked her on social media for her race and sex, simply because they hated the fictional character she played.
Their harassment eventually drove her off of social media entirely. But if inspiring her to abandon Twitter felt like a petty victory for the franchise’s least deserving “fans,” the choice to minimize her role in The Rise of Skywalker gave them a much bigger one. They won’t see The Rise of Skywalker as bad-storytelling, but as vindication they were “right” about the character and the actress. In spite of insisting he was “grateful” for the character–even as Kelly Marie has been extraordinarily generous to him–J.J. Abrams rewarded the hostile and deeply insensitive individuals who tortured her.
What The Rise of Skywalker did to Rose Tico was terrible. But what it did to Kelly Marie Tran was unforgivable.
Featured Image: Lucasfilm
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike, and also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.