Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (and, I’m assuming, upcoming Star Wars movies as well) deleted her Instagram this week. There’s a lot of speculation that she did it because of unrelenting abuse from toxic (male) Star Wars fans who hate her character in a seriously obsessive, unhealthy and unpleasant way. As far as I know she hasn’t confirmed this; some people say Daisy Ridley deleted her Insta because she was getting harassed, but she has said she did it because she was addicted and needed to take her life back.
But let’s assume that Tran deleted because of the abuse. I spent the last couple of days wanting to write at length about how broken fandom is (something I’ve written about in the past) but a friend rightfully called me out on sinking into despair the last few days, and focusing on what’s wrong only leads to more despair. So I want to focus on what’s right: Rose Tico.
And Kelly Marie Tran. Let’s get this out of the way: one of the best things to come out of the new Star Wars trilogy has been the energy of people like Tran. She, and co-star John Boyega, have such a positive energy that you can’t help but be heartened when you see her smile. She is so aware of how lucky she is, and she is loving every minute of her time in the Star Wars universe. Her Instagram was great because it was full of cheerful real world posts from a woman whose talent got her where she was, but who also understood the power of gratitude in her life. I will miss her Instagram updates because they always made my day a little better.
But let’s get to Rose Tico. It’s the character they hate, the toxic fans claim. If that’s true (and that’s one big if!), I simply don’t get it. Rose Tico is the best character in the new trilogy besides Kylo Ren, and she’s actually the true mirror image of Kylo. I know the narrative sets it up so that Rey is his mirror twin, but it’s actually Rose.
In fact Kylo and Rose have similar arcs in The Last Jedi, although they come to different places. Both characters are dealing with the disillusionment of seeing the failings of their heroes; for Kylo it’s a longtime issue, dating back to his time learning under Luke at the new Jedi Academy. For Rose it’s meeting Hero of the Resistance Finn and realizing he isn’t actually the hero she thought he was.
Kylo deals with his disillusionment with hate. Rose, however, deals with it through love. Where Kylo decides he needs to destroy his heroes, Rose sees the opportunity to get to know them. She finds that there’s room for her to become a hero, partially because she gets to see Finn’s humanity. He’s no longer a distant figure whose greatness is unachievable, he’s actually no different from her. She can do what he did.
That interaction with the flaws of her hero brings Rose out of hiding in the bowels of the ship up into the heat of the action. We live in a world of toppling idols, and for many the takeaway is “No one is good.” But Rose’s takeaway – and I think the right takeaway – is “No one is perfect.” All people make mistakes, even Finn and Luke Skywalker. Their mistakes don’t diminish their triumphs, and their mistakes actually remind us that they’re just people trying their best – and sometimes failing. When we recognize that our heroes fail to win, fail to live up to their own ideals, fail to live up to our ideals, we have the space to see ourselves alongside those heroes. They aren’t Olympians, they’re mortals.
Rose is the positive side of fandom, while Kylo is the negative. I like both of them because I identify with both; Kylo feels closer to my natural state of being while Rose is my aspiration. Rose is other-directed – she cares for other people. She cares for the animals and slaves on Canto Bight; it’s impossible to imagine Kylo giving a shit about them. He cares about Rey, but only so far as he wants Rey. He cares about her in relation to his own needs. He’s willing to hurt and manipulate her to get what he wants from her. Rose cares about Finn for his own welfare; she goes out of her way and risks her life to save him.
That’s just in comparison to my other favorite Sequel Trilogy character. I love Rose Tico on her own. I love her determination; she gets the job done. The series of emotions she goes through in her introduction – from mourning her sister to being excited to meet Finn to being let down by him – culminates in a wonderful display of focused attention to duty. Okay, maybe I’ll compare her to Kylo one more time – he’s ruled by his emotions, which drag him from action to action, while she EXPERIENCES her emotions but responds to them and only acts on the ones that are helpful. She FEELS sadness and disappointment but they don’t control her.
I can’t stress enough how cool that is. Too often in the West we think that either we are controlled by our emotions or we don’t have them, but the truth is more subtle than that. You SHOULD feel your emotions – fully, completely and in great depth – but that doesn’t mean you have to let them run your life. Rose really exemplifies this, feeling every emotion that comes through her but still maintaining her personal control. Honestly, in the whole Star Wars saga she’s probably the character who is the mentally healthiest.
The other thing that’s cool about Rose? She’s helpful. Support is so underrated in our society, and especially in Star Wars, where the impulse is to be the big hero and rush in and save the day as a lone cowboy. That’s largely what The Last Jedi is about, rejecting that vision of heroism, and Rose represents another path to heroism – the support hero. The hero who is there to be useful, helpful and part of a team. To play her part and help others play theirs. This is the lesson she’s teaching Finn when she stops him from his dopey suicide run. This is the lesson Luke learns when he decides to ForceTime into the battle on Crait. He upends the traditional idea of the hero riding in to save the day, the idea that he mocked earlier in the movie when Rey came to him on Ach-To.
On top of everything else, Rose represents the spirit of the new trilogy in a wonderful way. While the main Star Wars Saga is about the Skywalker family, this new trilogy puts the Skywalker focus on the villainous side. That leaves space for our new heroes to be free of a bloodline attachment to the story; they’re involved because they’re good and they’re helpful and they’re strong, not because of their DNA. That’s important as we try to move the world away from a white supremacist, patriarchal place, to tell stories where the heroes don’t get their heroism handed down to them.
Rose Tico, like Rey, fulfills the promise of Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy. The promise that you can be a nobody from nowhere and still be special, still be a hero. In the OT the message was you can be a nobody from nowhere who is secretly a somebody, but the ST makes it clear you can just be a nobody from nowhere, period. As our friends as Schoolhouse Rock put it: No more kings. The Last Jedi represents a democratic (small d) vision of Star Wars and heroism. Rose, an engineer who grew up in the shadow of a big sister and yet ascends to the top of the Resistance, represents that just as well as the Force-wielding daughter of drunk traders or the Stormtrooper who decided to change his life.
Finally I love Rose’s attitude. She’s optimistic and funny. She’s fun to have onscreen. Kelly Marie Tran has a big energy, and Rian Johnson says that he rewrote the character to embrace that energy; originally Rose was snarkier, but Tran doesn’t seem to have a snarky bone in her body. And in the world we’re in now snarky doesn’t go very far – we need positive, optimistic and helpful heroes, not ones who roll their eyes. We need earnestness, not irony.
And in the end that’s why I wanted to write about why I love Kelly Marie Tran and Rose Tico, because thats’ what Rose Tico would want. I’ve written about the wisdom of her quote: “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love,” and I think it really applies here. Let’s not fly our jalopies into the hate cannons of the toxic men ruining Star Wars fandom, let’s protect and save what we love about Star Wars. It’s all about your intention, and Rose’s quote is the clearest and simplest explanation of the difference between the Dark and Light Sides of the Force that has yet been uttered.
Man, she should be teaching at the Jedi Academy.
The header image on this piece is by Rori!, an artist whose work I really love, and is part of the #FanArtForRose movement on Twitter, focusing on positivity instead of negativity.
I think my WordPress theme cuts the image off, so here’s the whole thing:
Follow Rori! here and check out her IndieGogo to finance a women’s history coloring book based on her 100 Women 100 Days series. I bought a Polly Styrene piece from that series and it is one of my favorite pieces I own!