Deep into The Last Jedi's two and a half hour run-time is a scene that makes my "Representation Matters" heart go pitter-patter.
**Spoiler Alert: Spoilers for The Last Jedi follow**
The Rebels are hiding out on a salt planet — literally — and barely surviving at this point, with most of its fleet and soldiers dead. Despite General Leia's best efforts to teach certain pilots the value in living to fight another day, the name of the game is "continually sacrifice yourself for the greater good," and a lot of folks are out drinking that Kool-Aid. Poe, I love you dearly, and have loved you since that subtle lip bite over Finn wearing your jacket, but listen to our space princess sometimes, okay?
But let's get back to the salt.
Kylo is feeling it. The salt, that is. Rey hasn't taken him up on his offer, even after they did that whole choreographed ass-kicking thing. So now the Rebels have to die, like, right now, so shut it, General Hux. But Kylo didn't account for one thing: Finn, who has decided to try his hand at sacrificial offerings, no matter how much Poe tells him not to — ah, NOW you get it, Poe, but it's too little, too late, because Finn's proud to be rebel scum, sir.
Shoutout to my partner's shoulder, which I squeezed tight throughout this entire sequence. As a queer woman of color who inhabits this geek space, watching the few characters who represent me kick the bucket comes with the territory — assuming they get any screen time at all. And yes, I see you, typing a list of characters in the comments who defy the odds, but trust me, there's always a Darwin from X-Men: First Class somewhere — no matter how supposedly indestructible he is.
And don't get me started on the horror genre. We don't even get the luxury of the main character good luck charm.
So I crushed my partner's shoulder as I waited for Finn to die. But then, out of nowhere, came an Asian beacon of hope, ramming into the side of Finn's ship. Rose Tico, who had already lost her sister in the beginning of the film, wasn't having any more of that "gotta die for the cause" attitude.
Rose saved Finn, and I was elated. Not everyone shared my elation.
I've seen a lot of criticism of the Rose/Finn relationship. It's mostly people saying that they got together too fast and being perplexed at Rose's kiss before she passed out. That's not the part that bugs me — although I think these two are about as adorable as that Porg trying to stop Chewbacca from eating its roasted brethren. What bugs me are the fans who actually wanted Finn to die because it would've been so powerful had Finn given his life in that moment. And to that, I have one simple question:
Why do we always have to be the sacrifice?
Also, has Leia taught you nothing? Rose got the message and she wasn't even there to hear it.
Writing for Black Nerd Girls, TaLynn Kel pieces together this all too common trope. In her piece, she talks about finally seeing Logan, which is quite possibly the best movie in the X-Men series. And yet, she points out how it serves as a reminder to not get attached to black characters in movies, because chances are, they're going to die. And oh, do they die in Logan. They die real bad.
"It's about the roles we play, the characterizations we see, the lives we have portrayed on-screen," Kel writes. "It's about seeing people who look like us, our friends, our families living lives on screen and not getting murdered to move a plot forward every time."
She goes on to say that she doesn't want to see black people die in white narratives anymore. Basically, she put into words what I feel every time I finally get a black character in a story. There's a brief moment of joy before I ask myself, "Is there a point getting attached?" Or, "Will they even matter to the plot?" Either way, both options kinda suck, and both options have become an uncomfortable norm.
So yes, I'm ecstatic that my boy Finn lived to see another day, but seeing people upset that he didn't die is a reminder of how expendable they think we are. You'd think after all of the deaths in the movie, they'd be happy to see some alive characters on the side of the Rebellion. Though I suppose movie viewers aren't the only ones who felt Finn's death was necessary: Finn himself jumped in, rusted ship ablazin'. It was tragically symbolic to me, after all, how many times does a person of color willingly walk through the flames, putting their own well-being on hold, to attempt to make things better?
In a lot of cases we're happy to do it, because we're convinced it's the only way. We have to be the ones to stop the oppressive forces against us while also being the ones who show others how to do it. It doesn't matter how many times they've been educated nor does it doesn't matter how many mistakes they've made. We have to keep walking forward, and if those steps hurt, we quietly deal with the blisters.
But not today, said Rose.
To some, Finn's "brave" moment was wasted. To me? Rose was making a clear point: you don't have to be the sacrifice. This isn't how we're going to win. And you know what? Seeing one POC save another POC from utter destruction was more meaningful than any sort of sacrifice. Isn't it about time we got a win? Isn't it about time we moved past the sacrificial POC and let them stand with the cause they're fighting for instead of having them heralded as a deceased hero?
In one single moment, I learned an important lesson from a galaxy far, far away: stop being the sacrifice and start living. Thank you for showing Finn the way, Rose, and I hope it's a lesson that he, and other POC, adhere to from here on out.