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The Rise of Skywalker's dismissal of Rose Tico is indicative of the franchise's problems

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Jan 9, 2020, 6:03 PM EST

"We're going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!"

When Rose Tico says this quote to Finn in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the Rebel Alliance seems to be at its lowest ebb and both their lives, along with those of their comrades, are close to ending. Hope, the most crucial fuel of the rebellion, has all but disappeared. Hate, as has been frequently established throughout the franchise, is what fuels the dark side and leads to true suffering, something that is oft-forgotten when times are bleak and it’s just much easier to descend into loathing than rising to optimism. Some viewers found Rose’s assertion cheesy, but for me, it was the key line of The Last Jedi and, indeed, Star Wars as a whole. Rose was the voice that everyone needed to hear at that moment in time.

So, when The Rise of Skywalker premiered a few weeks ago and it was soon revealed that Rose, as played by Kelly Marie Tran, received a reported grand total of approximately 76 seconds of screen time, audiences couldn't help but notice and feel disappointed by it. In a film with a runtime of two hours and twenty minutes, one jam-packed with characters old and new and perhaps one too many plot-threads, it felt especially egregious that Rose was shafted into total irrelevance within the sprawling narrative of this galaxy far, far away.

Credit: Lucasfilm/Disney

Slate writer Violet Kim watched the film with a stopwatch, noting every time Tico appeared on screen. Kim noted that she tried to be “as generous” as possible, including scenes like “at the end where she hugs Chewbacca at the Rebel base, although it’s possible to argue that she wasn’t quite in the foreground of the action.” Her role was mostly to be an exposition machine, although even that job was primarily given to a new character played by Dominic Monahan, and she spent next to no time on-screen with John Boyega. If you came into this film without having seen The Last Jedi, you wouldn’t know of Rose and Finn’s relationship at all. It’s all the more aggravating because you can see all the moments in the film where she easily could have fit in or played a more active role. Some fans got a tad conspiratorial, speculating that director J.J. Abrams and writer Chris Terrio had deliberately removed her from the movie following the forced backlash to her in The Last Jedi, a hate-movement primarily driven by a tiny minority whose rhetoric was steeped in racism and misogyny. It’s unlikely that the snub was so actively spiteful, but her obvious side-lining in the franchise is still indicative of so much of Star Wars' problems as a franchise and grander pop culture entity.

So much of The Rise of Skywalker felt like a creative and thematic step back compared to The Last Jedi. Where Rian Johnson blazed a trail for the franchise’s future, Abrams retreated back into the comforting nest of nostalgia. When Kylo Ren told Rey, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to”, he was expressing the mission statement of Johnson’s narrative, which was what made so many of the truly clunky twists of the next movie feel like a deliberate dismissal of The Last Jedi. The importance of Rey being a nobody, for example, went out the window the moment Abrams and Terrio decided to reinforce the notion of the Jedi being limited to a handful of bloodlines where everyone knows one another in this sprawling galaxy. It’s not just Rose who was denied her own narrative in The Rise of Skywalker: Rey had to receive a tracing paper copy of Luke’s; Kylo/Ben’s was cut from the cloth of Vader; Finn and Poe’s stories felt like watered-down versions of Han’s, but even he got more to do in Return of the Jedi than this pair did here. In this recycling of the past, this desperation to keep it alive for fear of letting go of that fetish of nostalgia, there was no room for Rose, and isn’t that a crime?

Credit: Lucasfilm / Disney

Rose represented a lot in Star Wars. She was one of the countless working-class figures of this galaxy, neither a royal nor Jedi. Her family name wasn’t known to us, she wasn’t destined for greatness, and no prophecies foretold her future. What she stood for was the majority of people who inhabit the world of this franchise: The nameless fighters and grafters and the oft-overlooked collateral damage of this all-consuming war. Most people don’t fight because they’re special or because the stars predicted it. They fight because they are nobodies and because if they don’t, nobody else will. Rebellions are built on hope but they’re also built on the backs of fighters and workers who audiences are encouraged to barely think of, even as the body count piles up. The franchise needs more of those nobodies (as Rey should have been) because they are the hope and future of the galaxy long after the Jedi and Sith have become extinct. Frankly, it’s characters like Rose that the franchise should be built around, not the endless and inherently limiting family drama of the extended Skywalker clan.

It’s also tough to ignore how a young Asian-American woman in this franchise was treated, both by the worst recesses of the fandom and the corporate mandate. Kelly Marie Tran faced the most abhorrent abuse from so-called fans whose ceaseless screeds of racism and misogyny drove her off of social media. She became the primary target of a subset of viewers who saw The Last Jedi’s more risky plot and character decisions as a betrayal of the franchise rather than a necessary step forward. The Rise of Skywalker should have understood the importance of keeping Rose in their corner and showing why she mattered to these characters and this story. Instead, they walked back so much of what The Last Jedi did and, whether they intended it or not, left Rose on the sidewalk, with the implication that cutting her from the narrative was part of this “course correction.”

Where does this franchise go when it's become abundantly obvious that all it wants to do is spin in an endless cycle of nostalgia, cannibalizing itself and obsessively focusing on the familiar? Whatever direction Disney and Lucasfilm want to take Star Wars after this, it's hard to feel like there's any room for the nobodies in the main movie continuity. Lucasfilm has picked up a lot of that heavy lifting on TV and shown how stories centered on side-characters and those non-Skywalker figures make for compelling viewing. If the success of series like The Mandalorian and Rebels has shown nothing else, it's that there is definitely an audience for the nobodies and a rich, potentially limitless field of potential stories to explore. Perhaps this is where the Rose Ticos of the galaxy will flourish. Hey, Disney+, you know who should get her own Star Wars series? Give Kelly a call.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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