The highly anticipated first teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Dir. J. J. Abrams, 2019), was revealed last Friday at Star Wars Celebration. The trailer was screened during a panel with the cast and crew, featuring beloved veterans such as Anthony Daniels, and our current leads Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac. However, no cast member got a warmer welcome than Kelly Marie Tran – the Vietnamese-American actress who plays the role of Rose Tico. The crowd was electric, going absolutely wild when the actress was addressed, showing love and support after the despicable trolling Tran received for being the franchise’s first woman of colour in a leading role.
Rose Tico is a maintenance worker for the resistance who we meet in The Last Jedi (Dir. Rian Johnson, 2017). Working predominantly behind the scenes, her excited ‘fan-girling’ when she meets Finn the “resistance hero” is endearing and relatable. However, we’re not to be fooled by her ‘girlish’ introduction. Rose is a brave, resilient young woman, fiercely loyal to those she loves and to the cause she believes in. She stuns anyone trying to desert the resistance with her shocking device, with Finn at the receiving end when he attempts to steal an escape pod. Rose isn’t about to let cowards leave the mission her sister died for.
The majority of Rose’s scenes are with Finn, as they attempt to shut down the First Order’s tracking device and save the resistance. Their mission takes them to a casino city named Canto Bight, ran by corrupt individuals who indulge in wealth and riches courtesy of the First Order. Finn is captured by the bright lights and decadence of the city, but Rose remains clear-headed. She sees past the city’s facade: pointing out the way animals are being abused for money, and children are being treated as slaves. Rose’s clear moral compass won’t tolerate the injustice, shown when she frees the animals from their cages amongst the chaos of her and Finn being chased out of town. Her selfless nature doesn’t stop there – during the films climax, she puts herself in harm’s way to save Finn from himself, demonstrating love and bravery.
Rose Tico is a role model: an independent, intelligent female character, who does wonders for the representation of not only women in Star Wars, but women of colour. Star Wars is home to a galaxy-worth of races – alien and human alike – but the human cast often lacks much-needed diversity. The Force Awakens (Dir. J. J. Abrams, 2015) challenged that by including a black male and a more agent female character amongst its leads, however the introduction of Rose brought some Asian representation into the mix. Everyone should feel that they have a place in “a galaxy far, far away”, and being of Asian heritage myself, it was refreshing to have a character that looks like me on screen – and that more importantly – is a positive representation of my race. I hope that The Rise of Skywalker will give Rose the opportunity to demonstrate her intelligence and bravery, and to show not only young Asian girls, but Asian women that they have a voice.
Kelly Marie Tran wrote a heartfelt, outspoken article for the New York Times after the trolling incident that led her to leave social media. In that article she explained how the hurtful racism directed towards her was nothing new, and that she had spent her whole life putting up with abuse so severe that it made her question her culture and her identity. But Tran will not stand for this. Like Rose, she has the determination to set change into motion – utilising her platform to speak up and condemn racism. Diverse characters like Rose Tico need to be more common in major motion pictures, to represent the real world and to encourage tolerance and support for people of all races, abilities, genders and sexual orientations. We can only hope that Rose will be the catalyst for the diversification of more roles in the future, and with Tran fighting in our corner that change is sure to happen.