The Last Jedi: The Problem with Rose

[WARNING: Many spoilers to follow. Save yourself.]

[Edit: My website is still getting crazy traffic from this post, and I assume a lot of it comes from what has been happening to KMT. As I made clear in my essay, KMT is amazing. She represents so much to Asian girls and women like me, and none of my criticism of TLJ was leveled at her, but rather at how the writers treated her character. I won’t tolerate KMT bashing or trolling on this blog, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you may kindly exit.]

As a Chinese-American girl who’s been watching Star Wars since before she could speak English, I’ve been waiting my entire life to see someone like Rose Tico in the Star Wars universe. I got some kicks in last year with Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus, but Rose is a girl. Rose looks like me.

So her shoddy treatment by The Last Jedi stung all the more.

To be clear, I loved this movie. I cheered, laughed, and cried. The visuals are gorgeous; every performance is flawless. But we have to talk about Rose.

There’s a lot to like about her. Kelly Marie Tran is both a fantastic actor and a spunky, adorable beam of light who plays Rose with the same enthusiasm and open-heartedness that characterize Daisy Ridley and John Boyega’s performances. The opening scenes with Rose’s sister Paige made me tear up (I too have a younger sister.) Rose’s grief only makes her braver and more determined; she stops Finn from deserting and she inspires him to go on that ill-fated mission to Canto Bight. In all fairness, Rose had far more nuance and complexity than I expected she would get.

The problem isn’t that Rose was a poorly conceived character. It’s that after those poignant opening scenes, The Last Jedi gives her nearly nothing to do.

Plenty of other pieces have already criticized the unnecessary distraction of the Canto Bight storyline. You could feel the energy sap out of the theater every time the action cut away from Rey arguing with Luke or Poe being Poe. The city isn’t the strikingly cool galactic gambling center we were led to expect; it’s just a Vegas substitute where some actors are wearing masks. The phrase “master code-breaker” sounds so juvenile I’m shocked it made it into the script. The betrayal doesn’t land because we don’t know much about DJ in the first place, we don’t care, and he and Finn/Rose don’t go way back like Lando/Han did. (Really, it was kind of dumb for Finn and Rose to trust him as much as they did.) The constant references to the military industrial complex (Canto Bight’s elite are rich on the weapons industry, but they sell to both good guys and bad) were initially fascinating, but promptly dropped and never mentioned again.

Otherwise, all the Canto Bight arc does is give Poe a reason to stir up some drama on the main rebel ship and make us think for much of the movie that Holdo is a baddie.

But my biggest frustration is that Rose is the most irrelevant part of an already irrelevant arc.

See, Rose does almost nothing of importance after she’s introduced. She just kind of tags along. She’s an engineer who’s handy with a taser, but uses neither of those skill sets on Canto Bight or the First Order ship. She wrings her hands uselessly after she’s thrown in jail. She follows nervously behind Finn on the First Order ship. We’re proud of her when she gives up her necklace to DJ as payment, but she gets it back twenty minutes later. Sure, she utters some nice soundbites about growing up on a mining world decimated by the First Order, and she reminds us what the human impact of of a galactic dictatorship really is. But otherwise, you could have completely cut Rose out of the second half  of the movie and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Perhaps the most frustrating Rose scene was during the battle on Crait, when she rams into Finn’s ship to stop him from sacrificing himself to destroy a the “Battering Ram Cannon” (or whatever it was called.) Finn didn’t know that Luke or Rey were coming. Finn thought, justifiably so, that he had to die to buy the Resistance valuable minutes.

And Rose is just like nah.

(“What the hell, Rose,” muttered someone in the audience.)

“Why did you do that?” Finn demands.

“You don’t fight to destroy what you hate. You fight to save what you love,” Rose says, or something to that effect. Then she kisses him. Then she promptly passes out.

First, uh, saving what he loved was precisely what what Finn was trying to do. It’s not like Finn just hates battering ram cannons.

Second, Rose’s most defining motivation this entire time has been the death of her sister. She’s willing to sacrifice her necklace, her life, anything for the cause she believes in. So this about-face maneuver, while maybe philosophically interesting, is odd given that nothing has happened to her during the Canto Bight arc to make her change her mind. It’s like this movie passed the Mako Mori test by cheating. It’s character development from nowhere.

Rose could have made so many different choices–choices of importance–that would have demonstrated real growth. But instead, her character feels like a handout. Rose, like many of the offhand references to the military industrial complex and environmentalism, felt like a well-intentioned gesture towards diversity and social awareness that fell flat because there was no follow-through. Rose reads like a diversity set piece. I’m scared she’s a token.

Rose deserved so much better. But I’ll be back to watch Episode IX, because I expect–and hope–that she and Kelly Marie Tran will be given more to do.

P.S. Rose’s budding romance with Finn irks me. I’m not opposed to their getting together in general, but their kiss felt strange and seriously out of left-field. We’ve seen Rose and Finn develop a good friendship, but we haven’t seen any previous signs of romantic attraction between them. There’s no chemistry. And a small part of me is still raging at the fact that Finn and Poe didn’t kiss.

P.P.S. The racial dynamics of the scene where Phasma calls Finn “scum” were amazing. The tall, blonde white woman fighting for the Nazi army calls the black man a slur. He sends her spiraling into a fiery explosion of death with a smirk on his face. “Rebel scum” is right.

P.P.P.S. The Last Jedi is weirdly environmentalist. There’s a nice pro-vegetarianism scene with Chewie and the porgs. There’s a not-so-subtle criticism of the horse-racing industry when the Fathiers get freed. I’m not sure what the message is with the crystal critters, but they’re pretty.

P.P.P.P.S. I want a stuffed porg for Christmas.