'Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker' Forces Rose Tico Into The Background And That's A Major Mistake

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrived in theaters this past weekend with what can be charitably defined as an impossible set of expectations. No matter who wrote and directed the film, this latest chapter was always going to be the concluding chapter in both a new trilogy of Star Wars films, and the concluding entry in a 40-plus year franchise of nine connected stories. Fans of every ilk were going to bring with them a lot of baggage into this new film. Whatever talents co-writer and director JJ Abrams has, it's hard to imagine him pleasing every corner of the Star Wars fandom with his new film.Yet The Rise of Skywalker makes a lot of choices that are dubious at best, and truly infuriating at worst. One of the most baffling and troubling creative decisions isn't, perhaps, the most obvious one. No, the biggest issue in this movie isn't the reveal of Rey's lineage and how it kinda-sorta goes against what we learned of Rey in The Last Jedi, or the fate of Kylo Ren and whether he can be turned to the light side of the Force. The biggest mistake is how this movie ignores Rose Tico.

The rest of this article contains spoilers.

A Bad Feeling About This

As portrayed by Kelly Marie Tran, Rose Tico is one of the many bright spots of the 2017 film Star Wars: The Last Jedi. When we meet Rose, it's as she's grieving over the loss of her sister Paige, whose act of bravery in the opening setpiece saves the Resistance from total destruction. Rose is a mechanic we meet via Finn, the ex-Stormtrooper who works with the Resistance. Finn (John Boyega) makes a thorny first impression with Rose, who idolizes the young hero until she realizes that he's attempting to steal an escape pod so that he can reunite with Rey (Daisy Ridley). Rose's resolve in the face of terror and cynicism — even though Finn's reasons for wanting to take the escape pod are arguably noble if self-involved, she's instantly unwilling to let him desert the rest of the group — is admirable in part because it ends up inspiring Finn throughout The Last Jedi. Her character arc in the Rian Johnson-directed film concludes with her stopping Finn from sacrificing himself for the good of the group. After she takes a ship of her own to crash into his to stop himself from a kamikaze mission, she espouses the film's overall message: "That's how we're gonna win. Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love."Because enough of the Internet is a true garbage fire, Rose was not met with widespread love as a character, but enough pockets of scorn and calumny. No doubt, some people who dislike The Last Jedi as a whole have legitimate criticisms, some centered on the subplot in which Rose and Finn travel to the planet of Canto Bight to rendezvous with an infamous hacker only to be waylaid in their quest. But much of the commentary surrounding Rose was targeted either on the gender and race of the character and actress, or on Kelly Marie Tran's weight. When she left social media in the middle of 2018, it was both a sad example of Internet bullying winning the day and an understandable reaction on her part. (Her response in The New York Times a couple months later was admirable and courageous.) If you don't have to be on social media, and this is how you're treated, why stay?

An Awakening

When JJ Abrams was announced as the new director and co-writer of The Rise of Skywalker, there was largely a kind reaction to his return. Fans who disliked The Last Jedi saw him as a savior to right the ship (even though some of those same fans were plenty disdainful of The Force Awakens). And fans of The Last Jedi were at least glad to see Abrams taking the helm as opposed to Colin Trevorrow. But whatever Abrams has said in recent interviews about liking The Last Jedi and not undoing its storytelling choices feels very much at odds with the film, best exemplified by Rose.Rose is in Rise, to be fair. She's there, but you mostly have to keep an eye out for her amid a larger group of Resistance fighters, such as Snap Wexley (you know, the guy Greg Grunberg plays), General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher), and Beaumont Kin (Dominic Monaghan), a new good guy who makes such a minimal impact that you'll be hard-pressed to remember what his name even is.In essence, in The Rise of Skywalker, Rose Tico has been downgraded from an equal hero to Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron, to a functionary of the Resistance, an interchangeable cog whose dialogue could largely be spoken by any given extra. It's a criminally disappointing conclusion for one of the most exciting characters in the series. Perhaps worst of all, it's very hard to give a lot of leeway to Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio for what they choose to do, or not do, with Rose here. At best, they simply had too many characters to service in 140 minutes; at worst, they saw Rose as a symbol of what they disliked about The Last Jedi, and thus a problem to solve.

Let the Past Die

What's most frustrating with Rose's storyline is echoed in how Abrams and Terrio handle the conclusion of Leia's story arc. To be clear, considering the shocking and untimely circumstances of Carrie Fisher's death, there was never going to be an easy way to handle how the character of Leia bows out. It's easy to imagine a scenario in which The Force Awakens served as Han Solo's spotlight, with The Last Jedi being squarely focused on Luke Skywalker, and the concluding chapter focusing much more on Leia and her interactions with the younger characters. Leia, to be sure, is in The Rise of Skywalker, thanks largely to a few deleted scenes from The Force Awakens that are inserted as carefully as possible into the 2019 film in such a way as to make it seem like she's part of the current story. But that current story requires the Resistance to be holed up in a jungle fortress, and for some characters to stay behind to help her fortify their location. One of those characters is Rose, unfortunately; when Finn is about to join Rey and Poe on a journey to acquire a device that will allow them to hopefully uncover the location of the apparently-not-remotely-dead Emperor Palpatine, Finn makes what's apparently a last-chance offer to have Rose join them. But she shrugs it off, saying she has to stick around their base. Outside of a brief reunion at the very end of the film, Rose and Finn spend no time together, barely interacting at all. Their connection was such a strong backbone of The Last Jedi, and this movie wastes no time at all in sidelining the character for no good reason. Perhaps the argument could be made that if she did join the other leads, Rose wouldn't have had too much to do. But the difference is, she might as well not even be part of this story.

Fulfill Your Destiny

What's truly concerning about this is the unavoidable image of why Rose isn't in the film. Could it be that Abrams (or Disney or Lucasfilm) chose to pay attention to the subset of very loud, very angry people who disliked Rose Tico, because she's a woman or because she's not white or because she's not adhering to some blinkered standard of weight representation? I don't believe that's what did happen, at least from Abrams' POV. First, I can't presume to know the inner workings of JJ Abrams' mind. Second, his work on TV and in film has championed a not-small amount of diversity — Alias and Lost had ensemble casts with actors and actresses of different races, and The Force Awakens introduces three new heroes, none of whom are white men.But the perception of what's happened here is as damaging as the actual result. If you hated Rose Tico because of some internalized or externalized misogyny and/or racism, all you'll notice in The Rise of Skywalker is that the character you despised so much is backgrounded. And the creative choices leading to that backgrounding are awful shaky, and so intensely minimizing to Rose's arc that it's insulting. (I would have to rewatch and listen carefully, but it's entirely possible that Tran has as much dialogue as Monaghan and Grunberg do.) And her romantic chemistry with Finn is eliminated here, as the ex-Stormtrooper has a potential new love interest, a fellow character who was also conscripted into the legion of Empire guards as a youth. You could even, correctly, point out that the way Abrams and Terrio ignore the hint of a romance between Rose and Finn is manifested in how The Rise of Skywalker all but ignores any hint of chemistry between Rey and Finn. Near the end of the new movie, just after defeating Palpatine for good (hopefully), Rey and Kylo Ren kiss in what is the weirdest and least successful bit of fan service. Separate of that, one of the odd and unresolved running bits in the film involves Finn hinting that he wants to tell Rey something serious without actually every telling her.There are other aspects of this movie that are profoundly frustrating, yes. The revelation that Rey's grandfather is Emperor Palpatine is, in its own way, an undoing of one of the many things that made The Last Jedi so special. Instead of accepting that her Force gifts are just really crazy skills, Rey is instead tied to the bloodline of characters from the past. The notion that anyone can harness the Force is diminished so that Rey's unique abilities can be linked to someone she'd never really known before.But as frustrating as that is, and as off-putting as the Rey/Kylo kiss is, what really rankles about how The Rise of Skywalker treats or ignores The Last Jedi is bottled up in the character of Rose Tico. We learned so much about her in the 2017 film, and she was brought to life wonderfully by Kelly Marie Tran. The Rise of Skywalker, as much as it's obsessed with servicing pockets of fans and wrapping up story arcs as neatly as possible, treats Rose like a background player. It's a profoundly disappointing choice that functions as a microcosm of why this film stumbles so much.