‘Star Wars’ Owes Kelly Marie Tran — and Fans — More Rose Tico

Obi-Wan Kenobi himself once proclaimed “only a Sith deals in absolutes.” Well, Star Wars fans must have missed the memo when it comes to Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. That 2017 film broke the fandom in more ways than one, and its reaction epitomized everything wrong with toxic fandom culture.

Lucasfilm had the chance to offer a stark rebuttal to disapproving fans who take the saga much too seriously. Yet, The Rise of Skywalker failed to reject fans’ basest and most despicable instincts. No matter what one thinks of the sequel trilogy, some fans have taken things way too far. And no one knows that more than Kelly Marie Tran.

Kelly Marie Tran at the European premiere of 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'
Kelly Marie Tran at the European premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ | Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Disney

Toxic fans cyber-bullied Kelly Marie Tran

The actress landed the role of a lifetime with a major part in the second film of the Star Wars sequel trilogy. In The Last Jedi, Tran plays Rose Tico, a mechanic for the Resistance. When she happens upon Finn (John Boyega) though, Rose gets caught up in an important mission vital to the survival of her cause.

In many ways, Rose’s story paralleled Tran’s own journey. After all, the actress had never been in a major Hollywood release since The Last Jedi. However, what started as a dream role soon devolved into the stuff of nightmares as “fans” began to harass her online.

Moviegoers who disliked the character of Rose attacked Tran for a variety of reasons, including her status as an Asian-American woman. The actress ultimately deleted her Instagram account as a result. In 2018, she publicly addressed her attacks in a New York Times piece.

The missed opportunity of ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

Despite the vitriol Tran faced, director J.J. Abrams announced Rose would return in The Rise of Skywalker. Fans — of the non-toxic variety, that is — took this as a sign the film would persist with Rose’s storyline. As such, it would essentially condemn Tran’s attackers, proving their action were fruitless.

Instead, The Rise of Skywalker took the opposite approach. Rose — who played a pivotal role throughout The Last Jedi — was relegated to an estimated 76 seconds of screentime in its sequel. Sure, Tran appeared in the film, but her casting simply paid lip service to the controversy she faced.

Not only did Tran not participate in the main story, but Rose’s support role at the Resistance base was also mostly given to a new character played by Lost alum Dominic Monaghan. A fan backlash has already begun to unfold, leading fans to demand Lucasfilm to do right by Rose.

How ‘Star Wars’ can do right by Rose Tico

Since The Rise of Skywalker revealed itself to be just as divisive as its predecessor, fans of The Last Jedi have risen up to praise Johnson’s film and Tran’s role in it. One of the most famous supporters of Tran is director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), who has offered to direct a Disney+ series centered on Rose. If anyone can make a Rose Tico series happen, it needs to be a filmmaker like Chu with such a massive hit under his belt.

Still, we don’t know if Disney and Lucasfilm want to make an effort to course-correct. Aside from the popularity of The Mandalorian, the saga’s future remains rocky. Rose wouldn’t fit within either of the announced Disney+ Star Wars shows, which take place between Episodes III and IV. Plus, bringing fans more content with such a divisive character feels like a risky business move on Disney’s part.

Nevertheless, Rose represents the kind of earnest virtue and hopeful optimism that is the very heart of Star Wars. Making Rose the centerpiece of a show feels like an unlikely move for Disney. But Lucasfilm does owe a debt to Tran, her character, and her fans. Rose isn’t as apparent a hero as Rey (Daisy Ridley) or even Poe (Oscar Isaac). But The Last Jedi proved she is very much a hero herself.

The Rise of Skywalker might not have had the room — or, honestly, even tried — to give her a substantive role. Yet, Star Wars has barely scratched the surface of what Rose brings to the saga. Hopefully, Tran gets the chance to realize her character’s potential for great Star Wars stories, whether on Disney+ or elsewhere.