Paige Tico

The (Mis)Use of Rose Tico

I wasn’t a huge fan of The Last Jedi. I explain as much in my piece Reflections on The Last Jedi (which you can read for yourself). But while I did not find it as groundbreaking as other Star Wars fans, neither did I fully despise the film. I could appreciate the film at points, acknowledging that the movie presented clever and unique ideas, along with some interesting new characters.

Two of those characters were the Tico sisters: Paige and Rose. While Paige Tico only appears at the beginning of The Last Jedi as a ball gunner in a Resistance bomber, her small role is massive in that she sacrifices herself to destroy a First Order dreadnaught which threatens the Resistance fleet. Grasping the crescent necklace around her neck, Paige Tico dies in order for others, including her sister Rose, to live.

Rose, in turn, makes her appearance after Paige’s death, when Finn comes across  her as he attempts to leave the Resistance fleet. Rose, grasping her own crescent necklage, sits in tears. Introduced by this obvious connection to her sister – and subsequently mentioning her sister to Finn – Rose ends up going on an adventure with Finn and BB-8 to the planet Canto Bight. In turn, Rose, Finn and BB-8, accompanied by the slicer DJ, eventually make their way to the First Order fleet chasing the Resistance fleet in the hopes of disabling the First Order’s hyperspace device. Captured while aboard the First Order Mega-Star Destroyer thanks to the betrayal of DJ, Tico and company end up stealing an enemy shuttle in order to make it to the new Resistance base on the nearby planet Crait.

Once on Crait, Rose participates in a desperate ground battle with her allies, piloting a ski speeder against overwhelming First Order numbers in the hopes of destroying the enemy battering ram cannon. Finn, whom Rose has grown close to by this point in the film thanks to the adventure to Canto Bight and the First Order Star Destroyer, chooses to sacrifice himself when all hope seems lost, piloting his ski speeder towards the massive cannon. But at the last minute, Tico crashes into Finn, pushing him off course. In turn, Finn will run to Rose, pulling her from the wreckage but first questioning why she crashed into him. Rose, bleeding and shaken, will explain to Finn that  “…we’re gonna win, not fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.” Rose then kisses Finn before she passes out from her wounds. Dragged back to the Resistance base by Finn, the unconscious Rose will survive the Battle of Crait with the remaining Resistance fighters aboard the Millennium Falcon.

Rose Finn Kiss
Rose and Finn kiss during The Battle of Crait
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

When I saw The Last Jedi, I thought Rose Tico was an interesting and well-developed character even though I did not entirely care for the adventure she takes to Canto Bight or the First Order Star Destroyer. What drew me to Rose was her hopeful spirit, her resilience, her internal confidence, and her desire to help others. She is introduced in The Last Jedi as a character who is overwhelmed by the loss of her sister but also inspired by her sister’s heroic sacrifice. When she meets Finn, she is equally overwhelmed, amazed she is speaking with the First Order stormtrooper-turned-Resistance hero who also inspires her to keep fighting the good fight. Filled with deep admiration for the heroes in the Resistance, Rose Tico is the embodiment of the heart and fighting spirit which keeps the Resistance going, a perfect example of the “spark that’ll light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down.” 

But this brief overview of Rose and her role in The Last Jedi is a means to an end, a small set-up to arrive at the larger point of reflection I wish to discuss: the way Rose Tico was (mis)used in The Rise of Skywalker.

The (Mis)Use of Rose Tico

When I went into my first viewing of The Rise of Skywalker, the final installment of Disney’s Star Wars sequel trilogy, I did so with the presumption that Rose Tico would be an important player in the events which would transpire. My presumption, unfortunately, was wrong.

Violet Kim, a journalist for Slate, recently published a short piece about Rose Tico’s notable absence from The Rise of Skywalker. In the piece, which you can read HERE, Kim notes that Rose appears on-screen in The Rise of Skywalker, a movie with a run-time of 2 hours and 22 minutes, for only 1 minute and 16 seconds.  As a point of contrast, Kim goes on to note that in The Last Jedi, which has a run-time of 2 hours and 32 minutes, Rose is on-screen for 10 minutes and 53 seconds. 

Even without the breakdown into minutes and seconds – which is, admittedly, pretty eye-popping – it is obvious that Rose’s role in the film is lacking. And I am not going to lie, this (mis)use of Rose Tico left me feeling equally perplexed and upset. In part, I felt this way because after The Last Jedi, actress Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose, was assailed online with racist and sexual harassment which in turn led Tran to delete her social media presence. In a sense, the lack of screentime for Rose in The Rise of Skywalker makes it seem as though these online trolls actually got their way, that they were successful in getting a principal character, a woman of color, sidelined in the film. Because of the nasty vitriol which Kelly Marie Tran was subjected to following The Last Jedi, it was even more critical and important for J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio, co-writers of The Rise of Skywalker, to find ways to raise Tico’s profile in the movie. That this did not happen is not only unfortunate, but it makes one wonder if Abrams and Terrio took Tran’s harassment seriously or considered the possibility that if Rose was not featured more prominently in the film that her absence would embolden the trolls who attacked Tran in the first place.

In their defense, Terrio did come out and explain that Rose was intended to be more prominent in the film. As he explains in an interview with Clarence Moye of Awards Daily, he and Abrams,

“…wanted Rose to be the anchor at the rebel base who was with Leia. We thought we couldn’t leave Leia at the base without any of the principals whom we love, so Leia and Rose were working together. As the process evolved, a few scenes we’d written with Rose and Leia turned out not to meet the standard of photorealism that we’d hoped for. Those scenes unfortunately fell out of the film.”

That Rose was to be featured more in the film, albeit before the editing process took over, is certainly positive. And that she was to be the principal character interacting with Leia is notable even if a number of those scenes were cut from the film. But while I can grant this point to Terrio and Abrams, applauding them for wanting Rose to work closely with Leia, I can simultaneously admit that I find Terrio’s response vague and unconvincing . It is all well-and-good to say that he and Abrams intended for Rose to be in the film more than she is, working alongside Leia, but the fact remains that she is barely in the film (even though Tran herself has noted that she filmed other scenes for the movie). And as a result, her story feels truncated, abruptly cut-off in the wake of The Last Jedi without any sense of finality.

This is all the more disappointing when we consider that the signature moment for Rose in The Last Jedi, the moment she saves Finn from his hatred for the First Order and then kisses him, is entirely ignored in The Rise of Skywalker. Given the adventure they go on in The Last Jedi, Rose obviously started having strong feelings for the former Stormtrooper. Whether Finn felt the same way is left unanswered at the end of The Last Jedi, but The Rise of Skywalker is uninterested in exploring this possibility, or even addressing it. Instead, The Rise of Skywalker seems content to ignore Rose’s kiss and her feelings altogether, instead focusing more on Finn’s connection with Rey, and his relationship with Jannah (another former Stormtrooper who is introduced half-way through the movie). It is as if The Rise of Skywalker is engaged in the narrative “ghosting” of Rose, with Finn purposefully ignoring her because he has other things to do and people (Rey, Poe, C-3PO, Chewbacca, BB-8,and the new droid D-O) to be with. 

Rose Tico Exegol
Rose Tico during The Battle of Exegol, one of the few times we actually see her in the movie.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Again, in fairness, this is not to say Rose is not given the chance to join Finn and the others on their galactic scavenger hunt. When she is asked to come along, Rose responds with a narratively contrived reason she needs to stay at the Resistance base: because the General, Rose explains, needs her to analyze the specs of the old, Imperial-class Star Destroyers. With the intention of making Rose the principal with Leia, this ensures that we are all filled-in on why Rose is hanging back. Sadly, with her scenes with Leia being edited out of the film, her need to analyze Star Destroyers instead feels like an excuse to remove her from the main plot of the film, sidelining her so the real heroes can hang out on the Millennium Falcon and save the galaxy. 

But the thing is, as I watched The Rise of Skywalker and went on the galactic adventure with the films principal heroes – Rey, Finn, and Poe – I found myself missing Rose even more. I sat and wished she was part of the team, having the chance not only to have a heart-to-heart with Finn during their travels, but also the opportunity to get to know Rey, laugh with Poe, play (and even beat!) Chewbacca at dejarik, work side-by-side with BB-8 and C-3PO, and show kindness to the skittish D-O. Moreover, I found myself wishing Rose Tico was there so she could continue to be “the spark” of Resistance she so fully embodied in The Last Jedi, her heart and fighting spirit, and the crescent necklace around her neck, used as a constant reminder to the heroes (and viewers) that winning would be accomplished  “not fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.”

Reflections on The Last Jedi

I can say, with little remorse, that I have not yet purchased The Last Jedi. This isn’t to suggest I never will. The need – not a want, a need – to place the film next to the other Star Wars films on my shelf will eventually take over. For now, I can fight that urge, pushing back against the feeling that my shelf looks incomplete. But why am I fighting this feeling? Why not give in and just buy the most recent installment in the Star Wars franchise? I am a die-hard Star Wars fan after all, so why haven’t I gone out of my way to purchase and obsessively watch the film? Good questions.

I don’t review films on this site. I don’t review films on this site because I am not a professional reviewer, a critic trained to offer an appraisal of a piece of work. I am a fan of Star Wars, I have opinions, but those opinions do not give me the authority to offer any truly nuanced or unbiased “take.” I don’t review films on this site, but I am never-the-less, here and now, ready and willing to offer my thoughts and opinions on The Last Jedi, doing so with as little bias as possible. But again, this isn’t a formal review, and I don’t get paid to say these things.

A Smattering of Things I Liked

Paige Tico
Paige Tico
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi. The movie has some remarkable moments, and to me none is more remarkable than the moment Paige Tico sacrifices herself to save the small Resistance fleet. Tico, a character who never utters a word, a ball gunner in a Starfortress Bomber blasting away at First Order TIE Fighters. In a desperate moment, with everything on the line, Paige climbs out of her gunner’s chair and performs an act of sacrifice heroism, unleashing the bombs that destroy a First Order Dreadnaught. The action saves the fleet; the action takes her life.

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi, and I genuinely appreciate the acting of Kylo Ren actor Adam Driver. I was captivated by Driver’s portrayal of Kylo in The Force Awakens. I was swept away by his portrayal in The Last Jedi. Kylo Ren is not just a villain in The Last Jedi, he truly is the “monster” Rey calls him. The Dark Side isn’t just strong in him, it consumes him in a flame that burns hotter than Mustafar. He is ready and willing to destroy everything to prove himself, to be like his grandfather, to be his grandfather, to be greater than his grandfather. Darth Vader, Lord of Death. Kylo Ren, Supreme Lord of Darkness. Redemption isn’t even on this guys radar. Only death, only destruction, only darkness, only power.

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi, and there are smattering of moments and characters and events I really enjoyed. I loved the design of the Resistance Bombers, the First Order Dreadnaught, the AT-M6 Walkers, the Resistance capital ships. I liked the geography of Crait, and the fact that Caluan Ematt is a General leading the Resistance forces on the planet. Laura Dern is great as Vice Admiral Holdo, although I wish her sacrifice – which is visually incredible – had been saved for Episode IX since it overshadows the sacrifice of Paige Tico. Carrie Fisher’s final portrayal as Leia Organa is  very moving (sans the weird space floating moment) and her final interaction with Luke, even though he isn’t physically present, is quite touching.

KyloRey
Kylo and Rey fighting together is a pretty cool sequence. Watch closely and you’ll notice that Rey should have easily been killed.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I could list other things, other aspects of the film I genuinely liked. But I am not here to just list things, and I don’t think you want to read a list. The truth is, those aspects of the film I just listed – and a few others here and there – are all I can muster when it comes to this film. I can identify “things” about The Last Jedi I liked and that is all. I envy those who have been so moved by this film, who have elevated it into top place in their Star Wars rank lists. I wish I could do the same – it wouldn’t supplant The Empire Strikes Back in my list but #2 is a fluid spot – but sadly I cannot. I am a life-long Star Wars fan and this film just doesn’t move me, it just doesn’t feel right. There are a handful of profound moments but this movie just isn’t very profound.

Wading into the Shallows

I am well-aware that those who love The Last Jedi see incredible depth in it, that they believe this film has done something to Star Wars that is magnificent, breathtaking, groundbreaking. I understand what they are saying, I even understand how they are thinking. I just don’t agree. The common refrain I run into is that the writer/director Rian Johnson has “let the past die,” jettisoning aspects of the Star Wars saga – even aspects of The Force Awakens – to tell a unique and different type of Star Wars story. Perhaps nothing points to this more clearly than by Rian Johnson’s depiction of Luke Skywalker as a broken shell of a Jedi, a man determined to die in-exile.

Heading into the film I knew Luke Skywalker was going to be broken in some form and I was perfectly fine with that reality. “Luke Skywalker has vanished” the opening crawl to The Force Awakens tells the audience in the very first line and to its credit The Last Jedi shows us that the line is not solely about being geographically lost. Heck, the film could have been titled “The Lost Jedi” because Luke Skywalker has completely lost touch with who he was when we last saw him in Return of the Jedi. “I am a Jedi like my father before me,” young Skywalker once proudly declared to the Dark Lord Sidious in the single most important moment in the Original Trilogy. “I’m ending all of this. The tree, the texts, the Jedi. I’m going to burn it all down,” he now tells Master Yoda (who appears as a Force ghost). Damn, the Luke Skywalker we knew really has vanished!!! It’s no wonder so many older fans of the franchise have lamented that this isn’t the Luke they remember…

Is This REALLY Luke?

In a guest post on this site – An Ignoble End to the Skywalker Saga – my friend Nancy  succinctly notes that the Luke Skywalker we experience in The Last Jedi “…could not cope with the crushing disappointment of Kylo’s turn towards the dark side and the guilt he felt towards letting Leia and Han down.” To this we can add that he feels equally guilty for Ben Solo’s ultimate turn to the Dark Side. You know, that moment when he stood above his sleeping nephew, ignited his green lightsaber and contemplated, momentarily, ending the boy’s life. When he recalls the event, Luke initially lies to Rey about what happened. Or rather, he offers a “Kenobian” point-of-view to his new protégé. But I digress. Ben Solo, frightened as he wakes and looks up at his uncle holding the blade, defends himself. Who wouldn’t? But then the young Solo does more, tearing down the Jedi Academy that Skywalker had built, killing the students (with the help of other students who had dark feelings?) and fleeing to the warmth, love, and manipulation of Supreme Leader Snoke.

That Ben Solo-turned-Kylo Ren destroyed everything Luke had painstakingly built in the years after Return of the Jedi makes sense. It was the story I expected after watching The Force Awakens. The surprising bit is that Luke Skywalker took a completely non-Luke Skywalker action which was the catalyst for Ben’s final step into the Dark Side. With the momentary ignition of his green lightsaber as he stands above his sleeping nephew, the scene from Return of the Jedi where Luke cast aside the exact same blade, refusing to kill his father, is itself thrown aside.

“This is not going to go the way you think,” Skywalker declares to Rey at one point in the movie. “Let the past die, kill it if you have to.” Kylo Ren tells Rey at another point in the film. Over and over again, The Last Jedi champions what it is doing: tearing down the foundations of Star Wars with something new and radical. The movie spends a lot of time self-referencing with quotes and metaphors (a building literally crumbles, burying Luke, when Ben defends himself) to prove this is the case, to make us believe we are watching a radically new and fresh version of Star Wars. The thing is…

I don’t buy it. From my vantage point, the self-references and metaphors – and the shallow depth of the film – are just clever tricks distracting us from the obvious. Namely, that we have seen this story once before:

A teacher takes on a gifted, young student who has incredible power. The teacher trains the student, but the student has dark thoughts and feelings, and those thoughts and feelings grow like a virus in the mind. Eventually, the teacher must confront the student, and the student fights back. While the teacher chooses not to kill the student, the damage is already done. The teacher is left feeling guilty and flees into exile. The student puts on a mask that represents their dark turn. Years later, the two finally confront one another again. The teacher is aware of their own shortcomings, that they failed the student. The student believes they are the more powerful now, but little do they know that their teacher is truly more powerful than the student can possibly imagine. Their final battle ensues, and in a critical moment, the student slashes a red blade through their former teacher…only to be left stunned and confused by their former teacher’s final lesson.

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker?
Luke Skywalker and Ben Solo?
Rey and *insert the villain from Episodes X, XI, XII*

LukevsKylo
Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren face off on Crait.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi


We Need to Talk about Rey

Speaking of Rey, for being the heroine of this new trilogy, The Last Jedi goes to ridiculous lengths to build her up through Acts I & II only to have her be a non-factor in Act III. Her story is an interesting one and I genuinely like Rey, but for all of her training with Luke, her Force connection with Kylo Ren, and her (brash) decision to run off and try to save Ben from the monster within him, her story is effectively set aside in the Final Act. Why? Because this film isn’t about Rey. It is really about Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren. Don’t get me wrong, Rey has a lot of cool character development and some intriguing bits happen to her. Never-the-less, from my vantage point, Rey is ultimately set aside in what is supposed to be her own story. 

Of course, one could argue that Rey’s connection with Kylo Ren is the most fascinating aspect of the movie. In fairness, I wouldn’t entirely disagree. The relationship between Kylo Ren (Dark Side) and Rey (Light Side) is where a lot of the philosophical “depth” in The Last Jedi comes into play. This depth is certainly interesting, but it is a depth that is knee deep at best. For all of the Ontological-meets-Ethical Dualism which Rey and Kylo Ren represent, specifically as it relates to the “Balance of the Force” (whatever the hell that even means at this point), any opportunity to truly dive into the mysterious abyss of the Force never really happens. An opportunity certainly existed, one where Luke  could have helped Rey work through her connection to Kylo (and vice-versa with Snoke helping Kylo work through his relationship with Rey). This would have been a prime opportunity to highlight Luke (and Snoke) as mentors, while shedding light on this intriguing and new conception of the Force. Instead, the movie gives us only fleeting glimpses of these deeper philosophical undertones while simultaneously distracting us from them (i.e. – Kylo being shirtless; the two awkwardly touching hands; Rey running off to save Ben). Then again, I’m not sure the film even knows how to take things into the deep end of the pool. In fact, I would liken it to this: The Last Jedi (and Rian Johnson) give off the impression of a college freshman who took Introduction to Philosophy, read snippets from the I Ching, the Avesta, the Gathas, and The Jedi Path, and is now acting like a pretentious know-it-all who has minimal grasp on what they are saying. Which leads me to this…

“Getting” The Last Jedi

As Nancy and I were chatting recently about the film, she mentioned that “…there is this attitude that if you didn’t like Rian Johnson’s vision then you weren’t smart or deep enough to ‘get’ The Last Jedi.” In other words, it is as if one must possess a gnostic knowledge to truly “understand” the esoteric depth at the core of this movie. If only Nancy, or myself, or others who do not love and worship the film as a gift to Star Wars had the special knowledge to understand it, we would finally see just how profound The Last Jedi truly is. But like I said earlier, I really don’t think it is very profound.

For over two hours, I watched a film I had already seen before. Or rather, I watched a film that took thematic elements from a handful of films that I have already seen before. Don’t get me wrong, there ARE things in this film that are new, and things in this film that are intriguing. I mean, I have NEVER seen the aliens in the Canto Bight Casino before (but I have been confronted by never-before-seen aliens in a casino/cantina-esque setting before). Yet, for all the new stuff in this film, as a whole it just came off as an amalgamation of ALL the Star Wars films, pretending to be something radical and fresh while simultaneously offering philosophical possibilities that are never really teased out.

I envy those who have experienced The Last Jedi as this new and fresh dive into the Star Wars universe. Truly, I do. I wish I had the gnosis they possess and the connection tot he film that leads them to see it as philosophically deep and spiritually mystical. Then again, I don’t really believe there is any there “there,” or at least not enough to elevate The Last Jedi to the top of the Star Wars pantheon. Rather, The Last Jedi is just a film masquerading as something truly special, a “child in a mask” playing Star Wars dress up. Does it attempt some intriguing things, even getting away with a handful? Of course it does. But the thing is, if I want to really experience Star Wars, I will watch the Original six films. Hell, I’ll even watch The Force Awakens – which is also a derivative amalgamation but is at least AWARE it is – and I will definitely watch Rogue One – which woefully lacks women but is never-the-less a stellar homage to A New Hope. On the flip side, if I feel like watching something that is “technically” Star Wars but that thinks it is way smarter and self-important than it really is, I’ll watch The Last Jedi. Granted, I’ll need to buy it first, and right now I have better things to spend my money on.