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No Explanation Can Justify Kelly Marie Tran’s Tiny Role in The Rise of Skywalker

Kelly Marie Tran.
Kelly Marie Tran at the world premiere of Disney’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in Los Angeles on Dec. 16, 2019. Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Kelly Marie Tran has one minute and 16 seconds of screen time as Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and no one has yet produced a convincing explanation for why that’s the case. The movie’s co-writer, Chris Terrio, took a stab at it in a recent interview with Awards Daily, insisting that he and Abrams “adore” Tran and that “the last thing we were doing was deliberately trying to sideline Rose.” According to Terrio, Tran’s character—who was the subject of severe backlash after The Last Jedi—does not go on the main quest because the writers wanted someone to stay behind with Leia, appearing using repurposed footage of the late Carrie Fisher. Those scenes of Rose and Leia then “fell out” of the movie because they “turned out to not meet the standard of photorealism that we’d hoped for.”

This explanation is unpersuasive for a multitude of reasons. For one, even if it were necessary for one of the main characters to stay with Leia, it’s not clear why it had to be Rose as opposed to, for example, Poe, who had a much richer relationship with Leia in the previous films. (Remember the slap!) For another, Fisher died before The Rise of Skywalker had begun production, so it’s hard to believe there wasn’t a backup plan in place in case any of the scenes involving Leia didn’t work out because of a lack of “photorealism.” On The Mandalorian, the creators went to great lengths to ensure that they had options for “The Child,” aka Baby Yoda, shooting duplicate scenes with and without animatronics. If one Star Wars production could do all that for a little green alien, why couldn’t another take the same precautions for a flesh-and-blood member of the cast?

To make matters worse, Terrio later clarified that his comments referred to “a specific scene in which Leia’s emotional state in Episode 7 did not seem to match the scene we wrote for use in Episode 9, and so it was cut at the script stage (before the VFX work was done).” It wasn’t a technical issue, then, but poor writing that kept Kelly Marie Tran on the sidelines. Not only does Rose get very little screen time, she does and says nothing of substance, as evidenced by how easily her other scenes “fell out” without affecting the movie as a whole. (In addition to the scenes between her and Leia that were axed in the script stage, it sounds like Tran filmed some battle scenes and scenes with Daisy Ridley’s Rey that didn’t make it into the finished product either.)

Demoting Rose from major character to bit player is not just bad for Tran, who was the first woman of color to play a leading role in a Star Wars movie, as she herself has pointed out. It’s also bad for The Rise of Skywalker and the trilogy as a whole. Rose’s romance with Finn has apparently been forgotten, just one of many loose ends that The Rise of Skywalker, supposedly the final installment in a nine-episode saga, never bothers to tie up. And the already-bloated movie brings in several new supporting players whose lines or actions could’ve instead been given to the existing character. Even Jar Jar Binks, another much-loathed Star Wars character, had more to do in Attack of the Clones than Rose does in The Rise of the Skywalker.

Terrio says Rose wasn’t deliberately sidelined, but the filmmakers must have known how her tiny role would be perceived. After The Last Jedi, Tran was harassed by disgruntled fans and subjected to racist and sexist insults, information that could hardly have escaped their notice: She wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about it, after all. Cutting Rose out of the story, regardless of the reasoning, gives those people exactly what they wanted. If Terrio and J.J. Abrams agreed that something was wrong with Rose as a character, then they should’ve corrected it by writing Rose better, not by writing her out. In doing so, they’ve set a terrible precedent of rewarding fans’ bad behavior.

Over the coming weeks, alternative explanations for Tran’s tiny role may emerge—rumors about a rushed shooting schedule and a secret director’s cut are already floating around—but the damage is already done. Jon M. Chu has offered to direct a series about Rose for Disney+ as a kind of corrective, but if Tran decides she’s done with the Star Wars franchise for good, no one could blame her.*

Correction, Jan. 2, 2020: This post originally misspelled Jon M. Chu’s first name.