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Friday, June 08, 2018

"A Rose is what Moses supposes his toeses!" (Thoughts on THE LAST JEDI, part 5)

part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4


FINN: Look, this whole place is beautiful. I mean, come on--why do you hate it so much?

ROSE: Look closer. My sister and I grew up in a poor mining system. The First Order stripped our ore to finance their military...then shelled us to test their weapons. They took everything we had. And who do you think these people are? There's only one business in the galaxy that'll get you this rich.

FINN: War.

This was originally going to be the part about Rey, but I decided to add this one instead after some recent events in Star Wars "fandom" that reveal a great deal of underlying ugliness. Basically, Kelly Marie Tran, the actress who played Rose Tico in TLJ, deleted her Instagram account after she was subjected to relentless criticism, slurs, and abuse pretty much ever since the film opened.

I find this deeply sickening on a number of levels. First is just the basic idea of such abuse, the idea that attacking someone famous online is even an idea that appeals to anyone. Being mean online has been a thing as long as being online itself has been a thing, but it really does seem to have taken off in the era of social media. Tran isn't the first person to deal with such nastiness. "Fans" managed to chase Daisy Ridley off the very same forum after TFA came out.

It's pretty easy, anyway, to see where such impulses come from. Tran is a non-white woman, and for a lot of people who almost without exception turn out to be white men, those are two unforgivable strikes against her. It's one of the most deeply depressing realities of the time we're in. It should be incredibly exciting, these social media platforms that allow us to interact with those whose work we admire. But we humans can be a very ugly and petty lot, so it comes as no surprise that many of us flip that behavior around.

As a lot of these people have crawled out of the woodwork this week, so too have a bunch who claim to be oh so committed to not being pro-harrassment or bigoted in any way, but gosh golly, can't we have the Star Wars of old when it was all just about adventure and good guys and bad guys and none of this dreaded "SJW" stuff?" [For me, the term "SJW"--Social Justice Warrior, if you haven't heard it before--has become a reverse-dog whistle, in that the second I hear someone say it in derisive fashion, I immediately stop listening to them.] This argument always strikes me as colossally weird, as the new Star Wars movies, storytelling issues aside, are certainly chock-a-block full of adventure and good guys and bad guys. This is one of those criticisms that puts me in mind of this exchange from an episode of The West Wing, when Sam is told that right-wingers have taken exception to some incredibly innocuous thing that the First Lady has said:

SAM: I don't see it.
CJ: Well, you have to want it.
SAM: Oh. Now I see it.

Also obnoxious is a kind of response I've seen in a lot of places online, especially Twitter, when someone says that the harrassment Tran has endured is unacceptable: "But her character is awful!" This is either meant as an excuse to justify the harrassment, or it's couched in some kind of mealy-mouthed "I don't condone the harrassment, but Rose is an awful character!" The problem is that the one does not have a single damned thing to do with the other. Think about how stupid that sounds when framed another way: "I don't condone setting the elementary school on fire, but their parking lot has a lot of potholes." These types of formulations are attempts to direct conversation away from extremely toxic behavior by overwhelmingly white and male "fans", and it's bullshit.

But what of Rose Tico as a character, anyway?

Well, I loved her.

Rose is another of this new trilogy's non-Skywalker and non-Force using characters, clearly intended at least partially to expand the focus of what Star Wars can be about. It's not just that she's Asian, although that's frankly a perfectly nice development. It's that she's a mechanic who does her job and does it proudly. She's a part of the Rebellion/Resistance that isn't all lofty and concerned about tactics or finding lost Jedi masters or doing heroic things in an X-wing.

More importantly, though, Rose Tico articulates a moral vision for what she's fighting for that's quite distinct from anything we've heard before in a Star Wars movie. She's not just another entry in the long line of people struggling against the Dark Side, or against the Empire's vague tyranny. She puts a definite, specific spin on the nature of the fight, and she gives reasons for fighting that are very real. She also shines a light on a dark moral underbelly of how the galaxy does business. Maybe that's the "SJW crap" that bothers people, but...yeah, I don't care. That exchange up top, about how war can make people rich like no other thing can? That's not some lofty SJW thing. That's just history.

But Rose isn't great just because of all that. She also shows Finn that there are other things to love, other things that are worthy. Not bad for someone who initially misinterpreted Finn's attempts to escape. Some of her shifts of heart, especially regarding Finn, do come a bit too quickly, but I suppose that's just the way things are going to be in this new trilogy. At the end, is she claiming to love Finn? Well...sure, why not? They've been through a lot together by that point. Is it romantic love? I have no idea. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Either way it's fine. Rose has gone from innocent hero worship to being a hero herself, and she's paid a lot along the way.

So yeah: Rose Tico is a terrific character, Kelly Marie Tran does a wonderful job playing her, and every dolt what says otherwise should just go play in traffic. Here endeth the lesson.

Next: Rey. I promise.

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