I’ve Got Some Complicated Feelings About Rose Tico’s Characterization

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“Poe, this will save the fleet and save Rey,” Finn said. “We have to do it.”

Rey Rey Rey. Rose really wanted to stun him again.

— From Jason Fry’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi novelization

One of my biggest issues with folks who really loved The Last Jedi is that they keep trying to lump everyone that dislikes the film together. Everyone that hates The Last Jedi has to hate it because they hate seeing women and people of color in charge, right?

Except, I went into The Last Jedi expecting that Finn would continue his heroic arc alongside the Force-focused plot with Rey (or, if not, that he’d have something focused on himself and figuring out who he is on his own). I went into the film expecting Rose Tico to be AMAZING and for her and Paige to be significant and positive characters.

What I got was Paige dying in the first part of the film, Rose’s unbelievably frustrating interactions with Finn, and my boy Finn being frequently reduced to comedic relief and a naïve child with no common sense or intelligence as Rey tried her darndest to find the good in Kylo Ren for most of the movie.

I keep being told that Rose and Finn are great representation in The Last Jedi and that I shouldn’t complain because that’s just mean, but… Representation in media or fandom isn’t a “one-size fits all” set up where it works for everyone in the group being represented.

Additionally, why does Rose’s status as the first East Asian (specifically Vietnamese-American) female main-ish character in a Star Wars film suddenly mean that I can’t critique her behavior towards Finn or the fact that the writing for her characterization is weirdly nonsensical? (And note that Finn being the first Black character with a main role in Star Wars didn’t stop certain parts of fandom from criticizing the hell out of him and John Boyega for stuff neither character nor actor did… They still do it even when asked not to!)


Within hours of seeing leaks from the junior and expanded novelizations for The Last Jedi, I went from being slightly uncomfortable with Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico’s interactions with John Boyega’s Finn to wanting her nowhere near him until she did some soul searching.

Which sucks.

I hate that I can’t get around to liking Rose because Kelly Marie Tran is a totally cutie and I love that’s she’s literally a nerd living the dream. I wanted nothing more than to love the character and what she and Veronica Ngo’s Paige Tico represent as Vietnamese characters in space.

However, Rose Tico is a problematic character for me because of the way that her interactions with Finn shape up across the film and subsequent novelizations. I can’t help but notice the way that the character behaves towards and interacts with Finn across these works is incredibly aggressive and disturbing.

There are a few things about Finn and Rose’s interactions that I liked, but overall, I felt that the characters were colored by the fact that across different mediums, Rose is written as weirdly possessive of Finn and patronizing to boot. I wanted to like Rose despite the issues in her characterization, but the different novelizations expanding her interactions with Finn made me uncomfortable.

So, I want to talk about what Rose came to mean to me across The Last Jedi film and novelization as well as how I think her character could’ve been done better in a way that provides better representation.

At the start of all of these works, in their first interactions, Rose tasers Finn. She’s doing it on orders from her superior, but her grief in the wake of her older sister’s death shapes the way that she reacts to what looks like a desertion.

At first, Rose is a starry-eyed fangirl when she meets Finn. Here, in her eyes, is the Big Deal of the resistance despite the fact that it’s been a day or two at the most since the events on the Starkiller base. She reacts to Finn the way any one of us would respond to seeing Beyoncé.

Only, when she realizes that he’s not the saintly figure she’s somehow turned him into in her mind and realizes that he’s trying to leave the ship, she stuns him. (I would never stun Beyoncé.)

Additionally, this film is set within a week of The Force Awakens so within an unspecified, but short period of time, Rose goes full on hero-worship with Finn. To the point where, him failing to live up to her expectations sets her off.

Objectively, I get Rose’s reaction. I do.

I get that she’s stunned by the loss of her only family and that the fact that her own death is probably imminent isn’t helping either. I get that she’s finding stunning potential deserters pretty cathartic.

starwars-lastjedi-movie-screencaps.com-4678However, the story asks us to empathize with her… as it turns Finn being stunned into unconsciousness into something for the audience to laugh at – shortly after the film sets him up for another role as the butt of a joke by him waking up from his coma and stumbling out into a hallway dripping bacta fluid from a mostly transparent suit.

And that’s where my attempt at objectivity hits a wall.

Rose, in the film, does several flips from hero worship, to assuming that Finn has to be a traitor because of his former stormtrooper status, to effectively ‘splaining child slavery to him (which still makes no sense to me because we know that Finn knows that he was taken for the First Order as a child and was essentially enslaved), and then to saving him, kissing him and claiming to love him in like five minutes at the end of the film.

Okay.

Part of what makes the Finn-Rose relationship so very hard to love is the fact that Rose doesn’t really seem to see Finn as a person for much of The Last Jedi. He goes from a hero who can do no wrong (until he does) to a traitor spitting on Rose’s memory (and so desperate for friends that he’s chasing after Rey) to a naïve child to like… someone she loves in a romantic way.

All in a matter of hours.

However, as I watched the film and went over the two novelizations I own, I can’t find where she’s figured out that Finn is a person just like her. She ascribes all of these identities or positions to him without ever asking him “hey, how do you feel about this thing”.

She talks over him, she lectures him, and she assumes that she knows what’s best for him. This is across three separate adaptations (the film, Jason Fry’s novelization, and the bits of the junior novelization that were leaked prior to publishing). Theirs is not a relationship of equals, not when you think about who had what dialogue and how the characters were put into relation with one another.

While I was looking at social media for research about this post, I saw someone say that Rose had a change of heart towards Finn in this novelization so “antis” needed to chill and I don’t really see it as something to crow about considering how she treats him across the film and novelizations before you get to that change of heart. That change aside, she doesn’t even seem to get him or see his humanity for much of their time together.

What I don’t like about The Last Jedi as a whole is that it goes above and beyond to put Finn in a position where he’s no longer as heroic a main character. He isn’t necessarily less heroic mind you, but he’s stuck in the film’s B-plot and subject to nonsensical characterization and repeated digs from perfect strangers. He’s the butt of jokes (e.g., Finn almost stepping in fathier dung and a scrapped joke idea/deleted scene where Finn puts on a suit backwards and is mocked for it on Canto Bight) and so many of the scenes that fumble with his characterization or outright treat him badly are ones that he shares with Rose.

And then there’s Jason Fry’s novelization for The Last Jedi.

Frankly speaking, Fry’s writing and characterization choices make me dislike Rose immensely and I wish I hadn’t read his work. She’s needlessly rude to Finn throughout and her internal monologue is in turns patronizing as hell and ridiculously violent and possessive, at one point wanting to stun Finn for talking to Poe about Rey and his motivations behind his actions.

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As I go over the expanded novelization, many of her interactions with Finn feel as if Rose is treating him like she owns him or as if he owes her. I still can’t get over the fact that she repeatedly treats him as if she’s a better person than him, that he’s betraying his people/the memory of her sister by not behaving a certain way, and as though his interest in Rey (his friendship at the very least) is wrong and in the way.

I can’t get invested in a relationship (of any kind) where one character is so disinterested in the motivations of their potential friend and/or love interest that they just… write them off without thinking. Rose doesn’t try to talk to Finn about any of the thoughts that run through her head. She doesn’t ask him what it’s like to have grown up in the First Order or what his relationship with Rey actually is like.

She just… assumes.

In the Fry’s novelization, there’s a scene where Rose tries to rationalize Finn’s thing for Rey and it’s just a whole mess that makes me wonder if the people responsible for getting this book to publication ever like… paused to think about the previous film and Finn’s characterization:

Finn was handsome—Rose had to admit that. It was too bad about the weird traitor thing. And the bizarre crush on the friend of his. Whoever this Rey was, she had to be quite something to make you desert people you’d fought alongside and a cause you’d come to believe in.

But then, she remembered, Finn had grown up in First Order training halls, one of those luckless orphans who got numbers instead of names. Maybe that was why he’d fallen so hard for his friend. The number of people who’d ever been nice to him must be depressingly small.

Does that make you feel like Rose and Finn are set up to have a great relationship of any kind?

Does it really?

Here are the problems I’ve found with this snippet, in order:

First, there’s something a bit… off about Rose begrudgingly admitting that Finn was handsome. This snippet takes place right after she’s like “Paige would get a kick out of all of this except for my hero being a traitor” so it’s supremely out of place.

Then, there’s the little fact that Finn isn’t a traitor.

In a deleted scene cut from the film it’s explicit, but without that: Finn never actually signed up for the Resistance. He actually only helped them because he needed to get on the base and save Rey. He’s a free agent and trying to push a narrative where he owes the resistance and has therefore automatically joined them, is so messed up that I literally can’t even begin to start yelling.

Next, calling his relationship with Rey a “bizarre crush” and saying that “she had to be quite something to make you desert people you’d fought alongside and a cause you’d come to believe in” is ridiculous because it’s that whole thing about ownership I’m feeling iffy about.

On top of that, Finn actually only fought with Chewbacca and Rey. He’s actually trying to save them. Also: like this sort of condescending shit is basically super present in Rose’s interactions with and internal monologue about Finn.

And if you missed it, Rose is basically saying that “Maybe the reason Finn cares so much about Rey is because he’s a love-starved orphan that gravitated obsessively towards the first person that was nice to him” and that’s like some supreme bullshit right there.

(Not just that she thought it because Jason Fry wrote it, but that fandom believes it.)

And lastly, there’s the whole thing about how so far, from the script and various interviews post The Force Awakens, we know that the intense adoration between Finn and Rey is mutual.

We don’t know if it’s romantic (yet), but they care so much about each other and want each other to be alright. Framing the adoration as one-sided and obsessive on Finn’s part – and by someone who’s known him for like three days and hasn’t actually tried to get to know him – is just so frustrating and fucked up because the canon doesn’t support that point of view.

tlj-finn-rey-hug.gif

The movie this novelization is based on doesn’t support this – Finn and Rey have the sweetest hug in the entire universe at the end of the film because they’ve missed each other so much.

Heck, both John Boyega and Daisy Ridley have spoken about their characters’ positive friendship and how it’s a feature of the films.

However, if Finn has this uncomfortable obsessive set of feelings towards Rey that Jason Fry, Rian Johnson, and a whole bunch of Rey/Kylo fans apparently seem to think he has, why even have the two characters interact at all?

(And don’t get me started on how this reframing of Finn’s reciprocated adoration of Rey as a harmful or abusive relationship on his end– primarily by white fans – is like peak fandom racism. It’s the Black Brute all over again where of course, Finn is a liar, an abuser, a creepy obsessive to people who think Kylo Ren is Mr. Darcy reborn. Again, if you don’t think that this has anything to do with race… How?)

In another scene, after Finn thoroughly embarrasses himself by assuming that the thief DJ (Benicio Del Toro) owned the swanky and speedy ship they’re in, Rose compares Finn to the birds that her sister had been obsessed with:

When they were kids on Hays Minor, Paige had become briefly obsessed with the curious fact that avians on a number of worlds would imprint on the first creature they saw once they emerged from their eggs—so you’d sometimes find, say, an eager convor chick following around a very confused tooka-cat.

Rose wondered if that was how Finn’s mysterious Rey felt to have this bumbling goof follow her around, mystified by everything in the galaxy that wasn’t her. If nothing else, Rose hoped she appreciated Finn’s wide-eyed, seemingly unconditional devotion.

Remember how I said that it didn’t feel as though Rose fully recognized that Finn was a person?

Yeah, this is not a good look and it’s literally infantilizing in the process with Rose comparing Finn’s friendship with Rey to a baby bird imprinting on something that wasn’t a bird. I suppose though, that this is part of that change of heart Rose has towards Finn because after this she does actually stop to think about what it means that stormtroopers are just made up of young people like Finn before deciding that he’s probably the only one to break free of his conditioning… With Paige’s words on Rose’s mind, Finn finally gets a pass.

Almost two-thirds of the way through the novelization.


Now, I’ve seen people say that the Rose-Finn interactions across The Last Jedi are anti-black/indicative of anti-blackness.  I’ve seen other people say that there’s nothing even vaguely anti-black about the relationship or the way folks in fandom talk about it.

I… disagree with the latter statement because it’s more complicated than many people seem interested in admitting.

For me, the way that Rose engages with Finn across the media is uncomfortable in general, but also specifically as a Black person well aware of how other people of color can (and do) reinforce anti-Blackness. I think there’s a frustrating ignorance and lack of respect present in the way that Finn and Rose were written in relation to one another.

Folks, there may be no “skintone based racism” in The Last Jedi and goddess only knows if there’s even a concept of Blackness in the Star Wars universe, but the biases and beliefs of the people working on the property clearly can make it into the film and its associated novelizations.

And, as we all know, the anti-Blackness of the fans in fandom never goes away. It just… mutates so it doesn’t set off all the alarms at once.

I know many of my readers aren’t on tumblr or twitter, but if you are, y’all may have seen the way that many supposed fans of the ship (primarily the ones who also ship Rey and Kylo Ren) have responded to Black fans who aren’t fond of the relationship or Rose. It’s not just the film or novelizations, but the fandom that uses Rose as a weapon or shield to wield against any critique.

For example: This thread on twitter shows some of what I got last month for mentioning that I was writing this post and putting up links to the snippets on Patreon back in March and April. People have created sock-puppet accounts to reblog my posts on tumblr pre-hiatus calling me anti-Asian, racist, and a bully for this post that wasn’t available in full anywhere until now.

I’m not the only Black Star Wars fan who’s gotten smacked entirely unsubtantiated accusations of “anti-Asianness” or harassment for talking critically about Rose while also (but separately) talking critically about the powerhouse Rey/Kylo ship and the racism present in the fanbase.


 

But you know what? At the end of the day though, this isn’t entirely about fandom or the fans that latched on to Rose’s characterization and refuse to think about how seeing Finn’s characterization through The Last Jedi has made some Black Star Wars fans feel.

It’s about a simple question:

Why did Rian Johnson and Jason Fry decide to write Rose the way that they did?

I know I’ve hyperfixated on how Rose treats Finn throughout this (because so many people ignore how the film and its fandom treat Finn and write off how Rose treats him too), but I’ve been mad for ages about how we got all of this hype about finally getting such important representation and a new character that wasn’t a white brunette and then –

She’s set up in such a way opposite Finn, the other “first” in the franchise, that makes it difficult to wholeheartedly root for her.

For me, and many Black people who have seen the film, the way that she engages with Finn leaves a sore spot that makes it hard to enjoy the awesome things about her character (like her brilliant mind, her strong sense of self, and her unwillingness to back down).

There’s a lot that I’d want to change about The Last Jedi if I could, but unlike the MRA and Dude-free cuts of the film that already exist in some capacity, cutting even a second of Rose’s screentime isn’t even a thought in my mind. Rose is important to the narrative and to the audience. She’s representative of a milestone that the franchise took too long to reach and I’d never want to remove her from the film.

No, what I’d change is the dialogue and her interactions at the start of the film and a tiny bit of the Canto Bight stuff. Like I wrote earlier, my biggest issue in the film (and with the novelization) is that Rose’s interactions with Finn don’t really make sense for either character considering what we know about Finn and what we were told Rose would be like. I’d introduce more communication because Rose should at least give Finn (her and Paige’s hero, I guess) more than a few seconds to explain himself before shocking him into unconsciousness.

Right?

And, I’m going to be real here: it really doesn’t make sense to have Rose ‘splain slavery or the idea of arms dealer to Finn instead of turning the scene into a moment that they could’ve used as a bonding moment to deepen their characters’ relationship. (I keep seeing people say that Finn is naïve or selfish so the ‘splaining had to happen and I’m pretty sure that they just… stopped paying attention when he was on-screen in The Force Awakens.)

Heck, shrink down the Kylo-Rey-Luke plot a bit and give Rose a bit more screentime just to herself to heal and deal, because the way that the film didn’t really handle her loss is… disappointing. I get that people with power have decided that Rey is the solo hero of this franchise, but that doesn’t mean that every single other character should get their issues dealt with offscreen in a novel – or not at all.

And I don’t hate the ending of the film or Rose’s “saving what we love” message, I’d just want to make sure that there’s something tangible to explain that and the kiss she presses to Finn’s mouth before she passes out.

starwars-lastjedi-movie-screencaps.com-14943

As for the novelization I quoted from?

There’s literally no reason for Jason Fry to have written Rose as jealous of a girl she hasn’t ever met. She doesn’t even know what Rey looks like and she doesn’t know what Finn actually thinks about her but she’s got time for a couple bitter Betty thoughts about her that include wanting to hurt her own burgeoning crush over his relationship with her?

What is this?

A mediocre CW drama circa 2011?

We are better than this, Jason Fry.

And Rose definitely deserved better than that.

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About Zina

Zina writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories and complaining about stuff. One day, she'll settle down and write that novel.
This entry was posted in Stitch Watches... and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to I’ve Got Some Complicated Feelings About Rose Tico’s Characterization

  1. Thank you! Thank you for putting your finger on the pulse of what was so hard to really like about Rose. Not that I have anything against Kelly Marie Tran (who is a cutie, and I think what happened to her in rl is shameful) but I was almost cringing as much in the Rose-Finn scenes as I was in the weird, so creepy Reylo scenes. I am fully behind there being more representation, but it needs to be positive representation (or at the very least logically fleshed out). Also, it needs to not be, somehow, representation that is pitted against the representation of another marginalized group. It also sounds like Jason Fry needs to check his misogyny at the door writing Rose as the “catty girl” as if that girl didn’t have much more pressing things to think about. I have no problem with the IDEA of Finn and Rose but her characterization forbids it. Only a few changes would have been needed to lay the groundwork if that was where the writers wanted to go later; fewer jokes and less condescension leveled at Finn, Rose (who lost her sister HOURS ago) having time to process and grieve and them having real conversations would have gone a long way to setting things up for later. Man, I’m just rehashing, you said this so much better. Anyway, this was great.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kiki says:

    Damn. Those novelizations sound like a complete nightmare straight out of some sub-par teeny bopper novel. Woweee.

    I hadn’t given much thought to this issue but your points about their interactions in Canto Bight are especially persuasive. About the only thing I’m looking forward to with the Abrams’ directed third film is that he’ll wrest Boyega’s character from the 2nd film slump. (I don’t ship any of the characters, really, but if he gets with anyone romantically it should be R.E.Y., you’re welcome. I’d enjoy it and the flames which would engulf Reylo. Mostly the second. I’m petty.)

    Like

    • Zina says:

      There are some decent scenes in Jason Fry’s novel but they’re mainly the ones NOT focused on characters of color. I don’t know if he did this on purpose (and, judging by his stunned and pretty negative response to Rey/Kylo shippers GLOATING at him that he’d shown how “unhealthy” Finn’s “obsession” was with Rey was, I don’t think he did do it on purpose), but… he does what Rian Johnson does in terms of giving characters of color truly mediocre characterization.

      Seeing as JJ Abrams was the one who fought for Boyega to be cast as Finn and who made a point of talking about the politics of the First Order, I think he’s going to do his best to fix what Rian busted up and tried to subvert in TLJ. Here’s hoping he manages it.

      (And I’m petty too, don’t worry. SO PETTY where that ship is concerned. Because the shippers have largely been terrible.)

      Like

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