Let me just start off by saying, I’m not a Star Wars superfan. However, I was one of the many viewers who shelled out top dollar to see The Last Jedi on opening day. I was a bit rusty on the storylines, so the night before I hit up YouTube in search of recap videos on everything I needed to know before watching the sequel to The Force Awakens, something I’m sure the rest of the crowd didn’t need to do. But nothing was stopping me from watching this flick, because for the first time ever, there’s an Asian actress among the star-studded cast. Finally.
Meet Kelly Marie Tran
When I heard Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran had been cast in the Star Wars universe, I was thrilled. And the news came on the heels of Chinese actress Liu Yifei being cast as the title character in Disney’s reboot of Mulan, so you can imagine my excitement—something I shared with Tran.
“This one day we were shooting this scene and I remember John [Boyega] stopping and saying, ‘Kelly, we’re making history right now’ … and we were,” she recalls in a Rolling Stone interview. “Because not only are we making a Star Wars movie, we have scenes where it’s just John and myself.”
I’ll admit, it was baffling to hear that a major franchise like Star Wars had yet to cast an Asian actress, but the glowing early reviews of the film gave me hope that Tran would be afforded a solid storyline—and having now seen the film I can say that Tran (a.k.a., Rose Tico, the mechanic turned heroine) is not a token character. She isn’t used to tick off some diversity box. Instead, she plays a brave and comical character who warmed our hearts.
Star Wars is setting an example
We live in a world that is diverse. Even in a galaxy far, far away, there are creatures and humans of all shapes and sizes, so showing predominantly white actors in lead roles never made real sense to me, TBH. The newest Star Wars instalment is indeed another step toward diverse representation, however, it’s a conversation Boyega—and frankly many visible minority actors—hope to stop having one day.
“When I was exposed to the world in Star Wars, I also was exposed to the reality of ignorance that still exists around the world,” Boyega says in an interview with Variety. “When I was in Star Wars, there was a semi, kind of racial discussion that was quite negative when it first came out. I was the only person to always talk about the colour of my skin. In every interview my skin colour comes up. If Daisy [Ridley] does an interview, her skin colour is not going to come up… It doesn’t matter what position you’re in—once you’re Black, you’re Black, and these idiots always have something to say about it.”
But even though many of Boyega and Tran’s press interviews focused on the colour of their skin, it wasn’t ever discussed in the actual film—and that was so refreshing. As I watched, the only thing I was thinking about was the emotional connection and epic dialogue between these two heroes. Rather than getting worked up about a British-Nigerian actor and a Vietnamese-American actress acting in their own standalone scenes during the film, I was on the edge of my seat, watching and hoping that these two would make it out alive. And that’s the conversation Boyega—and this generation of Star Wars fans—are hoping it will shift towards. Diversity in a film is something that should be expected in 2017, not something that makes headlines. (Editor’s Note: We realize the irony of the fact that diversity is in the headline of this story, but we did say this is about a future we should aim for, not a present we’ve achieved yet.)
The film also showcases forceful women
In a universe mourning the loss of the incomparable and fiercely feminist Carrie Fisher, it seems only fitting that Star Wars is putting more women at the forefront of the battle for the galaxy. While we already saw some serious girl power brewing in The Force Awakens with Ridley taking on the lead role and Felicity Jones in Rogue One, The Last Jedi took things to the next level.
*SPOILER ALERT* Legit stop reading here if you have not seen the movie*
Cases in point: Rose (Tran) saves Finn (Boyega) from pulling a pointless suicide mission. Rey (Ridley) convinces Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to help the Resistance, while fighting off Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) confusing dark side. And when Princess Leia (Fisher) slips into a coma after being blown out of the Star Cruiser, newcomer Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) steps in and leads the now-panicked crew, including Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Not only that, Admiral Holdo also sacrifices herself while the remaining Resistance survivors flee to a safe haven. Even the dark side has wickedly fierce women, such as Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), who is an overall badass. Honestly, do I need to go on? From saving the male heroes’s asses to commanding and leading the Resistance, the latest Star Wars sequel was a crucial example of feminism. Whether we’re in another galaxy or fighting gendered workplace politics, women deserve to be seen, heard and treated as equals.
Ready to head into 2018 in light speed
With 2017 coming to a wrap, I’m so glad we’re ending this tough year with the release of such an empowering and fun film because seriously, we need it. Though The Last Jedi may simply be a highly anticipated piece of the greater Star Wars universe for die-hard fans, the latest film stands for so much more. From the forward-looking feminist ideology to the no-brainer diverse casting in this movie, these are the important messages we can all reflect on at the end of this year, so we can look towards 2018 with hope.
Mulan Liu Yifei: Disney Could Not Have Picked a Better Mulan
Disney Finally Found Their “Diamond in the Rough” to Play Aladdin
#FirstTimeISawMe Shows Why Diversity in Movies Matters
Toronto Black Film Festival’s Fabienne Colas: “We Need Diversity”
#castingsowhite: Is Hollywood Becoming Less Inclusive?