A long, long time ago, back in April 2019 at Star Wars Celebration, J.J. Abrams told an excited crowd (and Stephen Colbert) that creating the character Rose Tico and casting Kelly Mary Tran in the role was “the greatest thing” his predecessor Rian Johnson ever did. So it came as a surprise and a disappointment when The Rise of Skywalker premiered in late December and Rose was almost entirely absent from the movie.
Several weeks later, we still don’t have a satisfying answer for why Rose got sidelined in Rise of Skywalker, but Disney is quickly running out of excuses.
Kelly Mary Tran gets just one a minute of screen time in Rise of Skywalker, during which Rose announces that she can’t go on the big adventure with Rey, Finn, and Poe because she has to stay at base and study old Star Destroyer schematics. Initially, this felt like a thinly veiled rebuke of the character and The Last Jedi in general, with Abrams and his co-screenwriter Chris Terrio purposefully sidelining a key character because a small, angry, vocal contingent of Star Wars “fans” didn’t like her.
Then, Terrio offered an explanation, one that made sense, at least initially.
Speaking to Awards Daily, he said:
“One of the reasons that Rose has a few less scenes than we would like her to have has to do with the difficulty of using Carrie’s footage in the way we wanted to. We 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 to not meet the standard of photorealism that we’d hoped for. Those scenes unfortunately fell out of the film. The last thing we were doing was deliberately trying to sideline Rose. We adore the character, and we adore Kelly – so much so that we anchored her with our favorite person in this galaxy, General Leia.” [Emphasis added]
In other words, Rose was supposed to have a bunch of scenes with Leia, but some of those scenes just didn’t work given the technological constraints of re-using old footage of Carrie Fisher and inserting it into The Rise of Skywalker. Makes sense, right? Unfortunate, but unavoidable given the movie’s tight timeline.
Except, that’s not what happened at all.
A few days later, in a statement to Vulture, Terrio clarified that the issue wasn’t the special effects at all. Instead, it seems Rose-Leia scenes were cut earlier, during the writing process:
“I badly misspoke if in an earlier statement I implied that any cut scenes between Rose and Leia were the fault of our VFX team and the wizards at ILM. In that earlier interview, I was referring to a specific scene in which Leia’s emotional state in Episode VII did not seem to match the scene we wrote for use in Episode IX, and so it was cut at the script stage before the VFX work was done. If we had chosen to use the scene, ILM would have made it look perfect. They always do. ILM performed actual miracles at every stage of the creative process in Episode IX. I remain in awe of their work.”
In an interview with Inverse, Lucasfilm Visual FX supervisor Roger Guyett confirmed the same thing:
“In truth, I don’t think any scenes that we worked on are not in the movie, just FYI. So that you have the real truth, there’s been a couple of stories out there that I know that people have told me about that’s just completely incorrect. The truth is that every shot that we designed to have in the movie is in the movie. So whatever that rumor is, I’ll put that to rest now.”
So let’s back up for a minute. If Abrams and Terrio knew Rose’s Leia scenes wouldn’t work as early as during the writing process, why didn’t they just change the script? Couldn’t they remove one of the movie’s many MacGuffins, or (dare I say it?) cut Babu Frik to make more room for Rose?
Until Terrio (or someone else) offers an explanation, we’ll probably never know why Rose really got sidelined. But in the meantime, it’s hard not to see this as yet another way Rise of Skywalker tries to undo The Last Jedi.
The Rise of Skywalker is in theaters now.