It’s wild to be in a Star Wars movie, full stop. It’s even more intense when your first movie, ever, is the most contentious Star Wars film, ever. That is Rose Tico actor Kelly Marie Tran’s story.
Plucked from anonymity, San Diego-born Tran entered Rian Johnson’s 2017 space odyssey, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the second film in the final trilogy of the Skywalker saga. Her character quickly became a part of the heated conversation. Rose was the embodiment of starry-eyed optimism. She swooned over John Boyega’s Finn almost instantly (like any person with eyes would) and she gave a face to the previously faceless workers behind the scenes of the film series’ freedom fighting faction, The Resistance. Some of her character’s lines were mercilessly earnest. Her sudden kiss with Finn in the finale felt forced to some viewers. And some fans took issue with the storyline in which she was placed — a dalliance in Canto Bight, which is Star Wars’ answer to the question, “What if Monte Carlo was recreated by Harry Potter fans from the year 3000?” Note that all of these points of contention were beyond Tran’s control.
But some fans went beyond pretty average criticisms of the film and took aim at Tran herself, bullying her off social media altogether with racist, personal attacks. In response, she wrote a moving, unguarded op-ed for the New York Times. The opening line is enough to shake even the hardest of hearts: “It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them.” Now, she’s finishing up her press tour for her second movie, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and though we try our best to avoid touching on the specter of her 2017 ordeal, it’s hard to ignore.
Just days after our conversation at the Rise of Skywalker junket, her co-star, Boyega, was accused of insulting Tran in one of his promotional interviews. While Boyega swiftly issued an apology and cleared up the misinterpretation of his words, Tran was once again centered in the narrative she never asked to be a part of — two years after she bared her soul in an essay she'd hoped, at the time, was the final word. Unfortunately, she tells Refinery29, that’s just not something she can control.
Refinery29: Rose has a more mature look now — she’s got a General Leia-style uniform and two small buns instead of the flouncy bob — is that an indication of where she’s going in this movie?
Kelly Marie Tran: “Rose has risen through the ranks of the resistance, and you see that not only in her costume but in her, the way she speaks, and the way she carries herself.”
I love John Boyega, but I’m really hoping Rose gets some scenes with the awesome women in this film.
“Listen, I’m always trying to hang out with the ladies. I have scenes with more that just John. I will say that.”
The fans have been out in full force for you this press cycle, starting with them chanting your name at Star Wars Celebration this year. How has that changed your Star Wars experience?
“It was wild and amazing, truly. When that happened at Celebration, I was obviously not expecting that. It was like, Oh, I’m not crying, but obviously I was crying and totally trying to hide it. And then the host, Steven Colbert, asked me a question and I was like, Ahhh! I think I said something so strange. I remember being like, I can’t process anything. I think that’s how it’s been for me, this time around with all those things coming out. It’s been incredible, just the amount of love and compassion that people have shown. It’s really, really beautiful.”
"In terms of closing that chapter, I don’t know that it’s even up to me, even if I want it closed."
Kelly Marie Tran, Actor, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
There’s been some pretty incredible fan art of Rose coming out. Have you seen anything that you found particularly moving?
“I think the fact that anyone wants to draw this character at all is pretty incredible to me. Yesterday, we were at Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland doing press, and there was a girl who was just standing there and basically showing us all these pictures she’d drawn of all of us. It’s just beautiful how much love there is for this whole franchise and the talent that everyone has.”
After The Last Jedi’s release, you wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about being harassed online. You wrote it as a way of putting a period at the end of that sentence.
Do you feel that you’ve been given that?
I think people still want to talk about it. It’s so funny because Jedi was my first movie, so I’m still figuring out what it means to have that experience and what it means for other people to have an experience with my experience. I still don’t really know what the boundaries and lines are, but I will say the op-ed was probably one of the proudest moments of my career thus far. I know how honest it was and how hard it was for me to write. But yeah, in terms of closing that chapter, I don’t know that it’s even up to me, even if I want it closed.”
Naomi Ackie and Keri Russell are two women jumping into this fandom in Rise of Skywalker — did you have any advice for them as Star Wars newbies?
“I love both of these women so much. I think it’s incredible what they do in this film. I don’t know that I would be equipped to give anyone advice because everyone’s experience is so different, but I think that something that has been really beautiful is just the ability to have open communication and conversations about whatever it is people are dealing with. And Keri is so incredible. I was like, Let me get advice from you. Her career is just amazing.”
You’ve said you probably won’t return to social media, but when you were on, you were a source of so much positivity. Will you find a way to interact with your fans on some level in the future?
“I don’t know. Again I’m still trying to figure out what all this means and how to deal with everything. I think the most important thing for me right now as an actor and as a creative is protecting my ability to be creative and vulnerable in a public space, which is something I have to be really careful about. So who knows? Perhaps.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.