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celebrating the asian in star wars

January 31, 2018

hey everyone! today i’m going to take a quick break from books to talk to you guys a little bit about the newest star wars movie (which i loved loved loved, by the way): THE LAST JEDI. forewarning: i’m not going to be eloquent in any way, but i just really wanted to share my excitement about a certain aspect of this movie. 

okay, say what you want about “the last jedi”. as with any star wars film, there’s been tons of controversy over both major and minor plot points in the movie but personally, there’s just something about that cyan-blue franklin gothic font that really gets my gears running. BUT I DIGRESS. that’s not what i’m here to talk about today. you don’t even need to watch the movie or be a star wars fan to read this post because we’re here to celebrate the asian in “the last jedi” (!!!!).  

why celebrate the asian actors, you ask? why not other POC like the hottie guatemalan-cuban oscar isaac or adorable john boyega? (SIDE NOTE: there were SO many beautiful actors in this movie . . . maybe there’s something in that space water???) anyways, yes it was absolutely wonderful to see so many more POC as leading roles in this movie. but what i was not expecting was a significant asian role in such a prolific movie. 

veronica ngô thanh vân, a vietnamese actress, singer, & model, plays paige tico. <3

why not? this is what i’m used to: scanning through the random faces in the background and jumping up in excitement when i see an asian face. bonus points if they speak! so yeah, i was pretty content when i noticed all the asian crew members aboard the dreadnought, pressing the little buttons as people shouted orders at each other. THEN A MIRACLE! the screen flipped to ngô thanh vân, struggling and successfully releasing the bombs, which none of the other resistance bombers had been able to do. she sacrificed herself and died a hero and i was sitting in the theatre, crying happy tears because an asian actor had full minutes (MINUTES!) of screentime. 

kelly marie tran, vietnamese-american actress, plays rose tico

all of this happened in the opening scene of the movie, and i settled in my seat, happy with what i had seen in the movie so far. i followed along, enraptured with rey, poe, finn, and other favorites from the star wars universe. that’s when kelly marie tran came in! at first, i thought, wow another asian poc with a speaking role! and when i realized that she was going to stay as one of the leading characters, i was overjoyed. 

let’s take a moment to appreciate rose tico here: she’s an unnoticed and often overlooked member of the resistance, but completely loyal nonetheless. she’s a major fangirl, which i’m sure all of us could relate to, and completely passionate and rooted in herself and her own beliefs. no, i did not agree with everything they did with her character (the unnecessary romance??? hello???? WHY??????) but asian or not, she completely won me over as a character. that’s all i’m going to say because i don’t really want to spoil anything but yeeaah. ^.^

WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER? full disclaimer: i’m not going to try to speak for anyone else here, and i’m sure there are many who have not had this same experience as me. but growing up as a third-generation hong kong immigrant (or something like that . . . the lines are blurry) in the western world has led to sooo many identity struggles. am i north american? am i asian? many in my life have labelled me as strictly one or the other, but here’s one true fact no one can deny: i look like i’m chinese. i have the black hair, the brown eyes, the beige skin. 

when i was a toddler, i had a collection of the three original disney princesses dolls: snow white, cinderella, and aurora. i stroked their pretty hair, and sighed at their pale skin. why couldn’t i have blue eyes like cinderella? this continued into my elementary school years, as i binged episodes and episodes of iCarly, drake and josh, victorious (i watched a lot of dan schneider), as my friend told me how if you applied lemon & honey to your skin, it would brighten (and therefore, whiten) your skin. i was jealous of my asian friends whose parents let them dye their hair into varying shades of blond. 

in retrospect, it makes me disgusted and sad that i hated my asian-looking traits this much. but how could i like them, when all the pretty girls on tv were fair-skinned girls with bright eyes and shiny hair? when the girls who did look like me were lane kim, who was always clinging to rory because her life was so much more interesting, or barbara brownstein who somehow managed to take AP lunch but still ended up second to cody in her class? 

“I remember what it felt like to not see anyone like myself in books or on film or TV. When you’re really young, you tend to fall in love with characters. If you start seeing the same type of character everywhere and realize that they don’t look like you, or they don’t speak like you, you start wanting to change who you are. That’s something that I did when I was a young kid. I’m excited to be a part of this positive change.”.

— kelly marie tran, in an interview with variety 

thanks to awesome asian actor-activists like constance wu, aziz ansari, daniel dae kim (and i can list so so so many more), asian visibility in media has definitely improved over the years. but of course, there’s always progress to be made (ex. emma stone playing a quarter-chinese & quarter-native hawaiian named allison ng in 2015) and speaking about the issue is the only way that we can work together to acknowledge its negative impacts and how we can resolve them. i could go on and on about this but i wouldn’t be saying anything new that someone hasn’t previously said before. 

thankfully, over the years, i have learned to appreciate and love the person i am, and i can only hope that no other little girl or boy has to go through that ever again. nobody should feel lesser than because of their race, and i am insurmountably grateful for the progress that “the last jedi” brings. 

i hope you are all having wonderful januar(ys/ies)!

xoxo,

haley

Haley Chung

haley is a seventeen-year-old slytherin who loves musical theatre, 80's shorts, and dreamy walks in the suburbs with her baby kitten avignon. find/follow/stalk her on instagram @haleyogurt.

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