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In Honor of Kelly Marie Tran in 'The Last Jedi,' a Look at All the Asians Who Came Before Her!

By Dan Hamamura | Film | December 7, 2017 | Comments ()

By Dan Hamamura | Film | December 7, 2017 |


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With The Last Jedi almost upon us, it’s time to finally get ready to celebrate an exciting new addition to the Star Wars Universe!

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NO I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT PORGS IT’S NEVER ABOUT PORGS. GO AWAY PORGS PLEASE AND THANK YOU.

I’m talking about Asians! Specifically, Kelly Marie Tran’s new character, Rose. As of right now, there’s no real way to know what her impact will be, but hey, she has scenes with John Boyega, so she must have at least a modest level of importance, right?

In honor of this mysterious new character, I wanted to take a look back at the long, illustrious history of Asians in the Star Wars Universe*.

*For the purposes of this piece, I’m focusing only on speaking roles in the movies, since this is primarily an exploration of on-screen representation, which is certainly more striking in live-action film rather than, say, animation, and anyway, I haven’t seen either The Clone Wars series or movie, or Star Wars: Rebels, and yes I am aware that there is a Commander Sato in Rebels and he’s even voiced by an Asian-American actor (Keone Young), which is great, but I’m pretty sure once I start I’m gonna get derailed and just keep watching instead of trying to work through this piece and look at how far off track I’ve already gone so can we just, okay? Thanks!

Star Wars (A New Hope)

There are no Asians in this movie.

The Empire Strikes Back

There are no Asians in this movie.

(I am starting to notice a pattern.)

Return of the Jedi

There are no WAITASEC

We got one! This is Lieutenant Telsij, played by Eiji Kusuhara. How exciting! Finally, our first scrap of evidence that Asians exist in the galaxy, and our first moment of on-screen representation!

No joke, my friend Anthony (who also grew up in love with Star Wars) and I literally celebrated Telsij as our own, his infamous, auspicious words of warning forever burned into our memory. We may or may not have worked on our Telsij impressions as children.

Of course, we never see him again after this point in the movie, so we have no idea what happened to him. There are some who believe that we actually see him get shot down later, but that’s a completely different pilot, and the people who think that are clearly insensitive jerks who think all Y-Wing pilots look the same.

Regardless, we owe the Lieutenant a debt of gratitude, for breaking the color barrier, as our first known Asian! Though his time on screen may have been brief, and his fate unknown, we salute him for taking that first, small step.

The Phantom Menace

There are no Asians in this movie.

For the record:

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I mean, I’m not thrilled about the portrayal here, which is problematic at best. But they’re aliens.

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He’s a skilled martial artist, and his name’s even Ray Park! But still, not Asian, which is too bad, because we Asians would have owned the shit out of Darth Maul.

Attack of the Clones

There are no Asians in this movie. Are we really doing this again?

Revenge of the Sith

There are no Asians in this movie.

Oh wait. I guess there’s this guy?

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Hmm, played by Kee Chan. Definitely Asian, but does he have any speaking lines? Remember, he has to at least say something.

Ugh. Do I really have to watch this movie?

Excuse me. I’ll be right back.

WHAT THE HELL, REVENGE OF THE SITH? I JUST WENT THROUGH THAT ENTIRE MOVIE, YOU KNOW WHERE THIS DUDE SHOWS UP?

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ONE SCENE NO CLOSEUPS NO LINES?

I’M CALLING IT: THIS MOVIE OFFICIALLY HAS NO ASIANS.

The Force Awakens

Alright, now we’re talking! Look at all the Asians we have in this one:

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Okay, so the first group of Asians and they’re… gangsters. And their gang is called Kanjiklub, because, kanji is a Japanese word, so, you know, it totally makes sense!

But as far as representation in the Star Wars Universe goes, we take what we can get. So, at least for now, it’s okay that some of them are thrown back into a long-standing stereotypical societal role.

Plus, we have some Asians doing other jobs, too:

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Asians. They’re just like us! Sure, we don’t really get to know them all that much, but they’re there. They exist.

Plus, we get an admiral and a pilot? That’s like the doctor and lawyer of the Star Wars Universe. You KNOW their parents are super proud, passive-aggressively bragging to their neighbors about how they have such big, important jobs with The Resistance.

Oh, and before we move on, there’s one other possible Asian that I was alerted to. It’s this guy:

So apparently the man in the suit is a stunt performer named Liang Yang. But his voice is provided by an actor named David Acord.

So. Asian guy doing martial arts, dubbed by a white guy?

Congratulations, FN-2199! You have earned the official designation of achieving MOST ASIAN status for being used for your physical gifts, while also being stripped of your voice, like a true, old-school martial artist.

Rogue One

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Whoa, three Asians in the main cast?

And they all play at least reasonably important roles within the main narrative?

AND only one of them is playing a semi-stereotypical-ish mysterious monk-esque role, but also is so badass that I kind of don’t mind that he’s not only a semi-stereotypical blind monk, but he’s ALSO a semi-stereotypical blind martial arts master?

On top of this embarrassment of representational riches, there’s even one more Asian pilot:

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And for good measure, she, like our friend FN-2199, was also dubbed over, which means we’ve got one more entry in the MOST ASIAN category!

For better or worse, this still represents real progress. And it’s all (well, mostly) thanks to the growing financial importance of the international film market, specifically, China.

So thanks, China, for being excited to spend money watching our movies!

The Last Jedi

This brings us back to Rose, played by Kelly Marie Tran, who joins a long line smattering of Asians existing within the Star Wars Universe.

We’ll have to see what kind of role she plays (along with her sister, Paige, played by Veronica Ngo), but it seems like Rose will be, at a minimum, the most important Asian woman in the series to date.

So, you know, no pressure, Kelly!

But we’re all counting on you.


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