Writer-director Rian Johnson cast Kelly Marie Tran as The Last Jedi’s Rose Tico in November 2015. A month later, shortly before The Force Awakens was set to premiere, she was in London for make-up and wardrobe tests but still didn’t know much about who she was playing. Rather naturally, she asked Johnson if she could read the Last Jedi script, and he obliged. That’s when things got awkward.
Tran wanted to see The Force Awakens to better understand what was happening in Last Jedi, and get better senses of the new, major characters like Finn, Rey, and Poe, but the much-anticipated new Star Wars movie hadn’t been released officially yet. It turns out being hired to work on Episode VIII gives you absolutely zero access to Episode VII.
“They didn’t let me see [the movie],” Tran told io9. “So Rian kind of gave me a breakdown of, ‘This is Rey, This is Finn. This is Poe.’ Which is such a weird thing, right? So weird. Bizarre. And then I read the script and he didn’t really give me any preconceived notions of what this character was, which I think was great because he kind of wanted me to be able to read it unbiased. Uninfluenced by what he thought.”
Tran doesn’t know if she’s the only person in the world who had read the ultra-ultra-ultra secret script to The Last Jedi before seeing the ultra-secret The Force Awakens, but do the math. In December 2015, the number of people who had read the script to The Last Jedi had to be very, very small, probably consisting of only the returning actors and the most connected and highest-ranking officials at Disney and Lucasfilm. All of those people would have seen (or at least known the story of) The Force Awakens, since they were directly involved in its production.
But not Tran. Her first introduction to these characters and this story was Johnson’s script. “I mean, the first time that I read it, I already knew how beautifully crafted it was,” she said. “The fact that there were all these different sorts of storylines, and then the way that they intertwined, and kind of separate, and how every character has something that they’re dealing with. I think seeing The Force Awakens after only reiterated how great that script was, if that makes any sense. Because then I was like, ‘Oh, that’s why this is happening.’ Or, ‘That’s what that means...’ But yeah, what a weird experience.”
It was a weird enough experience that Tran remembers exactly what she was wearing that day.
“I was wearing a beanie,” she said. “A black beanie. With cat ears. And a teddy bear sweater. I don’t know why I remember that. I think it’s because I remember these little details about these moments that were so... they feel so big to me.”
Things are about to get a lot bigger for Tran, who is not only one of the few new characters in The Last Jedi but the first lead Star Wars character played by an Asian American. She’s portraying Rose, a mechanic who fights against the First Order by keeping the Resistance up and running.
“People like Finn and Rey and Poe and Leia, these people are fighting on the frontline while Rose is in the back making sure they have the tools in order to do so,” Tran said. “So she sees all of that as this sort of symbol of what she believes in. So when she first meets Finn, she’s well aware of what happened [in The Force Awakens], and she’s a fan.”
Tran feels she and Rose have much more in common than their fandom. “My parents are both refugees,” she explained. “My family has a very particular relationship with war, and obviously, Rose does, too. So I think it’s such a messy relationship between where my life experience starts and where Rose’s life experience starts, and who’s who. But I definitely pulled a lot from my personal life, and, in my mind, have a really good idea of what she’s been through before.”
Tran can’t say how much of Rose’s past is referenced in The Last Jedi, or if we’ll see more of her in Episode IX, but from the official videos and trailers, we do know a few more things about her: She has a sister, Paige, who also works in the Resistance. She and Finn go off on a journey that takes them to the casino city of Canto Bight.
“It felt like you were really there,” Tran said of the new location, which is crawling with dozens of new aliens and creatures. “Everything was moving and interacting with you. They’re so real and you’re acting, sometimes, with these creatures, and you’re really getting an emotional response. And that says so much about the creatures department, and how incredible everyone is. I feel very fortunate to have been able to be around that sort of artistry.”
The Last Jedi opens December 15, at which point Kelly Marie Tran will be allowed to see it with everyone else. Presumably.