The Last Jedi (Star Wars, Episode VIII) was released in 2017 to an incredibly divisive fanbase. While most normal folks debated if it was better or worse than the Prequels, those who felt the angriest formed a mob of hate and vile and lashed out against everyone associated with the film. Kelly Marie Tran, the first woman of color to star in a Star Wars movie, took the brunt of the vitriol. Her feeds were quickly filled with racist and sexist messages to the point she had to disappear entirely from the internet, leaving only an Instagram bio of “Afraid, but doing it anyway.”
The whole situation was the worst of humanity and the internet. The mob gladly accepting the digital white hoods that internet anonymity hands out like candy. Sadly, Tran is far from the only person to experience something like this, and thankfully, this was not the end of her story.
Raya and the Last Dragon is set in a fictional world mirroring Southeast Asia. It tells the story of a girl (Wait… this is Disney. She’s a princess, and a badass) on a quest to find the last dragon, rumored to still be alive after the other dragons were turned to stone in a final sacrifice to save humanity. From there, things go bad – real bad – and Raya has to pick up the pieces of her mistakes (literally).
Raya is one of the most action-heavy animated movies Disney has made. There is a lot of martial arts kicking and punching and Raya has a pretty sweet chain sword. It’s all pretty tame, of course, but she was only one “GET OVER HERE!” away from a completely different movie. While it is heavy on the action, it’s ultimately a tale of trust and learning what that word really means.
Awkwafina voices the dragon and it took me a bit to get used to her character. She’s part dragon, part unicorn and completely not what I was expecting from a dragon. And I’ve seen Eddie Murphy’s take. Thinking back after watching it, the direction on the character was 100% intentional. I’m betting I won’t have those issues when I watch it again, having missed the genius of the writers the first time around.
This takes us back to Kelly Marie Tran who voices Raya. The story goes that while in the recording booth, she looked at her lines at a critical point in the movie and told the director she wanted to try something different. She ad-libs some dialog around how she (Raya) trusted someone she shouldn’t have and and now the world’s broken. The lines used in the movie are hers.
Our world struggles with representation in our heroes. Star Wars tried and Tran suffered for the sin of not being Carrie Fisher. Thankfully, she’s back as Disney’s first Southeast Asian Princess and stronger than ever.