Warning: incredibly sad Star Wars: The Last Jedi spoilers below.
Resistance gunner Paige Tico is barely on screen in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. She has very few lines and a sliver of backstory, and she dies mere minutes after being introduced. And yet, Paige ends up being one of the biggest highlights of the latest installment in the intergalactic franchise.
Despite her scene only taking up one one-hundredth of The Last Jedi's two and a half hour runtime, I found myself incredibly moved by her sacrifice to save the Resistance. Paige, played by Vietnamese actress Veronica Ngo, is later revealed to be the sister of Rose Tico, Finn's new partner in crime and a member of the support crew that keeps the Resistance starfighters flying. While Rose is clearly the stronger character given the fact she has a huge role, I'd argue that Paige's gut-wrenching death sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
In the opening scene, the Resistance takes a stand against the First Order by sending a fleet of bombers loaded with explosives to destroy one of Supreme Leader Snoke's biggest ships, a Dreadnought. It doesn't take the First Order long to catch on to the Republic's strategy, and they begin taking out the Republic's cumbersome, slow-moving bombers with ease. Ship after ship explodes, incinerating not only the Resistance pilots within with the bombs meant for their enemies, but also their small chance for escape. Finally, there is only one ship left with the bombs necessary to take out the First Order fleet bearing down on them. It takes a hit, but is, for the most part, intact. As it inches closer and closer to its target, the gunner aboard — Paige Tico — calls up to the pilot above to press the button that will release the bombs and destroy their enemy.
But he doesn't respond.
Paige climbs up the ladder to the cockpit and finds him knocked out on the floor. Just as she reaches for the button, which is on a small remote, their bomber takes another hit and she plummets down the ladder onto the small platform below. The remote, however, is left dangling off a ledge at the top of the ladder, 20 feet above her. With time quickly running out and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) shouting in her earpiece to get the job done, Paige — who has been incapacitated by her fall — begins kicking the bottom of the ladder, hoping that the vibrations will knock the remote off the ledge and into her hand below.
At first, her method doesn't work and all seems lost. Until (until!) Paige screams "come on" and kicks the ladder one last time. The remote falls. She clutches her gold, half-moon-shaped necklace to her chest, closes her eyes, and pushes the button. The bombs drop and destroy the First Order ship below to rapturous applause from Paige's comrades. Unfortunately it's too late for the Republic bomber — the last we see of her, she's peacefully sinking into the flames below, eyes still closed.
Before you start, no, the death of a near-anonymous new character can never compare to the shocking loss of Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. Those are characters we've had decades to admire, bond with, and fall in love with. Even so, Paige's death is emblematic of The Last Jedi's entire message and a spectacular way to begin the film. Like Luke, she makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the ones she loves most; she ensures the spark of hope for a better world continues to burn, even if she has to die for it.
We see that in action later on in the film when her sister, Rose, nearly dies herself to save the life of a new friend. "That's how we'll win," she tells them breathlessly the middle of a massive battle. "Not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love." It's an act of extreme bravery that echoes the earlier scene with Paige, confirming that her sister did not die in vain; Paige's death is what sets everything in motion, spurring Rose's fighting spirit on and convincing her she can be just as important of a hero as her idol, Finn. The fact that Rose and Paige get some of the most meaningful scenes in the film as women — women of color — makes their presence that much more powerful.
The Tico sisters are unquestionably a welcome and necessary addition to the Star Wars universe. They join well-written female characters like Rey, General Leia Organa, and Admiral Holdo in Rian Johnson's feminist Star Wars film, which will hopefully draw in and inspire a whole new generation of empowered fans.