Look what you made my heroes do.
I try, I really try, but I gotta give a spoiler alert for this post. I don’t go into specifics, but there’s spoilers here for The Last Jedi. I wouldn’t read it if you haven’t seen the movie yet…
Boy oh boy, the fun never stops with this one.
When I walked out of my first viewing of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I found myself grappling with, and eventually intellectually subduing the Force-centric storyline of the film. I assumed my issues with the movie had been the same as everyone’s issues with the movie, only to find that the loudest complaints seemed to hang around Finn, Rose and their excursion to the casino planet Canto Bight.
I love Canto Bight. I love that we see the highest and lowest of galactic society both seemingly unphased by the destruction we’ve witnessed. I love DJ and the new wrinkles he introduces to the titular Star War. I love the opportunity to use the term “titular Star War.” But four viewings in, I’m finally catching up to problems with Finn and Rose’s detour. I don’t agree that it is extraneous or without character development, and I certainly don’t agree with the sentiment that it could have been cut entirely from the film without consequence because the consequences of Finn, Rose and Poe’s scheming are utterly disastrous. Which is what’s caught in my craw at the moment.
When Finn, Rose and Poe fail in The Last Jedi, they fail hard. Disproportionately hard. And I hate it.
This isn’t a Raiders of the Lost Ark situation in which removing the protagonist from the narrative is a zero-sum game. The entire non-Force-centric plot of The Last Jedi involves Finn, Poe and Rose executing a hasty and desperate plan that, despite its best intentions, pretty much ruins everything for everyone and ultimately necessitates the film’s climactic confrontation and it’s shocking consequences. If Finn, Rose and Poe had done nothing over the course of the film, save Poe’s display of lucky recklessness in the film’s opening, our heroes would have been exponentially, staggeringly better off.
I’m hip. I get it. Poe’s brashness ultimately failing him at a dear cost is a story choice that begets important character growth. The same sort of irresponsible tactics that allow him to eek out an arguable win against the Dreadnought in the beginning of the film ultimately fail him abysmally, causing him to finally, as Leia would say, “get his head out of his cockpit.”
There’s perhaps also something to be said for Finn’s narrative, in which he begins as a true hero of the Resistance who is ready to run away, but once he fails the Resistance he is ready to stand for it until the bitter end. Whatever failures he is ultimately responsible for in this movie, his character is accountable, with Spider-Man’s sense of responsibility.
Then there’s Rose, who makes the horrendous mistake of acting on impulse to try and save the very thing her sister died protecting, only to inadvertently all but destroy it. I’ll concede that perhaps we’re to gleam that through failure her grief is transformed into renewed and specified purpose, but good lord at what cost?
These threads are in line with the film’s running themes of failure and atonement, but it’s hard not to juxtapose those who’s failures have consequences and those who’s failures do not.
I’ll try my best not to wear my woke-college-freshman-back-for-the-holidays-to-learn-you-something-big hat here, but sometimes you’re stumbling around in the dark, you hit a hat rack and what happens happens…
It’s clear from the confounding logistics of the Forceless portion of the film that the Force is the priority in the Last Jedi. The measures taken to legitimize the developments of the Rey/Luke/Kylo storyline dwarf the suspension-of-disbelief-fueled Resistance plot. Which really starts to become problematic when the Force, the all encompassing energy binding the universe together, is exclusively white. Every Force-user. Every. Last. One. Ride or die honkies, the lot of ’em. Not that that’s a change from The Force Awakens, but in that film Rey, Finn and Poe share success, in this film, they do not share failure. When Rey and Kylo Ren fail they fail upward, winding up in a stronger position then they otherwise would have been. When Finn, Rose and Poe fail, people die. What’s more, Finn, Rose and Poe’s failure comes in the face of undermining a white authority figure, while on the Force side of things, undermining white authority sows the seeds of success, setting a precedent for the film in which only Force-wielders (all white) are capable enough to effectively question authority figures (again, all white). Thus we end up with a film in which people of color inadvertently shoot themselves and others in the foot while fancy white folks navel-gaze and wax poetic until it’s time for them to save the day from the mistakes of The Forceless.
I don’t know dear reader, I don’t know. The mantra of “this is not going to go the way you think” continues to ring true. This movie has got issues. Just not the issues I’d initially thought.
I don’t think there’s an active intention on the part of Rian Johnson or Lucasfilm to draw these kinds of lines through their stories, but in 2017, in a film in which the antagonists are essentially the space alt-right, that I’m able draw those lines with a minimum of effort is disappointing to say the least.
Walking out of my fourth viewing, the entirety of these heroes’ failures really setting in, part of me wondered if it was even intentional. After all, the Forceless plot in The Last Jedi is unfortunately marred by persistently perplexing logistics. But the intention seems clear as we are expressly told failure is a great teacher, and through Finn, Rose and Poe we really watch it go to town giving an education. That being said, for all the explanations Rian Johnson has provided in interviews for moments throughout the film I’ve yet to come across a discussion of the consequences the trip to Canto Bight ultimately reap and I still can’t help but wonder if there was some narrative oversight. Again, arguably the biggest moment in this film, the momentous, saga-shaking happening, is only necessary because things, albeit accidentally, get screwed up so bad by Finn, Poe and Rose.
In my last post on The Last Jedi I made the grand statement that the creative decisions made in this movie were made with forethought, and that the debate is not so much over the quality of the film but your own personal taste for the story choices made within it. Well boy oh boy am I reckoning with that.
I can’t speak to the intention behind the brutal humbling of characters I love in this movie, and I don’t feel subjective enough to state whether or not it’s good or bad storytelling, but I know there are things in The Last Jedi I can’t unsee and damnit I know I don’t like it!
Tell me I’m wrong! Convince me their failure is awesome! Tell me why it’s okay! What am I missing?
Inevitable third revelatory hot take to follow…