A Deeper Look at The Last Jedi Storyline.
Like most humans, I saw The Last Jedi on its opening weekend, and like some movie nerds, I’m acutely aware of the divisiveness of the eighth chapter in the Skywalker saga. The backlash is deafening. There are so many people who have been hurt by Rian Johnson’s vision that it is, quite frankly, overwhelming. I mention this to say two things: one, a lot has already been written in an attempt to make sense of this phenomenon, and two…
I’m not one of them.
Let’s make something clear: I think The Last Jedi is the perfect sequel, and once enough time passes, I believe Hollywood will no longer name drop The Empire Strikes Back as something they are trying to emulate with their never-ending-franchises, and instead filmmakers will reference what Rian Johnson managed to accomplish on December 15, 2017. That said, I’m not here to defend the movie from hurt fanboys or those who refuse to accept a creator’s inalienable right —ie: to do whatever the F*** they want. While I do have some thoughts on Fandom, and why this phenomena means we should mourn the loss of creative freedom, I’m not sure this is the right medium (pun not intended) nor the right time. Furthermore, I simply don’t have the words.
However, I have noticed one aspect of the film that most everyone seems to be complaining about, regardless if they loved or hated the movie, is the secondary storyline involving Finn, Poe, and newcomer Rose Tico. If you hated The Last Jedi, I get it, but if you are in support of The Last Jedi — what gives? I feel like people are missing something when they watch this half of the movie — especially those who seem to enjoy the film as much as I do — so I wanted to present my own interpretation to convince fellow supporters that without this storyline, the rest of The Last Jedi simply doesn’t work. (This will also act as my semi-review of the movie because I feel like fitting all my thoughts in here while I’m at it.)
Obviously: SPOILERS AHEAD.
What happens in Canto Bight…stays.
I don’t believe I have to re-hash the plot for you, but I do want to make sure we’re on the same page: We’re talking about Canto Bight. Ok? Finn and Rose meet, they share a moment where they realize they can beat the hyperspace tracking, and they take this information to Poe, who calls Maz Kanata, who says they need a codebreaker to get past the First Order so they can disable the tracking, who is located in Canto Bight, so they go there and run into DJ, who IS a codebreaker even though he’s not THE codebreaker, whom agrees to help them on their mission only to betray them when they eventually get caught, which results in the decimation of the majority of the rebellion. Oh — and they have a chase through the city on Fathiers and meet broom boy and BB-8 is also there and you get it — Canto Bight is what we’re talking about.
However, I can’t talk about what I want to talk about without first talking about what happens with Luke, Rey, Kylo, and The Force near the end of the movie. Yet here we are, talking about Canto Bight and that failure of a mission, why? To make my first point.
Imagine this movie without Canto Bight — as many have suggested it should have been. Imagine if The Last Jedi simply focused on the main storyline in which everyone cared about: Rey’s. Better yet: Imagine if Haldo had been up front with Poe or imagine if Maz Kanata had never mentioned a codebreaker. What if she said “I can get you past the shields and radars?” Then we skip Canto Bight altogether. Finn, Rose, and Poe go on their mission, fail anyway, learn the lessons they learned, and nothing is missed. Right? That would have been easy for them to do and reshoot. They could have focused more on the dynamics between Finn and Rose and Poe. They could have dropped Benicio Del Toro altogether (another weakpoint?). They could have learned all the lessons they needed to learn, Finn still beats Phasma, the First Order still finds out about the escape shuttles (with Poe finding out at the same time), and their eventual escape and near miss at the hanger on Crait could be at the hands of the best pilot in the resistance. Do that and we can remove Canto Bight altogether. That’s best for everyone and the story. Right?
I’m being facetious. Yes, it would have been easy to write out Canto Bight altogether without losing any major story beats, if we had to, but then you’d have to think about what else we’re losing by erasing this corner of the galaxy — and I don’t mean all the practical effects used to bring all those aliens to life, or the Fathiers, or DJ, or Broom Boy — even though I am arguing for all those.
I mean the apathy. We wouldn’t be getting the apathy.
We needed to see it in action. Of course, logically, we understand that most of the galaxy is apathetic to the goings on between The First Order and The Resistance, and we know that while there are few people who would join the fight there are many who would just as gladly stay out of it. We know that. But in this new trilogy we have yet to fully comprehend it.
Think about it, the first trilogy allowed the Empire’s presence to be felt EVERYWHERE. People could remain apathetic to whatever it was The Rebellion was doing because staying out of the fight meant keeping away from the Empire’s radar; ala Lando. Yet that didn’t mean you could ignore what was happening, just that you had to actively make a decision about how you were going to deal with it, which meant you could never truly remain apathetic, because a part of you cared about what happened to you, even if you didn’t care about what happened to someone else.
In the same vein, the prequels showed us a different form of involvement via the senate. Even if not everyone could be informed during the Clone Wars, it was clear that people, systems, and other cultures had a say and a voice. Everyone had an opinion because democracy, of sorts, allowed such an opinion. You know, until the emperor happened and disrupted all of that nonsense.
But in this new trilogy we have cultures that could care less about a war happening in the far reaches of the galaxy. It’s not even that they simply care more about themselves, it’s that it doesn’t matter, and it’ll never matter, to the point that it might as well not be happening at all. This is personified a lot by DJ, the morally ambiguous character that Finn & Rose team up with from Canto Bight. He’s selfish, for sure, but there seems to be something more than that. DJ simply rolls with the tide. As long as he stays afloat, nothing else matters, and I think this is how the rest of society views what’s happening with the war.
I mean: What gives Canto Bight? How can you roll dice when five planets of the New Republic were destroyed, in an instant, only moments ago? SERIOUSLY! Why is no one talking about this?
Yet the galaxy moves on like it never happened. This is important. This is significant. We’re witness to a society that doesn’t feel “in danger”, much less “worth saving”. Even when the First Order tries their best to show the galaxy that they shouldn’t ignore this: They. Don’t. Care.
Neither does Luke; albeit in his own, defeated, Luke-like way. I mean, it’s not really his fault right? He has disconnected himself from the force entirely, and, let’s face it, those caretaker’s don’t look like they have a newspaper route to keep up with. Yet even when Chewie and Rey tell him what’s happening, he says something to the equivalent of “So what? Leave me alone. I’m here to die.”
I know that’s unfair. Luke definitely cares about the situation in ways the rest of galaxy might never understand, but his choice to distance himself from the cause is a symptom of the same mindset the rest of Canto Bight suffers from: The world continues to turn — or, in this case, the galaxy does. History repeats itself. It’s all the same cycle. What’s the point?
The point, as Rey eventually convinces him, with a little help from an old friend, is: what are we if not the people we care about? That may be a stretch. If so then you should take it as: We should always care. We care because that’s what’s given to us. The ability to love, to empathize, and to dream. We should care because we only have one chance to care. Only a few measly moments in this universe to even have the option to care. Therefore, we must care about something.
Whatever case is made, Luke eventually decides to do something, and that something is to force-project himself across the galaxy and make his nephew look like a fool. In clever misdirect from Rian Johnson of pacifism masquerading as the ultimate fanservice, Luke restores hope to the galaxy by embracing his own beliefs in the things he used to care about, not the least of which is the force, and that it “will always be…” around…or something like that.
After all is said and done Rian Johnson decides to bring us back to Canto Bight. To Broom Boy, as he’s now known as across the internet, who acts as a surrogate for the rest of the galaxy as he stares up at the stars, much like Luke stared off at the twin suns of Tatooine in A New Hope, inspired now to embrace his own dreams. This boy, clearly force sensitive, as evidenced by the subtle picking up of his broom, is proof that Rey is not the only one that needs help. We all need someone to “Show [us our] place in all this?” I don’t believe he will be a main character in Episode IX, and I think theorizing as much misses the point. Yet I wonder what would have happened had we not gone to Canto Bight? The story of Luke’s deeds reaching the ears of a young slave exhibiting force powers could’ve gone another way: He could not care, and be angry, and could believe that all that schlock happens in a part of the galaxy far away and would never reach him. “It doesn’t matter.” he thinks, “It’s not worth thinking about.” Except Rian also chooses to show us something else, an tiny little trinket that doesn’t feel all that important, at first, but might mean the difference in how the boy sees his future: The ring.
Save what we love.
Let’s refresh. During Finn & Rose’s mission to Canto Bight they end up getting detained — for a parking violation. This is obviously bad because the Resistance is slowly dying without their help. The mission is vital to the survival of their friends. I mean, we know they fail, but at least it’s enough incentive for them to break the law. I dunno…suddenly I’m just feeling the need to point out that they are not escaping from the Empire or the First Order here; just some local law enforcement who were doing their job. I wonder if this will come back to haunt them later.
All things considered, they escape with the help of their new frienemy, DJ, and end up at the fathier stables via the sewer system. They open the gate to one of the stables, in order to steal a fathier, but are stopped short by a slave boy forced to sleep in the stables with the fathier — whose secondary purpose is to be a security device — as evidenced by his instinct to go for the red button that could only be a bat signal. Rose is quick on her feet, and stops him from raising the alarm by showing him the ring that, when a lever is pulled, reveals the rebellion’s logo. This works. They release the fathier’s, and Finn & Rose are able to escape.
What we didn’t see, until the end of the film, was that Rose left that ring with that slave. Something to remind him that the rebellion was there. The rebellion is thinking of him. The rebellion will be back.
This small gesture suddenly makes tangible the rebellion and its ideals. It doesn’t place the war in some far off corner of the galaxy, something which he might never bear witness or be a part of. Suddenly it places the fight on his planet, in his city, standing in his stable, asking for help.
It’s a spark.
So when he hears of the exploits of Luke Skywalker later, towards the end of the film, this is not just some legend or story or tall tale. It’s real to him. Stokes the fire within him. He cares. He hopes. He dreams.
That is not-at-all insignificant.
Sure — the mission was a failure, a red herring, or pointless, in the grand scheme of things, but so is a lot of life. We embark on adventures — relationships, careers, and new passions — all the time only to discover it was all-for-naught. Yet we never consider the smaller impacts. We gloss over our interactions with others as insignificant or unimportant only to learn — if we’re lucky — that some tiny gestures actually hold weight to another person in ways which we never deemed fathomable. Yet it’s these small moments that we should constantly be fighting for. This is what showing up looks like. This is how we combat apathy: by winning the hearts and minds.
In conclusion: For the kids.
I know you’re rolling your eyes at that statement — saying Star Wars is “for the kids” in defense of a storyline is old news at this point — but this time I’m serious: I’m pretty sure this storyline played better with the kids. While I haven’t been able to ask anyone between the ages or 4–10 to gage their reaction on the movie, my theory is that “fathiers are the best” and “Canto Bight was so much fun”; at least my girlfriend says so, and though she is 23, I’d say her non-starwars-movie-fandom puts her in the same category as the nearest nine year old.
Jokes aside (she actually loves SW, she’s just not a nerd about it like I am, as evidenced by this longa** essay) I’m convinced that the Canto Bight sequences were made FOR the kids as much as they were made ABOUT the kids. Though I’ve talked — a lot — about apathy, dreams, and hope in regards to the secondary storyline, it’s possible that the strongest argument is that this was made for the children, and simultaneously, the child within all of us. (Someone do the research for me.)
It’s appropriate, then, that this plotline is carried out by two of our most inclusive characters within the new Star Wars trilogy: Finn and Rose.
I’m just going to come out and say it: Though I haven’t done the research, all the backlash I’ve noticed being thrown at The Last Jedi has been from white dudes. It may not all be white. I’m sure that some people who hate episode VIII are not white at all. Regardless, the future of the US is decidedly less white, and with caucasians making way for those of mixed race — I’m glad that Star Wars took the time to give the most inspiring moments to two of their POC. First Finn inspires Rose. Then Rose inspires the boy. Luke helps. So I suppose there’s room for all of us.
In all seriousness, I think there’s a lot that a kid could get out of the Canto Bight sequences, even if it doesn’t all land for those who are well into our thirties; especially for those who grew up without having characters in Star Wars that looked like us. We need characters like Rose and Finn, a mechanic in charge of escape pods and whatever-the-heck-finn’s-job-is, respectively, to show us that everyone matters. We can all make a difference, even if it doesn’t feel like it, and especially if we aren’t the chosen ones or are well adept in the force. (Side note: I really wish they would bring Wedge back into the picture.) The Last Jedi attempt to tell us, with the ending and it’s themes, that the force is for all of us. The future is for all of us. Giving those moments to Finn and Rose, especially those emotional ones near the end, help to drive these points home.
Plus those Fathier’s were really cute right? Give me a plush of one of those. Sell those toys Lucasfilm. Sell those toys.
For those who are grown, and still can’t get behind the subplot, we need only look at DJ, those Cantonicans, and therefore our own apathy to see where the real issue lies.
I set out to write a more list based article, in regards to the subplot, but it turned into a full-blown essay that went more into the overall themes of the movie than originally expected. Regardless, I’m glad how it came out. However I did want to mention a similar article by Vanity Fair, which helped me out in determining how I wanted to shape up my conclusion. Please give it a read if you can.
You can find out more about me, and my work, on my website: www.mattiasalegro.com