Contention over Star Wars: The Last Jedi bounces around what’s right and wrong about Rian Johnson’s vision of a series that people imagine as being a staple of heroic fiction. Most of those who love and hate the film agree on the one point that Rose and Finn’s segment on Canto Bight feels unnecessary. Some have justified it – most find it needless.
I believe it is the crux of the film’s potential. I believe that the script’s failure to communicate the intentions of this sequence is what has toxified discourse surrounding The Last Jedi. I don’t know if it’s a positive or negative thing for me to dissect it on the film’s anniversary, seeing as Star Wars already takes up enough of all our time. But I want to, as my final word on this still-contentious film.
In order to doctor the script while changing as little as possible, I want to clarify what I believe the Canto sequence intends to accomplish. 1. I believe it means to reveal larger themes about the morality of war. 2. I believe it intends to subvert the audience’s expectation that heroic plans in movies “always work out.”
The problem with the execution of these thematic elements is that Rose and Finn’s decisions are dumb. With everything on the line, they act like they don’t care and didn’t think it through. They whoop with glee on a pony ride while their friends are dying in the stars. They make incredibly bad decisions and blow off the consequences, which makes it feel like Johnson is doing the same. Their plan feels like a comedy, so the script does too.
Meanwhile, the audience can remember The Empire Strikes Back, a film that already subverted heroic plans completely (Luke’s desire to save his friends was why Vader tortured them). Then again in Return of the Jedi: Luke’s strength and heroic resolve to defeat Darth Vader is what the Emperor wants. He doesn’t become a true Jedi until he gives up the idea that he can fight to save the day.
With these films in mind, the subversions in The Last Jedi apply more to people’s reactions to the legacy of Star Wars than its content. It is not a straight Western hero narrative, though it’s built on its conventions. Heroic action does not solve the story in the original trilogy: enlightenment does.
So knowing that Johnson hopes to find new understanding within a well-known series – an effort far nobler than Abrams’ desire to recycle its highlights – what can we do to help The Last Jedi achieve it?
Johnson’s intended truths will hopefully come out clearer on the other side of these changes, which make the characters’ actions more logical so that we can support them … before subverting them for thematic reasons. So, here are the things that I would change about this film, starting with the Canto Bight sequence:
1. Illegal parking
Parking on the beach in plain sight is the first thing Finn and Rose do that makes it seem like they don’t care, which obscures the point of their plan failing in terms of the film's theme. In other words, how can we know it’s subverting heroic plans if a smart heroic plan seems like it would have been successful?
Instead, they should act logically, starting with trying and failing to park in a designated area. Finn would say he can convince the guards that they’re First Order couriers and Rose could say of course he can, reminding us that she has a troubled relationship with Finn’s past.
But then, we can see how much Finn has changed as he FAILS to convince the guard of this. We see Finn’s struggle between what he was trained to be and what he’s trying to become (Rose sees it too). This gives more context to their arc together and boosts emotional development for Finn, which I think is a huge missed opportunity in The Last Jedi.
They park their ship on the beach as a last resort. In other words, the dumb thing is the thing they have to do after expending other options, not the first thing they try.
2. They bring BB8
BB8 has literally no reason to go to Canto with them. He’s awkward, useless in this situation, and the only droid known to the First Order by sight. As a better subversion, they should have brought C-3PO.
FINALLY, a situation where protocol is needed! C-3PO has always been useless in combat, but the multi-species casino would be his ideal battlefield. It would have been funny and satisfying to see him in action as something other than a useless sidekick, rather than relegate him to obscure side roles. Those who want to challenge Star Wars’ past AND those who love it would appreciate this subversion. He would be the logical choice for this mission.
3. They avoid detection
Note: having a plan that fails is part of the theme, but it has to be convincing that they tried everything they could. Otherwise, heroic plans in blockbusters aren’t the problem – THEY are. That’s why the audience is confused by what this sequence was going for.
So these obvious Resistance spies walk into a casino totally out of place. Instead of no one noticing, I would have them approached by someone claiming to immediately recognize them but to be on their side. That would be more believable. But who?
How about someone six feet tall, gorgeous in a gambler’s dress, and played by Gwendoline Christie? That’s right, I’m actually using her in the film!
After they obviously went to hyperspace from the Resistance freighter, she followed them here to figure out their plan. She has a bone to pick with Finn, who doesn’t recognize her. But we do.
4. Finding the codebreaker
Here’s where I’m cutting out needless oopsies. Instead of missing the codebreaker and getting imprisoned for parking, 3PO finds the codebreaker (Del Toro), who agrees to help them for a price. All of them, including Phasma, retreat to their ship on the beach and take off for the First Order.
I’m getting rid of the parking violation, the 2nd codebreaker, the prison, the BB8 slot machine, the donkey ride, all of it. Because wrecking a town and releasing livestock isn’t “worth it” as Finn and Rose remark. The whole point of the theme is that the wealthy profit from war so much that they can’t be beaten by a heroic plan that prolongs the war! The slave kids are going to have to work overtime recovering the Fathiers and cleaning the casino. That’s all that’s going to happen, according to the film’s own themes. It’s not worth it even a little.
Hopefully, I'm preserving audience investment by getting rid of this preachy stuff, which needlessly accentuates a video game sequence that already sticks out in the film's pacing and tone. Rose and Finn need to have the right perspective: trying to accomplish their mission. There could even be a clever callback to A New Hope where some First Order patrols pretend to try to stop them on Phasma’s orders, but they still get away, just to make Rose and Finn feel like their heroic plan was succeeding.
They could repeat the age-old Star Wars joke that stormtroopers can’t hit anything, only to find out later that they purposely let them escape.
5. The decloaking scan “twist”
When they reach the First Order ship, it’s essential that this still doesn’t feel like a comedy, so I’m getting rid of the hard edits to slapstick (such as the "spaceship iron" and the droid bonking his head on the wall). But it’s also important to carefully control the scripted events that happen when their plan fails.
Running a decloaking scan cannot be the “twist” that makes their plan fail. The Resistance plan is not smart enough for the First Order to not think of that already (one of the first lines in all of Star Wars is an officer doing a life form scan). It’s the first thing they would do (they could also look out a window). The audience knows Lando betrayed them in Empire – Del Toro betraying them for the same reasons is not subversive. It’s homage.
Instead, Phasma should reveal herself, helping the audience understand that this heroic plan failed BECAUSE it succeeded, not because Rose and Finn acted irrationally. Nothing they did made a difference. A procedural decloaking scan easily reveals the Resistance plan to escape to the obvious planet. Phasma is amused that their plan wasn’t anything more clever.
6. Poe vs Leia
Poe’s arc is another hugely contentious point in the film. His arc, which describes how action heroes are not the end-all in every situation, could scarcely be more off-putting to an audience impatient to dispense with the misinformation and the withholding, lengthy run-time. But its intentions are so good that I want to keep them, but just clarify them.
In my version, Poe is furious at Leia for forcing them into this situation and for making Holdo hide the plan from him. One of the worst moments in the film is the “That could work” moment where Leia explains the WORST plan ever to Poe and he acts like it’s smart because it would be convenient for the script for him to do so. Anyone in the First Order would see through that plan, which relies entirely on them doing nothing rather than doing … logical things. Anyone in the Resistance would say it’s a horrific plan.
The theme would be clearer if Poe acknowledged that this plan was bad from the start and despite all their efforts, it was always going to fail. But where does that leave Leia?
7. Leia’s intent
Now I’m adding this to the script to tie it together. This isn’t in the film – this is my interpretation of its mission.
I would write that Leia, like Luke, has lost faith in the constant struggle between good and evil that never goes anywhere, only profits the warmongers (tying in Rose’s speech), and for which she lost her husband and son. She’s tired of running.
She knew there was no way out for the Resistance in this situation. She enacted the best plan she could, knowing it wasn’t enough. Why does Holdo refuse to tell Poe this plan? In the film, there’s no reason other than to prolong the tension until the script feels like it. In my version, Holdo couldn’t reveal the plan because she knows it’s a bad plan.
It wasn’t designed to succeed: it was designed to give them some hope until their inevitable defeat. That would make her unnecessarily aggressive silence towards Poe logical rather than just convenient.
They didn’t want Poe to lose his will to fight. They even hoped that his obvious secret mission would succeed, even though it relies way too much on everyone in the First Order being dumb and incompetent. They gambled on a “movie victory” and lost. THAT’S the subversion we needed in this plot. It is the logical conclusion of everyone acting intelligently, rather than the forced conclusion of everyone acting conveniently dumb.
8. Luke returns
Luke returning to defend his old beliefs restores Leia’s hope in their struggle. She remembers that they fight for the galaxy’s spirit, not just its physical territories. Rey represents breaking the cycle of failure by bringing Luke back to his belief in the Light.
Finn and Rose’s plan was a failure: they realize that heroic movie plans don’t always work, and that all you have in the end is the people you love. This IS in the film, but it isn’t “how they’re going to win,” as Rose incorrectly said. Wars are won by killing your enemies – this is evident in her sister’s, Rey’s, and Holdo’s actions. But it is how they’re going to make the idea of winning and losing less important. That’s the key thematic difference.
Leia comes to the same conclusion when Luke returns to fight a losing battle for what he believes in. His return to the Light saves the galaxy, not because he can defeat the First Order with his lightsaber, but because he proves that the Light will face the Dark even when it costs everything.
This is exactly what happens in the film. It is the perfect conclusion to a series of plot threads that explained that theme to varying degrees of quality. How much you think it needed the above changes depends on your perspective. I personally think that refined logic, in this case, means refined themes.
Star Wars in the Discourse
The cost that Luke pays is weighty, but it’s hard to justify when the people that benefit from it are squealing like kids on a pony ride as they gamble the fate of the galaxy on the chance to destroy a rich alien’s space-Lexus. Scaling all of that back and refining the logic of this plot as it relates to the themes would have made the whole thing come together in a way which, I believe, would not have nearly as much toxic discourse.
The greatest failure of The Last Jedi was not that it tried something new with Luke Skywalker but that it did not take responsibility for logically cohering either the plot or the tone to the themes it intended the audience to discover. It was more concerned with how it could subvert what people think they know about Star Wars than how it could sensibly turn the series’ actual history into new understanding.
For the entire plot of The Last Jedi, the audience doesn’t think heroes are being subverted but that they are being misrepresented. If the bad guys weren’t so silly (the film opens with an SNL prank call leading into a reverent sacrifice) or the heroes so nonchalant, the themes wouldn’t have the chance to be stated in drawling expository dialogue at the end, telling the audience: this is what you were supposed to learn. And I don't think the audience would rebel against those themes so aggressively, either.
Coherent logic, tone, and pacing, perhaps with events similar to the ones outlined above, might have improved the narrative both of the film and its reception. Either way, this is my last word on the subject. Due to Disney’s narrative and how fans have reacted to it, I am no longer a fan of the series or the discourse after over 20 years of active participation. No doubt, I will still talk "about" Star Wars in the future, but I will never participate in the fandom as I once did.
However, hopefully this essay reflects my devotion more than my disappointment. Hopefully, it doesn't make the defenders of the film feel even more marginalized. And hopefully it adds to your thoughts about a contentious film, no matter what they are, rather than further radicalize them against those who profit from the war over the fanbase’s opinion, no matter who thinks they are “winning.”
Images are screenshots from the film: © Walt Disney
Cast & Crew
|Luke Skywalker||Mark Hamill|
|Leia Organa||Carrie Fisher|
|Kylo Ren||Adam Driver|
|Poe Dameron||Oscar Isaac|
|General Hux||Domhnall Gleeson|
|Rose Tico||Kelly Marie Tran|