A Disturbance in the Force

As numerous sites have been posting spoiler-filled reviews of The Last Jedi I assume that it is OK for me to do the same. My apologies to those of you who haven’t seen the film.

Like many people, I found the film interesting as long as you make allowances for it being a Star Wars movie. You really don’t expect any of it to make sense. Adam Roberts does an excellent job of pointing out some of the more egregious plot holes over at Strange Horizons.

Of course not all of this can be blamed on the mythic nature of the Star Wars universe. Some of it is required by the nature of the beast. For example, Leia could have made a much better job of disciplining Poe, but to do so she would have had to make him confront the cost of his recklessness more closely. That would doubtless have been deemed too dark for a family film. In Star Wars death is sad, but everyone gets over it quickly.

Sometimes sense is sacrificed for the sake of plot. Admiral Holdo might not have seemed so incompetent had it not been necessary to make her seem so in order to sucker the viewer into the misdirection of her being a traitor. A better script might have helped, but there was probably no room. Even at 2.5 hours there wasn’t enough room in the film for all of the story that they tried to cram into it. This is by no means an unusual problem with modern Hollywood. I can understand the temptation to want to cram in more and more story, but the result of that is that the script gets pared down so ruthlessly that we have to rely on our semiotic intuition to fill in the gaps left by missing dialog and poor acting.

All of which brings me to the Canto Bight episode. I gather that lots of people have been complaining that it was a waste of space. Over at Tor.com Molly Templeton makes the case that it was necessary to show ordinary people resisting the First Order. The return there at the end of the film underscores that. But Templeton is wrong to dismiss the few lines of dialog about morality as comparatively inconsequential.

As is often the case these days, some of the best analysis comes from the LA Review of Books. Dan Hassler-Forest goes through the usual points about foregrounding female power at the expense of toxic masculinity. But he then goes on to look at the significance of Canto Bight and how it completely undermines the entire Star Wars narrative.

The lesson of Canto Bight is that both the First Order and the Resistance are being played by rich oligarchs who sell weapons to both sides and encourage them to fight. They are the real power in the galaxy: not the Jedi; nor Snoke, Kylo and their petulant, entitled pawn, General Vox.

There’s a serious political point being made here. Rian Johnson is asking his audience to forget about political tribalism and follow the money. That’s where you’ll find the real enemy. Whether the message will get through is another matter. The people who most need to learn that lesson are the people blithely voting for the First Order because they’ve been told that the Resistance are a bunch of dangerous SJWs who will destroy their European Heritage and Masculinity. But maybe once the enormity of the tax bill takes hold they too will learn that they need to stop fighting those they hate and start saving those they love.

Of course the chances of this message being carried through into Episode IX are not great. The people in charge of merchandising at Disney will continue to try to pretend that Kylo Ren is the hero of the story. Changes in plot direction may well be required of the next director. After all, misdirection is a staple tool of Star Wars plotting.

Which brings me to the question of Rey’s parents. Does anyone really believe that they were nobodies? Yes, it would be great if they were, because that would further undermine the dynastic theme of the franchise. But all of that can be changed. My bet for Episode IX is that it will be revealed that Rey was vat-grown from tissue stolen from Han and Leia when they were prisoners of the Empire, and Kylo will be redeemed because he can’t bring himself to kill his sister.

Yeah, that sucks. But at least we will have had The Last Jedi, and once again the middle part of the trilogy will be the one everyone says is the best.