Archive for Guest Editorials

Doing/Talking: The Importance of Being Rose

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“The biggest problem in the universe is that no one helps each other” are words uttered by one of the more barbaric characters in the Star Wars canon. But freed of their heavily ironic context the sentiment remains at the core of what drives the story: conflict and action. That’s not unique to Star Wars by any means, and neither is the quote attributed to that character’s daughter in the original film’s novelization: “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally they became heroes.” Both thoughts, however, would serve as highly appropriate taglines for Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, particularly when it comes to the newest addition that roster of heroes, Rose Tico.

Much has been made of The Last Jedi’s shunning of the typical conceits and objectives that drive people in Star Wars — this is of course done knowingly by Johnson as he comments on motivation and character throughout the feature, across all story lines. With Rose, he starts with as little as possible: she’s stuck on the boat with everyone else, her remit is extremely narrow (don’t let people inspect escape pods from the inside) — she has just lost her sister, yes, but there no natural outlet for action or resolution in the way that, say, Luke has Obi-Wan waiting for him back at the sandcrawler, or Rey has First Order troops hunting for BB-8. In establishing Rose’s involvement in the plot, Johnson inverts a key moment from The Force Awakens: the meeting of Poe and Finn. In that instance, individuals from opposing sides band together for practical purposes, in the interest of survival. There is of course the gag of Finn liberating Poe because “it’s the right thing to do.” Poe cynically sees through this and recognizes it for what it is, identifying Finn’s true need immediately.

Rose, on the other hand, is drawn into the fight because it is indeed the right thing to do. Her insight and knowledge grant her the opportunity to go along for the ride, rather than the luck she sheepishly attributes it to. Whether she or Finn are fit for purpose with regard to the mission they eventually go on is material enough for an entirely separate piece, but for her to earn her seat at the table on merit rather than potential, duty, or coincidence is a refreshing change. There is a lure of the swashbuckling derring-do that she (initially) so breathlessly admires Finn for, but her core drive is an idealistic one. This makes her a fine counterpoint to Johnson’s transformation of Kylo Ren into an ideologically-driven big bad for this particular trilogy, and lies at the heart of how this film propels the saga out of its dynastic dogfight and into something more essential. » Read more..

Rey and Kylo: Identically Different

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One of the most prominent themes in The Last Jedi is the contrast between the haves and the have-nots. A dichotomy present not only within the city of Canto Bight or in organizations like the First Order and the Resistance, but also between characters.

Emblematic of this idea are Rey and Kylo Ren. Indeed, never in the Star Wars franchise have we seen such a clear distinction between one character who has nothing and everything and another who has everything and nothing.

“Kylo failed you. I won’t.”

This contrast is particularly evident with regard to the theme of betrayal. Whether it is Rey’s parents abandoning her or Luke igniting his lightsaber that night in Ben’s hut, the journeys of both hero and villain begin with an act of familial betrayal. Yet while Kylo answers like with like—one dark side trait (fear) with others (anger, aggression)—Rey’s reaction is markedly different.

In the throne room scene, she has the chance to abandon the Resistance as her parents did to her. Yet even as she reels from both this painful acknowledgement and the recognition that her waiting and harsh upbringing on Jakku were for nothing, Rey refuses.

To have suffered an act of familial betrayal far worse than Ben’s and yet choose to be better than what came before demonstrates that Rey has a strength Kylo could never have. Without even moving, she provides the film with one of its most inspiring, heroic moments. Arguably in the same vein as Luke’s actions on Crait. » Read more..

“A Man Who Wants to Run” – Finn’s Character Arc in The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi takes our beloved main characters from The Force Awakens on separate journeys that are imperative to their character development: Ben Solo kills Supreme Leader Snoke and solidifies his roots as the bad guy, Rey takes on the symbolic journey of training as a Jedi with Luke Skywalker – or tries to, anyway – and Poe is prepping to become the leader of the new Rebel Alliance (you can read about Poe’s story here). No less important than these is Finn’s necessary journey in this film that solidifies his role within the Rebellion. He is transformed from a man who wants to run into a man who wants to fight. With the help of Rose, their mission to Canto Bight, and his battle with Captain Phasma, Finn gains an understanding of how important the Resistance’s message is and what it truly means to be “Rebel scum”.

FN-2187

In The Force Awakens, Finn’s main “mission” is to leave the First Order behind and run to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. But how was this decision made and why? We are introduced to a stormtrooper who was taken from a family he will never know and thrust into an ideology he doesn’t identify with. In a rigorous training program, Finn, along with many other stormtroopers, is conditioned to serve the First Order and obey all commands without question. Only when he is faced with the prospect of killing innocents on Jakku does he make the decision to leave. But his doubts about the First Order can be traced further back than the events of The Force Awakens.

Finn has a strong moment of truth in Before the Awakening that plants the seeds of his secession from the First Order. In the novel, Finn rescues one of his fallen comrades and he is chastised about it by Captain Phasma. According to the First Order, to have a strong group you have to leave the weak behind. Going back and saving fallen stormtroopers was a waste of resources – stormtroopers are expendable. To Captain Phasma, Finn is replaceable. He is only his number: FN-2187. » Read more..

Playing by the Rules – On Mon Mothma, Violence, and Consistency

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Over a year ago, on this very site, I wrote that I believed it was wrong for Mon Mothma to disband the New Republic armed forces only a year after the Battle of Endor. The Empire, defeated at Jakku, goes in two separate directions: the fleet jumps into hyperspace, hiding in the outskirts of the galaxy, while those remaining sign the Galactic Concordance. The Galactic Concordance states that the Empire may not raise an army, nor can they employ stormtroopers or engage in any weapon building/trafficking. When Starkiller Base fires upon the Hosnian system, the Resistance watches as the New Republic dies in flames. The New Republic, disarmed decades ago under Mothma’s watch, was unable to attend to the growing threat of the First Order, ultimately causing its destruction.

Did Mon Mothma make the right decision? Pragmatically, I still hold that it was wrong to dissolve the New Republic’s military strength. But morally? I think I am siding with her now more than ever. It is hardly up for debate that Mon Mothma has had one of the greatest renaissances of the new canon. Making appearances in Rogue One, and also in comics, novels, and reference books like the recently-released Rebel Files, we’re finally seeing the fuller picture of Mon Mothma that we missed out on when her scenes were cut from Revenge of the Sith. One of the most pressing issues for her, in the canon, is maintaining the integrity of the Alliance and its members while pushing for the end of Palpatine’s tyranny.

While Mothma’s role in many stories has been, essentially, handing out missions or arguing about proposed missions, she has a much more nuanced role in the new canon. She sees violence as a last-ditch effort in the fight to end the Empire’s tyranny, and has problems authorizing violent action on her account unless the full Alliance High Command comes to a unanimous consensus. The Alliance was still a political movement, and it would act and vote accordingly. Her personal views affect the way that she assigns these missions, and they may cause her to deny certain ones. » Read more..

Put Down That Weapon: Luke Skywalker, His Masters, and Acts of Instinct

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Of the myriad moments in The Last Jedi that have caused an uproar among the fandom, it is Luke Skywalker’s actions in Ben Solo’s hut that have proved the most divisive. Given the Rashomon treatment, we see the scene three times, with Luke withholding key information in the first telling – namely that he had ignited his lightsaber with the briefest view towards murdering his nephew.

Understandably, a sizable portion of fans feels betrayed by this moment, and that it is out of character for Luke, a man who saw the good in his fallen father when nobody else believed, the man who threw away his lightsaber while staring down pure evil, proudly declaring his allegiance and heritage as a Jedi. A figure of warmth and optimism would not, could not contemplate such a barbarous act… surely?

The Last Jedi is many things; among them it is a comment on Star Wars and Star Wars fandom itself – a concept that is already being explored more than adequately. It is also, within the narrative, an examination of what it means to be a Jedi, and what values that involves. Writer-director Rian Johnson, via Luke, is explicit in his view of the classic, prequel-era Jedi Knights: that they were heinously derelict in their duty and allowed Darth Sidious to create the Empire while exterminating their order, but is only an invitation to dig deeper into the film’s (and Luke’s) view on the differing ideologies of the saga’s other two key Jedi characters: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. » Read more..

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