The first time I saw The Last Jedi, I was less than thrilled. For the first time ever, I found my attention wandering during a Star Wars film the first time I saw it. On leaving the theater, however, I decided that Episode VIII would likely become my favorite installment of the current trilogy … eventually.
I’ve now seen it twice. I enjoyed it much more the second time. Knowing the long slog of the first 90 minutes would be rewarded by the final hour, I found myself paying closer attention to the bits that nearly lost me first time around.
I think I may have to admit that the problem first time through was my own expectations getting in the way of enjoyment. Which, given what I wrote here last year about the importance of breaking new ground (specifically using Star Wars as an example!), leaves me a bit chagrined. But there it is. Rian Johnson tugged the rug of expectations from under me, and it left me too crotchety to enjoy his film.
Anyway. Spoilers ahead…
Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Spoilers commence.
I noticed some things first time around which I knew I loved, and I caught much more of them in the second viewing. The renewed and strengthened influence of Japanese cinema, Kurosawa in particular; the similar harkening back to the old serials of the 30s and 40s. It’s there in the set design of Snoke’s throne room, in the costumes and colors. It’s there so beautifully in the long, slow burning showdown between Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker.
Those clouds behind them! Seriously, look at that fucking sky!
I haven’t been this pleased with the visual aspect of a Star Wars film since… Hm. Hold on. Maybe ever?
I came home, not sure if I wanted to watch Rashomon or Ran or both or more and maybe I should dive back into some space opera anime because that one scene – you know the one I mean – is so fucking anime that people in theaters have to be warned in advance lest they forget, for ten seconds or so, that they are watching a live action film with sound.
Some of my first-viewing reservations remain, mind you. Ackbar’s death is so by-the-way that you don’t even really see him get sucked out the window. A friend opined it should have been the Mon Cal admiral who sacrificed himself, rather than Holdo. But then what’s the point of Holdo, and without her one of the film’s central themes loses its primary expression. Hm.
Sidenote: first time through, I didn’t know what to make of Holdo. The film presents so much of that from Poe’s perspective. Knowing how it plays out as I watch, I like her so much more. Foreknowledge lets you pay unbiased attention to what she says and does. And maybe that’s why she’s shown through Poe’s eyes for so long, adding another layer to the Holdo-Poe dynamic and the underlying message. Maybe we have to see his (masculine) perspective and genuinely feel how that makes him miss the fucking point for so long.
(Now I’m looking at the film through my writer-eyes. And yes, even that Canto Bight sideline is necessary, even if it is the weakest sequence of the film. It’s message seems shoehorned in – and please note, it’s a message I agree with. But without that bit, there’s no way to get Frankie Four Fingers to betray the Resistance and then your whole final act falls apart. Sure … you could get there another way, but like making Holdo and Ackbar change places, it requires you to rewrite nearly half the film.)
Back to Holdo, though, and – I’ve been trying not to address this head-on, but what the fuck – to the more obnoxious side of popular response to the film.
Holdo is a flag officer. Poe Dameron is a fucking fighter pilot. Star Wars has always had this sort of blurred understanding of military organizations, and both the Rebellion and the Resistance have far more in common with an armed insurgency than a proper standing military. But the roles are there. They are defined. In any military organization in history, there is no justification whatsoever for someone in Poe’s position to demand answers from the highest ranking officer present.
His job is, as Leia puts it (albeit negatively at the time) to “jump in an X-Wing and blow things up.” A task which is not the only, and rarely the best, way to address problems. That’s the whole point. And if it were a male Admiral Holdo insisting that this is a situation that calls for some other strategy, and reminding Poe that overall strategy is above his paygrade? Would we have the same kind of bellyaching we’re hearing?
At the very least, the noise would have a different tone. I’m sure of that much. But, as I pointed out above, the film presents this argument from Poe’s point-of-view. We are inclined to side with the hero we know and love, not the mysterious new face. If Holdo were a man, I would have still been skeptical of him until the later reveal.
Of course, I haven’t been complaining about her, or about Rey being a “Mary-Sue” (she’s not, or at least not any more so than Luke or Anakin or any of the other literal fucking wizards in this series were), or any of the other woman-centered “flaws” that led a bunch of entitled children to demand that Disney give them a different Episode VIII and pretend this one wasn’t real.
(Nota Bene: Disney owns Star Wars, by virtue of having paid colossal amounts of money for it and possessing the wherewithal to produce a continuing series of films. I love Star Wars as much as you do, but neither of us has any claim to ownership. As I’ve said in other venues and other debates: if you don’t like a book or a film, then I fucking dare you to write something better.)
Ultimately, it isn’t the brief ambiguity of Holdo’s position that people are complaining about. It isn’t even the overall themes of the film these people object to.
Because if it was, they wouldn’t hate Rose Tico so much.
Because here’s the thing. Of all the characters presented to us by the sequel trilogy thus far, Rose is the one who has the most in common with Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy.
Not Rey, with her orphan childhood and her angry determination. Not Finn, with his escape from brainwashed totalitarianism. Not even Poe, with his fighter pilot swagger. Rose. Motherfuckin. Tico.
Remember when Luke Skywalker went running off to Bespin in Empire? It wasn’t to fight Darth Vader. It was to save Han and Leia. And later, in Jedi, when he surrenders to the stormtroopers so he can get close to Vader? That was so he could try and save his father’s soul, not for an opportunity to kill the Emperor. Even the first Death Star – he blew it up to keep Tarkin from killing everyone on Yavin IV.
Luke Skywalker always fought to save what he loved; never to destroy what he hated. That’s how he won.