‘Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you see it you’ll never make it through the night.’
General Organa, quoted by Vice Admiral Holdo and Poe Dameron.
‘The greatest teacher failure is.’
The first quote is utterly beautiful, and I will refer back to it for years. The second is a philosophy I have always tried to live by; if I do something wrong, I have learnt a way that doesn’t work.
The theme of this film is failure, which is exactly what the filmmakers did as well. They failed, because I can see their puppet strings. I can see their influence over the characters in order to make the plot they wanted work.
Let’s go back to that first quote; Vice Admiral Holdo is not a stupid woman, yet for some reason she doesn’t tell anyone on board the plan. She doesn’t tell them there is a base nearby, which they can all escape to in order to survive. Instead this woman who demands that Poe Dameron should trust her, gives him absolutely no reason to do so, because she clearly doesn’t trust any of them. Except, you wouldn’t become a Vice Admiral under General Organa by displaying any of these tendencies. You most certainly wouldn’t be her friend.
The puppet strings keep Holdo quiet, because for some reason that is how the filmmakers wanted Finn and Rose’s plot to be able to happen. And it was a great disservice to Holdo, Poe, Finn, Rose and even to Leia.
I normally delay my posts about new Star Wars films in order to give people the chance to see it and not have it spoiled. Unfortunately, in the case of ‘The Last Jedi’ I have delayed it for a different reason. The first time I saw it I absolutely hated the film, and it is solely because of the above plot point. I needed to think about it, and see it again so I could discuss it properly.
Fine, Holdo might not have trusted Poe because he disobeyed orders and destroyed the Dreadnaught. Equally though destroying the Dreadnaught extended the life span of the Resistance, because if they hadn’t the Dreadnaught would have followed with the First Order’s new tracking technology, and with it’s big guns could have destroyed the rest of the fleet. Poe was proved right pretty quickly that they needed to take that opportunity to destroy the ‘fleet-killer’, even though the cost was high.
When a leader like Holdo can no longer see the hope in the faces of those around her and there is a brig full of people being charged with attempted desertion, and the man everyone rallies around is asking to know what they are going to do, someone like Vice Admiral Holdo would tell them. Hope is not something physical you can always see, but the point of great leaders is to inspire hope when hope is needed, which is why people were easily swayed into committing mutiny by Poe. Leia and Holdo have strong faith, but the very fact Leia wanted Luke back as a spark of hope for those who have weaker faith is very telling of just how much hope they all needed.
But the filmmaker’s puppet strings were used to stop Admiral Holdo from telling Poe Dameron the plan, because had she told him the plan, half of the film then wouldn’t have happened, or at least it wouldn’t have happened how it did.
Had Holdo told Poe the plan was to aim for an old rebel hideout, when Finn and Rose went to him with their knowledge, then he would have taken them to Holdo and a better plan of action could have been put in place as a back-up plan in order to save the one ship they had left that had shields and weapons. The entire sub-plot involving Finn and Rose could have been better; the former storm trooper and the girl who works behind pipes all day could have a proper plot, not what felt like a slapdash afterthought.
Had Finn and Rose gone on an authorized mission, they could have taken an experienced member of the Resistance with them to advice that parking on the beach is a crap idea; that running around a high stakes casino and blatantly looking like you don’t fit in is a bad idea; and that you need to retrieve the person you have been sent to retrieve because a friend you trust, trusts them. Just retrieving someone else you don’t know who you met in a prison cell (I repeat in a prison cell) is a bad idea!
The theme of failure needed to be explored, because failure is a great teacher like Master Yoda says, and it is also a very good way for writers to develop character arcs, but it was forced. And the only reason I can think they wanted to do it the way they did was so Benicio del Toro could play a complex, double crossing, slightly mysterious code breaker. Apparently that was more important, so they had to make Finn and Rose incompetent, shallow characters, which they aren’t, in order for the meet-cute with DJ to happen, and to override their common sense by playing up their desperation.
Personally I don’t know why DJ couldn’t be the one Maz Kanata trusted in the first place? True, she has a lot of experience and wouldn’t be easily fooled, but other aspects of this film talked about how people are not perfect, they are not legends. So why couldn’t there be a character in the Star Wars universe that proves even Maz isn’t right all the time? I mean Kylo Ren manages to fool Supreme Leader Snoke in a spectacular twist, so why couldn’t DJ be someone who would betray Maz’s faith in him?
Tip for filmmakers: it is fine for your darlings to fail, however if you set them up to fail through incompetent writing they don’t fall as far. If you set them up doing everything right, with everything going their way and then pull the rug out from under them, not only are you more respectful of your characters’ competence and determination, the impact of failure has more resonnace with the characters and the audience. If you set it all up to make the ending you want work and do so by making characters act out of character, what actually happens is you end up with a character like DJ, whose lack of loyalty is so predictable you wouldn’t have been able to lay a bet on whether he’d sell the Resistance out to save his own skin because it was a dead cert.
I’ll stop now, because just thinking about how badly executed the plots surrounding the Resistance were executed riles me up (I can’t even bring myself to mention Captain Plasma because I might wear out my caps lock function discussing her abysmal cameo), which is a massive shame, because otherwise the film is utterly brilliant, with some spectacular cinematography and as always a soundtrack by John Williams, which proves why he is the best at what he does.
Chewbacca falls to the wayside a bit with the Porgs (who only exist because puffins are real and if you film at one of their nesting grounds, they turn out to be hard to CGI out; good excuse for something cute in my mind), but Chewie’s there when he needs to be, and gets to hug Leia this time so it’s not all bad.
The storyline between Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren is brilliant. The filmmakers nailed it. There are still a few unanswered questions, and a few questions that got answers which may not necessarily be true, but it worked. I feel as if Rey may have forgiven Kylo Ren just a little bit too quickly for killing Han, but the time scale of the film meant she had to turn to Kylo Ren as quickly as she did because Luke was slow on the uptake and too haunted by the past to want to help her find what she is looking for: someone to show her what her place in all this is meant to be.
And in the Red Room she finds her place; she may have let her naivety lead her to that room, and her certainty about being able to save Ben Solo might be misplaced, but she doesn’t let her failure deter her or blind her to what’s needs to be done next if she can’t rely on Ben Solo to help her save the Resistance. Unlike Kylo Ren who looses focus because of his anger and hatred, in moments of clarity she finds her practical instincts kicking in. Jakku might have been no-where, but it was a good training ground for teaching someone how to survive on nothing, which is what the Resistance needs.
The resolution of Rey and Kylo’s storyline will make the next film very interesting indeed, hopefully sans puppet strings, and lots more sly looks from General Hux in Kylo’s direction that clearly say ‘Really, you want to do it that way? Okay, it’s not a good idea but I don’t want to be force-choked.’