George Chrysostomou on Star Wars: The Last Jedi and its character decisions (major spoilers follow)…
The divisiveness surrounding Star Wars: The Last Jedi has caught many by surprise. What was thought by critics to be one of the best Star Wars films ever made, has instead been proclaimed by some fans to be one of the worst… which is really saying something considering the Prequels. One of the key criticisms amongst those fans, apart from a slightly dodgy looking Yoda and a Mary Poppins Princess Leia, is that the characters make completely reckless and oftentimes bad decisions. Whether it is the plans they formulate, or the information they decide to share with one another, or perhaps even the instant choices they make, many fans around the world have been left scratching their heads as to the stupidity of the heroes in the galaxy far, far away.
However, I for one prefer to that these characters make their mistakes, fail at every turn and become more than just any other movie character. The characters of The Last Jedi are more human because of their mistakes; the whole film, as Yoda himself puts it, is about failure and how to learn from that. For everything to go perfectly is to ask for completely unrealistic characterisations. You may not think this matters in a world where a powerful, mystical entity known as the force exists, but for the iconic cast to really seem human, they need to make mistakes.
This of course is not new for Star Wars either. Throughout the generations, audiences have watched these fan favourites make mistakes that go on to form the rest of their arc and affect the very core of the franchise. The parallel to the Last Jedi from the Original Trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, is a film littered with mistakes. Lando choosing Vader over Han, deciding to park the Falcon on an asteroid, Leia kissing Luke… But, more importantly, the decision for Luke to confront Vader when he was clearly ill prepared and not ready for such a feat. No only did this lead to the best twist in movie history, but this poor decision showed the guts of Luke and his commitment to facing the dark side, no matter the cost. It was a heroic, noble, and stupid decision.
Looking at the decisions and mistakes in The Last Jedi, it is easy to understand why some may complain. Why would Luke want to strike down his own nephew? Why would Kylo Ren cut his master in two? Why wouldn’t Holdo tell Poe her plan? Why did Finn and Rose so catastrophically fail at their plan? Why would Rey go to face Kylo Ren by herself? And why would Holdo not just put the ship into auto pilot…? Okay, that last one really did make no sense and was a sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake; maybe she wanted to be a martyr? However, if we really broke down each of these decisions though, the point of them would very quickly become apparent.
For Luke to briefly believe that killing Ben Solo is the best course of action, is not only a self admitted mistake but one that he pays for. The decision was fleeting as shown in the film and made complete sense. If it was any other child he would have made the same choice regardless of it being his nephew. The commitment of Luke to push out the dark side of the force is well documented and he has killed before to do so. Considering all he has lost and all he has seen happen, it’s no surprise that killing Ben seemed like a good idea. It’s the age old question of coming across a baby Hitler. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren killing his master was simply a grasp for power and one that ultimately paid off. Holdo’s choice to not let Poe know her plan was also one of logic, first and foremost. Within the line of command in the modern military, someone of her rank simply wouldn’t have to tell a pilot like Poe. Not only this, but like all humans, Holdo decided to play the cards close to her chest and made the wrong call. Leaders do it all the time in the real world and she doesn’t have to be perfect.
Finn and Rose’s failure was the most interesting to me. From the very beginning their mission was doomed after they couldn’t even get to the right code breaker. This very real world situation of making the best out of what has been dealt and ultimately failing at the core mission is something that further humanises these characters and gives an edge to the villains of the piece. Too often are the heroes seemingly so wise and their plans so flawless and so often fans will complain as to the complexity of a plan and how it should have fallen apart. Well the plan did fall apart and it was nail biting to watch. Yet the film was all the more interesting for it.
The question of Rey going to face Ren alone is a direct parallel to Luke facing Vader in Empire and a direct reminder that not every decision is the right one. For her, the seemingly best way to win the war, with as few casualties as possible, is to turn Ben back and hope that it would tear the First Order apart. Her plan actually somewhat worked, for Ren himself took out the Supreme Leader, which showed that Rey’s choices weren’t completely foolish. Her faith in Ben however was misplaced; how often have we as humans put our faith wrongfully in someone we thought we could trust? It is not surprising her decision went awry, but it is also not too distant from reality.
To those critiquing The Last Jedi’s character stupidity therefore, I would pose this question. Do you think that perfect characters make for a better story? I for one believe that the more flawed the persona, the more close to reality those characters are. We are still very much in the age of dark and gritty reboots trying to make things seem realistic. You don’t need grittiness for realism. All you need are some characters that are imperfect so that we can see ourselves somewhat in them. It’s okay to make mistakes and The Last Jedi is all the better for them.