Star Wars: The Last Jedi – the significance and controversies concerning political overtones, depiction of female characters and racial minorities.

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Rey and Luke Skywalker 

People all around the world for centuries seem to need something else to life than just their ordinary day-to-day business. We feel the need to be interested, or rather involved in something more. First, it was books, where we could dive into the lives of our favorite characters and learn more and more about their lives, problems and adventures. Then, after the era of books came the era of the movies, and it still lives on till this day. One of the first big events of exquisite storytelling came in the shape of the Star Wars original trilogy. George Lucas was able to create a huge and fascinating world, yet he focused the attention on the lives of a few ordinary people. That is what made these movies so interesting and appealing – that even though the fate of the world is in danger, we still care about those little people and their troubles.

About the galaxy

The original trilogy tells the story of a young man called Luke Skywalker, who learns the truth about his predecessors and begins a fascinating journey to fulfill his destiny and also save the galaxy.

This wonderful creation of George Lucas’ mind resulted in an enormous critical and financial success and caused huge fanbases all around the world to spawn. The Star Wars movies have quickly become the stepping-stones for thousands of fan fiction novels and stories. Clearly, for many people Star Wars has become a huge part of their lives. It was actually the first big cinematic universe, which are so popular these days. Now as well as 40 years back it has some of the most devoted and faithful fans.

Than George Lucas decided to expand the universe by three more movies, which would play the role of prequels to the trilogy, telling the story of Luke’s parents, especially his father and his journey to the dark side. These movies are now universally hated, being mocked for very bad acting, boring stories and poor writing, usage of cheap CGI and the infamous Jar Jar Binks. Also, the prequel trilogy has been accused of changing the tone of the franchise, making them more family friendly. Nowadays all devoted fans as well as ordinary movie enthusiasts agree that the prequels are simply bad movies.

After that, George Lucas decided to retire from the galaxy far, far away and sold the rights to Disney. This transition resulted in the third trilogy, with episode VIII being the newest instalment in the franchise. When Disney obtained the rights to Star Wars, George Lucas lost all control over production and artistic vision. The change of filmmakers came with a lot of doubt, especially from the most devoted fans. Although episode VII, called “The Force Awakens” had some flaws, the end product was satisfying, landing somewhere between the original trilogy and the prequels. It introduced a few new major characters: the trilogy lead Rey and rebel stormtrooper Finn as well as villains – Snoke and Kylo Ren, while maintaining the beloved characters such as Han Solo, Leia and Chewbacca. The movie felt new, with great technical improvements, but still fit perfectly in the universe.

Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

Then came a big change, when Rian Johnson took over both the directors and writer’s chair, to make the eighth movie in the saga, called “The Last Jedi”. The movie consists of two main plotlines: the continuation of Rey’s adventures, her search for the lost Luke Skywalker and her journey to become a Jedi and the other being an intergalactic chase of the rebel fleet by the ships of the evil First Order.  Johnson decided to implement his own artistic vision by introducing a lot of new elements, such as new characters, creatures, locations and plot twists.

This is when the controversies surrounding this movie come into place. Johnson’s vision of the continuation of the storyline was very different from what fans had expected. The last movie asked three important questions: who are Rey’s parents? Who is Snoke and what can we expect from him? What will happen to Luke? For some “The Last Jedi” answers these questions in a very easy and unsatisfying way. The problem of Rey’s parents was a major part of the seventh movie, but the only answers the viewers got is that they were nobody. Snoke was killed in a blunt and unjustified way, and Luke has become the opposite of what he always was, rejecting the principles of his character in the Original Trilogy.

But the biggest problem with the movie, a matter that differentiated fans and critics (the movie has been praised by critics, and hated by audiences, receiving respectively 91% and 49% score on Rotten Tomatoes) and has been a hot topic of debate since the premiere of the movie is the involvement of political correctness and introduction of characters played by minorities into the universe.

Position of women in The Last Jedi – the endless online debate

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania women in the last jedi
General Holdo, princess Leia, Rey, Rose Tico – main female characters in the movie

Nowadays the position of women in cinema, especially in Hollywood is rapidly changing, thanks to social movements, campaigns and also thanks to movies such as The Last Jedi. It may not be the first, but most definitely is one of the first big-budget blockbusters to cast so many women in main and important roles. If we look close enough, all major decisions and key plot points are either made by women or at least involve one in the decision process. It may sound strange, but this was not always obvious. here are some examples of the importance of female characters in this particular movie: Rey is the main character, her storyline is the most important in the movie and it all revolves around her on her journey to find strength and will. After Princess Leia, the leader of the rebel alliance goes into coma, another woman, general Holdo takes the lead in such a crucial and dangerous situation. Another character that is very important in this particular movie is Rose Tico, a mechanic, newcomer to the series (about which I will talk about more later) and a topic of hundreds of discussions across the internet. This line-up of strong and independent women came to many as a shock and was as well approved as strongly disapproved.  The main concern of fans who did not like the feminization of the movie is that the political correctness becomes the main point of the movie, taking focus away from the plot and character interaction. Also, Rain Johnsons movie has been called a feminine version of the “Empire Strikes Back”. Here are some comments and tweets fished out by a reporter for Independent, James Moore in an article called “Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been killed off by PC culture. No really, people actually think that”:

 “Social and political messages invade this story and detract from the flow of the movie.”

 “Liberal social/political propaganda.”

 “The side story with Finn and the diversity hire was just so Disney and not Star Wars.”

Enraged fans have expressed their anger and disappointment through various social platforms, ranging from Twitter to YouTube. These people, probably motivated by the amount of hate and bad opinions this movie was receiving, started undertaking desperate measures. A group of anonymous MRAs (Mens rights activists) has gone as far as editing a special version of the movie, where they cut out all women, leaving an all-men short version of the movie. It has been uploaded to an illegal torrent website called Pirate Bay and is only 46 minutes long, which shows just how many women are in this movie, as the original is almost two and a half hours long. The under title stated: “basically The Last Jedi minus Girlz Powah and other silly stuff“ and the  description of the file explained the motifs of the makers:

“But for what it’s worth, it can now at least be viewed without feeling nauseous about most of the terrible big and small decisions they made in this film. Also, at least the intro sequence is now very watchable and actually much cooler without all of Leia’s nitpicking. Now it’s all one united Resistance fighting without inner conflict and that’s much more satisfying to watch.”

However, there were also a lot of fans and viewers that strongly approve of these nonconservative castings, saying that the Last Jedi finally places women in a respectful and deserving position. Women can now have a Star Wars movie where they can identify with a character that is much more than just a damsel in distress. It started with episode VII where the main character is a young woman, Rey who is wonderfully portrayed by Daisy Ridley. She managed to capture innocence and bravery in her role, without the need to sexualize the character. The Last Jedi manages to broaden this subject, as Rey becomes a fearless and unstoppable Jedi, and also introduces new characters which only enlarge the amount of on-screen strong female characters. As stated by Amanda Mullen in an interesting article titled “The feminism is strong with this one: Female empowerment in The Last Jedi” posted on culturess.com:

The women of The Last Jedi don’t only display agency when it comes to personal choices. Characters like General Leia and Amilyn Holdo make decisions on a larger scale. They hold positions of power within the Resistance, positions most movies reserve for men. Not only are the authoritative roles reversed in The Last Jedi, but the women in command teach their male counterparts what it means to lead. […]

The final scenes of the movie drive home the most feminist message: that women will be the ones to pave the way to a better galaxy. In his final words to Kylo Ren, Luke passes the future of the Resistance and the Jedi Order on to Leia and Rey.

As Amanda Mullen states, this movie is a unique example of shifting the authority to women, making them the most powerful, fearless and important to the plot and character development, but also to the fate of the whole galaxy. Women are the future – this is the main political overtone and the main idea that Rian Johnson wanted to include in his movie, except of course the plot.

But not only internet users try to defend the movie. Many celebrities praised Rian Johnson for the bold approach and not just trying to please the fans but by implementing his own artistic vision. J.J. Abrams, the creator of Star Wars episode VII, the force awakens, criticized fans for the amount of hate and sexist comments about the movie, and has very clearly stated: Their problem isn’t ‘Star Wars,’ their problem is being threatened.” He intends to describe the problem that so many people have with the movie, that it actually is not about the movie itself, but rather that the strong position of men in the Star Wars universe is being threatened and questioned by female leads.

The problem of racial minorities

The involvement of women is not the only problem that long-term fans had with the movie. The Last Jedi has also involved people of racial minorities in several big roles. Two of them stand out: Finn and Rose. Finn is a stormtrooper-turned-rebel who is played by an Afro-American actor John Boyega. Rose Tico is a mechanic working on the rebel cruisers who is played by a Vietnamese actress, Kelly Marie Tran. This movie is not the first to include people of color into the franchise, as the role of Mace Windu in the prequel trilogy was played by Samuel L. Jackson. Episode VIII is however the first to involve two characters of racial minorities to engage in a separate storyline which eventually evolves into a romantic relationship.  In an internet article posted on Medium.com treating about the importance of diversity and objectivity, user ‘Lllevyn’ states that after The Force Awakens being the first in the series to introduce an Afro-American and a woman in both lead roles, the Last Jedi had really big shoes to fill:

“Naturally, director Rian Johnson had a lot on his shoulders when writing and directing Star Wars: The Last Jedi– he had to make a film that would please both original trilogy lovers and build off of The Force Awakens in a very satisfying way.”

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania rose and finn
Rose and Finn

Rose Tico – the most controvercial character

The most discussed character in the movie must be Rose Tico – the first part in the universe played by an actress of Asian origins to have big, supporting role and such a long screen time. She is a shy but eager flight mechanic working on the rebel cruiser who meets Finn and they together start a journey to find the solution to a problem facing the rebel fleet. As the plot continues to unravel, their relationship quickly progresses to finally become one of a romantic nature. Unfortunately, their quest turns out to be futile, as the man they have traveled to find turns out to be a liar who sells them out to the enemy. This storyline is the main reason for the amount of hate that Kelly Marie Tran, the actress, received after the premiere. Many say, that the biggest problem of Rose is that she is useless to the plot. Although she has a lot of onscreen time, she is basically an assistant to Finn, and as we know, their quest eventually fails. Haters claim that she is a mere political tool, used to satisfy the Asian audiences, please critics and spread diversity values. She is also, not by coincidence the only one in the movie to deal with the problem of animal rights. This suggests strong political overtones in her character, making her pointless and pretentious. Rebecca F. Kuang on her blog rfkuang.com, accurately describes the problems of Rose Tico:

“The problem isn’t that Rose was a poorly conceived character. It’s that after those poignant opening scenes, The Last Jedi gives her nearly nothing to do.”

On the other hand, many people, including the previously quoted blogger Rebecca F. Kuang were very happy to finally see an Asian actress being placed in a huge production such as The Last Jedi. She optimistically admits:

“As a Chinese-American girl who’s been watching Star Wars since before she could speak English, I’ve been waiting my entire life to see someone like Rose Tico in the Star Wars universe. I got some kicks in last year with Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus, but Rose is a girl. Rose looks like me. […] There’s a lot to like about her. Kelly Marie Tran is both a fantastic actor and a spunky, adorable beam of light who plays Rose with the same enthusiasm and open-heartedness that characterize Daisy Ridley and John Boyega’s performances. […] In all fairness, Rose had far more nuance and complexity than I expected she would get.”

Rose is definitely a likeable character and an impasse to the recent streak of whitewashing Asian characters in Hollywood. Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, The Ancient One in Doctor Strange or even a lack of Asians in the critically praised Blade Runner 2049 are just a few examples of the discrimination of Asian actors in Hollywood.

In conclusion

The Last Jedi is not a bad movie. It has flaws, problems with the tempo and some misplaced jokes. It also has the very controversial storyline of Rose and Finn going to Canto Bight, which takes up more than half an hour but makes no difference to the story. However, many things in this movie were, for me, really great. The broadened story of Rey’s quest and her relationship with Kylo Ren were great and very enjoyable parts of the movie. The movie presented superb special effects and production design. I strongly disagree with any type of hate that is directed at the movie beyond plot issues. For me it is very pleasing to see a rise of diversity in cinema, especially in Hollywood blockbusters. This movie shows, that we are on the way to a sexism-free, gender equal era of movie making. I hope that the next movie in the Star Wars Universe will give Rose and Finn more to do, helping them become strong and valuable additions to the saga.

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania rose and finn

Bibliography

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/star-wars-last-jedi-john-boyega-daisy-ridley-pc-culture-backlash-rotten-tomatoes-a8122146.html

https://www.change.org/p/the-walt-disney-company-have-disney-strike-star-wars-episode-viii-from-the-official-canon

https://medium.com/@nerdypoc/the-last-jedi-and-the-importance-of-objectivity-7523ca5852a1

https://www.indiewire.com/2018/02/jj-abrams-star-wars-last-jedi-women-1201929593/

https://rfkuang.com/2017/12/15/the-last-jedi-the-problem-with-rose/

All images are the property of LucasFilm

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