The Problem with the Discourse Around “The Last Jedi”

I genuinely liked The Last Jedi (TLJ), but I also have some big issues with the writing, some of the characters, and where it fits in the sequel trilogy. We can have complex feelings, and I honestly feel that these complex emotions towards media that we love is how we not only push it to be better but also how we engage and form connections with other people in our fandoms. I also want to start off by saying that I am in no way defending the truly awful and toxic members of the Star Wars fandom. When we see this behavior, we need to call it out. Which was the purpose of developing #SWisagirlthingtoo and #SWrepmatters.

The purpose of this article is to say: I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted because as someone who has worked with members of our Star Wars (SW) twitters community to increase and foster an inclusive space, I am having to watch as those I am close to are lumped into the camp of “sexist fanboys” after giving the same critique I did. I’m exhausted because we’ve come to a point in the discourse that critiquing how Amilyn Holdo does her job, makes Poe a sexist, and those on his side as well. We’ve come to the point where I feel terrible telling people I don’t like the writing of Rose’s character, and if I do make that point the people can’t make the same point without it being assumed that it is her Asian identity that is the reason for the dislike and not the compression of the Canto Bight and heist subplot. This doesn’t remove the fact that the actress behind Rose Tico was attacked viciously online  by racist and sexist fans, but to throw all critique into this pile isn’t productive.

starwars-lastjedi-jimmykimmellive
The Last Jedi cast with director Rian Johnson and Jimmy Kimmel.

When it comes down to it, we now have a more diverse Star Wars universe than ever before, and hopefully it keeps going that way (add Rae Sloane now!). But with that, comes a need to protect these diverse characters at all costs from those seeking to discredit them just because of their gender, race, or sexual orientation. This is vital to keeping an inclusive space. But we also must not close ourselves off to the point where any negative critique of a character is taken as a bigoted response simply when they start the conversation with: I don’t like [insert name]. I’ve seen it happen first hand when my co-hosts reiterate my opinions and are shut down. And ultimately this dissmissal of all critique creates a space where you are only a SW if you 100% love TLJ (or other properties). If we form a protective barrier around these characters from ALL critique, instead of just the bigoted barrages, we do the characters a disservice. For example, Phasma.

Captain-Phasma-in-The-Last-Jedi

I’ve read articles where they applaud her for being a female villain and for being relentless. But when you watch TLJ and The Force Awakens, you see that these articles completely neglect to mention that as the first female villain we’ve seen in a Star Wars movie, has been thrown into a trash compactor and unceremoniously killed after a brief battle. Although we get to know her background and ferocity from one of the books, we don’t see any of that on screen and for those who contributed to the over $1 billion box office pf TLJ but have not read the books, this is a disservice. She is in fact Boba Fett, a cool costume and a cool name. For some, that’s enough, and that is okay. But to say she that TLJ writes all the women in the movie perfectly, we neglect that the only female villain was essentially useless. We need to understand that media that is problematic can also be empowering. Buffy is extremely problematic but I found power in her as a little girl and still do as an adult. We can love something that does both things, and it is in calling out the problems that we make it better.

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Moving from Phasma and to the character that has been mentioned the most on SW twitter, Rose. As I mentioned above, Kellie Marie Tran has faced relentless racist and sexist abuse from trolls and toxic fanboys alike. She stands as the character we have had to protect the most from the ugliness of people. But Rose has also turned into one that we, as a community, have not discussed in critical detail. This is understanable, having been called racial slurs more times than I count, I am hesitant to engage sometimes and get automatically defensive. That being said, the subplot that she’s placed into, Canto Bight, is one that has been the most divisive among even fans that loved the movie. Was it too compressed? too long? or just right? There seems to be a point on all of those. To be drawn to Rose because she finally brings a woman of color into SW is great, but to ignore the critique of her and her role in the film is not. Personally, I don’t like or dislike Rose Tico. I don’t feel like I was given enough in the story to care about her outside some throwaway lines about punching a hole in the planet. Whereas her sister Paige, in one scene, I immediately wanted more of her, in a good way. I cried about a character I didn’t know.

For Rose, I have issues with how she makes the comment that isn’t visited with complexity, which makes her seem naive in her ideas of good and bad and that she is never transformed from that state. She explains that she hates the planet and the First Order for destroying her home and enslaving animals and humans a like to make their weapons, and she hates those in the casino for profiting off of it. When DJ reveals that the gamblers in fact profit from the war in general by showing Finn an X-Wing order, Rose isn’t there and the nuances of war profiteering and the ultimate gray area aren’t shown to the person who provided a critique of it, a few scenes ago. Beyond that, her involvement in a self contained subplot left me frustrated.

I was frustrated with this because I wanted so much more of Rose, I wanted her to help shape Rey’s journey and play an important role outside of a sectioned off subplot.  I’m just “meh” in regards to Rose because I didn’t feel the impact of her character outside of her saving Finn (which is a scene I have different issues with and is the base of a different article). I’ve been lucky enough to have this conversation with people who love Rose and were open to understanding the problems some people had with her. But because of the bigoted hate she received and continues to, it seems to me that it is my position as a woman of color that allows to me have these critical discussions while my co-hosts are called whiny fanboys and dismissed when reiterating or agreeing with my thoughts.

Overall, we do need to take away a lesson from Rose and her last line of the film, we need to “protect what we love.” But we must do better at protecting them from from bigoted hate while also being open to legitimate and thoughtful critique. Because sometimes, critiquing what we love is what needs to be done to make them better. If we say that the treatment of Phasma was good, will we ever end up with a complex female villain like Asajj Ventress on screen? If we say that Rose’s place in a subplot was perfect, how do we move towards having a woman of color on screen that directly impacts the narrative of the trilogy? There is always room to grow and always room to have conversations about our disagreements.  Love what you love, but be thoughtful about it.

Now if there is a take that is clearly going out of it’s way to disparage a character on no basis other than their race, gender, or orientation, drag that post all the way to hell. But for everything else, don’t make people feel like they don’t belong for not agreeing with you. Have the conversation, or just ignore it. Not every man who has issues with TLJ, has issues because of they’re sexist. To dismiss their distaste for it as such is ignoring the very real and thoughtful problems there are in the film’s storytelling. The same way not all women who loved TLJ only loved it because of strong women, personally I loved it because of I connected with Poe and Luke. There are multiple reasons for liking or disliking something.  I understand that after being subjected to so much toxicity that, that is our knee jerk reaction. But if we are to push these characters forward, at the end of the day, we need accept that there other opinions out there and a character we love may be flawed. I mean, as leader of the Poe Dameron fan club, it’s been through multiple conversations, some heated, that I’ve come to accept that he did something wrong, he did mess up. Poe isn’t perfect, but I still love him. I hope you can accept the imperfections with your favorites as well, and that doesn’t mean that we should love them any less.

 

If you’d like to a hear a more in depth review and conversation
about The Last Jedi, check out our Spoiler Review here.

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Author: Kate Sanchez

As the in-resident scholar, most of my blogs will discuss heavier issues: representation, gender, race, etc. I believe that pop culture teaches us things and I look forward to letting you know what see when I watch movies, read comics, play games, and binge watch 26 episodes in one sitting. But don't worry some posts about my feels and I won't always talk about the heavy things (just a lot of the time).

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