Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the most divisive Star Wars of all time and it looks like it was divisive on purpose. It is the worst reviewed Star Wars movie among audiences EVER. If you had a dime for every time I’ve said “I am not a Star Wars fan”, you could buy a house in California. But I say that this time to point out the key problem with Disney’s Star Wars which is why I’m not focusing on characters like Luke and Han Solo which older fans already know and love. I’m going to focus on the new generation of Star Wars Characters and how they have been failed by the brass of Disney.
The only identity that Disney has established with their Star Wars universe is one thing…Diversity. Disney loves waving the big, bright flag of diversity when talking about their movies. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was sold as a new direction featuring strong female characters and an array of minority characters within their cast. This is fine and dandy, but in the process of celebrating films like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for its big, diverse cast and strong female lead, they completely forgot the most important part of making a film…Story. Now, this editorial isn’t as much as the overall storyline of Star Wars, but the portrayal of Disney’s celebrated new characters and how they have failed to put them over outside of their gender and their race.
The best way to dissect this is to look at the new characters themselves and explain why they have not won the hearts of fans the way the directors and producers wanted.
The man who was supposed to be built up as the next generation’s Darth Vader is anything but. Instead what you get is a 30 something man-child with mommy and daddy issues. A man who is more famous for his temper tantrums than his feats. The Last Jedi openly mocks the fact that he was bested by a girl who only held a lightsaber 5 minutes earlier. He has no real motivation outside of being evil for the sake of being evil. A character written to be related to the Skywalkers and Han Solo shockingly has the poorest arc in the story. A guy that could have been written to be anyone else was only written to attach old Star Wars fans to the Disney era films.
Rey is a total Mary Sue and we essentially know nothing about her after 2 films. We know she can use the force, she can fly the Millennium Falcon, she can beat up guys twice her size, and she can use a lightsaber to defeat guys who supposedly had years of training from Jedi Masters. The only interesting storyline about Rey was the identity of her parents, but that story was seemingly squashed in The Last Jedi. Now, all we have is a female character who excels at everything without going through the trials & tribulations that other characters went through to achieve that status. Rey is the face of the Disney’s Star Wars and that’s about it.
Finn had arguably the most intriguing character arc of any of the Disney Star Wars characters. He was a former Storm Trooper turned good guy who was a useful weapon to the resistance given his knowledge and intel of the First Order. What we get is a guy who is essentially a coward that would rather flee than fight. After being relegated in the Last Jedi to a pointless side mission having no interaction with the top tier characters, he finally gets an opportunity to redeem himself and make a noble sacrifice…only to have his moment taken away from him by a newbie so they can share a middle school kiss…because they built a relationship apparently.
Even though Jyn was a one-off character in a movie that was largely rewritten from its original vision, she exhibits the same problem of Rey’s character that she is good at everything and earns nothing. Jyn isn’t given any charisma, a direction, or any memorable feats. She was written for the sole purpose of selling a ‘strong female lead’ to market the film despite not given any feminine traits. She was a weak character overall. Besides looking like Katniss Everdeen, her character was given so little to work with; it was hard for her to ever stand out as anything more than a weak protagonist and if you are going to have her be the focal point of your movie and sell audiences on her character in the film, this is a big problem.
A character that should be named ‘shoehorn’ because that is what she is. Rose is introduced as a fanboy of Finn who is related to a character we only saw for 2 minutes that died in the opening act. She is given the title of a mechanic, but isn’t written to show her skills and prove her usefulness. Her storyline is so pointless, she makes Finn an irrelevant character in the process. What was the point of introducing her into the universe if you literally had no plan for her within the story? Even her ‘heroic’ moment is counterproductive because 1. It’s robbed Finn of his hero moment, a character that desperately needed one. and 2. She doomed the resistance to the wrath of the First Order in the process.
The man built up to be the new hotshot pilot set to win the hearts of the audiences does any but, why? He’s a midcarder in the big picture. Poe was given a hero complex in the Force Awakens. In The Last Jedi, he becomes exposed as a less than interesting character outside of his ship. Portrayed as a hot head, his first plan to fight the FO costs the lives of many in the resistance and then he spends the rest of the film trying to mutiny against his female officers because they don’t trust him enough to simply tell him about an evacuation plan. You can’t build up a character who’s supposed to be the hero by tearing that hero down during the course of the film (something they learned the hard way with fans’ reaction to Luke Skywalker)
Why are these characters that Disney is literally falling over themselves to celebrate in terms of their diverse look not getting the same respect on paper? The blame for this lies with one person, Kathleen Kennedy, the producer who has been awarded controlling power of the Disney Star Wars universe. Kennedy had one plan for Star Wars when she took over Lucasfilm from George Lucas, make Star Wars female. The reason the new Star Wars lack the enthusiasm of the earlier films is that the people in charge value representation over quality. I made a joke at the beginning of my Last Jedi review about female fighters but you would have to be blind to ignore the overwhelming increase of female representation in that film. This follows a trend we have seen with The Force Awakens and Rouge One. Jyn and Rey are the leading women in the film, the rebellion in all films have had female leadership, the fighters and pilots are also women, even villains like Captain Phasma are women. But why are these characters not clicking?
Well, it’s the ‘Superman Problem’. The problem isn’t there is a strong female character. The problem is that she’s so strong and so right that she’s not interesting. When you create a character that is so strong and so powerful without ever having to earn anything, you create a character that fans can’t connect with. This is why Batman is so much more popular than Superman. Even though Superman is stronger and can do anything, Batman is the character that goes through pain and adversity. Batman is creative because he has to outwit his villains who are just as smart as him. He has a character that everyone knows and identifies with. Superman is strong, but he doesn’t have any of those things because he can do it all. Now that’s not saying Superman isn’t a popular character, but you have to put it in perspective. When it comes to film, television, and comics the most important aspect is story, story, story. Quality over Representation.
Now I would argue, why would Disney care about the quality of their characters? Star Wars have proven that they can make a billion dollars per movie just off the brand, this is a problem I’ve criticized Disney for in the past. If the money is there, there is no reason to change, but Disney is at an interesting crossroads here. If the fans start to bail on the franchise, they will have to change-up their approach. The Last Jedi has been shunned by fans and the early word on The Han Solo movie is anything but good. Kathleen Kennedy has made a pretty penny banking off the nostalgia of Star Wars fans, but that nostalgia is gone and she hasn’t gotten fans to accept the future is female as much as she’s tried. Your characters can be female, they can be black, they can be gay, Star Wars has already proven this. But if Disney expects to keep people around on the sole premise of a character’s gender, race, or sexual orientation, they are in for a rude awakening and The Last Jedi is the first disturbance in the force.