A Very Late (And Bitter) Last Jedi Review

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Kathryn Zitt, Writer

Why Star Wars is failing their own integral message and sidelining their most important character.

I was 8 years old when I saw the original trilogy. It was Thanksgiving and my uncle put it on after the game ended. I didn’t like turkey and was going through a premature “no one in this family likes me” stage so I sat there with him and watched all three movies. To be entirely honest, it didn’t speak to me. I was 8 years old and the only character I could relate to or feel an avid interest in was Leia. Even then I was disappointed when she would not use the force like her brother and instead made out with Han Solo surrounded by weird bear aliens.

Still, I understood the message: love, empathy, and humanity can repair a war-torn universe, and while you don’t have to forgive those who wronged you, simply reaching out can make a difference.

So when The Force Awakens hit theaters around Christmas in 2015, and I was now 15 at the time, it piqued my interest. It seemed like a galaxy in Star Wars I could relate to with a female Jedi, a black reformed stormtrooper, and a latino resistance pilot. It seemed like a version of this universe that was more realistic and represented a generation that was ready to have their story told. When I saw this movie, I fell in love with Star Wars. More specifically, I fell in love with Rey, Finn, and Poe. And seeing Leia as a hardened general with the heart of a grieving mother repaired something in my 8-year-old self’s heart.

After seeing TFA, it was the first time I willingly got involved in Star Wars fanbases and discussions, thinking this was a space of people who empathized Finn’s plight as a child soldier, abused and taken from his home and forced to fight, only to awaken from his conditioning after a comrade in arms fell. I thought I was entering a space that respected Rey’s tenacity, her desire to be loved by someone who stands with her no matter what after being abandoned alone on her home planet.  But when I entered the spaces, the nerd culture hit so hard it caused a whiplash. The rumors I heard about Star Wars fans being racist and misogynistic had reigned true.

I remember feeling frustrated, not understanding how fans could be so blinded by their own internalized and outdated notions about race and gender that they would regard Finn as a selfish person, even though he left a violent fascist empire that tortured him and wiped away planets. How they could disregard everything Rey stood for in terms of the story only to wish for her not to be in a romantic relationship with Finn, who loved her and showed her nothing but respect and affection, but instead with Kylo Ren, the antagonist of the story who belittled her, tortured her, and represented the very face of fascism? In fact, the fans had a weird obsession with Kylo Ren, many choosing to focus on him and his storyline over Finn’s, even going as far as replacing Finn’s spot in the trio with Kylo. Kylo Ren was tragic, I suppose. The son of Leia and Han Solo turning to the dark side after whispers and temptations, manipulated by Supreme Leader Snoke, and ultimately turning his back on everything that he was taught. But that was what fueled my ire against him in the first place: the fact that Kylo Ren had everything and yet, he left. He turned his back on his mother and father, murdering his father, siding with the very thing his parents had fought so hard to protect the galaxy from. Kylo Ren is basically the science fiction equivalent of when an adolescent boy in a progressive household turns violently misogynistic and racist for the sake of being “rebellious.”

The fanbase’s actions sort of put me off, but when LucasFilm announced a new lead writer and director, Rian Johnson, I was hopeful for the most part. I wanted the movie to be like The Force Awakens, with a focus on the dynamics of Rey and Finn as Rey struggled to learn her new abilities under the eyes of Luke Skywalker. When I first saw the film, I was so under the euphoria of watching a Star Wars movie I hadn’t realized what they had done until I sat and thought about the implications of the film.

Rian Johnson, it seemed, had pulled the same moves as the fanbase. Unable to empathize and relate to Finn’s story and struggle, he bogged him down as a mere side character in a franchise where he is the male protagonist. Instead of Finn, the movie focused on Kylo and Rey and their relationship and it was like a punch to the gut. Originally, when Rey was able to connect to Kylo through the Force, she had attacked him, and that was sort of where I hoped the film let that storyline die, but sadly, it did not. Instead, Rey’s character was twisted as well and after enough of those force Skype chats with Kylo, she began to relate to him, even feel bad for him and pity him. My frustration grew. This was the man who had tied her down to a chair in attempt to torture her, claiming that he could “take what he wanted” from her, and Rey was relating to him, even forced to see him shirtless, a scene Rian Johnson said was necessary because he needed to “force intimacy” on them (which is a highly uncomfortable term of phrase when you realize the implications of every interaction between Rey and Kylo).

Rian Johnson ignored Finn and his story and what he represented about change and hope in the galaxy: an ex-stormtrooper working for the Resistance. All of the nuance and struggle could’ve been Finn’s focus in this film but he was instead turned into a comic relief side character, given a small part in a story that was meant to be his. Rian Johnson gave Kylo Ren Finn’s development, Finn’s nuance, Finn’s love interest, and Finn’s story.  He turned the whole movie into a giant red herring of “Is Kylo really evil?” only for him to turn out to be just that evil, putting Rey’s character through the ringer in making her sympathize with a man who hurt her and her friends, and sidelined Finn altogether.

Hope in the galaxy, the idea that people can change and fight for what’s good in the world was never Kylo Ren’s storyline; it was never meant to fit him. The Last Jedi wasted two hours trying to prove something we already knew about him when it should have focused on what really represented hope, light, change, and goodness: Finn.