The Last Jedi: uncomfortable thoughts

With the whole family, I saw The Last Jedi at the one-minute-after-midnight showing on the day of release, at the wonderful Cinderford Palace Cinema (£2.50 on weekdays, £3.50 at weekends, snacks £1). I loved it and I’m keen to see it again. Almost everything I want to say about it, Matt Wedel has already said in his review over on Echo Station 5-7.

But there is one important thing that I’ve not seen mentioned anywhere yet: not in Matt’s review, or Matt Zoller Seitz’s review on the Roger Ebert site, nor in Mark Kermode’s in The Guardian.

WARNING: MANY SPOILERS.

Was no-one else bothered by the overt imagery of terrorism on the part of the Resistance?

For one thing, I count three separate suicide missions. First, in the opening act, Paige Tico is literally a suicide bomber. OK, we can maybe overlook that one, since it was not intended to be a suicide mission, just a mission against suicidal odds. But second, Vice Admiral Holdo deliberately hyperspaces her ship through Snoke’s, instantly killing herself and inevitably killing nearly everyone aboard the larger ship. Then, as if that were not enough, Finn unilaterally undertakes a suicide mission to take out the big gun down on the surface of Crait. (He is prevented from succeeding, in one of the film’s rare missteps, but Paige’s sister Rose Tico.)

Once, I could overlook; twice, maybe. But to keep returning to the theme of suicide missions seems more than coincidental to me, and it disturbs me that we’re actively encouraged to cheer for the people doing this.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi..L to R: Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)..Photo: Jonathan Olley..©2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

But there’s more. The entire film closes on a brief scene of child radicalisation on Canto Bight: one of the boys who briefly met Finn and Rose is seen using the Force to grab a broom, holding a Resistance ring, and gazing at the stars, evidently dreaming of joining the Resistance.

So what we have here is a combination of tactics that seems to to be leading in the direction of the Resistance recruiting children for suicide bombing missions. Which would make them outright terrorists.

I’m not sure what to do with this observation; just putting it out there.

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14 responses to “The Last Jedi: uncomfortable thoughts

  1. Maarten Daalder

    It’s more or less mimicking A New Hope. Almost every ‘mission’ Luke undertakes in A New Hope is a suicide mission (or the odds are anyway). And in the beginning he wants to go to the Imperial Academy (join the Army), but ends up with the ‘good guys’ (terrorists in the eyes of the Empire).

  2. Maarten Daalder

    Forgot to mention, it does however appear to give a peek into the mindset of what we would call ‘the lone wolf’ type of terrorist, who thinks there is no other way to solve a problem than to die trying to fix a problem. In the case of Finn, he wanted to protect the most amount of people (at the expense of a single live) so the rest had the best chance at survival.

  3. An attack on a military target, by (mostly) members of an opposition military force operating within a formal command structure is not generally considered terrorism. When the Death Star blew up Alderaan, not only a non-military target, but an actual member state of the Empire, THAT was terrorism.

    Acting to secure a vital and legitimate military goal, even at the cost of one’s own life, is how you get posthumous medals of honor (or the British equivalent).

    (As a side note, people have humorously described “A New Hope” as “the tale of a desert-dwelling teenager radicalized by a robe-wearing religious fanatic into performing an attack on a government installation”)

  4. Interesting point. We should note that the suicidal sacrifices (carried out, or at least attempted) by the Resistance bombers at the start of the movie, and by Finn at the end, are criticized or even thwarted as being the wrong moves. On those two counts, I’d say the lesson of the movie is that such sacrifices are wasteful and wrong, and that when faced with overwhelming odds, to survive is to succeed.

    I read the bit with the kids at the end as more of a torch-passing than a radicalization-of-the-young. And like a lot of stuff in this movie, it comes sooner than expected. To a large extent, TFA and TLJ represent the OT generation passing the torch to the Rey/Finn/Poe/Kylo generation. And here in the second movie of the sequel trilogy, that generation is already inspiring the next. “Pass on what you have learned” – Rian Johnson seems to be taking that seriously.

    Admiral Holdo’s sacrifice made me think, once you’d shed light on it. On one hand, she was almost out of fuel and doomed anyway. And her sacrifice did clear a path for the rest of the Resistance to escape. But then, if we say that doing a suicide attack when you’re doomed anyway, and when doing so will help save your people, is okay, then maybe we’re getting uncomfortably close to justifying kamikaze attacks. It is almost certainly how suicide bombers view themselves.

    Maybe worth noting that Luke goes to the second Death Star expecting to die? “Soon I’ll be dead, and you with me.” Although he was going to try and turn Vader, not to destroy the station himself.

    As you’re fond of saying, I don’t know the answer, but I admire the question. And as Paul Graham said, there’s no prize for getting to the right answer quickly. I’ll think more on it.

  5. I think the theme of terrorism has been tackled throughout the Star Wars universe. If not in the main media outlets, I remember for sure a Clone Wars episode in which what the good guys was doing was called outright as terrorism.

    Your points are correct and I hope the final episode of the trilogy wraps it all nicely in that war is BAD! I didn’t quite agree with how Luke rebutted Kylo, when he said the war is just beginning. I would have thought that after all he’s been about in the movie, and after all we learned during the Clone Wars is that war is what got us here in the first place.

  6. Pingback: Who is Snoke? Don’t care, doesn’t matter | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  7. Lizard is absolutely correct here. Terrorism is an act against a civilian target with the intent to cause fear. There was none of that on the part of the Resistance.

  8. Right — it’s all military targets.

    So I agree that in definitional terms you can say that the Resistance are absolutely not engaging in terrorism. It’s the imagery (suicide bombing, radicalising children) that bothers me.

  9. Could you not say the same about any war film which has a character heroically sacrificing themselves to destroy a target, something so common it’s practically a clché?

    Indeed the only surprising bit in this film is that in the last one, the character is prevented from actually making the sacrifice (and this is presumably why it happens three times, rather than just one climactic sacrifice as in most films: because in plotting, if you’re going to do something with a twist, it works better if you do it twice first and then do it differently the third time: the ‘rule of three’).

    Otherwise, you might as well make the same criticism of, say, the guy who blows up the aliens in Independence Day to name one of about eleventy billion.

  10. Or, you know, Major Kong’s heroic ride in the end of Dr. Strangelove.

    Oh wait, bad example.

  11. H, you make a good point. All I can do is repeat myself: the fact that the suicide-attack crops up three times makes it seem pervasive, rather than a single key plot moment; and the child-radicalisation reinforced that perception. It didn’t spoil the film for me; but it made me uncomfortable.

  12. the fact that the suicide-attack crops up three times makes it seem pervasive

    Maybe; I can only then repeat that the reason for that is that the first two are supposed to set up a pattern, which the last, thwarted, one breaks. That’s why there are three: it’s not to do with terrorist imagery, it’s simple plotting mechanics. First time shows something, second establishes the pattern, third breaks it.

    Or if you prefer, the first time is happenstance, the second co-incidence, the third is enemy action.

    (I do get a bit annoyed when people criticise works for extrinsic factors like the events which happen to be occurring in the world at the time of their debut. A truly great work if supposed to transcend its own time and have people still finding worth in it long after the death of all those who were around at the time, centuries or even millennia later. To look at something only through the lens of today, sometimes even of a single week — I have actually heard a comic short play criticised because it happened to involve a sniper and be performed in the week after the Paris shootings, despite of course being rehearsed before those events and written long before — rather than asking, ‘What will posterity make of this?’ is unspeakably short-sighted. I mean, we’d laugh at Tudor critics who had complained that Macbeth was insensitive in the contemporary political climate, wouldn’t we? So we should equally dismiss those whose views of modern works are blinkered by today instead of seeing them in the context of history, and asking whether they will be worth revisiting in five hundred years.)

  13. Nice Goldfinger reference!

  14. Hi there. I just got back from the movie myself and felt so uncomfortable with the whole suicide theme I would have walked out of the cinema if I could have explained what I was doing and why to my two young sons who were with me.
    I missed the radicalisation message but now you come to mention it…
    Perhaps Skywalker had a point.

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