As someone who left The Last Jedi overall really happy with it and excited about where the story will go from here, it’s been surprising to see the more ridiculous angry reactions to the film (the petition to remove it from canon comes to mind). There are other critiques that I empathize with, though. Last year I was surprised to feel a lot of ambivalence about Rogue One, so I appreciate The Last Jedi just didn’t click for everyone. That said, even among the more reasonable criticisms of the film, I’ve noticed that most of the things being called out are the parts I enjoyed the most.
Which leads me to Canto Bight, the luxurious casino that Finn and Rose go to in order to convince a mysterious Master Codebreaker to aid the Resistance. Nothing really goes right for our heroes during the sequence (and even the things that go right end up eventually going very wrong for them later in the film). Because of that, many of the movie’s naysayers have called the Canto Bight stuff pointless. The thing is, I kind of love the Canto Bight scenes. This part of the film not only features so many important character growth moments, but also solidifies some of the most important themes of the movie.
One of the most significant moments in the Canto Bight sequence is when Rose and Finn have a heart-to-heart about why Rose hates the place so much. We learn that before she and her sister joined the Resistance, they were taken from their home and forced to work to mine their planet. Rose hates Canto Bight for profiting off of people’s suffering. Through Kelly Marie Tran’s performance, we get a hint of quiet, simmering anger under the surface.
Watching her first scene with Finn at the escape pods, it’s easy to take Rose’s enthusiasm and hero-awe as naïveté. But she’s not naïve. It turns out she’s seen truly dark things in her young life, and Canto Bight is a culmination of everything she went through. It gives us context for why she joined the Resistance. We already know she’s really passionate about their cause and now we can understand why: she knows first-hand the consequences of war.
The War Profiteering
Part of the reason The Last Jedi worked for me so much were the fist pump moments I had in the theater. Finn’s realization that the war he was raised in also represented a whole industry of war profiteers was one of those moments. That’s because for a film franchise about war—with the word “war” in its name—the Star Wars films have always been a little simplistic when it comes to their framing of the actual wars. There’s a light side and a dark side, bad guys and good guys.
Even when the prequels touched on who benefited from the machine of war, so much of it was tangled up in Palpatine’s convoluted evil scheme. Other Star Wars media, like the recent animated projects and the old EU stuff, addressed the complications of war more fully, but it’s still been lacking in the films. I’m so impressed to see war profiteering focused on in one of the main films in such a blatant way. It’s also the first Star Wars movie since Phantom Menace to even mention slavery and the only Star Wars movie to connect slavery with war profiteering. For The Last Jedi to come out and say “this is a symptom of and motivation for war” is daring. We know that ultimately the Resistance’s fight is against oppression, but that doesn’t stop the war from producing more oppression within itself. That’s a pretty sophisticated lesson in our fun space flick. We live in a world where the rich do manipulate conflict for their own gain, and for kids to learn that as a core part of war is important.
And going back to Rose’s characterization, it’s important that we see just how much she has experienced the war on a micro level. She personally knows who suffers in war—not just the casualties of battle, but those innocent people enslaved by the greedy and cruel. She sees past the glitz and glamor of the casino to what is making the coins flow underneath it all. Speaking of the glitz and glamor…
Corruption in Opulence
When wealth is shown as corrupt in the Star Wars movies, it’s consistently featured in grimy, dark settings. When we think of corruption—not the evil of the Empire, but the places where financial greed has corrupted—it’s always the Cantina or Jabba’s palace. So when Rose tells Finn as they’re heading to Canto that the planet is awful with the worst type of people, we the audience familiar with the Star Wars universe expect that grimy, wretched hive of scum and villainy. We don’t expect opulence.
Opulence is interesting in Star Wars—opulence as an aesthetic is largely seen in Naboo and with Padme’s intricate costumes. Just as grimy and shadowed set pieces are framed as corrupt, opulent set pieces have been framed as morally good. This kind of visual shorthand is a problem in the franchise as a whole because of what’s implied when opulent equals good. And here’s The Last Jedi outright telling us the shiny, beautiful wealth of Canto Bight is a result of corruption and oppression. That’s a message worth telling in this story about war, and especially relevant in 2018 with a world leader who thinks opulence is a good replacement for ethics.
At the end of The Force Awakens and the beginning of The Last Jedi, Finn’s focus is still largely on survival. Yes, he sped towards the First Order (and later faced down Kylo Ren) to help Rey, but his focus was still on survival … just pulling Rey in to his tiny circle of people he needed to survive. We see this early in The Last Jedi when Finn tries to use the escape pods—he is specifically thinking about leading Rey away from what he sees as a doomed ship. Finn’s point of view is pretty simplistic, but it makes sense when you remember that his time since escaping from the First Order has been very, very short. Because of this, the Canto Bight scenes are an essential part of his growth and his arc.
Finn’s growth is about understanding the war from all angles and then making a choice of who to stand with. Rose showing Finn the corruption and oppression at the heart of Canto Bight really gives him a chance to see the war as more complex than he had experienced. He learns that the damage of war isn’t just on the battlefield … it affects everyone.
When they release the fathiers during their escape, Finn takes a moment to appreciate the small bit of justice they brought to an unjust place. Later, Benicio del Toro’s DJ advises Finn that playing the system is the only way to get ahead amid war, but it’s clearly Rose’s talk with Finn on Canto Bight that informs his decisions in the third act to truly join the Resistance. When he proudly takes on the title of “Rebel Scum,” we know he makes that choice for himself with a greater understanding of the war around him and who he wants to be.
Truth be told, if I have any criticism of The Last Jedi, it should have gone even farther with Finn’s arc, especially in comparison to Rose, Rey, and Poe. We could have used another scene or two that really drove home Finn’s growth.
Fathiers and Failure
A big theme in The Last Jedi is failure. From the old Jedi Order to Luke’s attempts at a creating a new age of Jedi to the Resistance’s attempts at survival, failures shapes the main characters of this film from start to finish. But Star Wars’ exploration of failure is just as much about how these character react to failure as it about the failures themselves. Finn and Rose’s failure at Canto Bight leans into humor, with their finally finding the legendary Master Codebreaker at the casino only to be immediately caught by security and thrown into jail a moment later. Their failure isn’t a flaw in the Canto Bight scenes—it’s the whole point.
It’s their failure to talk to the Codebreaker that forces Finn and Rose to escape on the fathiers. From there, they not only wreaking havoc on the casino but ensure the abused creatures are set free. At the end of their daring chase through the city as they’re letting the fathiers go, Rose and Finn find themselves trapped. But Finn makes the insightful comment that stuck with me: “It was worth it, though. To tear up that town. Make ’em hurt.”
If they don’t make it off the planet, his and Rose’s actions on Canto were all worth it for tearing through that casino and saving abused animals. And when things do go wrong later on Snoke’s ship, it still doesn’t erase the good they did by freeing the fathiers and making the elite of Canto Bight run scared. Those things matter. Yes, even when they fail later. Just because they fail to stop the light speed tracking doesn’t mean their choices on Canto were pointless.
Rose, Face of the Rebellion
Something that stood out to me was the final scene with the kids at Canto Bight. Earlier in the film, Luke tries to teach Rey that treating the Jedi (especially Luke himself) as legends is a mistake, but Rey counters that people might need legends to inspire them to stand up and fight. In that last scene of the film, we do see the power of a legend—the children are recreating Luke’s showdown with Kylo Ren, awestruck by this hero standing up to the First Order. They’re clearly inspired by Luke Skywalker’s brave final act.
But the last moment of the movie isn’t the kids talking about Luke. It’s the little boy looking up at the stars, holding his broom as a lightsaber, and touching the ring on his finger. Rose’s ring that hides the Rebel symbol.
Luke’s legend is an inspiration, yes, but so are Rose and Finn’s actions on Canto. When the boy looks down at that ring, the face of the new Rebellion is Rose. They’re proof that the Rebellion doesn’t just fight big space battles—they’ll help anyone suffering under the oppression built around this war. That’s important. As the small band of rebels looks for allies, Jedi legends are helpful, but they’re not enough. For people to rally around the new era of Rebels they need to see the Rebels willing to fight for the freedom of the oppressed.
To paraphrase Rose, the Resistance will win not by fighting what they hate, but protecting what they love. Rose and Finn managed a daring escape that freed creatures being abused, and the kids got to see first-hand two Rebels protecting the oppressed. The new Rebellion will find their numbers and gain strength by showing over and over that they’re standing up for the oppressed across the galaxy. And without the Canto Bight scenes, The Last Jedi’s ending wouldn’t nearly have the same impact.