A few comments on Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Vice Admiral Holdo’s subplot was a huge success. She had to make a very difficult call over which she knew she might face a mutiny from the likes of Poe Dameron. The core of her challenge was that there was no speech or argument she could have given that would have placated Dameron and restored unity to the crew. Instead, Holdo had to press on in the face of that disunity. This reflects the fact that, sometimes, living as one should demands pressing on in the face deep disagreement with others.

Not making it clear that Dameron was in the wrong until very late in the film was a key component of the successful portrayal of the unpleasantness of what Holdo had to do. If instead it had become clear to the audience early on that Holdo’s plan was obviously the better one, we would not have been able to observe the strength of Holdo’s character in continuing to pursue her plan despite the mutiny.

One thing that I found weak about Holdo was her dress. You cannot be effective on the frontlines of a hot war in an outfit like that! Presumably the point was to show that women don’t have to give up their femininity in order to take tough tactical decisions under pressure, and that’s indeed something worth showing. But this could have been achieved by much more subtle means. What was needed was to have her be the character with the most feminine outfit, and it would have been possible to fulfill that condition by having her wear something much more practical. Thus, having her wear that dress was crude and implausible overkill in the service of something otherwise worth doing.

I was very disappointed by most of the subplot with Rey and Luke: both the content of that subplot, and its disconnection from the rest of film.

Firstly, the content. There was so much that could have been explored that was not explored. Luke mentions that the Jedi failed to stop Darth Sidious “at the height of their powers”. Well, what did the Jedi get wrong? Was it the Jedi code; the celibacy; the bureaucracy? Is their light side philosophy to absolutist? How are Luke’s beliefs about this connected to his recent rejection of the Force? When he lets down his barrier and reconnects with the force, Yoda should have had much more to say. The Force is, perhaps, one big metaphor for certain human capacities not emphasised by our contemporary culture. It is at the heart of Star Wars, and it was at the heart of Empire and Rogue One. It ought to have been at the heart of The Last Jedi.

Secondly, the lack of integration with the rest of the film. One of the aspects of Empire that enables its importance as a film, I suggest, is the tight integration and interplay between the two main subplots: the training of Luke under Yoda, and attempting to shake the Empire off the trail of the Millennium Falcon. Luke wants to leave the training unfinished, and Yoda begs him to stay, truly believing that the fate of the galaxy depends on him completing the training. What is illustrated by this is the strengths and weaknesses of both Yoda’s traditional Jedi view and Luke’s desire to get on with fighting the good fight, the latter of which is summed up by the binary sunset scene from A New Hope. Tied up with this desire is Luke’s love for his friends; this is an important strength of his, but Yoda has a point when he says that the Jedi training must be completed if Luke is to be ultimately succesful. While the Yoda subplot and what happens at Cloud City could be independently interesting, it is only this integration that enables the film to be great. The heart of the integration is perhaps the Dark Side Cave, where two things are brought together: the challenge of developing the relationship with oneself possessed by a Jedi, and the threat posed by Darth Vader.

In the Last Jedi, Rey just keeps saying that the galaxy needs Luke, and eventually Luke relents when Kylo Ren shows up. There was so much more that could have been done with this! What is it about Rey that enables her to persuade Luke? What character strengths of hers are able to respond adequately to Luke’s fear of the power of the Force, and doubt regarding his abilities as a teacher? Exploring these things would have connected together the rebel evacuation, Rey’s character arc and Luke’s character arc, but these three were basically independent.

(Possibly I need to watch the cave scene from The Last Jedi again, and think harder about it.)