The weakest character in 'The Last Jedi' is its greatest flaw.
It's been six months since the release of Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi and fans are still arguing over whether the film is "good." This week, the debate was thrust forth into the spotlight once again after actress Kelly Marie Tran removed herself from social media following relentless bullying from some of the series' more intense followers. They claim, rightfully or not, that her character, Rose, is the weakest character to appear in the franchise since Jar-Jar Binks.
But how can these "fans" be so critical of her performance (neglecting those particular idiots who place a special focus on her appearance) when the real blame lies with the screenwriters? It's no secret that the character of Rose is a key member of one of the most brutally drawn out MacGuffins in cinematic history. Perhaps we should go back and evaluate where the roots of dissent from The Last Jedi really stem from.
There's no better person to investigate the flaws (or strengths) of The Last Jedi than Lessons From The Screenplay. "Occasionally, I make a video as a way of forcing myself to figure out how I feel about a film or technique, and this is exactly such a case," he explains. The video essay below is a deep dive into two of the most important character arcs in the film. One happens to be great, and the other, well, is the subject of ire.
Let's start with the obvious. Finn and Rose's journey (in contrast to the Jedi plotline), is, well, bad. LFTS makes special note of the similarities between The Last Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back, so if Rey's training with Luke is akin to Luke's training with Yoda, then Finn and Rose's relationship should've had the chemistry of Han and Leia. "Part of the reason is the lack of conflict between them," he explains. The real problem doesn't come from a lack of conflict with Rose, however, but from a lack of internal conflict within Finn himself.
Finn's hesitancy is perhaps only shown once in the first third of the film, and then quickly brushed aside as he makes a plan to, well, join the resistance.
A good screenwriter knows that the main character must go through a journey from the beginning to the end of the film, and as a result, grow or change in some way. At the beginning of the film, Finn was supposedly hesitant about joining the Resistance, while at the end, he puts aside his reservations and joins the Resistance.
Did any of us really think that Finn wouldn't end up doing this? Where are the stakes? Why do we care? Finn's hesitancy is perhaps only shown once in the first third of the film, and then quickly brushed aside as he makes a plan to, well, join the resistance. As a result we, the audience, aren't emotionally involved with following this plotline at all. And it takes up about half of the movie!
LTFS cites Robert McKee's story in support of this argument, "True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character's essential nature."
Part of the reason why The Last Jedi may be so divisive among fans may be due to the fact that parallel to Finn's really weak storyline runs Kylo Ren's incredibly well-crafted storyline. "Unlike with Finn's arc," LTFS argues, "we get to see Kylo make decisions that externalize his inner struggle." If you can't appreciate the film for its mythology, then perhaps give it watch as a case study for both poor and strong character writing.
"Kylo's arc demonstrates the emotional power choices can have when the plot continually pushes characters to confront their emotional struggle," he explains. In contrast, Finn's arc is a pretty solid example of what can happen when a plot doesn't force a character to make any emotional decision whatsoever. Boredom, pure and utter boredom.