Star Wars: The Last Jedi was a great film. Or it was a terrible film. Or it was a good film, but a bad Star Wars film. I dunno, I can’t keep up anymore.
I’m a fan of Star Wars, as I’ve said before. Personally, I had a lot of fun with the new film. I was able to see it twice, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially in getting to catch certain things that I missed on my first viewing. There are a lot of things people have talked about regarding the movie, from the way certain characters were portrayed, how the universe continued to work, and where the narrative took us. In this article, however, I would like to talk about one specific element that I’ve heard criticized consistently, and that probably sticks with me the most. Obviously, massive spoilers ahead after the jump.
Casino Planet Can-can
Among the many reactions regarding the film, from absurd to the laughably absurd, there was a consistent line of criticism levied against a particular sideplot. While the Resistance struggles to escape from First Order forces, perpetually out-of-breath Finn, and newcomer starlet Rose discover that the Resistance may have a chance if they can get on board the pursuing First Order flagship and disable a tracking device it’s using. Of course, this is no small feat, and to both get into the flagship and shut down the tracker, they’d need the help of a “master codebreaker” that can get through the First Order’s defenses. What follows is an adventure to the picturesque, casino planet Canto Bight.
While attempting to find the codebreaker, Finn is excited to see such splendor, given his Stormtrooper upbringing left much to be desired, and hey yeah, it’s pretty beautiful (or, y’know, Croatia is). However, Rose is not so enamored with the setting, and she shows Finn the terrible foundation of oppression that props up all the glitz and glamour, from the slightly heavy-handed animal abuse to the…uh…child slave abuse. After being thrown in casino-jail for illegally parking on the beach, they meet another codebreaker and, after showing them that the Resistance is still out there, escape with the help of the kids that take care of the stables at the race track. Finn, Rose, and DJ the codebreaker then head back to the fleeing Resistance fleet.
What Canto Bight Does
Now, the criticism in particular for this sideplot is that it’s entirely useless, that it adds nothing of value to the narrative as a whole, and simply wastes time. I’m…not so sure. I wouldn’t exactly say that it’s 100% necessary, but given the narrative that is being told, it fits, and isn’t bad. It serves the story and arcs for several characters, even characters who never set foot on the planet. Some of it could have been done differently, but so could anything if you’re brainstorming, and ultimately I don’t think it would have had the kind of impact it does on what plays out just before the credits roll.
Of course, the most obvious element to the arc is how it shows people continue to profit off of the war between the First Order and the Resistance, which in and of itself is telling, given that the galaxy originally refused to acknowledge the threat of the First Order, sparking the formation of Leia’s Resistance. The only people willing to believe in the threat were those who could make money off selling weapons to both sides, especially after the new galactic government had been incinerated in The Force Awakens. Another clear element is what Rose shows us, that despite the galaxy being free of the Empire, people were still oppressed and beaten down. Canto Bight shows that even thirty years after the fall of the Empire, not everyone in the galaxy is free and living their best life.
Canto Bight also helps build up certain character arcs, one of which that doesn’t pay off until the end of the film, for a character who never even went there. Firstly, however, there’s Finn, who by being a fish-out-of-water character has is eyes opened to what normally goes unnoticed. Born and bred as a Stormtrooper, he doesn’t quite grasp the complexities of the greater galaxy out there, and while he has certainly come into his own as a heroic figure for wanting to do the right thing, he still needs to learn where all the wrongdoing is playing out – it’s never as simple as a rebellion and an evil empire, or light against dark.
Rose’s character arc helps divulge a bit more of her backstory while she’s also explaining to Finn how not everything on such a glamorous planet is sugar and rainbows. She has seen firsthand how people exploit others, with her family and home blown away in First Order “test fires” after they stole the resources from their region, the resources they used to make a living. To her, Canto Bight isn’t a beautiful place, because that beauty only exists at the cost of the suffering of others who can’t fight back. She joined the Resistance for that specific reason, to fight back. Without a visit to Canto Bight, much of Rose’s development is lost.
The codebreaker DJ even gets a bit of establishment in his character, just from being on Canto Bight as well. He seems just as knowledgeable of First Order tech that the “master codebreaker” was sought out for, and he’s pragmatic in his opinions of how people profit from the war between the First Order and the Resistance – it’s all just business. Given that he betrays Rose and Finn aboard Snoke’s flagship, he’s obviously been around the block enough times to take advantage of any opportunity that allows him to make money. If Rose and Finn hadn’t traveled to Canto Bight, this entire character is out the window, or at least it’d be a little too convenient that he was hanging around the Resistance. Although perhaps it would have made him a skeevier character to have been a Resistance member that turns on his comrades for money and survival. Who knows?
Lastly, there’s a small arc for the kids who run the stable, which actually helps the arc of another character – Luke Skywalker. As Rose and Finn are escaping, they sneak into the stables to release some race animals as a distraction. A little boy sleeping in one of the stables was ready to sound the alarm until Rose showed her that they were part of the Resistance. The implication here is that this boy was ready to rat out intruders because if he didn’t he’d probably get the whip, but the symbol of the Resistance, the same one used by the Rebellion thirty years ago, changed his mind. Why? Because it’s a symbol of hope, a cornerstone of the Star Wars universe and many of its stories.
To know that the Resistance was still out there, fighting the good fight for the little guy, this kid was willing to put up with anything. Perhaps he knew that his suffering wouldn’t last in a place like this, where he’s oppressed by people who profit from war. Either way, Canto Bight establishes the struggles of the oppressed, and even slaps a kid’s face on it so you’ll remember.
Then there’s how Luke Skywalker plays into the events of Canto Bight, tied to this kid and his uh…child “co-workers” at the end of the film. Luke ran away from the galaxy to live in exile after failing to properly handle Kylo Ren’s burgeoning flirtation with the dark side. When Rey and Chewie show up later to bring him back to help fight the First Order, he scoffs at her naivete, expecting him to walk out and fight all of the First Order with a laser sword. Over the thirty years since Return of the Jedi, Luke had become a legendary figure, almost messianic. Having cut himself off from the Force, he’s certainly in no position to be of any help to the Resistance, and even before that he knew a single Jedi wasn’t going to be enough. Rey expounds the virtues of hope and how him just being there could inspire others, but still he refused, and Rey heads back to help her friends.
However, after some soul-searching and a visit from a backwards-talking puppet, Luke realizes that there is always something that can be done, even amidst all of his failings. As the Resistance makes their last stand on Crait, Luke reconnects with the Force and uses it to project himself on the salt planet. The blatant aim here is that he distracts the First Order long enough for the Resistance to escape, but the implications have such a broad reach and deeper meaning. Luke Skywalker stands unfazed against the First Order, surviving a barrage of laserfire and making Kylo Ren, such a feared figure in the galaxy, look like a fool.
Then Luke fades away having used far too much power, probably because he didn’t stretch first. In the last scene of the film, we quickly return to Canto Bight, where the stable boy is regaling the other kids of Luke Skywalker’s return. After being shooed outside to clean up, the boy unknowingly Force Pulls the broom into his hand, and then stares at the stars, holding his broom up like a sword and striking a defiantly heroic pose. Luke Skywalker never set foot on Canto Bight, but it’s there, with those children we saw earlier, that show us that Luke achieved a level of status everyone had come to see him in – he was a legend, and he had given hope to stable boys everywhere.
Why Canto Bight is Important
If Canto Bight hadn’t been a thing, it might have been much more difficult to show how word of Luke’s actions spread across the galaxy. Sure, we could have cut to that ending scene all the same and shown some little kid telling the story, but it would lack the greater context. We wouldn’t know he’s an oppressed kid living in slave-like conditions surrounded by wealth, and we wouldn’t quite grasp why he in particular might need hope, and the proliferation of it. Even if they simply showed a scene of people talking about Luke’s return in any other random place in the galaxy, it would lack any sort of impact that Canto Bight had because of its relevance to the narrative. It’d really be no different than shots included in the original trilogy’s “Special Edition” that added nothing to the story. Yeah sure, people on Naboo are celebrating the fall of the Empire, but when the hell did we see them last?
Canto Bight was also our only real escape into the greater world, since the plot revolves heavily around a single region in space where the First Order doggedly chases the Resistance. Ahch-to certainly isn’t giving us a picture of the rest of the galaxy – Luke specifically exiled himself there because it was so out of the way; it took decades and a map for people to find him. Plus, without Canto Bight the narrative may have gotten incredibly boring, sticking the audience with either a bunch of stressed-out Resistance members aboard sputtering starships for far too long, or hanging out on a tiny island watching Luke mope and Rey ruin a frog nun’s day.
Sure, you might be able to fudge the narrative a bit to have Finn and Rose just go directly to Snoke’s flagship to deactivate the tracker. They could overhear the plan to escape to Crait since the First Order’s scanners wouldn’t pick up the smaller transports, so they sneak by on a small transport, inadvertently alerting the First Order to watch for more smaller craft during the Resistance’s escape attempt. However, this brings up the problem of how they get past the flagship’s shields and sneak aboard. At least with DJ, you have a man with outside knowledge of the technology because he, too, profits from the war.
However, the bigger problem with just removing it entirely is that there needs to be a rise and fall in action and intensity in stories, otherwise the audience can get burnt out. I know I’d get sick of seeing the corridors of Resistance ships and even the beautiful ocean views on Ahch-to if we hadn’t had another place to cut to during the whole thing. Canto Bight takes up something along the lines of eleven minutes of the film’s total two and a half hour runtime, so it’s not really even that intrusive. Without it, the audience might get bored of jumping back and forth between the same hi-tech and/or picturesque settings, and also confusing emotions moving from calm teachings to the stress of a life-or-death chase. The juxtaposition might not work without some sort of buffer like Canto Bight, along with all the character development and other themes it brings to the table.
The Last Jedi was fine, and the Canto Bight sideplot feeds into the rest of the narrative pretty well. It’s astounding to see the level of criticism this movie gets, especially from people who seem far too invested in a fictitious universe where the Force has been a Deus Ex Machina more often than not, and strong female characters have always been present. The movie was fun, like a Star Wars should be, and the only acceptable cut of this film other than the original should be of the throne room fight scene. On repeat. For two and a half hours!
Until the next post, Keep Yourself Alive!