Men have had a rough go of it lately. Good. As Yoda banally told us in The Last Jedi, “The greatest teacher, failure is .”
This movie had a mission to pile-on. Again, good. There are tons of legitimate flaws to point out in men.
Let me pause and acknowledge that it could all be an unbelievable coincidence that The Last Jedi was a series of events where men were “hot-headed” and women were not, and where women were there to clean up the messes made by men. Though given the amount of time put into every single decision in a film, the coincidence chance is incredibly unlikely. Especially when one considers how important the message of inclusivity has become in Hollywood #oscarssowhite. (Yea, we should fight against systemic racism wherever it occurs, but it just strikes me as more than a tad misguided to “correct” social ills through Hollywood. If anything, blacks have often outperformed their population representation in entertainment but struggled in fields that deserve more attention like medicine.)
Thus we shall proceed as if The Last Jedi was trying to say something important about both men and women.
The biggest target was the leadership style of so-called “flyboys.” You know, the cocky guy who wants to blow stuff up and be the hero. You know, the taking of action that would clearly be deemed stupid if everyone just paused for a few seconds to evaluate. You know, the type of guy who has been celebrated in previous Star Wars films.
Now, it’s certainly possible for women to behave in this way too. Just as it’s possible for men to lead in a way that’s sober and reserved – a style that’s more closely associated with women. But within The Last Jedi, it’s basically all men who are flyboys and women who are more thoughtful.
This most notably plays out in the contrast between Poe (Oscar Issac) and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). We get the classic flyboy, who is repeatedly shown to be erring, and the new female leader, who is presented as a mature adult.
What’s weird, and ultimately where the film’s agenda goes wrong, is that she’s an awful leader. Even if one had built up decades of trust as a leader, a certain level of communication is absolutely necessary. People may be sheep, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t filled with doubt. A leader must assuage and address fears to get the type of buy-in necessary to pull off hard tasks in moments of extreme uncertainty.
When legitimate questions were posed to Holdo, she bizarrely opted for obfuscation. This was especially galling given how simple her plan was – it would have taken 20 seconds to explain. This was sort of explained away as some thinly veiled shot at men in that she didn’t want to look like a hero, as flyboys do.
Again, I get what is trying to be said here, but merely explaining a plan isn’t “looking like a hero.” And yea, you don’t need to reveal all information to all followers, but when you don’t have trust (because you are brand new), and the situation is dire, you’ve got to give them something.
How do I know this is a terrible way to lead? Because part of her crew committed mutiny, which has to be considered a baseline threshold one must surpass to be considered an effective leader.
Beyond that, Holdo’s plan may well have had a worse risk/reward profile than Poe’s. Consider that Poe almost pulled his off by using a mere two crew members. Imagine if he was being led by someone open to ideas from her crew. He could have fairly presented the idea, and after they considered the massive upside of jumping to hyper speed, more serious resources could have been employed. Then maybe they get the correct code breaker. Then maybe it works. But what if it doesn’t work? Fine. Holdo’s retreat is enacted.
And then, to really hammer home the point the film thought it was making, but that it wasn’t making, she does the hero-without-any-credit thing by blowing up an enemy ship and herself. First, why did she need to stay on the cruiser? That was entirely unclear. But once that nonsensical decision was made, she was already essentially dead, so she gets zero extra congrats for the self-immolation.
We should all want to be led by great leaders, regardless of their gender. And there is great reason to believe that many situations have been and continue to be far from the meritocracy that would appropriately reward great female leaders.
This reality makes it easy for progressives to shout things like “put women in power,” as President Obama said. What’s less easy is to actually make it happen because that would involve one of only two possible methods. (1) Men lose their jobs or (2) women start more companies. If Barack really wanted more women in leadership roles, he could have left the 2008 primary to allow a Hillary nomination. This is absurd, of course, but it highlights an important truth: it’s easy for a man to say we need more women so long as those women aren’t taking his job.
But make no mistake, they should take men’s jobs. If they are better. And in the case of Star Wars, I’ll happily stick with the fly-boy who at least gives his followers confidence and belief, if Holdo is any indication of how Disney female leaders will reign.
Which also reminds me of a minor moment that would be easily dismissed if not for the overt strategy to say something meaningful.
“That’s how we are going to win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” It’s a beautiful sentiment uttered by Rose that can’t stand up to the smallest of stress tests.
I don’t think this event was as much a male/female thing (though it was a female “saving” a male), but rather a continuation of a notion that has never made sense to me in good/evil stories. No, you don’t get to win merely by saving when your opponent is killing. The math is impossible. Just as it was laughable when Harry let’s-cast-stunning-spells-when-Death-Eaters-cast-killing-spells Potter and Katniss in-a-game-where-all-but-one-must-die-I’ll-pass-up-easy-kill-opportunities-because-altruism-matters-at-a-time-like-this Everdeen, the First Order would never actually lose to rebels so concerned with loving. This is just one of the many reasons why I’ve yet to find a fictional world that Orson Scott Card’s Ender and Bean wouldn’t utterly dominate.
Which, speaking of the First Order, how could such incompetence come to rule the entire galaxy? (Also, why is everyone in the First Order white while the rebels are remarkably diverse?)
As the rest of the filmmaking world has moved toward a style that presents bad guys as the complex beings all humans are, The Last Jedi opts for the most basic of good/evil paradigms. This world is not only unrealistic, it also commits the sin of being terribly boring.
And there was such an easy chance to make that not true via Kylo Ren. Give him a few more sentences on why Rae should have joined him (note: she should have joined him or killed him, nothing else was reasonable). Like there was some legitimately rich material there about attachment, the past, identity, etc. that The Last Jedi avoided.
But it’s not all bad. Because even as the elite critics tell us how wonderful The Last Jedi is, people are proving to be the free-thinkers insecure leaders most fear.