Caroline Hale | Contributor
The Last Jedi, the second installment of the new Star Wars trilogy, was adored by the critics and received a 91 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, the audience did not seem to be as taken with the movie, as they have given it a 48 percent approval rating- a rating lower than even The Phantom Menace, which was known to be racist in its character depictions.
Was The Last Jedi really that bad? No. Sure, the movie was not perfect, and it certainly left some questions for the upcoming movie releases to answer, but the real cause of distress for some members of the audience seems to be the inclusion of characters and plotlines that support women and people of color.
The Last Jedi included several new women, Rose and Vice Admiral Holdo, along with continuations of previous feminist characters such as General Leia and Rey. Reading through the comments on Rotten Tomatoes, it is impossible to miss statements that clearly show the sexism of the reviewers. Some comments contain openly sexist and racist remarks. General Leia was once referred to as a “whiny Hillary Clinton,” and Kelly Marie Tran, the Vietnamese- American actress who played Rose, was described as a “portly Asian woman.” Others are more broad and suggest that “Social Justice Warriors” are taking over the franchise or remark that Star Wars itself should never be political.
One of the new characters, a rebellion mechanic named Rose, is being put into a box by being called the “diversity hire.” While it is no secret that JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson wanted to include a more diverse cast, calling Rose a “diversity hire” undermines Tran’s acting ability and minimizes the importance of her role.
While she is not white, the point of her character is not to be the diversity on Star Wars. The point of Rose is to represent that ordinary people could make a difference and to advance the ideology of saving what you love over destroying what you hate. The addition of Rose and the actress herself adds new layers to the Star Wars franchise and lets the story expand beyond its typical heros.
Another female character that has come under fire is the rebellion’s Vice Admiral Holdo, played by Laura Dern. Her character interacts with “trigger-happy fly boy” Poe Dameron to advance Poe’s character development. Vice Admiral Holdo does not allow Poe to have a say in how they are going to escape the First Order, partially because he was just demoted for his plan that killed a large portion of the fleet, and partially because he has no self control and kept mansplaining the situation to the Vice Admiral.
Many commenters responded to Dern’s character by saying that “Vice Admiral Gender Studies” should have told Poe her plan and see her withholding the plans as just a way for Disney to address “feminist propaganda” that is mansplaining. As a plot point, this interaction did further Poe’s character development; Vice Admiral Holdo’s interactions with Poe, her sacrifice to save the fleet and Poe’s failure in his defiant mission, caused him to see the importance of winning the war over winning a battle, while also addressing modern day problems like mansplaining and subconscious sexism.
For the people who believe that Star Wars never has been and never should be political, I invite them to rewatch the original trilogy. Strong women and political statements have always been part of the “galaxy far, far, away” in the form of Princess (now General) Leia.
In A New Hope, it is Princess Leia, not Han or Luke, who “saves their skin” when they are cornered by Stormtroopers by taking the gun away from Luke and finding them another escape. It is Princess Leia who helped mastermind the attacks made by the rebellion, not any of the main male characters. It is Princess Leia who, in her golden bikini that symbolized female oppression and sexualization, strangled Jabba the Hutt, the symbol of the patriarchy, to free herself from his clutches.
Star Wars has always been political, it has always been pro-woman, and it has always been liberal. While the franchise has certainly adapted new plotlines and characters to fit a modernly progressive mold, this does not mean that the franchise has been ruined. It means that, unlike some internet trolls who seem to be stuck in the 20th century, Star Wars can grow and change for an audience with a mindset that has shifted since the 1970s.