The Canto Bight sequence in “The Last Jedi” (2017) definitely polarized the fan base (as did the entire film). Following Rose and Finn as they made their way through the casino planet, it generated intense reactions. Some fans hated the sequence and found it too similar to the prequels, others praised it and some questioned its narrative placement. When I sat down in January and interviewed Tufts Assistant Professor Frank Lehman, an expert in the Star Wars scores, we talked about Canto Bight. The sequence has been in my thoughts since.
I’m a defender of “The Last Jedi” in every way, as I’ve yelled about in previous columns. However, I’m particularly defensive of the Canto Bight sequence. When the film came out, I saw fans and viewers hate on the politics of Canto Bight. But the scenes where Finn and Rose explore the casino planet bring forward questions and criticisms of animal abuse and captivity, child work and slavery, capitalism and war profiteering. It is arguably the most commentary we’ve ever gotten in a Star Wars film about our real world.
Some fans see it as the weakest, most disposable plot in the film, and while it may not be entirely necessary, it is important, in my opinion, because of the representation it brings to the film. It’s the only part in the film where two people of color — Finn, played by John Boyega, and Rose, played by Kelly Marie Tran — get to take on the screen alone. It has a hopeful and enjoyable plot, and it provides an amazing gray area of the galaxy that “The Last Jedi” thrives on.
Star Wars has some fans that reside in the alt-right, sadly, and those fans trolled the film for months online, claiming responsibility for the film’s low audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. They stated that their reactions had to do with women and people of color in the series, specifically the Canto Bight sequence. It got so noticeable that “The Force Awakens” (2015) and “Episode IX” (2019) director J.J. Abrams addressed the alt-right fan reaction in an interview with IndieWire.
“Their problem isn’t Star Wars, their problem is being threatened,” Abrams said. I agree with Abrams, especially as he discussed the possibility that people felt the same way when they saw Princess Leia in “A New Hope” (1977). Thankfully, Abrams said the reactions won’t influence “Episode IX” and is thankful for positive fan reaction to the addition of other female characters in “The Last Jedi,” like Rose and Laura Dern’s Amilyn Holdo.
I’m glad the Canto Bight sequence and “The Last Jedi” are being defended, and I hope Abrams, Ryan Johnson and other directors of future Star Wars films continue to include scenes like it. I think this trilogy will set a precedent for better representation in Star Wars, which the saga needs, especially after the controversy that came when “The Force Awakens” originally only had two women in the cast of 13 (before Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie).
As always, email me any thoughts! May the Force be with you!