The Last Word Part 1- The Problem With Rose

The first problem with Rose is that she has absolutely no reason to exist. The movie could have proceeded exactly as it did without her with only two changes – Finn inspired by the tracker on his wrist without her intervention, and does not attempt a suicide run on the ram cannon for other reasons (perhaps, I would suggest, being shot down in the desert for a nice comradely reversal of Poe & Finn in The Force Awakens). She would, literally, play a greater role in the plot by being a damsel in distress.1

The second problem is that I’m not sure the actress can act. She always, always sounds like she’s reciting, and the often poor dialogue is insufficient to excuse this. Between the writing and the acting, there was no hope of raising the character to status of foil, straight man, or even comedy relief.

The third problem is that, having no reason to exist, she proceeds to add internal contradictions in the film that would not otherwise have existed. In her first scene, she stuns Finn with a little taser device that she holds in the manner expected of a plumber, which is to say, hesitantly and borderline incompetently. Now, Finn, in the first film, was a trained soldier with demonstrated experience, perhaps even expertise, in hand to hand combat. Even within this movie he shows this skill, killing his sadistic one-time commander three quarters of the way in. Finn letting himself getting stunned makes sense on no level and in fact he seems to just “walk on to it” to get stunned. Similar complaints can be levied at her inexplicable piloting skill (recall: she’s a plumber) at the end of the film, in a rickety, poorly maintained vehicle even Poe, the hot-shot pilot, has trouble with.

The fourth problem is the whole sub-plot at the casino, where both coming and going there are rants about the high-living being funded by war and weapons, and the dealers are immoral and feeding off the misery of the galaxy. “Only one business in the galaxy makes you that rich,” Rose says, showing she hasn’t heard of investment banking. I broadly agree with the sentiment that war is a racket, but if these people were the richest in the galaxy at the most exclusive casino, Poe & Rose shouldn’t have been able to get in the door. Moving beyond that minor incoherence, it is bizarre to have these weird pacifist rants made by a member of a military (as plumber, but still), in a movie literally called Star Wars, not least when the good guys’ problem right now is being seriously out-gunned and elsewhere in the film the Jedis’ own peculiar form of semi-pacifism is under attack. The argument, as presented, is both out of place (with respect to the film) and unconvincing (with respect to Rose’s character history).

The fifth issue with Rose is that she lays bare one of several thematic contradictions of the film (and by referencing themes we begin to see why it has been so hard to separate criticism of the movie from criticism of it as a Star Wars movie). Her last act in the film is to save Finn. Finn is, at that moment, attempting the well-known Independence Day Maneuver, which is to say, crashing himself into a very large weapon. Thus Finn is thwarted, the cannon fires, and the good guys’ last layer of defense is breached. Finn, being a fundamentally decent person even under provocation, actually manages to walk away from the crash and dig Rose out of her own crashed vehicle while voicing the audience’s demand for an explanation. She argues that, being the good guys, they won’t win by sacrificing, but by saving.

Rose then proceeds to kiss Finn which, given Finn’s justified anger, is presumptively nonconsensual and counts for sexual harassment in addition to being stupid and cringeworthy given Finn has not shown any romantic interest (or, for that matter, platonic, stage-acting chemistry with her) and at that moment The Last Jedi earned the dubious award of being the first piece of fiction in which my attitude toward a female character potentially being slapped was entirely egalitarian.  Absent Luke’s deus ex machine, Rose doomed the Republic.

However, the real problem with this scene is how Rose’s actions demonstrate an absolutely dysfunctional schizophrenia running through the film. Consider that only a few scenes prior, Admiral Holdo had … sacrificed herself ramming a super-dreadnought, thereby allowing the rest of the good guys to escape from under its guns. Exactly what Finn did, except her sacrifice is celebrated by the film, with somber heroic music and lingering melodrama and a heavy-handed spray of light across the forces of darkness. This isn’t even a one-off failure as this sharp contrast is seen elsewhere – Poe merely risking himself to give the bombers a chance to take on a dreadnought in the opening scene is condemned, while Rose’s sister’s sacrifice to ensure the destruction of the very same dreadnought is held up as a shining example of heroism.  There’s a clear directorial intent to celebrate some heroism and denigrate others, and no rational rule is apparent.

In summary, Rose exemplifies (but by no means exhausts) a failure of plotting, of characterization, and of theme in the The Last Jedi.

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1 This is a condemnation I last levied upon Natalie Portman’s character in Thor, who made such a big impression I still can’t remember her name and even Marvel discarded her with only a line of dialogue in Thor: Ragnarok. What, if anything, she did in the second movie I leave to more devoted followers of Marvel films.

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