The Most Destructive Man of 'The Last Jedi'
[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi]
There are bad guys like Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who understand their villainy but nonetheless find ways to reconcile their misdeeds in the name of, say, ideology. There are bad guys like Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), for whom the label is likely a punchline; he doesn’t care for petty moral distinctions, he cares for power. And then there are bad guys like Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), bad guys who are ostensibly good guys though you wouldn’t always guess it by their actions.
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If you sat Poe down and told him that he’s caused for the deaths of at least as many Resistance fighters as Kylo and Snoke in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, he’d probably haul off and punch you. Of course he isn’t a bad guy in the classic sense of the phrase. He’s a committed guy. Poe would give his life, and also the lives of his comrades in the Resistance, to turn the First Order to ashes. Clearly he’s not in the same evil ballpark as Kylo and Snoke. But there are crimes of judgment that Poe has to be held accountable for, and for which The Last Jedi does hold him accountable; he’s brash, foolhardy, a man who perhaps harbors a latent death wish beneath his cool exterior and roguish good looks, because how else to explain his insistence on the bombing run the film opens on?
Blame for the near-destruction of the Resistance’s fighting force is squarely on his shoulder. The Last Jedi makes this point well enough through Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), who gives him a figurative slap on the wrist and a literal slap across the face in the wake of the First Order’s Dreadnought: He should have known better, he should have kept a level head, and most of all he should have obeyed her order. Poe is too combative for his own good, not to mention too full of himself. In The Force Awakens, his character is generously described as an outline. In The Last Jedi, he’s fully fleshed out as a hothead whose legendary impatience makes the late Han Solo (Harrison Ford) look reasonable by comparison.
But Poe’s impulsive tendencies aren’t as dangerous as his underhanded tendencies. In fact, it’s his eventual inclination toward subterfuge that puts the Resistance in even worse standing than the attack on the Dreadnought. Turning off comms and effectively ghosting your leader is one sort of bad. Going behind the back of your leadership hierarchy when she ends up comatose is a whole other sort of bad, the sort of bad, it turns out, that has the potential to eradicate a rebellion and snuff out hope in the galaxy.
Poe doesn’t own sole accountability for sending Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to Canto Bight; they play a role in kickstarting the mission, too. (To a point, so does Lupita Nyong'o's Maz Kanata.) But if each of these characters has a hand in seeking out Maz’s code-cracking genius on Canto Bight, it’s Poe who calls the shot. Without that call, Finn and Rose would never have gone to Canto Bight, never would have met DJ (Benicio Del Toro), never would have slipped onto Snokes’ ship with DJ, and thus never would have put DJ in a position to sell out the Resistance to the First Order. In an alternate scenario where Poe takes Leia’s advice and stands by Amilyn Holdo’s (Laura Dern) orders, The Last Jedi ends very, very differently.
Here “differently” means “sans catastrophic loss of life,” which at this point in the film’s running time is basically Poe’s calling card. In fairness to him, he did not go along with Finn and Rose’s scheme, believing that the end result would be a sudden uptick in dead rebels. He couldn’t have known that they would bring back DJ instead of Maz’s code-breaking genius. And none of them could have guessed that DJ would betray them all to line his pockets, though in retrospect even the Force-impaired should have seen that particular turn of events coming from several parsecs away. All the same, the blood spilled in The Last Jedi’s second full-scale Resistance evacuation is on Poe’s hands. He’s the default leader in this scenario, and his lack of foresight and refusal to trust his superiors comes at the cost of his comrades’ lives.
And this is precisely what Leia dresses him down over earlier in the movie: abandoning prudence for the lingering thrill of flashy heroics. Perhaps coincidentally, Poe’s failure falls in the same ballpark as Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) transgression against Kylo, as seen in flashback. Like Luke, Poe makes a sudden and unconsidered decision with disastrous consequences, not so much for him but for everyone around him. Luke and Poe both survive the mistakes that they make, too. It’s others who end up paying for them. (It may or may not be intended that the men in The Last Jedi routinely make choices that get other people killed while the women advocate for pragmatism. Either way, that sub-theme feels like an indictment of ignorant macho bluster at a time when our culture needs it most.)
Unlike Luke, Poe doesn’t quite get to redeem himself: He leads the charge against the First Order on the planet Crait and helps defend the old Rebel Alliance base from their assault, but this, too, incurs more violence than it prevents. If there’s a saving grace here, it’s that Poe’s path to salvation is wide open as The Last Jedi ends. He’ll get his chance to atone for his missteps. Until then he’s going to have to learn to live with the price of his recklessness.
July 17, 2019 8:00am PTby Graeme McMillan
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