It took [George Washington] more than a year to gain control over his own aggressive instincts, which nearly proved a fatal liability in the New York campaign. Eventually he realized that a defensive strategy, called a war of posts, was the preferred course, even though it defied every fiber of his being. His seminal strategic insight, which seems obvious in retrospect, was that he did not need to win the war. The British needed to win. He would win by not losing, which in practice meant keeping the Continental Army intact as the institutional embodiment of American independence. After the debacle in New York in 1776, survival became his central mission, more important than beating the British army on the battlefield, where he was often outmaneuvered. (Indeed, no successful American general ever lost so many battles.) His greatest gift was resilience, rather than brilliance, which just happened to be the quality of mind and heart that the American cause required.
The Quartet, Joseph Ellis, pages 22-23.
The armies separated after the battle, and it is said that Pyrrhus, when congratulated on his victory by his friends, said in reply: “If we win one more such victory over the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.” For a large part of the force which he had brought with him had perished, and very nearly all his friends and officers, and there were nomore to send for at home. He saw too, that his allies were becoming lukewarm, while the Romans, on the other hand, filled up the gaps with a never-ceasing stream of fresh recruits, and did not lose confidence by their defeats, but seemed to gather fresh strength and determination to go on with the war.
Plutarch’s Lives, The Life of Phyrrus
OK, it is time to begin talking about Poe’s Journey in The Last Jedi. Poe is first up because he is the character with the best, most complete arc. This is not to say that it is not flawed (it is) but since his arc is the most well developed, he goes first.
Poe was originally supposed to be killed in the first movie, but Oscar Isaac begged to stay alive, and J.J. Abrams acquiesced. It pains me to say it, but it is very clear that Poe was originally meant to die in the first film. Poe has absolutely no characterization within the screenplay; his character is entirely due to Oscar Isaac’s natural charisma. I still think that it was a mistake to keep Poe alive, as much as I appreciate Oscar Isaac’s immense talent as an actor, because the character does not add much to the story.
With this in mind, I was glad to see that Rian Johnson took the time to develop Poe’s character.
So, we begin with Poe’s arc. At the beginning of The Last Jedi, Poe is portrayed as a hothead. Like young George Washington, he is naturally aggressive, but his aggressive makes him impulsive and myopic. Rian Johnson establishes this character trait at the beginning of The Last Jedi.
This scene is a perfect example of what I mean by superior ingredients but inferior execution.
1 Superior ingredients
The scene is very well shot. The cinematography is far above anything we have seen in any of the prequels. This is important, because as I said in the introduction, film is a visual medium.
I also appreciate that the action in this scene is entirely motivated by character. So many times in these movies, the action scenes are motivated by the need to have flashing lights and loud noises. In this case, the action scene isn’t just about looking cool. It’s about telling the audience something about the character.
This scene establishes clear weaknesses within the character. He is impulsive and shortsighted. Like the young George Washington, he wants to win battles and take out the enemy. However, like George Washington, he needs to learn that this is NOT how to win this kind of war. This scene also sets up Poe’s misconception and the lesson that he must learn. It is also fascinating because it begins to address the idea of the kind of war that the Resistance is waging, and what it would actually take to win.
I say kind of because the scene contains two major flaws, but flaws that are easily correctable.
2 Inferior Ingredients
A What is Leia’s plan?
This is the first major flaw in the opening scene. Leia clearly does not want Poe to attack the Dreadnought, but that does not explain why all of the bombers are there. (I’ll address the question of the physics in Star Wars in another post soon.) I have watched the film several times but I still don’t know what Leia is trying to do, other than escape.
The Last Jedi could be improved by simply clarifying her plan.
B “How many dreadnoughts does the First Order have?”
I put that question in quotes because I heard a group of teenage boys asking this question after the movie. More specifically, they asked, “Do you know how many dreadnoughts the First Order has?” They clearly believed that the First Order has a large number of this, but the film is rather ambiguous on this issue. It implies that the First Order has more than one Dreadnought, because Poe says, “We have the chance to take out a dreadnought! These things are fleet killers!” He uses plural words and articles that implies that the First Order has more than one. But how many does the First Order have? Two? Five? One hundred?
Now, remember the scene where Leia slaps and demotes Poe. Poe exclaims, “We took out a dreadnought!” Now imagine Leia retorts, “One dreadnought! The First Order has more than ten thousand dreadnoughts!” Suddenly, it becomes clear that Poe’s victory is Pyrrhic. Just as Phyrris lost most of his army fighting the Romans, and the Roman army’s casualties were comparatively tiny, Poe essentially lost the entire fighting force without failing to inflict any meaningful damage to the First Order. This would clarify the stakes for Poe, the Resistance, and most importantly, the audience.