The Kids Are All Bight: Why TLJ’s Most-Maligned Subplot Was Good, Actually

The Canto Bight subplot is one of the most maligned aspects of the new Star Wars movie. The most common critique I’ve seen is that it’s a complete shaggy-dog story for Finn and Rose, that Finn might as well have been in a coma the whole movie anyway. I disagree, though; the Canto Bight subplot ties perfectly in with the broader themes of TLJ, and gives two minor characters some room to breathe and grow.

On the advice of Maz Kanata, Rose and Finn seek out a legendary Codebreaker on the casino planet of Canto Bight. They both bristle at the glitz and glamor of the casino; Rose says she wants to put her fist through the whole shining place.

Our heroes are then arrested for landing their shuttle on the beach, just as they catch a tantalizing glimpse of the Codebreaker himself, a stylish don in the middle of ruling the casino tables. He’s suave and handsome, everything the ruling class represents.

In the prison, Finn and Rose meet the plucky “DJ,” portrayed by Benicio del Toro, who seems the polar opposite of the Codebreaker. He’s grubby, mumbly, and rude, and literally rises out of the darkness of the cell, while the Codebreaker basks in the light of the casino upstairs. Rose and Finn enlist DJ’s help to break into Snoke’s ship.

Eventually, however, after boarding the ship, they are taken prisoner again by the First Order. DJ sells them out, and walks off with his reward money. Finn and Rose are nearly executed when Admiral Holdo’s well-timed lightspeed kamikaze run gives them an opportunity to seize weapons and take the story in their own hands again.

I can see why people don’t like it. It does feel like a shaggy-dog story. But it ties in perfectly with the myth of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and the broader theme of overcoming the failures of previous generations.

Like Rey visiting Luke, Finn and Rose see DJ as an archetypal figure. He is the Scoundrel with the Heart of Gold, and Rose and Finn put their trust in him because that’s what you do in these stories! You seek out the wise mentors, you look for the good-hearted scoundrels, and in the end they’re on your side.

But again, like Rey, Finn and Rose discover that the archetypal figure isn’t actually the myth they believed in. Luke nearly murdered one of his own students, and in his horror cut himself off from the very substance of the universe. And DJ? DJ is, too, a disappointment. Finn, Rose, and Rey cannot rely on the previous generation or the existing figures to fix the story for them. They have to take up weapons themselves and make their own choices, informed by their own morals.

At the same time, these “mythical” figures are still human. They have to make their choices, too, about how to help the next generation. DJ takes the money and runs. Luke faces his fear and sacrifices himself for the good of the greater youth. Snoke, Holdo, Leia, even union-busting Maz Kanata – they are all making choices about how to hoist the next generation up on their shoulders. In the end of The Last Jedi, our young heroes are at the forefront of the story. Kylo Ren struck down Snoke – but for his own good, to further his own gains. Rey chose not to waste her time trying to fix a guy who wants to break her. Finn and Rose took matters into their own hands to preserve what they believe is good.

(Honestly, Poe is the real odd man out here. Despite the fact that the whole opening sequence is dedicated to showing us how his trigger-happy flyboy antics got a ton of people killed, it’s not clear that he came away all that different at the end. The closest thing is him calling off the salt-speeder assault on the battering ram cannon. Maybe we just have to wait for E9 to see how Poe Dameron grows).

To bring it all around: the Canto Bight subplot was a great way to tie Finn and Rose into the larger themes of TLJ and to set up their later character development. Might there have been a smarter way to write that? Maybe, maybe not. The last image of the movie – that of the young, anonymous kid with a broom (much like our universe’s Star Wars Kid) – is given power because we see the direct line from Luke/Leia/DJ/Snoke to Rey/Finn/Rose/Kylo to the next generation. I’m still sorting through my thoughts on TLJ, so don’t take this as my last word on how I feel about it.

Besides, you literally cannot argue with the fact that the Canto Bight theme from the soundtrack absolutely slaps.

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