Once again, I’m going to wade into internet controversy secure in the knowledge that I have about three regular readers of this blog, and talk about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It’s a film that has sharply (although not evenly) divided the internet, with a very vocal minority fighting hard to convince the vast that the movie is a disaster. As part of this campaign, the people who dislike this movie argue that it contains a litany of plot holes, citing everything from legitimate complaints to absolutely absurd misunderstandings of the story as evidence for its supposed failure. Almost no scene is as universally mocked, however, as the one below:
However, I not only utterly love this scene, I think it’s a microcosm of just about everything that works about this movie. So, without further ado, let’s explore everything that makes this moment anything but a plot hole.
To lay my cards on the table, though: this is definitely a contrivance. After all, the movie clearly wrote itself into a corner when Leia was blasted into space and the writers wanted her to survive, so they fell back on an obvious answer: she uses the force to pull herself back into her ship and survives. However, of crucial importance is that this isn’t a contrivance that contradicts any rules of the story or universe that it appears in. For one, the human body can actually survive without any protection in space for a few minutes before suffering death, since heat leaves the body very slowly in a vacuum. Furthermore, we already know that Leia is force-sensitive from the original trilogy. That she would display an ability to use the force in a life-or-death, adrenaline-surging moment shouldn’t surprise us too much.
However, people are correct when they argue that Leia actually using the form is something that we haven’t seen before. They’re just wrong if they argue that this is some sort of problem. After all, new force powers develop all the time. In The Return Of The Jedi, for example, Emperor Palpatine tortures Luke Skywalker with the first instance of force lightning without anyone batting an eye. Indeed, the same could be said for literally every single force ability demonstrated in the entire Star Wars series. New abilities develop all the time without the films feeling any need to preface them beforehand or explain them afterward, because these abilities are, essentially, magic. They don’t need to be explained as if they require some logical grounding or explanation for existing because they exist outside of logic or reason. These force powers exist simply because they can exist, and that’s enough. Besides, compared to the other abilities that have been revealed throughout the franchise’s lifespan, this is relatively minor. Not only is it clear that the force can help you move because it’s been shown to do so before, doing so in the vacuum of space, where there’s no resistance to your movement, should be relatively easy. Furthermore, if you consider that the force can pull objects toward the user, it stands to reason that it can pull the user toward objects. Most importantly, however, the idea of new force powers suddenly developing isn’t just not problematic, it’s in keeping with the broader arc of this new Star Wars trilogy. After all, the first movie in this trilogy was titled The Force Awakens. Something, in other words, is happening in the force, something that is allowing for the new and strange and beautiful to flourish, something that will manifest in changes in the ways the force can be used and who it can be used by. This is the same reason I don’t have any problems with Luke’s also-new force projection: the force is alive, the force is awake, the force is changing, and we should expect to see things that we haven’t seen before, whether that’s a whole host of new force-using children in the world or Leia displaying new powers.
However, I do want to entertain the argument that, on the most important level of story, that of meaning and emotion and narrative, this scene might have weakened the story. After all, you can imagine how resonant a scene like this could be if it ended with Leia’s death. In the moments preceding this, Kylo Ren (Leia’s son, remember) almost destroyed the bridge of Leia’s ship but hesitated, unwilling to kill her, only to have one of his wingmen do it and spill Leia into space. If Leia had died here, you could completely imagine this being an incredibly resonant moment that might even have spurred a marked change in Kylo Ren, perhaps even culminating in his abandonment of the Dark Side. You can see, in other words, how it would have created powerful meaning and a compelling character arc. However, here’s the thing: that’s not the story that this movie is actually telling. The Last Jedi doesn’t want to show us that a bad person can become good through committing violence, and sacrificing one of it’s most powerful female characters in order to give a cheap redemption arc to one of its unmitigated villains. In other words, The Last Jedi recognizes that a character who’s committed unspeakable atrocities for power and gain doesn’t get to have an ultimately redeeming arc where he’s celebrated as a hero because he indirectly caused the death of his own mother. The Last Jedi, in short is not here to pander to the people who like Kylo Ren. The film’s actual take on Ren - that a person can come to realize they’ve been controlled something evil, throw off that control, and remain evil because there are incredibly deep-seated insecurities and angers and hatreds at play within them - is far more interesting and rich than “doing bad thing made bad man sad and now he get to be hero.” Furthermore, the film is about hope and redemption through the choice to fight for what you love, and the way people become powerful symbols without losing their very human failings and fragilities and insecurities. In other words, making Leia’s death thematically about Kylo Ren and using it to give him a story arc that my brother would call “Disney-fied” would have been a betrayal of the story, completely at odds with both his character and the tale the movie is telling us.
In short, then, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this scene on any level of storytelling, and in fact every last thing about it reinforces it as a triumph of film. It’s entirely understandable and sensible when it comes to the logic of the story, fits within the broader context of the trilogy it’s found in, and is, on the face of it, simply an incredibly powerful moment that made me sit up and gasp when I first watched it. Furthermore, it prioritizes the themes of the story its in over taking the easy way out and soothing our insecurities. It’s a moment that understands the importance of story, that it isn’t meant to pander to an audience but tell us something, that it should prioritize powerful meaning over cheap and overly simplistic character development. It is, in short, a masterpiece. And if you’re still caught up on why Leia could have pulled off this feat, I’ll leave you with an explanation as to why she’s capable of surviving space and using the force that echoes Alfred Hitchcock’s reason why his characters never go to the police, from Last Jedi director Rian Johnson himself:
Next week, we leave the force behind. Accio blog post!
With excitement and optimism,