I was going to write about Finn today, but you guys were talking shit so I figured I needed to lay down an intellectual beat down.
Join me under the cut!
Leia in The Last Jedi
Right, any discussion of Leia’s arc in The Last Jedi has to begin with that fact. Carrie Fisher, the original Star Wars heroine from which all Star Wars heroines and a big chunk of modern princesses are descended, is dead. On the plus side, she finished all of her work on The Last Jedi, so we get to see her final, beautiful performance in its completeness.
On the down side, Lucasfilm has confirmed that Leia was always intended to have a big role in IX. While this fits with my theory that each film of the new trilogy was meant to send off one of the original Big Three (VII for Han, VIII for Luke, and IX for Leia) this development pretty much kills that idea died. Now Leia’s arc all has to be resolved in this film; and given how Rian has stated that he refused to change any of her performance in the editing room, that’s gonna cause some problems.
So what is Leia’s arc? Let’s find out!
Passing the torch
A major theme of this trilogy is that the time of the old heroes is over. They won their war and celebrated their peace. A new war, a war for which they were unprepared and which their own mistakes contributed to, has arisen. New heroes, birthed in their own blood and tragedy, must rise to confront this new evil. Snoke, our newest architect of atrocity, says it best:
Darkness rises. And the light to meet it.
All right. So we know who the big players are: the darkness is obviously the First Order, headed by child predator, evil wizard and all-around monster Snoke, aided by his fellow monsters Kylo Ren, Armitage Hux and Captain Phasma. The light, then, is Rey, Finn, Poe and Rose.
But out of our new band of oddballs and misfits, who is Leia passing the torch to? It’s not Rey; her destiny is tied up with Luke. It’s certainly not Kylo; he betrayed and murdered his father (an interesting parallel between Kylo’s actions and Obi-Wan’s description of Vader’s actions in A New Hope, no?) Han Solo, Leia’s husband. And that’s after he betrayed Leia and Han in the first place. It’s not Finn or Rose; Leia doesn’t really interact with them.
That leaves us with Poe Dameron. And our little train of logic has been getting heaps of support, especially lately, what with the EW article referring to Poe as Leia’s surrogate son and previous interviews and articles, stretching all the way back to The Force Awakens, tells us the same thing.
So that’s the first big chunk of Leia’s arc. She has to teach Poe how to lead a resistance, not merely be ‘the best pilot in the Resistance.’ She has to pass on all that she has learned, to help the new generation avoid the mistakes she made.
Leia and Kylo a.k.a Leia is (somehow) at fault for Kylo’s actions
This is the single dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, and that includes all the Darth Jar Jar jokes and everything Joe Quesada has ever said. And yet, it’s one that’s been embraced by a huge chunk of the fandom, both those for and against Kylo Ren. Let’s break down how wrong they are, shall we?
Leia is responsible for Kylo Ren’s actions: Here’s the problem with that line of logic: if Kylo Ren isn’t responsible for his actions, then he’s totally fucking redundant in the story. He loses all agency and becomes a total prop for Leia and Snoke, nothing more than a plot device. And given that both Rian and JJ have expressed that they want to explore what makes a villain a villain and not reduce Kylo to a prop, this argument becomes a degree of willful ignorance that’d make a Republican proud.
You want Kylo to be redeemed? He needs to be responsible for his own actions. Otherwise, he hasn’t done anything wrong (or anything at all really, ’cause he’d just be a puppet with no will or thought) and therefore can’t be redeemed. Or even make the choice to be redeemed.
You want Kylo to die a villain? Guess what, he still needs to be responsible for his own actions, for much the same reasons as above.
Either way his arc ends, he needs to be responsible for his own actions. That’s just basic storytelling logic. And Rian and JJ are too good of storytellers between them not to know that.
Leia’s being portrayed as a less than a perfect parent: Well no goddamn shit, Sherlock. You think raising a child is easy? Go ask your parents how easy it was to raise you, how many mistakes they made. I somehow doubt you’re gonna like the answer very much.
And, it gets better. Leia’s mistakes as a parent are perfectly reasonable ones, the exact ones we’d expect her to make based on her character. She, unintentionally, neglects Kylo in favour of the greater good. She bickers constantly with her husband. When her kid acts out and she doesn’t know what to do with him, she sends him to Luke, a Jedi Knight with a theoretically better grasp on Kylo’s issues than she had. Granted this backfired and only increased Kylo’s feelings of isolation and abandonment, but that’s not her fault: sending her son to his uncle in the hopes that his uncle could help him is not only perfectly reasonable, but is something that has worked IRL. It was the wrong call, but a good one. And finally, when Kylo’s betrayal rent the family apart, Leia did exactly what most people would in her situation: she goes back doing what she knows best. Hell, she even admits this herself!
Look, Leia made mistakes as a parent. Nobody’s denying that. But all of her mistakes are reasonable, realistic, and make sense given her character. Kylo’s, on the other hand, don’t.
But my parents neglected me and I didn’t turn into a villain!: Congratulations, you’ve discovered the difference between you and the villain of a space opera. What do you want, a cookie?
Kylo blames Leia and Han for his turn: Kylo is the most literal interpretation of ‘Psychopathic Manchild’ I’ve ever seen. He’s a mentally disturbed, emotionally-stunted, brainwashed failure of a human being. In short, he’s probably the least objective observer of his reality in Star Wars since Anakin Skywalker. I wouldn’t take his perspective on matters too seriously.
Leia blames Leia: Well yeah. Kylo’s her kid. Of course she’s gonna feel a little guilty about what he’s turned into.
That doesn’t mean she is, but it’d be more than passing strange if she didn’t feel some guilt.
Leia Must Confront Herself and Kylo about what happened in the Past
Leia made some errors in her parenting. Kylo made some horrific choices in response to those errors. In order for Leia to be at peace, in order for her arc to be truly resolved, she must confront him one last time. I imagine it will go something like this:
Tai Lung: I have come home, Master.
Shifu: This is no longer your home. And I am no longer your master.
Tai Lung: Oh yes. You have a new favourite. So where is this ‘Po’? *chuckle* Did I scare him off?
Shifu: This battle is between you and me.
Tai Lung: So, that is how it’s going to be.
Shifu: That is how it must be.
Tai Lung: I rotted in jail for twenty years because of your weakness!
Shifu: Obeying your master is not weakness.
Tai Lung: You knew I was the Dragon Warrior! You always knew. But when Oogway said otherwise, what did you do? What did you do? Nothing!
Shifu: You weren’t meant to be the Dragon Warrior! That was not my fault!
Tai Lung: Not your fault!?! Who filled my head with dreams? Who made me train until my bones cracked? Who denied me my destiny!?!
Shifu: It was never my decision to make!
Tai Lung: It is now. Give! Me! the scroll!
Shifu: I’d rather die
Tai Lung: All that I did, I did to make you proud! Tell me how proud you are, Shifu! Tell me! TELL ME!
Shifu: I-I have always been proud of you. From the first moment, I’ve been proud of you. And it was my pride that blinded me. I loved you too much to see what you were becoming. What I was turning you into. I’m so-sorry.
Tai Lung: I don’t want your apology. I want my scroll.
Obviously, this won’t be a direct translation, because Kylo’s issues with his parents is a little different than Tai Lung’s are with Shifu’s and their relationship is different.
But it’s a good template. The parental figure and the traitorous child confront each other over the wounds that they each have inflicted on the other. The parental figure admits their errors and that they still love their child. The traitorous child rejects their parental figure and continues on their evil path. This even has precedent in the larger Star Wars universe. First with Obi-Wan’s admission of how he had failed Anakin and later, between Kylo and Han.
Now, I don’t think Leia and Kylo’s confrontation is going to end the same way as those previous two. Or even quite the same way as between Shifu and Tai Lung. But it will happen. It must happen. Otherwise, Leia cannot overcome her guilt, cannot successfully pass the torch on to Poe and ultimately, cannot die in peace.
Kylo Ren, too, needs this confrontation; albeit for different reasons. Originally, this confrontation was supposed to happen in IX, I think, but I suspect that due to Carrie’s passing they’ve found a way to include it in here.
However, let’s be clear here. Leia’s admission of guilt, her confrontation with her past errors and her re-affirmation of her love of Kylo does not in any way, shape or form, make her responsible for Kylo’s actions. Leia is only responsible for hers, and the way she is going to accept her mistakes and learn from them is going to be a big contrast to Kylo, who cannot accept just how far he’s fallen. Not yet anyway.