Warning: This article contains major spoilers for both Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Star Wars Battlefront 2‘s campaign.
There have been a lot of complaints regarding Finn and Rose’s sub-plot in The Last Jedi, particularly their journey to the casino city of Canto Bight. It’s unsurprising that the scenes on this planet garnered negative attention, considering that they move the audience’s attention away from the more interesting drama surrounding Rey, Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker, but one criticism I fail to understand is the suggestion that the events that take place in the city are “pointless.”
On Canto Bight, Finn is initially inveigled by the bright lights and unabashed hedonism of the coastal city. It isn’t until Rose tells Finn to look closer that his eyes are opened to the dark underbelly sheltered away from its casino’s bright lights, with her informing him that the city is powered by money obtained from the First Order, who trade cash for weapons with Bight’s upper-class elite. However, in a conversation with the makeshift “Master Codebreaker” DJ, Finn learns that both the First Order AND The Resistance buy their weapons from the same shady sources, driving home DJ’s point that there is no Light and Dark, only different shades of gray.
Later, DJ is given the opportunity by the Empire to hand over Finn and Rose for monetary gain… and he does just that. There’s no Lando Calrissian-esque ulterior motive for this bandit — he willingly puts Finn’s and Rose’s heads on the chopping block for his own personal gain, knowing that they’ll be killed, and then he disappears. I’ve been conditioned by Star Wars to believe that the selfish-but-lovable rogues will return at the last minute to help out our heroes in their time of need, but he never does. For all DJ knows he’s left these two people to die, and this is both emblematic of The Last Jedi‘s stance in regards to good and evil, and indicative of why Star Wars Battlefront 2‘s own exploration of the gray area between the Light and the Dark side fails so miserably.
Prior to its release EA said that Battlefront 2 was going to focus upon a relatively unexplored perspective, with players stepping into the shoes of a commander for the Empire. With Imperial soldiers having mostly remained faceless and nameless, Star Wars fans were intrigued to see how DICE would go about creating a sympathetic “hero” who also happened to be fighting for the bad guys. What is the psychology behind a soldier who actively fights for widespread genocide? Who aligns themselves with an army who would build a planet-destroying weapon they referred to as the “Death Star,” but somehow not consider that they’re actually the bad guys?
Unfortunately, those questions go unanswered in Star Wars Battlefront 2. In the game we’re presented with the personality deficient Iden Versio, the leader of the Inferno Squad who promptly leaves the Empire behind after one of the planets she likes is put in the Empire’s crosshairs. Unlike Finn, who is taken from his parents at birth to be trained as a Stormtrooper, Iden’s father and late mother both serve(d) important roles in the Empire, meaning that her attachment to the dictatorship is far more personal. Despite this, her internal conflict as to the Empire’s true intentions is swiftly resolved, with her becoming a good guy almost instantly and promptly switching over to the Rebels, leaving her dearest dad behind.
Battlefront 2‘s story is exceptionally disappointing when you consider what DICE could have done with its unique angle. Rather than dare to confront why anyone would willingly side with the Empire, DICE instead glosses over the heinous crimes committed by the Imperial regime in favor of fast-tracking Iden straight into the Rebellion. The viewer is expected to believe that the Rebellion would allow a servant of their genocidal enemies to simply wander into their army, put on a helmet and start fighting alongside them, with nary a question asked by the friends and comrades of the soldiers she’s killed during her time as an Imperial soldier. But while Battlefront 2‘s campaign is alarmingly dull considering its subject matter, there is a precedent for characters with unconvincing ethics in Star Wars.
Up until The Last Jedi, the Star Wars films had flirted with the idea of showing a more well-rounded view of morality outside of the Jedi and Sith, but had always shifted back into the same clear-cut definitions of good and evil. Even characters depicted as neutral bystanders in the series’ ongoing galactic conflicts were eventually portrayed as either misguided rogues with hearts of gold or cold-blooded murderers, while those who deviated from their initial allegiances did so with improbable gusto.
The most obvious example of this is Anakin Skywalker, who had three films devoted to him turning to the Dark side, only to have this transition shoved into the tail-end of Revenge of the Sith. The future Darth Vader goes from a sleepy-eyed, lovelorn Jedi worried about his wife to a man capable of slaughtering a crowd of innocent children within a matter of hours, and while he certainly makes some dubious decisions as a Jedi, he spends little time actively occupying that gray area in favor of peppering his heroism with bouts of angsty whining about his mentors (and admittedly that one murderous rampage in the Tusken village, before he promptly goes back to being a superhero again).
Compare this to The Last Jedi, in which even Star Wars‘ most heroic Jedi is shown to be capable of making mistakes that push him far away from the Light, and of being completely unsure of his own code of ethics. In Rian Johnson’s film, Kylo Ren’s descent into darkness is triggered by Luke Skywalker being terrified of his student’s power, with the Jedi Master contemplating killing his Padawan in his sleep. This is the moment that causes Ben Solo to embrace the Dark side, with Luke’s fear and cowardice pushing him into Snoke’s clutches.
During Kylo and Rey’s various Force-powered Skype calls, it frequently seems as though they could both convince the other to join their side, and for the first time in a Star Wars film the villain’s reasoning is actually compelling. Ben Solo’s parents failed him, and the man entrusted with helping him hone his powers and understand his place in the universe contemplated murdering him while he slept. If that’s not enough to turn you off humanity for good, then what is? Ultimately, Kylo doesn’t want to follow in Snoke’s footsteps and reenact a Darth Sidious/Vader partnership — he wants to burn down everything and start all over again, regardless of who this hurts along the way.
After The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren has overtaken Snoke as the primary antagonist of the new Star Wars trilogy, yet we still don’t really know what’s in store for him. His connection to Rey has made it clear that while Kylo is consumed by hate and vengeance, he isn’t completely lost. Unlike Anakin, who was catapulted from good, to evil, to good again over the course of the prequels and original trilogy, Kylo Ren’s position between the Jedi and the Sith is uncertain. He’s certainly capable of doing evil things, but that doesn’t make him truly evil — prior to Kylo Ren, Star Wars portrayed the Dark side as being a rapidly corrupting force that turns good men rotten to their core almost instantly. In The Last Jedi, we see a man who is very much under the influence of the Dark side, but who has very visible insecurities regarding his decisions.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 tied into the events of The Last Jedi, but DICE failed to emulate the film’s nuanced take on morality in favor of presenting us with a hero who, despite initially siding with the villains, is still very much a Rebel in nature. There would understandably be some difficulty in framing a story from the perspective of a space Nazi, but that’s what made many so interested in Battlefront 2‘s story prior to its release. Unfortunately, much like the rest of the game, it was a bitter disappointment.