So, the internet is filled with hot takes on what is wrong with TLJ, but recently I’ve been thinking about it and realized that there’s a big unifying issue that I haven’t heard brought up before: The new allies in TLJ are introduced as antagonists.
Basically, Luke, Rose, and Holdo all end up helping our three heroes by the end of the film and are characterized in purely heroic ways, yet their introductions portray them as pure antagonists to our heroes.
Luke immediately throws away the lightsaber and shuts himself in his hut, refusing to help Rey or the Resistance.
Rose, despite her initial fangirl attitude, actively thwarts Finn’s escape attempt in the process and then accuses him of being a traitor.
Holdo immediately gives Poe a dressing-down and refuses to let him in on her plans, to the point that he believes that she is an enemy.
Compare this to ESB, where Yoda is introduced as an eccentric neutral character who may or may not help Luke, whereupon he quickly reveals himself as a true ally, who becomes antagonistic only to help train Luke and they part as friends in ROTJ. Lando is similarly portrayed as being of questionable loyalty until he quickly reaffirms his friendship with Han and his desire to help. Granted he has been compromised by the Empire but his intentions are always good and these win out in the end.
The reason for establishing the affability of allies quickly is simple - first impressions matter. It will take only a scene or two for the audience to decide whether or not they like a character, and the easiest way to do this is to have said character help our heroes. Wait too long and even a character with good motives will become annoying or downright antagonistic to the heroes, and by proxy to the audience.
This is where TLJ fails. The average viewer will see the irritation these supposed allies cause our heroes and will be irritated in turn. If left to fester for scene after scene, this will turn into full-blown anger and then whiplash when the antagonistic character is revealed to be ‘good’. This is especially true with Holdo, where the film goes from characterizing her as an antagonist to Poe to having her perform a full-blown heroic sacrifice in the space of a few minutes.
This problem of antagonistic allies could have been fixed fairly easily at the script stage without changing the film too much.
For example, Luke could have pretended to help Rey and even given her an introductory lesson. Then at the end of the lesson he could have said “…and this is why it is time for the Jedi to end.” The audience would be in shock; they have just seen Luke as presumably his old heroic self, allowing themselves to get on board with his character, only to have the rug pulled out from under them in an interesting way. Luke is an ally to Rey since he has already given her instruction, but now he is antagonizing her in order to force her into conflict and growth, just as Yoda did with Luke.
Rose could have met with Finn as he packed to escape the cruiser, someone who wanted to help the great Finn in this presumably secret mission for the Resistance. He tells her that he has to find Rey, as she is in trouble and is the last hope of the Resistance, flashing the binary beacon at Rose. So she helps him, but as they make their way to the escape pod she takes a minute to reflect and asks him how they will find this ship again. Finn says that he and Rey will use the Force, but in a callback to TFA Rose calls his bluff and stuns him. So at this point the viewer has come to consider Rose as a part of the Finn/Rose teamup, and we feel guilt that Finn has misled her instead of annoyance that she is getting in the way of our favorite former Stormtrooper.
Finally, Holdo is made the acting leader of the Resistance. She appreciates Poe’s contribution and asks him how their location was discovered. Poe vows to figure that out, and convenes with Finn and Rose to discuss the problem. In the meantime Holdo learns of Poe’s hasty demotion by Leia as her last act and becomes more cold toward Poe since he failed to mention this demotion, and when he comes to her ranting about ‘impossible’ First Order tech and a harebrained scheme to leave the ship to find a master code breaker, she suspects that Poe could be the spy. Their spiraling mistrust leads to Poe going rogue and initiating the scheme without Holdo’s permission. This structure allows for at least a scene of Poe and Holdo working together before the troubles appear, and since both think they are in the right the audience expects that the misunderstanding will resolve, which it does when Leia awakens.
Well, this turned out longer than I expected. The short of it is that Rian was so enamored with subverting expectations that he forgot to make the allies of the film likeable from the outset.
I dunno. Those characterizations worked perfectly fine with me. I must definitely be some sort of extraterrestrial being, because I don’t find any fault with TLJ.