Is it okay to do spoiler posts for The Last Jedi yet? There's stuff I want to discuss and first and foremost is the clarification we get on what the First Order actually is so BEWARE, SPOILERS BELOW!
One job I felt The Last Jedi did very well was clarify what the First Order is. It helps that most of the rise of Trump and the fallout of Brexit happened inbetween production of Episodes VII and VIII because the exact dynamics of this sort of fascist nostalgia movement are better know to us now. I'm not completely throwing Abrams under the bus here but I feel we have a much better handle on where these characters are coming from now the banal mechanics of this sort of thing are better known.
It all starts with that first scene of Hux (a character best described by a tweet I saw calling him “the personification of British foreign policy circa 1950”) breathlessly informing a subordinate that his orders come directly from Supreme Leader Snoke. You can just feel the daddy issues pouring off him as he says it.
Then there's Kylo Ren going full-on Reddit MRA incel negging pick up artist on Rey with his “You mean nothing to anyone except for me” routine which is a textbook emotional manipulation device.
Meanwhile there's Snoke himself sitting on his throne in his Hugh Hefner dressing gown going so far as to describe how he's manipulating Hux right to Ren's face to make Ren feel special and valued even though its also pretty much how he's manipulating Ren.
There are those who feel that reducing the main antagonists to an old man blatantly and shallowly manipulating two needy manbabies into repeated acts of pointless aggression devalues them somewhat.
Have these people met the modern far right? Because that's a pretty accurate portrayal of what they are nowadays. The last US election presented a New York real estate billionaire as the anti-establishment candidate who would make it socially acceptable for white people to say “Merry Christmas” again and build a wall to keep those Mexicans out of all those border states who ever so slightly economically rely on immigrant labour. My own country regularly mistakes the likes of Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and Nigel “I love foreign tax havens but not foreign people” Farage for salt of the earth sorts who understand the struggle of the working man because they said something mildly amusing on Have I Got News For You or drank out of a pint glass for a photo op.
So, yeah, portraying the foot soldiers of the right wing as easily led useful idiots bowing to any authority that flatters their personality defects strikes me as pretty bloody fitting right now.
And that's really effective. It can't be denied that Hux, Ren and the First Order in general are a threat. They kill a lot of people over the course of the two movies. They hunt the Resistance to the point of extinction (there may be more space puffins on the Falcon than dissidents) They have access to huge numbers of weapons and, let's face it, pathetic young white men with access to huge numbers of weapons are something that especially US audiences have reasons to have anxieties about.
So, yeah, I liked all of that. Nice to see someone portraying the fact that these people are completely pathetic and yet a genuine threat to life and limb. I feel that sometimes the awful harm these people are capable of causing is diminished by how bloody stupid they are and perhaps that mixed message has helped them achieve as much power as they have.