The Last Jedi is dividing fans left and right (I’m on the side that happened to love the movie). Shippers of Stormpilot–the fandom (and cast-supported) coupling of Finn and Poe–are also divided on the movie as well, since not only was there a lack overt Stormpilot moments, but there was also a kiss between Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). For some, it would seem the hopes for Stormpilot are over.
After seeing The Last Jedi myself, I’ve come away with the opinion that not only has Stormpilot survived the second act of this three-act story, but even more background information has been given on the apparently one-sided tension Poe’s wrestling with when it comes to his interactions with Finn. I posit that Poe is the one who is the one harboring an intense crush on Finn, while Finn is completely oblivious, focusing only on the mission at hand.
Exhibit A: Poe’s jealous outburst
There’s a scene that seems to have escaped even the most hardcore of Stormpilot fans, and that’s when Rose and Finn are giving Poe their idea for saving the Resistance ship from the Empire. They’re talking to Poe in Poe’s quarters, which immediately gives Poe leverage over the entire scene. Poe and Finn are dominating the conversation until Rose chimes in, making herself known in an otherwise closed-off environment. That’s when Poe’s penchant for jealousy kicks in, and he pointedly asks Finn, “Where’d you find her?” Even though Johnson couldn’t find a way to inject full-scale romance in this film, he still found a way to inject an odd, jealousy-tinged line that doesn’t add anything to the scene, much less the film’s plot.
Throughout the film, we see how selfish, territorial, and jealous-hearted Poe can be when it comes to the people he loves. Poe would do anything for Leia–even after she slaps him like an angry mother, demotes him, and then tasers him so they can put him aboard the escape vessels without his backtalk. Leia is, in fact, the closest thing Poe has to a mother, and his loyalty and love for her makes him wary of anyone else who comes in between them. In this case, that person happens to be Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), whom Poe is immediately suspicious of. (Poe’s a little sexist about it too, to be honest, judging Holdo for being ultra-femme in battle, even though Leia is just as femme, just in darker colors.) He doesn’t learn to trust Holdo until the very end of their time together, and unfortunately, it’s while she’s sacrificing herself to allow the escape pods to advance to the nearest moon.
Poe’s selfishness and jealousy comes back in full force only one other time, and that’s when he’s sizing up Rose. Poe is visibly irritated he must share Finn with Rose, but he knows he has to do so if they’re going to save everyone. At one point, I thought Poe was going to say, “Maybe I should come with,” and to be honest, the look on his face gives the impression that he’s actually considering jettisoning the ship and stowing away with them. But he also won’t allow himself to leave Leia unattended. So he begrudgingly agrees to their tenuous plan.
Exhibit B: So much touching
Maybe it’s because I already had my proverbial antennae up for any Finn/Poe interactions I could possibly write about later, but it seemed like there was a large amount of slightly unnecessary touching. (Full admission: the amount of touching might also seem unnecessary because I’m not that touchy-feely myself, despite being highly emotional. As I’ve written before, I’m a Vulcan.)
The first bit of touching comes after BB-8 alerts Poe to Finn waking out of his coma. The dialogue we hear–Poe repeating BB-8’s beeps about a naked Finn when Finn isn’t actually naked–is something to waggle some eyebrows at, since it’s erroneous and gratuitous. Another script Easter egg, perhaps. But after the dialogue comes Poe rushing to Finn, reaching out to both stop him and support him as he staggers out of sickbay.
Poe didn’t have to touch Finn at his waist. He could have easily touched him around the shoulders. But it’s less about where Poe touches Finn and more about how he touches him. Everything’s gentle, and it’s not just because Finn is literally leaking IV fluids. Whenever Finn is in Poe’s vicinity, Poe immediately reduces down into a much gentler, softer persona. And, as we saw with how pointed he got about Rose, that persona is reserved only for Finn, and anyone who encroaches on Poe’s territory sees a more crotchety side of our favorite pilot.
There’s another moment of touching when Finn runs to Poe, who’s just been blown back by an Empire explosion. This bit of touching can’t really be made into too much of a “Stormpilot” thing, since Poe literally just got blasted in the back and sent flying across the hangar. But still, it’s something to note, especially since the undoctored image from this scene looks like it could be edited into a romance novel cover.
Keep in mind that throughout all of these interactions, Finn doesn’t ever catch on that Poe seems to be holding onto some big emotions. Finn sees Poe as someone he can trust, most definitely, but love is the last thing on Finn’s mind right now. Finn comes from a life of war, and survival mode is what he knows best. But survival mode doesn’t allow for someone to think about long-sustaining romances. After what happens in Exhibit C, though, it seems like Finn will start thinking about more complex things like love.
Exhibit C: Finn’s reaction to Rose’s kiss
Let’s break down the scene where Rose saves Finn from his suicide mission. Rose gets injured in the process, and she tells Finn she saved him because this war is all about saving those that you love. She manages to give him a kiss before passing out.
Folks on Tumblr read this scene as Disney punking out to the international market, mainly China, who are seen as the gatekeeper on Star Wars exploring LGBTQ themes. No doubt that the international market can prove to be a roadblock for any LGBT representation in Star Wars, much less Stormpilot. But in actuality, no story commitment to a Rose/Finn romance has taken place. If the film was adamant about Rose and Finn sharing a romance, I would think that romance would have been hinted at throughout the film and, most definitely, Finn would have kissed back. But he doesn’t; he’s just confused. In fact, we leave him still in a state of confusion.
Star Wars doesn’t have a fantastic record of building up believable romances–even Han and Leia’s romance doesn’t have much of a build-up that allows someone to truly understand what they see in each other. But to The Empire Strikes Back‘s credit, at least they keep the romance up throughout the film. The film was committed to cementing Han and Leia’s romance by peppering it in all over the place. With the amount of amazing writing that acts as The Last Jedi‘s foundation, I’d think that if they wanted to give us romance, they’d do a heck of a lot more than give us one small kiss and a clearly one-sided exchange.
It’s also worth noting that the experience of kissing is new to Finn, regardless of if it would be with Poe or Rose. Poor Finn hasn’t had real human interaction for his whole life. I think it’s natural for him to be confused on a multitude of levels. First, he has to suss out if he feels the same way about Rose. Second, he’d have to figure out if he even likes kissing at all. This is where the sexual representation could become more complex than just the gay/straight binary. We don’t know what sexual orientation Finn has, but it might be narrow-minded us to assume that he’s just simply gay. It’d be great if Star Wars could explore Finn’s inner conflict surrounding this moment.
The defense rests
I’m not soothsayer—I don’t know exactly what this means for the next film. But as for this film, fans shouldn’t be too upset. Romance didn’t make its way in this chapter, but let’s hope that romance, especially LGBT romance, is a big part of Episode 9, whether that’s Stormpilot or otherwise.
If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ve definitely seen the arresting image of the new enforcers in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the Praetorian Guard.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, writer-director Rian Johnson revealed that the Guard, Supreme Leader Snoke’s personal protectors, is a more amped-up version of the Imperial Guard in The Return of the Jedi.
While the guards get their name from the real life guards who protected ancient Roman emperors, the look and feel of the Praetorian Guard is clearly more samurai in nature. Star Wars fans are already intimately aware of the cyclical nature of the Star Wars lore–any theme that has come up in the past can (and probably will) come up again. The same can be said of the Japanese influence on Star Wars, which is embedded right in the DNA of the Praetorian Guard.
The Jedi, samurai with lightsabers
Johnson gave Entertainment Weekly the background on the Praetorian Guard, including the guard’s Japanese connection.
“The Emperor’s guards were very formal, and you always got the sense that they could fight, but they didn’t. They looked like they were more ceremonial, and you never really saw them in action,” he said. “The Praetorians, my brief to [costume designer] Michael Kaplan was that those guys have to be more like samurai. They have to be built to move, and you have to believe that they could step forward and engage if they have to. They have to seem dangerous.”
The Praetorian Guard are wearing a simplified, almost-blocky style of samurai armor with a touch of the 1980s digital aesthetic in the curved grate that makes up the Praetorian helmet visor. However, the idea of samurai is nothing new to Star Wars. The Jedi themselves are based on the idea of the samurai, including the unwritten code the Jedi live by, a type of space-bushido (without the ritualistic honor-bound suicide, seppuku, of course–these are “kids’ films” after all). Even Darth Vader’s iconic headgear and outfit are based on ornamental samurai armor.
As Samurai: The Last Warrior author John Man wrote for Salon:
…I looked at the inspiration behind the look of both the Jedi Knights and their opponent Darth Vader. So much of it derived from samurai traditions: the cloaks, the tunics, Vader’s helmet, the lightsaber.
…They are expert in the use of swords, despite their ability to call on the most fearsome and destructive of long-distance weapons…Both forgo armor to fight in loose tunics. That is how the Last Samurai, Saigo Takamori, went into battle against the Japanese Empire in 1877; that is how Toshiro Mifune appears in Kurasawa’s film “The Seven Samurai”; that is how young Skywalker, up and coming Jedi, faces up to Vader, the father hehs lost to the Dark Side of the Force.
[With regard to Darth Vader’s armor]: …[A]fter Japanese unification in 1600, the samurai became redundant, but instead of vanishing they reinvented themselves as vital members of society, adopting ever more extreme armor designs, with overlapping plates, masks with bristling mustaches and helmets with horns, or crab-like extensions (symbols of protection), or rabbits’ ears to suggest longevity. Vader’s headgear is a simplified version of a samurai face-mask and helmet, with neck protection and ear-flaps. Unlike a samurai, though, he does not need a hole in the top of his helmet through which to poke an elaborate top knot.
Side-by-side comparisons really show the connective thread between the samurai, the Jedi, and fallen Jedi like Darth Vader and his Imperial Guard.
Even after we move away from the original Star Wars films, the idea of samurai-esque robes remains throughout the Star Wars universe, including the latest in the Star Wars main storyline, The Force Awakens.
Star Wars “samurai-in-space” focus comes from George Lucas himself. As Ollie Barder wrote for Forbes:
It’s widely known that George Lucas was a fan of Akira Kurosawa’s work and famously used inspiration from films like The Hidden Fortress for many of the film’s plot and characters as well as whole scenes.
Barder goes on to write that even the word “Jedi” stems from a Japanese connotation.
…[T]he term “jidaigeki is Japanese for “period drama.” Films like The Hidden Fortress and other aspects of Kurosawa’s oeuvre were often period pieces. Featuring the trials and tribulations of samurai and peasants caught in-between petulant warlords.
The word itself also gave birth to the Jedi and it’s no surprise that they too borrowed many elements from the samurai as well.
Lucas borrowing for the real world is nothing new; Lucas has used the name of Tunisian city Tataouine as the basis for the name of the desert planet Tatooine and in the Star Wars prequels, the costume design for Padme/Queen Amidala feature motifs from several world cultures. In Rogue One, the idea of a space Mecca, Middle Eastern stereotypes and all, is apparent in the spiritual planet Jedha. There are even more examples of Lucas borrowing from other Japanese properties. But despite all of the other disparate elements Lucas brings into his world, including 1950s diners (looking at you, Clone Wars), the biggest throughline in Star Wars is that this is a space opera featuring space samurai protecting the innocent against the space ronin, masterless samurai who are only thirsty for power.
A Shinto color for protection used for evil
The Praetorian Guard’s relationship with Japan doesn’t end with just Lucas and Johnson’s affinity for samurai. The bright red color that forms the Praetorian Guard’s formidable look also has ties to Japanese culture. In this case, it’s more than just mere borrowing–it’s borrowing with irony.
There are several meanings for the color red in Japan (as is anywhere else), but there is a particular meaning for red in the traditional Shinto religion: protection. However, unlike with the Praetorian Guard, who’s charged with protecting an evil leader, red is charged with protecting Shinto worshippers from evil and disease.
According to Mark Schumacher, who wrote about the history of red in Shinto, the meaning of red might have come from “demon quelling and disease (e.g., smallpox, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, measles).”
According to Japanese folk belief, RED is the color for “expelling demons and illness.” The rituals of spirit quelling were regularly undertaken by the Yamato court during the Asuka Period (522-645 AD). Centered on a fire god (a red deity), these purification rites were designed to purify the land by sending evil spirits to the Ne no Kuni [“The Land of Roots,” an underworld]. This association with evil easily segues into other links with child mortality, protection against evil forces (sickness), fertility, the caul (embryonic membrane covering the head at birth), and other child-birth imagery. The red bibs, red robes, red scarfs, and red caps found frequently on certain Japanese deities…lend strong support to his interpretation.”
Schumacher wrote that for a small amount of time, the Japanese god of smallpox, Hōsō Kami, was closely linked to the color red. This association came at some point between smallpox’s initial introduction to Japan in 550 AD and the first recording of smallpox in 720 AD. It was believed that if the skin of a person afflicted with smallpox turned purple, they would die, but if the skin turned red, they would live. Eventually red came to mean protection against ailments.
This early association between demons of disease and the color red was gradually turned upside down–proper worship of the disease deity would bring life, but improper worship or neglect would result in death. In later centuries, the Japanese recommended that children with smallpox be clothed in red garments and that those caring for the sick also wear red…The Red-Equals-Sickness symbolism quickly gave way to a new dualism between evil and good, between death and life, between hell and heaven, with red embodying both life-creating and life-sustaining powers. As a result, the color red was dedicated not only to deities of sickness and demon quelling, but also to deities of healing, fertility, and childbirth.
An argument could be made that, if the Star Wars crew were conscious of the fact that red has such a huge meaning in Shinto, maybe they were using red to align the Guard and Snoke even more with the evil and danger they represent. However, with what red has come to mean in Shinto over time, the all-red Praetorian Guard is more of an unintentional ironic statement; just like the red torii gates that signify a protection of the spiritual realm and a cleansing of the worshippers that stand near, the Guards are protectors who signify that entering Snoke’s realm is a rarefied experience. However, unlike those that visit torii, there’s no holiness or goodness to come from the Guard and especially not from Snoke. Instead of healing, there’s only spiritual disease.
The history of red gets even more complicated when you add westernization into the mix. If you notice, the color of the Praetorian Guard is not just red, but it’s a shocking red. It’s a red that makes you sit up and stand at attention. It’s an unnatural red, to be sure.
This unnatural red looks like it could be aniline red, a synthetic color that owes part of its origins to British scientist William Henry Perkin trying to find a cure for malaria. You can read more about aniline red’s road towards becoming a marketable color at Prints of Japan, but just keep in mind that it was the Europeans who brought this synthetic color to Japan. I would say it’s become one of its more iconic colors, too; as a synthetic, it’s able to keep its vibrancy over hundreds of years, compared to Japanese prints that utilize natural red dyes.
These two prints are saturated in aniline red; see how pop-arty they make these 19th century pieces?
I don’t know if the folks behind Star Wars recognized they were playing deep into the Japanese color history by making the Praetorian Guard shockingly red. Of course, the Imperial Guard are also red, and the real Praetorian Guard were also associated with red. But with so much Japanese influence making its way into the Praetorian Guard, it’s funny that even this small element of Japanese history snuck its way in.
So what does all of this mean in the end? It seems like there’s a conversation to be had about where the line stops when it comes to “appropriation” versus “inspiration.” It’s very easy to say that Lucas was inspired by samurai films he saw growing up, much like how Quentin Tarantino was inspired by the blaxploitation and grindhouse films he saw as a kid. While it’s certainly clear that Lucas found a more elegant way to showcase his inspirations by way of a space opera, is there much difference between Lucas’ insistence on direct Japanese ties to his work and Tarantino’s insistence on directly imitating and reworking major themes from blaxploitation? To a certain degree, both Lucas and Tarantino straddle the line between appreciation and flat-out lifting (or, to be nicer about it, “paying homage.”)
If you’re being really nitpicky, you could say that many directors out there steal from their favorite films. No doubt–every director has put in a scene that mimics a scene they’ve loved from their childhood films. But where it gets interesting for Lucas and Tarantino is that there’s a certain amount of damage attributed to how they represent (or don’t represent) the cultures they’re drawing from.
For instance, how can Lucas draw inspiration from Japanese films just to give a set of bumbling aliens stereotypical Asian accents in the Star Wars prequels? How can it be that Lucas has only rarely featured Asian faces in general–much less specifically Japanese faces–on screen? The Force Awakens, the upcoming Last Jedi and Rogue One have featured more Asian characters than the prequels and the originals combined, and all three of those movies have been under the inclusionary focus of J.J. Abrams, not Lucas. This article isn’t about Tarantino, but since I’ve brought him up (and since I’m black) it’s time to start talking about how Tarantino only views blackness through a limited scope, not through how actual black people behave. (Yeah, I know he marched against police brutality, but that’s the least he could do–that’s something we all should be doing, to be honest.)
With all of this said, where does this put the Praetorian Guard? It would seem, regardless of the arguments made for or against “paying homage,” the mysterious samurai and Japan’s relationships with spirituality and color are imports to Western culture that still fascinate us and keep us fascinated with the culture of the Land of the Rising Sun. The Guard are only one more block that cements that fascination.