What The Last Jedi Says About The Cost of War
The Resistance fleet is nearly out of fuel. Snoke and the First Order are closing in on them. Quickly. Rose Tico and Finn devise a plan to nullify the enemy’s ability to track them through hyperspace, but in order to do so they need to find a way to get the codes that would allow them onboard the First Order’s lead ship. For that they would need a slicer. To find such a gifted codebreaker, trusted ally Maz Kanata said there was only one place they could find one – Canto Bight.
Without delay and right under the nice of Vice Admiral Holdo, the two make a quick jump to hyperspace to travel to the casino city located on the planet Cantonica. As they approach, Finn asks his partner what she knew of the city. Rose vehemently declares that some of the worst individuals in the galaxy could be found there, a statement reminiscent of Obi-Wan’s assessment of the spaceport Mos Eisley in A New Hope. “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
Finn is noticeably and understandably confused when they reach their destination. Having traveled to many planetary systems while working for the First Order, Finn had undoubtedly seen countless seedy or downright abhorrent locales. Canto Bight, however, was not one of them. It was luxurious. The lights. The sounds. The suits. The gowns. Everything seemed to glitter before their eyes. Finn was awestruck. Rose remained disgusted.
Why? How? Finn wondered. How could you not be amazed by a place such as this?
“Look closer,” Rose replied.
Underneath the glitter, underneath the gold, lied something truly rotten.
One of the most popular events on Canto Bight were the racetracks. Here competitive racers rode atop large fast creatures known as Fathiers. From afar these races were full of thrilling excitement and suspense, but upon closer inspection, Finn started to see the inhumane treatment of the animals. While racing, the Fathiers were subjected to electrical shocks to speed them up. Off the track, they were equally abused by those charged to take care of them. Moreover, the poor youth forced to work the stables were treated no better than the creatures for whom they were the caretakers.
Canto Bight was rotten to the core.
Rose explained to Finn how the casino’s patrons came to be so rich. War. Those individuals who didn’t care how much they lost at the tables or in the slot machines (or BB-8, if the gambler was intoxicated enough) could do so because they had an endless supply of credits coming in from the sales of weapons, vehicles and other supplies to fuel the war between the Resistance in the First Order. For most, war is hell. For some, war is very, very good.
At first glance, the Canto Bight sequence may seem like an unnecessary filler just to lengthen the movie. Admittedly upon first viewing, I thought this myself. It took subsequent viewings of The Last Jedi for me to fully grasp to cultural, economic and political significance of these scenes. That significance should not be underestimated.
World War II may be the last war where the majority of this planet’s inhabitants can collectively say who was “good” and who was “bad.” Like any just war, the purpose for fighting was clearly defined. Since that time, there have been numerous conflicts that left many citizens wondering why we were fighting at all. Vietnam. Central and South America. Afghanistan was obvious following 9/11, but then why Iraq? Sure there was an explanation for all this bloodshed, but most of that logic involved lofty intangible concepts such as the Domino Theory, truth, freedom, democracy, “our way of life.” That statement may anger some so I will ask you, if we had lost any of these conflicts (and Vietnam was at best a stalemate), would our way of life truly have changed? Most people could not even locate Kuwait on a map when we defended it, so how could that possibly have impacted our day-to-day lives? It couldn’t.
Who profits then? Who are the only people who succeed no matter the outcome of the war?
In January 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his farewell speech to the American people. When reading these words, it is essential to put this into context. Eisenhower was a five-star general and was the Supreme Commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces in World War II. He was a war hero in every sense. That makes these words that much more poignant:
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations.
Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
The military-industrial complex of which Eisenhower spoke has profited immensely from the conflicts over the last fifty years, even when millions had to die in order to do so. This concept has been illustrated beautifully in the Star Wars universe as well. In the Clone Wars, the Intergalactic Banking Clan and the Commerce Guild were more than happy to finance the Geonosians as more and more droids were built, destroyed and built again. During the Galactic Civil War, Kuat Drive Yards and Sienar Fleet Systems didn’t care how many Star Destroyers and TIE fighters were blown up – they’d just make more. And fun fact: Sienar Fleet Systems was also owned by the Intergalactic Banking Clan, the same group that became enormously wealthy during the Clone Wars.
This all culminates with the vile individuals gambling their lives away on Canto Bight. It doesn’t matter what the war is called. It doesn’t matter who is fighting. It doesn’t even matter what they are fighting about. What does matter is that both sides will need guns. Both sides will need vehicles and supplies. And both sides are willing to pay for it.
Who wins in any war? Follow the money and you’ll probably end up at a Sabacc table on Canto Bight.