It’s been impossible to ignore the polarized reactions to Star Wars: The Last Jedi since its release last week. The web is littered with think pieces either condemning the film or praising it. You either have to love the film or hate it, and you better be ready to defend your position. A line has been drawn in the salty Crait sand between Star Wars fans. But people aren’t divided over everything though. There appears to be one constant among those who’ve seen The Last Jedi. Whether you liked it or not people seem to agree that Benicio Del Toro’s character is terrible. Named DJ, though I don’t think we actually hear his name spoken in the film, Del Toro plays a hacker (known as ‘slicers’ in the Star Wars universe) with a morally grey outlook on the galaxy. With so much hate being thrown at DJ I wanted to offer up some defense for the character.
Before I can get into why I think DJ is actually an interesting character I need to address the oratory elephant in the room. Benicio Del Toro decided to give DJ a fairly pronounced stutter, and although it didn’t really bother me, I can understand the criticisms calling it a “indulgent affectation”. Del Toro has been known to make these types of choices in the past (see ‘The Usual Suspects’) and I can see how some might have found it to be an unnecessary distraction, especially from an actor whose mere presence as a recognizable face can be distracting for some Star Wars fans. The only thing I would say is that I think it’s unfortunate that the stutter has become a large part of the discussion surrounding the character, as opposed to the merits of the characters inclusion and/or actions within the film.
Speaking of the merits of his inclusion, many people seem to think that his entire subplot was a waste of time. The Last Jedi is already the longest Star Wars movie ever and although I think the Canto Bite sequence overstayed its welcome I don’t know if cutting it entirely would have made for a stronger film. Yes, Finn and Rose’s subplot is seemingly only there to service Poe’s character growth but in the process, and with the inclusion of DJ, it also provides some much needed nuance to the Star Wars galaxy as a whole. The core Star Wars saga typically shows us the galaxy as being very black and white; Good vs evil, the light side vs the dark side, the heroes against the villains. What characters like DJ do is introduce some shades of grey. When he shows Finn the holograms on the arms dealers ship he’s telling both Finn, and by extension the audience, that the galaxy is more complex than than just good guys vs bad guys. A lesson that Finn, a former Stormtrooper who grew up knowing nothing else, desperately needed to learn.
There was another DJ moment that I think was maybe even more impactful though. Later on, after learning about DJ’s decision to sell out Finn and Rose, he tells them that they shouldn’t be so upset, because after all “they blow you up today, you blow them up tomorrow”. The truth is, he’s right. The cynicism is palpable but he’s right. The implication being that his decision, although selfish, means little in the big scheme of things. It also happens to play into one of the largest themes in the film; failure. It also poses the question of whether this never ending struggle between the First Order and the Resistance (see the Separatists vs the Republic and the Empire vs the Rebellion) is as important as those within the struggle actually believe it to be. It’s a refreshing perspective and something we rarely see in Star Wars outside of supplemental content like the novels or comics.
There was one last line that DJ delivers in the movie that might actually be my favorite and it’s only one word. It's a line that speaks to the characters depth rather than a larger picture of the galaxy and is probably what endeared me to him in the first place. After Finn and Rose condemn his decision to cut a deal, that selling them out was a mistake, he simply turns to them and says “maybe” before turning and walking away. It’s particularly potent because he says this to them before they are to be executed. He clearly understands the implications of his decision and is willing to acknowledge his own selfish action as potentially being the wrong decision but he can’t bring himself to admit it. The fact is he’s not a bad person, he has good in him, as you can see by his actions earlier in the film. He has potential for growth and change as I think he knows that the First Order aren’t good people, he’s just not there yet. It’s that potential for growth in a character with an interesting perspective that I found to be so interesting. Unfortunately we don’t know his fate after the 'Holdo Maneuver'... but something tells me he made it out.