By Taylor Anderson and Ryan Mogge
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue or watched The Last Jedi yet, proceed at your own risk!
Taylor: Ever sense the Last Jedi came out about a month and a half ago, writer-director Rian Johnson has been on the interview circuit answering questions about the more controversial aspects of the movie. Many of these questions want Johnson to go into more detail about a specific aspect of the movie such as the origin of Rey’s parents or why Luke had a different haircut at the end of the movie (it’s true!). However, no one seems to be asking questions about one of the most enigmatic characters ever to grace a Star Wars script. DJ, the man who sold out the Resistance for a pile of credits, is shrouded in mystery yet no one seems to care. Maybe that’s because he plays a minor roll in the movie or maybe it’s because we learn all we need to know about him in his very own Star Wars comic.
The issue in question is set on the pleasure planet Canto Bight hours before Finn and Rose arrive on a last ditch mission to try and save the Resistance from the New Order. DJ is whiling away the time in various casinos making and losing small fortunes by cheating the system through his hacking prowess. This lands him in deep water with various gangsters, police, and casino owners and it’s only through a sheer amount of luck that he’s actually still alive for Finn and Rose to meet later.
I was excited when I first picked up this issue because, as played by Benicio Del Toro, DJ is an electric character. On the one hand, I wanted to trust him because he was so inexplicably charming. On the other hand, I didn’t trust him at all because he seemed sleazy, and not in the good Han Solo way. That being the case, I was hoping for more of the same in this issue, but writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker aren’t able to capture the magic of Del Toro’s performance. Even with a voice over giving DJ the chance to charm us over, he comes off as flat and boring.
His whole M.O. is that all people are equally terrible, so he may as well fuck them all over. That’s not a particularly likable trait in a person, especially with the knowledge that it later costs real heroes their lives as they try to escape the New Order. Still, this disposition alone isn’t enough to doom DJ’s characterization in this issue. What does that is the fact that there’s nothing more to his character than this. DJ simply seems to hate everyone and relishes in working them over just for the fun of it. We never find out why he acts this way or even why he holds these views. What’s left is a picture of shallow and frankly boring man who doesn’t really deserve an entire issue devoted to his story.
One could argue that Acker and Blacker try to deepen DJ’s character in other voiceover sections of the issue. Try as they might to make DJ seem interesting, his views on the Light and Dark side and working only for himself seem pedantic at best.
The character trope of the loner only out for himself has been done before in Star Wars, and done well. Dr. Aphra great example of how to pull this off. Even though Aphra herself is ostensibly only out for herself, she’s an interesting character because of her self-loathing and shifting moral compass. In short, while she’s definitely out for herself most of the time, there’s something more to her motivations than simply winning money and that makes her comic much more interesting to read than this issue.
The artwork in this issue is similarly disappointing. Most Star Wars comics are drawn remarkably well with some, such as Darth Vader, even being excellent. That’s not the case in this issue where Kevin Walker fails to illustrate a world that nearly as interesting as it’s source material.
The page above is representative of many others in this issue. If you’ll notice there’s no background in any of the four panels. Taken in a vacuum, how would you even guess where this scene is taking place? You can’t, and that’s a problem. It would be one thing if the lack of background and settings were isolated to only this and one or two other pages, but it is pervasive throughout the issue. The cumulative result of this is a book that feels unfinished and oddly out of touch with the endlessly deep Star Wars universe.
Ryan, am I being to harsh on this issue? Are my high expectations for it causing me to not give it a fair shake? Was there something you liked about the issue? Maybe it’s the super buff Rodian? In any case, I’m interested to here what you thought!
Ryan M: Taylor, your take on this issue is right on. There is nothing here to latch on to. The plot is repetitive, the visuals flat and the character at the center is a less engaging version of a character that pulled focus from some of the most charming actors in the game.
Canto Bight and DJ were a highlight of the recent film, mostly because of how explicit the amorality was presented. DJ is not a rogue with a heart of gold or even a charmer tempted by the dark side. He is out to get the best deal he can for himself. The issue should stand alone, but when it fumbles, it’s hard not to look to the film to draw comparisons to a more effective way of portraying this character.
Much of the issue plays out as DJ uses a multi-layered con with some decent improvisational deceit to keep himself alive and garnering more and more credits on Canto Bight. Acker and Blacker lean heavily on narration that doesn’t give us enough characterization. Instead, it reinforces what we can see and makes DJ, a character who is supposed to be five steps ahead, feel like he is treading water.
The most engaging element in the casino sequence is the Blackjack-style holo-card game that opens the issue. It’s a fun visual and walks the line between a game we all understand and something perfect for a space opera.
Blacker and Acker are able mine more complexity from the interaction among DJ, the Dealer and the Droid in this sequence than anything else in the issue, which mostly breaks down into conman vs authority. Given that the Droid proves to be the antagonist for the entire book, more time spent playing out the two world views may have made the final sequence land harder.
Of anyone in the entire issue, the dealer may be the only being to express an honest emotion and connect with DJ on any level. Of course, most of that connection is him tipping her, but credits are the most important thing to DJ, so maybe it’s a near confession of love. I’m not even trying to say that this dynamic is deep, it’s just that DJ is a complete loner. There are stories to tell with a loner in the center, but then the rest of the book needs to give us more insight than: he breaks codes, lies a lot, and likes money.
The last page tells us that the “innocent” victim of DJ’s fraud is actually a drug smuggler, but it’s too late. Further, the idea that DJ is some kind of Space Dexter, only committing crimes against criminals may make him more palatable, but it takes away that only thing we knew about him coming in to the book. If DJ is not an amoral profiteer, than what makes him any different from all the rogues and scoundrels that came before him? Unfortunately, this issue can’t help with that.
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My interpretation of DJ wasn’t that he thought everyone was bad and justified himself. He accepted that there were good people. He just thought game was rigged was didn’t bother playing. He’s what Finn would be if he ran away as planned instead of finding his morals with Rose. Someone who accepted there was good in people like Rey, but sees the universe so rigged against everyone that it doesn’t matter. It is important that DJ’s criticism of the Resistance wasn’t that they were evil, but that their war served only to help empower the corrupt, abusive upper class that screwed everyone else over. The Resistance weren’t evil in his view, the game was merely rigged so that the only way they could fight was to fund the evil military-industrial complex that rendered their actions meaningless. DJ saw no point in thr Resistance where, win or lose, the real bad guys would still be enjoying themselves in Canto Bight because that’s the way the game was rigged. The idea that good can’t win so Don’t Join sounds like a much more interesting basis for a character than ‘everyone is evil’.
Though the real problem with a DJ comic is that regardless of which take you use, he is apathetic, and apathy is not a trait of good protagonists. He isn’t supposed to be a lead, merely a supporting cast member for Finn, and unlike a lot of other Star Wars characters, he can’t exist outside of that, because, again, apathy is not a great motivation for a lead. Also, what is DJ without del Toro’s performance?
What they really should have done is a miniseries on The Master Codebreaker. Now there his a character I want to see more of. I’m thinking of a Rashomon style tale, exploring this enigmatic and mysterious figure through the contradictory tales of all those that encounter him. That would be a story worth telling (I’m not entirely joking about this idea, but more seriously, I would love Marvel to start doing some miniseries on newer content. Rogue One would be ripe for miniseries, and with Last Jedi you now have enough to do miniseries on characters like Maz Kanata, Admiral Holdo and more. It is a shame that all we have in a Phasma miniseries that bridges the two movies (and the Poe Dameron ongoing). Just not DJ, because DJ’s better as a supporting cast member (though honestly, a DJ miniseries with an original lead would work. Give us a character to care about who we follow, and then tell a story of them trying to complete a heist or something with DJ’s help, and see where problems arise. Still a DJ book, but one that doesn’t put him in the spotlight where he won’t work