Spoilers ahead for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
A lot about Star Wars: The Last Jedi was kept under wraps, but one new character who remained heavily shrouded in mystery was Benicio del Toro’s DJ. We knew he was a hacker who was involved in Finn and Rose’s mission on Canto Bight, but that’s about it. Early reviews compared the character to Lando because of his heel turn, but that’s a disservice to both Lando and DJ. It turns out that with DJ, writer-director Rian Johnson introduced one of the most effective villains in the Star Wars saga.
DJ isn’t the most fearsome or most powerful bad guy in Star Wars history, but he’s one of the most effective because of how familiar he is. Normally, Star Wars goes for murderers and tyrants, people who are clearly on “The Dark Side.” Even someone as tormented as Kylo Ren is still a murderer who has no qualms wiping out scores of people if it suits his ends. His emotions and motives may be complicated, but his actions are fairly straightforward.
Compare that to DJ, whose duplicity is clear—he sells out Finn and Rose when it becomes convenient—but whose amorality is fascinating. DJ is basically every person who doesn’t vote because “Both sides are equally bad.” His cynicism masquerades as wisdom, like when he points out to Finn that the ship they’ve stolen belongs to an arms dealer who supports both the First Order and the Resistance. For DJ, the lack of moral clarity in the world means he’s allowed to do whatever he wants, holding everyone else to unreachable standards and using their own shortcomings as an excuse to enrich himself.
Most of us will never meet somebody like Kylo Ren or Darth Vader. We know people who are conflicted about their actions, feel guilt and remorse, and wrestle with the possibility of change, but if we’re lucky, we don’t know mass murderers who serve as hatchet-men for evil regimes. However, I bet that most people know somebody like DJ. It’s that person who is smug, arrogant, and self-serving, but lacks the courage of their convictions to even acknowledge the repercussions of their own actions. It’s the person who says, “It’s all relative,” without acknowledging they just made an absolutist statement.
This makes DJ’s evil so much more insidious, prevalent, and recognizable. He’s not some cackling supervillain like Snoke or a tyrant like Hux. DJ falls into a category that’s far more familiar—the person who will do what is easy rather than what’s right, and then defend those actions by arguing for a moral relativism that since everyone is terrible, the best thing to do is just look out for your own interests.
As for the comparison between DJ and Lando, it’s deeply flawed. Yes, both betray our heroes, but the context is completely different. Lando, who was in charge of Bespin, had to look out for the welfare of the entire city. He’s basically given an impossible choice: betray his friends or risk the lives of all the innocent citizens. Additionally, once it goes wrong and Vader reneges on the deal, Lando tries to find a way to help Leia and Chewie. He has a moral compass, and at worst, you can argue he made some poor choices.
But DJ doesn’t have a moral compass. He uses the moral ambiguity of the surrounding world to facilitate his own actions, so it’s a culmination of being amoral, lazy, and arrogant. Even after he’s betrayed Rose and Finn and knows that his freedom and wealth come at the expense of their lives and the lives of the rebels, when asked by Finn if he thinks he’s right, DJ just shrugs and says, “Maybe.” He’s even non-committal to his own actions.
I don’t know if DJ will return in Episode IX, but I like the idea of him just vanishing off into the galaxy rather than trying to bring him down on the side of the Resistance or the First Order. There will always be people like DJ who find a reason to support their own greed and cowardice. A far more powerful message is that just because other people lack a moral compass, that doesn’t mean we have to lose our own.