WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in theaters now.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi did something extraordinary with Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo: It set to film the sort of undramatic, unpretentious leadership that gets the job done in the real world and would be necessary for the survival of a group like the Resistance. And fans are villainizing her for it.
See, Holdo is set up as the antagonist for Poe Dameron’s arc. We like Poe; Oscar Isaac’s flyboy hero is a charismatic hothead in the Han Solo vein, who bucks orders and takes risks that can sometimes pay off big. But other times, they don’t.
In The Last Jedi’s opening scenes, Poe leads a bombing raid against a First Order dreadnought, and turns off his comm system when General Leia Organa orders him to withdraw. The raid is ultimately successful in destroying the enemy ship, but at the cost of all of the Resistance’s bombers and a significant number of fighters. Nevertheless, it’s easy to take Poe’s side when Leia chastises and demotes him for his recklessness — the bet paid off, after all.
Later, though, things don’t go so well. With Leia comatose following a First Order strike, Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo takes over command and has no time for Poe’s antics. Poe repeatedly demands to know her plan, and when Holdo, with calm and cutting politeness, puts him in his place, Poe hatches a plan with Finn and Rose Tico to sabotage the First Order’s tracking system.
It’s an exciting plan! We’re rooting for Poe, Finn and Rose to accomplish what their stuffy superiors cannot. Indeed, Finn and Rose’s adventures on Canto Bight are some of the most genuinely fun bits of the movie. When the plan fails, however, the consequences are catastrophic. Captured by the First Order and betrayed by hacker-thief DJ in an incredible performance by Benicio del Toro, Finn and Rose can only watch helplessly as the Resistance’s transport ships are picked off one by one.
Meanwhile, Poe’s failed mutiny further hampered the Resistance’s escape efforts: If Holdo had been on the bridge, doing her job, instead of being held at blaster-point, the evacuation may have continued more smoothly, further contingencies could have been put in place.
A lot of online reaction to this has been, “Why didn’t Holdo share the plan with Poe?” Well, why should she? Transparency and communication are great, but are not always appropriate, especially in the formation stages of a plan. Especially with so much at stake. Vice Admiral Holdo told the plan to the people she felt needed to know, and Poe Dameron was not among that group, for reasons she literally spelled out in their first conversation: “You are the last thing we need right now.” It’s not that a good leader simply barks orders from on high, but she knows who to consult, knows how and when to roll out information. That’s Holdo. “If you only trust in hope when you can see it, you’ll never make it through the night.” One imagines that Holdo attained her position through shrewd strategy and planning; she knows how to maximize hope, however small, by revealing her plan at the right time.
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