Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi below.
Of the many points of controversy in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the behavior of Vice Admiral Holdo ranks as one of the film’s most frequent criticisms. Why couldn’t the film have used an existing character, like Admiral Ackbar? Why does she have such a problem with ace fighter pilot Poe Dameron? And why didn’t she avoid a mutiny by letting others aboard the ship know she had a plan to escape the First Order?
Based on the failure of her plan in The Last Jedi, you could argue that she should never have held the position of command that she did. But while she was far from perfect, she actually filled her role much better than most fans give her credit for.
Why Not Admiral Ackbar?
If you’re a casual Star Wars fan, you might not know who Admiral Ackbar is. Let me refresh your memory.
Ackbar died in the same explosion that injured Leia, and he didn’t have the benefit of Force powers to save him from the vacuum of space. And if you’ve only seen the Star Wars movies without delving into the mountains of tie-in material, you might not see the big deal here. However, Ackbar’s character saw a great deal of expansion in supplementary material, leading some fans to see him as an iconic part of the franchise.
Ackbar’s demise is one of Holdo’s first sins in the eyes of her critics. Why introduce a new character to take command while Leia is incapacitated? Why couldn’t we have had our favorite fish-man in charge for a while?
You’ll get no argument from me that Ackbar’s demise could have been handled with more gravitas – though at the same time, I don’t think his death was all that big a deal in the scope of the films. Realistically, about 90% of fans liked him for the Internet memes, not because played an important role in the movies. Take out his iconic, “It’s a trap!” line and you’ve got a character who is only slightly more memorable than Porkins.
The fact that Holdo’s introduction came so quickly after Ackbar’s demise started her off on the wrong foot with many viewers. However, that was a good thing for the movie as a whole.
Holdo’s entire character arc requires that Finn and Poe, two characters we’ve already spent an entire film with, don’t trust her. Her status as a newcomer allows the audience to immediately side with Finn, Poe, and Rose in assuming that she’s in over her head. Had Ackbar held the same role, the audience would have given him more benefit of the doubt. We wouldn’t have been cheering the eventual mutiny; we would have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Putting a new character in this role gave the audience more emotional investment in the film. There was more reason to doubt and dislike her. And that blinded us to the fact that she was actually right all along.
Holdo and Poe
Holdo and Poe find themselves at odds from the moment they meet. From an audience perspective, that’s another strike against Holdo. Not only is Poe charming and funny, but he fills the Han Solo role for this trilogy and has the audience’s loyalty from his actions in The Force Awakens. It’s enough to blind us to the fact that Poe should have been tossed into the brig after the opening scene.
Poe starts the movie off as a hero when he disables the weapons on the First Order’s dreadnaught, enabling the Resistance’s escape. But he quickly becomes a goat when he ignores a direct order from Leia and continues the attack, leading to a Pyrrhic victory that brings down the dreadnaught at the cost of the Resistance’s entire bomber fleet.
Now, a lot of things changed in the short time between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. The Resistance went from having the support of the Galactic Senate to being on the run from a First Order that just blew up a star system. It’s very possible that Poe was still operating from the perspective that he had a political body to support him and that short-term losses were okay in order to win a battle. In reality, the Resistance was in a position where they couldn’t afford to throw so many fighters away. Poe’s little stunt could easily have cost the Resistance everything.
During their first meeting, Holdo finds herself face to face with a man who just cost a lot of lives for a minor victory and thinks he’s a damned hero for it. Had things not been so desperate for the Resistance, Leia would have been well within her authority to toss him in prison or even have him executed for his foolishness. That’s a hard emotional hurdle for Holdo to overcome. The fact that Poe soon started calling her an incompetent traitor certainly couldn’t have helped anything.
The Chain of Command
Why didn’t Holdo simply tell Poe she had a plan and thus avoid a mutiny? As I’ll explain in a little bit, she had two very good reasons for keeping her plans close to the chest. Even without those reasons, though, she had no obligation to tell Poe anything because of a little thing called the chain of command.
In real life, generals don’t tell enlisted troops their every plan. Doing so would be a huge breach of intelligence and a waste of time. A chain of command exists partly to keep things on a need-to-know basis. As a soldier whose actions just got him demoted, Poe didn’t have any authority in going to the leader of the Resistance and demanding to know her reasoning. His job was to carry out his orders. Instead of taking matters into his own hands, he should have brought his worries about Holdo to the next person above him in the chain of command.
Using the chain of command so might have gotten Poe some assurance that there was indeed a plan. Barging onto the bridge and demanding that the Vice Admiral provide details of a plan still in development to a man whose recklessness just got him demoted while the ship was sustaining enemy fire was definitely not the way to go about things.
Tracking through Light Speed
As I mentioned above, Holdo had two good reasons not to inform everybody aboard the Raddus of her plan. The first of those reasons was the fact that the First Order had just tracked the Resistance through light speed – an act that was supposed to be impossible.
True, later revelations showed that the First Order simply had cutting edge technology that gave them an advantage over the Resistance. However, with the intelligence available, there were only a handful of possible explanations for the situation. One of those was that there was a spy somewhere aboard the ship. Leaking the plan to too many people could have tipped the First Order’s hand, resulting in the destruction of the entire Resistance.
Of course, there’s one more reason to keep things quiet: space wizards.
The Mind Readers on the Other Side
Throughout the film, the Resistance was being pursued not just by First Order star destroyers, but by Supreme Leader Snoke himself. The one thing anybody seemed to know about Snoke was that he was an immensely powerful Force user. Moreover, he had Kylo Ren at his side, who was also strong in the ways of the Force. And one of the powers that Force users have is the ability to read minds.
Heck, Poe of all people should have realized this, since Kylo Ren tore through his mind to find BB-8 in The Force Awakens. The more people knew about the plan ahead of time, the more a chance the uber-powerful space wizard a few cars behind them could have picked up on it. As it was, he probably felt an overwhelming feeling of despair coming from the Resistance, which likely fueled his massive overconfidence.
Still Don’t Like Holdo?
Despite the logic here, there’s probably still a decent chance that you think Holdo was dumb as a box of rocks. To an extent, that’s intentional on the part of the movie. Holdo was presented as an adversarial figure to a charismatic hot-shot. That meant that even if she was right, the audience would probably be against her.
Holdo is also not supposed to be a great leader. There’s a reason she was behind both Leia and Ackbar in the chain of command. The movie presents her as somebody who could execute a plan well but who failed to win the hearts and minds of her crew. The film does a good job of showing these limitations by pushing the audience to see things from Poe’s point of view. But just because she was a flawed leader doesn’t mean she wasn’t also right.