Chris Hernandez nails what Admiral Holdo did wrong

I finally got around to seeing The Last Jedi recently and was ambivalent about it, I suppose I should write a review soon. But I found this piece by Chris Hernandez summed up perfectly what I hated about the whole Rebellion Arc of the movie.

As we know, Holdo gave orders to “stay the course” and keep running from the First Order despite the apparent inevitable destruction of the Resistance fleet. Poe demanded to know her plan to save the Resistance, she told him to shut up and follow orders, but he mutinied and acted on his own. Then, of course, when Holdo’s masterful plan was finally revealed and she heroically sacrificed herself to save the remnants of the Resistance, Poe finally realized what a sexist loser he’d always been.

From the perspective of those who view society as a struggle against patriarchy/whiteness/heteronormativity/whatever kinda ism, it’s all cut and dried, really: Holdo was a great leader, Poe was just too chauvinistic to see that, his toxic masculinity unnecessarily got people killed, and he didn’t truly mature until he finally appreciated Holdo’s strength and grace. On the other hand, from my perspective as a former Marine, retired Soldier and combat vet, Holdo’s plan sucked and she displayed terrible leadership.

YES, HOLDO’S PLAN SUCKED

Holdo decided to run from the First Order, sacrificing smaller ships and a few lives, until her cruiser was close enough to the planet Crait to use nearly-invisible transports to evacuate what was left of the Resistance. That’s not a terrible plan, and seemed to be the only option she really had. But she didn’t tell her subordinates anything about this plan. To them, it must have simply looked like they would run until they expended their fuel and died.

Many times throughout history, a small military force has been left with no other option but to attempt the near-impossible and hope for the best. The Resistance fleet was certainly in that situation. Had Holdo explained, “The situation sucks, I can only think of one option, and that might not work. Anyone have any better ideas?”, I would have no complaints about her leadership. But instead she refused to share information, dismissed her subordinate leader’s reasonable concerns, and made herself look like she was “vapor locked,” fixated on a plan that had no chance of success.

But let’s forget about what the situation looked like to the Joes inside the ships. However bad it seemed to them, Holdo’s secret plan was great – unless something went wrong. Which means it sucked, because any plan that requires the enemy to act exactly as you desire or predict is too inflexible to survive the inevitable surprises of combat. Good leaders expect surprises, make contingency plans, and understand that “the enemy gets a vote.” They don’t just hope nothing goes wrong.

And of course, something serious did go wrong: the transports weren’t invisible after all. And since they were unarmed and unarmored, they could do nothing but explode dramatically as they were picked off like sitting ducks. Holdo’s solution to this apparently completely unforeseen development was to kamikaze her cruiser into the pursuing Star Destroyer. That was heroic, but it shouldn’t have been an “oh crap” reaction to a problem she reasonably should have foreseen.

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  • Julie Pascal

    If the events and actions were real, she was a horrible leader. The “Poe was supposed to follow orders, that’s what you do in the military” bugged the heck out of me. I was in the military, too. The “authoritarian” model is one born of ignorance and (often) prejudice. On the surface it’s correct enough… when you have a TERRIBLE commander you’re supposed to obey their orders anyway. But any leader who shuts down bottom-up communication is a failure. Full stop. The same is true of the “hot shot pilot” trope… hot shot is good, loose cannon? Your ground crew will probably ground you. The best way to enjoy the “military” aspects of the movie is not to think about them AT ALL.

    The other thing, which might be interesting and valuable to writers is this… it was awful writing as well. It’s not just because it was written by people who get military leadership dynamics woefully wrong but because the plot relied on one character withholding information from another character. In addition to “omg, horrible leader” which might be realistic enough since horrible leaders exist, the plot depended on the characters not-talking. Even if people don’t realize what they’re reacting to, it feels like a cheat. It’s bad story telling.

    • Overgrown Hobbit

      Agreed. And with the all-volunteer force, even those who didn’t serve, have family who did. Hollywood is deeply out of touch. If they could figure out that “(intellectual) diversity is our strength” we’d all win.

      My husband and kid made excuses to skip the Boxing Day movie outing to see SWTLJ and all the family came back grumbling “well, THAT was stupid.”

  • Whiskey Jack: Lord of Pith

    Admiral Gender Studies was more damaging to the Republic/Rebel forces than General Krell was, and he was an outright traitor. In fact, the whole point of the General Krell plotline was about not acting like a drone and always following orders that make no sense, and actually coming up with your own plan to get the job done is sometimes the right course of action.

    But then, the Clone Wars series had good writing; these new films do not.

  • It is now official: I hate this film.

  • Emily Crook

    I am SO INCREDIBLY GRATEFUL that I’m not the only one who saw the problem inherent in not telling subordinates anything about a last-ditch scheme. If they’d taken two minutes of their rather excessive screen time for Admiral Holdo to just explain what she was doing, she would have had much more sympathy from me when she sacrificed herself. But no, in order for the plot to revo — I, I mean POE to revolt, the plan could not be revealed. I see why the director made that decision, but I don’t have to like it or agree with the way they handled it.
    A friend pointed out that part of the reason so many people are irritated with this latest installment in the Star Wars universe is that it COULD have been great, but instead it was merely mediocre. That tends to rile people up more than if something is genuinely terrible, because the potential was there but wasn’t used.

    • Tesh

      It’s not just the missing potential, though it is that, it’s that such potential could have so easily been reached. So many of the movie’s problems are ones that could have been easily avoided, and that’s always more annoying than when a movie gets in a bind even after hard, earnest work.