Admiral Holdo: A Fan Discussion

holdo panel

Dragon Con is somewhat unique among large conventions in that despite its size it is still entirely fan-run, meaning you don’t really see the industry presence (read: exclusive merch and reveals) that you would at a SDCC, NYCC, Celebration, etc. However it also means that there’s an emphasis on a wide breadth of tracks to cover almost every tangentially geeky topic there is to talk about, from the obvious sci-fi/fantasy titans (Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, etc) to more niche interests such as puppetry or LAN gaming.

The Star Wars team in particular always puts on four days of incredibly high-quality programming and discussions, and as a frequent panelist with the Star Wars track my goal this year was to bring some of that fantastic discussion to Eleven-ThirtyEight. And in a year where the fandom at large has dealt with some serious discussions around toxicity and representation, it seemed fitting to put a focus on one of the more controversial elements from The Last Jedi: Vice Admiral Holdo.

So I now present to you the latest in ETE’s Aggressive Negotiations series: a transcription of the Vice Admiral Holdo panel from Dragon Con 2018, featuring myself and three other panelists unaffiliated with ETE. For those unaware, Aggressive Negotiations are raw, largely unproofed live chats among our staff and occasionally others. They are more off the cuff and unscripted with the goal being to present fandom in its most raw form.

The panel discussion originally took place on Friday, August 31, 2018. This transcription has been slightly edited for clarity.

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Thomas Harper: So welcome to the Vice Admiral Holdo panel! We’re going to cover quite a bit here. I don’t know that there’s been a more controversial character that had less of a central role in a movie. I mean, I think if you cobble together Holdo’s screen time it’s probably on the order of five to six minutes. And it really has stirred up a conversation, sometimes it doesn’t seem quite like a civil conversation, but we’re going to dig into some of that. But first, before we get into it, I want to let our illustrious panel members introduce themselves, starting with Sue:

Sue Kisenwether: Hi, I’m Sue Kisenwether, I am a podcaster at Women at Warp on the Rodenberry podcast network. Now before you get weird about it, I am also a member of Rebel Legion, the 501st, and Saber Guild, so I Trek and Wars.

Sarah Dempster: My name is Sarah Dempster, I am a writer with the Eleven-ThirtyEight website and I also cohost the Padmé Amidala themed podcast titled Podmé.

Michael Falkner: Hi my name is Michael Falkner, I’m a podcaster and writer from here in the Atlanta area. My writing is on my website creativecriticality.net. I do some Star Wars work on there, but for the last four years I’ve been doing a lot of Doctor Who work; I’ve been watching the series of Doctor Who from the very beginning in 1963 and going episode by episode by episode and writing about each of them. Four years later I’m finally through the Eighth Doctor and moving into the Ninth Doctor’s run in October. My podcast is with the Chronic Rift network, I do a movie news podcast called Weekly Podioplex which is coming back in a revamped form soon.

Thomas: I will be your fearless moderator today; my name is Thomas Harper. I am an Army JAG officer [ed. note: Judge Advocacy General Corps, the legal arm of the US Army] but more importantly than that, I write and I podcast and do stuff at conventions with a group called The Legal Geeks. If any of you guys were either at San Diego Comic Con this year or saw online, we did a mock court martial of Poe Dameron. I had the pleasure of prosecuting him, I delivered the closing argument, and I will say, I wear this shirt “Poe is my bro” right, but I’m going to eviscerate him on this panel today. It has nothing to do personally, but as a JAG officer, there’s just some realities to his situation.

But in any event, it’s all in good fun, right, this is all in good fun, so whether you like or you hate the character, throughout this hour keep an open mind. My big thing when we get into discussions like this is really the key is having an intelligent conversation where you can walk away understanding that you don’t have to agree on something or have to convince the other person you’re right or they’re wrong, and I think The Last Jedi has really brought that out in fandom. Admiral Holdo’s discussion is a microcosm of that.

I want to start the discussion here with a bit that I touched on right at the opening. There’s been a lot of…I won’t even call it discussion, a lot of vitriol towards this character. I want to put it to you guys: Like her or hate her, what is your impression of the reaction to her character that’s happened since the movie came out?

Sue: I mean I loved her immediately. Especially her decision at the end, so it took me a little while to understand where the vitriol was coming from, and I have tried to, but a lot of me still rolls my eyes at it because I think it’s grounded in a lot of toxic masculinity.

Sarah: Yeah I have to agree because I mean we saw it with Rey and Jyn to a certain extent too, where people were like quick to criticize them, talk about “oh they’re Mary Sues” or whatever and they’re overpowered and blah blah blah. And so then, you have this woman, another powerful leader figure, dressed very femininely, and butting heads with Poe, who we as the audience have been conditioned to accept as “the hero” and as someone we need to root for—and I have more complicated thoughts on that—but I think again a lot of it is that toxic masculinity, of which Holdo is unfortunately only one small part of.

“I’m a former
submariner in the
United States
Navy. We live,
breath and eat
OpSec, opera-
tional security.
Holdo is opera-
tional security.”

Michael: Yeah I fell into the camp of having really bad feelings about Holdo when I saw her first on screen. And there’s a reason for that. It’s called cinematic manipulation. Storytellers do this, this is what they’re supposed to do, they’re supposed to make you feel. So when I saw her challenging our heroes, I said “Ohhh you!” And then my brain kicked in when we started seeing how the story was turning out. I’m sure we’ll cover this but I’m a former submariner in the United States Navy. We live, breath and eat OpSec, operational security. Holdo is operational security. She had a mole and she needed to figure out a way to get rid of it. And then I was like “Done. I love this woman.” And I think a lot of it has to do with what we were talking about with toxic masculinity, but a lot of it has to do with we don’t know…we don’t have that background, a lot of people don’t have that background in operational security or the military or whatever else and so they don’t quite get that level that goes with it.

Sarah: Yeah and I think also in Star Wars itself we’ve seen so many examples of “the rogue pilot goes off the book and defies orders and it ends up saving the day for everybody”, and so when Rian Johnson was deliberately doing a subversion of that trope, people didn’t like that, to put it lightly.

Thomas: For those of you who might not be tuned into it, this is sort of the core debate with gender and whatnot with women in combat that is playing out right before your eyes, whether you’ve seen articles on it or not. I’m here to tell you right now, if you’re a student of history, women have been in combat for generations, far before the military opened up actual combat jobs to women. But just within the last five years, the Department of Defense has officially opened those jobs up, and I’ll give you one specific example that is a great case study in what we’re talking about. The Marine Corps has opened up, along with the other branches, their infantry officer school to women now. There are two women to date that have made it through, because again the Marine Corps’ stance is “we’re not going to change the standards, those who can make it through can be an infantry officer.” Two have made it, one is five minutes from where I live in Pennsylvania, she is the only one, the only female Marine to be in charge of an infantry platoon, so that’s thirty-five to forty Marines that she leads. And if you go two inches into the Google comments or Reddit or whatever, it’s the same type discussion that you’d see with Holdo. Slightly different, but this stuff is playing out right before your eyes. This is really genius social commentary, whether you agree with her character, whether you like it or not, it is a reflection of what we’re living through right now.

Michael: There’s a very similar discussion happening in the submarine force too. The last five or ten years have finally integrated the crews so they’re no longer all-male crews. And the discussions have been, for the last five or ten years, the exact same toxic discussions.

Sue: Well I think we agree there’s also an aspect of this as well. You said “deliberately tried to subvert a trope”, and this is another issue we’re having in the Star Wars fandom, where if they go and repeat the same thing everybody knows, people are mad at it. And if they go and try and do something different, people are mad at it. So you can’t win, right now.

Thomas: How many folks saw the Family Guy spoof of Empire Strikes Back? So there’s a scene in there, right out of Empire Strikes Back, where Leia is briefing Rogue Squadron as they’re about to go fight and the rest of the pilots that are about to escort the evacuation, and in the real version all the pilots clap and they break and everybody goes off to fight or evacuate. Family Guy version, somebody stops and says “Is there somebody else we can talk to? A man, perhaps?” That scene just burns into my head every time I watch Holdo.

But I want to dial this in straight into canon and talk about the moment she steps in to lead a ship here. So we’re talking story-centric. Holdo, and if you’ve read the book the fact that she comes into the leadership role and takes over the Raddus and the rest of the Resistance fleet is not understood amongst everybody, it’s not posted on the wall like “Holdo’s next up!” It honestly surprises some people, especially Poe. What made her the right choice to succeed Leia and the rest of the bridge crew after the attack?

Sue: Well the book you’re referencing is, I believe, Leia: Princess of Alderaan?

Thomas: The [The Last Jedi] novelization.

Sue: Oh, the novelization! Well also in Leia: Princess of Alderaan, we learn in that book, that’s obviously set well before even our original trilogy, that Leia and Holdo have been working together in the Rebellion/Resistance since they were both junior senators.

Sarah: Like, thirteen, fourteen years old.

Sue: Yeah, so they’ve known each other a long time. And they basically did exactly what Poe did, they disobeyed orders and they put themselves on their own mission in order to save a community that they learned was in trouble, without being too spoilery about it. So we see this relationship develop between these two characters, and I know you shouldn’t have to read a book in order to see a movie and understand it, but it does give additional depth to that character stepping in. And really even the first time I saw the movie, it didn’t click with me that was the same character. And I still loved her in the movie. Cause I mean, I read a lot, names leave my head very quickly.

Sarah: Yeah and the other thing too from the book that you kind of get is that she’s a very outside the box thinker and doesn’t approach things in a traditional way of making plans, which when you’re basically a ragtag group of resistance fighters again because your whole senate got blown up, you kind of need that ingenuity to be a good leader.

Sue: She is ranked, right? It’s not like they’re appointing somebody who has not been in the fight. She already has the rank of Vice Admiral, so that alone should keep anyone from questioning her.

Sarah: Yeah that definitely outranks captain, even before Poe got demoted.

Thomas: As an actual captain, I can confirm that.

Michael: The other thing I think about too that should have established her credibility as a leader…we know from The Force Awakens that the Republic has been effectively destroyed, their fleet is decimated, we’ve got maybe, maybe the last three ships left in the fleet…this isn’t a navy anymore. This is a group of assembled ships. And Leia has chosen Amilyn Holdo to take over command. It’s someone Leia trusts, and Leia is a huge figure of trust in this Rebellion or Resistance.

Thomas: And Holdo tries to point that out. She’s not going to spell it out for a junior officer like him, but she makes the comment “When I served with General Organa”, “When I served with Leia, she had this saying”, and the undercurrent there is: “I know her as well or better than you do. We have both served with her, I’m not an outsider.”

And you guys made a very good point: this is not somebody that just attained the rank. I understand the Rebellion and the Resistance are, like, way scattershot with their rank structure and stuff, you can be seventeen-year-old Ezra Bridger and suddenly be a commander, I would report to Ezra Bridger—but still she’s attained this not because she got handed a piece of paper and the rank. She’s got combat experience. And the point that I made at the mock court martial was that you hear Poe and he’s like “Battle of Chyron Belt?” This is somebody who not only has been in combat and has led in combat but has obviously achieved—now we don’t have a story about the battle of Chyron Belt and that is a travesty—but it is clear that she is a capable combat leader.

So the question I want to pose to you guys is: What about Poe? In the novelization, you get a little bit of the inner dialogue for Poe, and he sits there in the briefing room thinking “It’s gonna be me! Leia probably chose me!” And it’s sort of a surprise to him when Vice Admiral Holdo’s name gets called. Why not Poe?

Sue: Well he knows the name, as you bring up, he knows the battle, but the surprise and the…whatever, the disdain for the choice not being him? Seems amplified when he sees her for the first time. And he sees that she’s very tall and very thin and very feminine and that seems to, again the toxic masculinity, that seems to make that hurt worse for him. But why should it be him? He’s a commander slash captain, there are plenty of people who outrank him. Why should it be him?

Sarah: Well I think we’ve seen through Force Awakens and the Poe Dameron comic that he’s always kind of, in a sense, been Leia’s right hand man. We’ve seen that he’s had a much closer, I almost want to say like mother-son relationship to Leia than your average Resistance pilot. And so I think, and it’s been awhile since I read the novelization so I don’t remember the exact details of his reaction to it, but I think there was a certain sense of “well of course she’s going to—we just had a fight and she demoted me but I’ve always been her go-to for leading the secret mission, doing this, doing that.”

And watching the movie, I didn’t actually read his reaction as disappointment in [Holdo] specifically but more just a general disappointment that he wasn’t the one chosen, and that’s sort of where my complicated feelings towards the whole Poe-Holdo dynamic come in. Because I think…I didn’t read it as him being like “ugh, who is this feminine woman coming to take charge” but clearly a lot of people do and I don’t…I don’t know, it’s complicated because I think from the average moviegoer’s perspective, it’s not unusual to want to side with Poe in that instance.

Michael: Poe strikes me as the kind of guy who’s got a very limited universe that he lives in. Mostly it’s that ship, it’s where his home base is. Leia sent him out on a mission to go find the map that will lead them to the first Jedi temple, he ran that mission to destroy the Dreadnaught in the beginning, they’re very very close, and the bridge crew has just been decimated. I mean, Admiral Ackbar, who would’ve been logically the next in line is now dead. And he’s not thinking outside the box of this ship and thinking “well there’s other people on other ships across this ragtag fleet, so yeah, it necessarily has to be me cause I’m right there with Leia, we’re buddy-buddy.” And I think that lack of vision on his part is really what drives his failure on the entire Last Jedi. He doesn’t have the perspective to understand that there is more to life than just his center of the universe.

Sue: And that’s a prime example of why he shouldn’t be in charge of the fleet.

Michael: Absolutely.

Thomas: My mea culpa here is when I first watched The Last Jedi, emotions overcame me and I didn’t realize Ackbar had died. We left the theatre and I was like “Continuity error! Where’s Ackbar?”

Sue: He’s in spaaaace!

Thomas: And my wife just looked at me and said “He’s dead.” I froze, I stopped in the theatre and I was like “What?!”

Michael: Frozen calamari!

“In the comic, he’s her project officer. It’s very clear that she is grooming him to be a senior leader in the Resistance.”

Thomas: Or eaten by a purrgil!

No, and this goes back to the point that was made in the New Canon panel and that you made earlier, I really do not like the need to read extra material to get filled in. But what’s clear from the Poe Dameron comic is that he is an outstanding officer, don’t mistake any of this talk as a slight for Poe’s character. I think he’s got flaws that he is personally growing through, and Leia realizes that. In the comic, he’s her project officer. It’s very clear that she is grooming him to be a senior leader in the Resistance. That is uncontested. The fact that she chose Holdo and not him, is a reflection of Leia’s opinion that he’s just not ready yet. It’s not that he’s not the right person to lead, it’s that he hasn’t learned the lessons that he needed. And that got crystallized at the very beginning of the movie when he shut off his comm unit, ignored her direct order and you saw the ramifications that happened with the Resistance bombing fleet. That, to Leia, had obviously a lot to do with the lives that were lost, but it was a reflection of Poe’s ultrafocus. He wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees.

Sarah: Though at the same time, if he hadn’t destroyed that Dreadnaught it would’ve followed them through hyperspace and they would’ve been extra screwed.

Thomas: They just need to get a little further from it so it can’t quite get them. That’s how it works!

Michael: And that’s the story of The Last Jedi, the entire movie is not about black and white, the whole entire movie is a huge shade of gray.

Sarah: Exactly.

Michael: There is no right answer on that.

Thomas: So in talking about Leia—I want to print this and fly it on a banner around Dragon Con—this is gonna obviously bleed into a little bit of LPOA, Leia: Princess of Alderaan book, which you guys should honestly get.

Sarah: It’s a super quick read and it’s great.

Thomas: I will never call a written material “must read” or “you have to have this to understand a character” because you don’t, you can watch the movie and it does a good job, but what’s their relationship like, what’s meaningful about this as she steps in to command?

Sue: They’re besties and I love them!

Sarah: And plus this is like…the one female friendship we get to see in a Star Wars movie? I mean even in Phantom Menace, there’s a bunch of the young reader books that talked about Padmé and Sabé were friends but we never actually saw that on screen. So we actually got, like, two seconds of it here. Like, yes, please give this to me, please give me more than one woman in a film and let them interact!

Thomas: The single most poignant moment in that film, for me, apart from the Luke stuff, was Leia’s face as she is riding away on the transport, watching the destruction from the Holdo Maneuver. That gets me every time.

Michael: And just before that, as they’re leaving the ship and Amilyn’s staying behind, the farewell between the two of them always breaks my heart too, because it’s not only a farewell between the two characters who you obviously understand are best friends, have been through a lot together and they both say at the same time “May the Force be with you”, which is VERY important in Star Wars. But it’s also a farewell between the two actresses. It’s almost a passing a torch, in a sense.

Sarah: And it also feels like…obviously they couldn’t have predicted this when they wrote the script and filmed it, but it’s a farewell to Carrie.

Michael: You know, “May the Force…no you go ahead, I say it all the time,” it’s like…oh [sighs].

Thomas: You’re making my hair stand up.

Sarah: I’m gonna start crying, dude.

Michael: Me too!

Thomas: They didn’t have time to reflect on this in the film, but what do you think Leia would’ve thought of Holdo’s time in command?

Sarah: I think she would’ve approved. I mean, once the audience figured out what her strategy was and what the plan was, I think for the most part she did as best as she could given the circumstances and given the resources that they had. Sometimes it’s not about choosing the best choice, it’s about choosing the least worst choice and I think that what she was doing was the least worst choice.

Michael: I thought it was pretty obvious when she entered the bridge, still in her surgical gown, and she shoots Poe. That’s her approval of Amilyn Holdo.

Sue: I would not be surprised if he starts the next movie with another demotion.

Sarah: They don’t have that many people left!

Thomas: Yeah he can’t be demoted that far, like mopping the deck.

So I want to talk about the most controversial part to the movie, and the first part of this—we’ll talk about her information sharing and interaction and leadership with Poe—but I want to talk more broadly. They clearly had a plan here that materialized as things went on. Before we get into this, because I want to ask you guys some questions about it, but I want to show a clip that I think is really poignant. And if you’ve seen Saving Private Ryan, you probably know this scene by heart, and it’s been edited so that the language is taken out.

So we’re going to unpack that. Holdo takes over, this is not just a scene, or a set of scenes about Holdo and Poe, and there’s a lot of other Resistance members around, why doesn’t she share the plans with the rest of the fleet, not just Poe?

Sarah: So…this is again where my complicated feelings come in. Because, yes, obviously in a real military setting, there’s chain of command and it’s a need-to-know basis. And when I actually went back and rewatched The Last Jedi, I realized that as far as we know, the senior leadership didn’t know about the hyperspace tracking until late in the movie. And so for I believe most of the movie, they were operating under the assumption that someone had leaked info. In which case it obviously makes sense that you keep the plan on a need to know basis. But at the same time I feel like there could have been a, you know a “we don’t know how this information got out, we have a plan, but only senior leadership knows about it”, because I feel like a lot of the way Holdo was written, up until the reveal at the end was deliberately to try and make her look like a bad guy and not as a natural result of the “this is a hard-ass military officer going up against the loose cannon pilot” or whatever. And so I feel like that does a disservice to her as a character because it exposes too many “well why didn’t they at least tell the Resistance that there was a plan so that people weren’t just sitting around waiting to die?” You know, that’s bad for morale, obviously, and maybe if she had said something Poe wouldn’t have had people join him on his little mutiny.

Sue: But Poe interrupts them working. He walks in while she’s in a discussion with somebody else, which I read as “coming up with a plan”. No?

Sarah: That’s not how I read it, so maybe that’s just a difference of opinion there.

Thomas: Michael, you mentioned earlier about OpSec and whatnot. Is there a line, because Sarah makes the point she could’ve said something, that there was the skeleton of a plan, where do you fall on that?

Michael: It’s kind of complicated, honestly. I do fall really heavily on the OpSec side, because coming from a submarine background where we would go out to sea, we would do a mission, we would have a vague idea of what that mission is, we’d get the information as we needed it, and then we would get twenty-four hour notice that we were pulling back into port so we could notify our loved ones to come pick us up from the pier. And they couldn’t even know we were coming in. That’s how heavy the OpSec was. But I also know that if we needed a piece of data if it would help out to—not necessarily drive crew morale—but drive the mission, then we would receive enough to make that happen so we’re not just floundering out there like “Why are we doing this thing?” you know. And that’s where I think the story failed Holdo was, like you said, it put her at a disadvantage. And I get what Rian Johnson was trying to do, because there’s always the question of “well why wasn’t it Ackbar who was still there? Why was it Holdo who was there?” We as an audience, as we saw by the boos earlier from my corny joke, trust Ackbar. We saw him in Return of the Jedi, we know he’s a capable leader, if he says “We do the thing” then we do the thing. Whereas Holdo is a completely unknown character and they were trying to drive that distrust so that we would be surprised at the end.

Sue: It’s true, if Ackbar had told Poe he doesn’t need to know, Poe would’ve been like “oh alright, bye.” It totally takes away that part of the narrative tension.

Michael: And it takes away a bit of Holdo’s strength in the process too.

Sarah: I think it’s also because…I mean [Thomas and Michael] have both talked about military procedure because you both have served in the military, but the vast majority of the moviegoing audience probably hasn’t. So I think at that point you need to take a little bit of artistic license, and even if a real-world military wouldn’t be like “oh yes we have a plan but it’s need to know” for crew morale…again, when it’s the unknown versus the fan favorite character, it just feels like, I don’t want to say lazy writing but it feels a little bit like lazy writing.

Michael: Yeah it is a shortcut. It’s a narrative shortcut. They could’ve spent the additional ten seconds to just lay it out really quick and say “oh I’ve got a plan, back off.”

Sarah: Or “I know that you have a very special relationship with Leia, but I’m not her.”

Michael: Right, right.

Thomas: Sarah makes a very good point. The Star Wars universe, and this is a good thing, is not identically modeled on the military or anything like that. George Lucas was not a Marine or something like that that stepped in a decided to write a military drama set in space. That’s not what it is. Think back to A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi; how does the Rebellion typically share information? Everybody is gathered around a briefing table and they get to know all the plan, right? We have been conditioned since 1977 to see the Rebellion sharing all the information about their plan. You’ve got pilots like Luke who join the Rebellion five minutes before that briefing and he’s sitting there sharpshooting, well he’s responding to comments that are sharpshooting the plan, but whether it’s that, whether it’s Leia briefing the pilots, whether it’s Ackbar briefing a bunch of Rebel Alliance members aboard Home One as they come to the Death Star II, it is totally opposite from what we see in The Last Jedi. I think that was done intentionally by Rian Johnson to flip things on its head. I think you can fairly critique Holdo for her choice in how much to share. There’s a line that exists there where you’re like, okay you can’t tell everybody everything, and again, not to go back to the novelization, but what was really an issue here was Rose Tico had developed a secret baffler technology to shield or cloak those escape ships. Yeah they were unarmed and unshielded, but they were going to be invisible. That was why the [First Order] had to run the decloaking scan just before the execution of Finn and Rose. So I got it that that’s the part of the plan you probably don’t want to spread around to everybody like “hey, we have this secret technology!”

Michael: Especially when you’ve got a potential mole.

Sarah: Exactly.

Thomas: Absolutely.

Michael: And they don’t believe the hyperspace tracking exists, they got to believe someone’s a spy.

Sue: And look at Holdo’s perspective too: she has never met Poe before. Leia has a relationship with him, but she doesn’t, and he just got demoted for not following orders. What in there makes you say “Oh, I’m going to trust this guy”? Nothing!

Sarah: Honestly, I feel like if they had just changed it up a little bit, to where Poe is maybe trying to get back in her good graces and is like “Hey we’ve got this former First Order stormtrooper who says that they have hyperspace tracking and that’s how they tracked us, and we’ve got this crazy plan to go to Canto Bight and do this, that and the other” and then Holdo’s like “…No, we have three ships left and hardly any people, we can’t take that chance” and then Poe decides to go and do it anyway, then I think that’s a stronger message about the loose cannon pilot doesn’t always succeed in his crazy plan and I feel it’s a stronger story about learning how to take leadership roles seriously.

Thomas: You guys are getting ahead of the slideshow and I can’t abide by that.

[laughter]

Sarah: I do what I want! I don’t follow the chain of command!

Thomas: Before we dive a little bit deeper into Poe and Holdo, I want to show this scene to set the stage. This is shortly after Holdo takes command.

Thomas: That’s quite the introduction.

Michael: Can I just say I love that shut down of the “well actually”?

Sarah: Okay, I would like to say, because this is a criticism I have seen floated and I think it does have some merit, and not that I’m saying this was intentional on the part of Rian Johnson and the writers, but you do have this Resistance leadership, which is basically white women, telling Poe, Finn, and Rose, who are the characters of color, that they need to sit down and be quiet and not question things as they are. And I think, again, it wasn’t an intentional move, I genuinely think Rian Johnson was just like “Ooh women, in leadership, yay, awesome, great!” but there is that facet to this whole interaction and relationship that personally makes me uncomfortable and that’s again where my complicated feelings come in towards Holdo and Poe and that whole part of the movie.

Michael: That’s a good point.

Thomas: So how was that? That’s basically her first interaction with Poe. How do you rate that? Her as a leader, knowing and understanding Poe’s role in the fleet, not just his rank (or his new rank) but knowing what he meant to Leia and the role that he played, what do you guys think of how Holdo played in that scene?

Michael: She was really gruff about it, but she was also very matter-of-fact. I look at Poe coming up to her and saying “Commander Dameron” and it could be habit because he says it all the time, or he could be trying to pull one over on her because she’s not Leia. And she kind of shuts him down like “Look, I understand, but you also did this, let’s carry on.” She could’ve been a little more diplomatic about it.

Sarah: Yeah.

Sue: But so could he.

Sarah: Yeah I think they both could’ve. She does come across a little needlessly antagonistic and also weirdly flirty at one point?

Sue: She’s Space Dern, she can’t help it.

Thomas: I think this is intentionally done. They are both flawed. Holdo is not without a flaw, Poe certainly isn’t, who had his flaw laid bare just moments before. But I think Holdo misplays this. I think they both dig in in their own position. She immediately digs in right after he comes up and clearly wants to be a part of it. She sort of recoils that this guy that just got some bombers destroyed is trying to, whatever you want to call it, butt his way in or give his two cents about things and get in on the plan. It’s like two sides on World War I, they’re just lobbing grenades at each other and nobody’s making any progress and it leaves things really sour. What’s the risk there, in not just talking to Poe like this or forget him, talk to an officer like this in front of the rest of the crew there? It’s not like they’re in a holding cell somewhere.

Sarah: I mean it breeds resentment I would think. We clearly saw that with Poe where, whether rightly or wrongly she shut him down that way, I do think if she had…and I really hate saying this because it sounds so close to “well if you just say things nicer then people will listen to you” but I think when you’re a leader you do have a certain amount of responsibility in being diplomatic. Especially because he didn’t originally come up demanding to be part of things, he just wanted to know what was going on and I don’t think that was an unfair question for him to ask. And so for her to immediately just dig in like that it just sets a bad tone. And I think she was wrong to do that and wrong to withhold some of the information she did, but I don’t think the movie said that she was wrong for doing that, whereas Poe was clearly wrong for going off and doing his own thing and was quite clearly shown to be wrong in the movie by the narrative. But she sort of got away with it in a sense. And again I just think that’s unfair to her because she should be allowed to make mistakes and have those mistakes shown because [otherwise] it turns into an argument of, well, either Poe is 100% right or Poe’s 100% wrong and Holdo’s 100% right and you don’t have that nuance of they both made mistakes that multiplied and caused a huge catastrophe.

Michael: There’s also a philosophy in leadership, especially military leadership, that you praise in public and discipline in private. And what this has done now, intentionally or not, has set up the commander of your starfighter fleet, your top pilot who has a lot of respect in this ragtag fleet and in the Resistance itself, you’ve now knocked him down a peg among all the crew. They now look at him with a lesser level of respect because he’s been smacked around by this vice admiral, which is actually a really big thing for a commander to be smacked around by a vice admiral. So it establishes her as somebody who doesn’t listen to opinions, who’s very close minded and focused on one task. And as a leader, as a captain of a ship or an admiral of a fleet, you can’t be single-minded, you can’t be tunnel-visioned.

Sue: But would the audience reaction have been different if that dressing down had come from Ackbar or from another male character?

Sarah: Oh I believe so.

Sue: Are we reacting more strongly to it because it’s a woman?

Michael: We’re responding to it more strongly, I don’t know if it’s because she’s a woman necessarily, I think it’s again because we don’t trust this character. We’ve seen Ackbar before, we haven’t seen Holdo before.

“I do think there
is that gender
component of
wanting to hold
female characters
to a higher
standard of
perfectionism”

Sarah: But I think there is a certain amount of that. If the Holdo character had been a male, where it was somebody new that the audience didn’t have any relationship to, I think there wouldn’t be quite as many vitriolic YouTube videos about it. So I do think there is that gender component of wanting to hold female characters to a higher standard of perfectionism basically.

Sue: And just also kindness.

Sarah: Yeah. And that’s one of the problems when you only have, like, two female main characters in a movie is that they kind of have to be everything and you don’t get to have these people who are not nice and not kind or not willing to be warm and gentle the way Leia is.

Sue: I think it’s really important, actually, that we have unlikeable characters in media. And I don’t mean unlikeable in that the fanbase doesn’t like them, I mean unlikeable like characters who aren’t nice, characters who aren’t kind, characters who speak their mind who aren’t supposed to be the one that everybody falls in love with.

Sarah: I mean you look at Han Solo in A New Hope and he’s not a very likeable guy. But everybody loves him! But would, say, Jyn Erso with that same more acidic personality have met the same reaction?

Thomas: So you make a great point because think about it if Holdo had been the model of every other officer we’re used to, Ackbar on down, and there had been no conflict there whatsoever…why are we watching these scenes, what’s interesting about these scenes? What’s interesting to me, Sarah, what you’re talking about, this slippage of gears, this problem where she’s not completely right, he’s not completely right, they both have unclean hands, and I go back to just a few minutes before this scene happens, you have sort of a parallel scene. Talking about other characters and how they would’ve dressed down Poe, we saw Leia dress down Poe, another female character! The difference being we have a ton of history with Leia. Nobody walked away, the audience reaction—as funny as that first video was, [ed. note: a compilation of Leia slapping Poe from the TLJ gag reel, shown before the panel started]

Sarah: We laughed!

Thomas: Yeah, everybody laughs at Poe as he gets slapped and demoted, you’re like “Welp, kind of had that coming” and nobody questions Leia! There was not a single person I’ve seen, online or otherwise, that walked away from that scene and was like “Gee, Leia was a real B for demoting him” and all that. People just accept it. And I think there was at least some limited design behind having Holdo have little to no backstory outside of Leia: Princess of Alderaan. I don’t think that had come out?

Sarah: No it came out on Force Friday. It came out Dragon Con last year, actually.

Michael: I think Leia gets a lot more latitude in that than Holdo does too, because we’re coming fresh off that battle. Everyone in the fleet knows what just happened.

Sarah: And emotions are high.

Michael: Emotions are high and it makes perfect sense for Leia to be like “Look, you just screwed up royally. You killed a whole bunch of people, you lost a lot of assets, you’re down.” And everyone’s like “Okay, that means to me that if I screw up at that level, I’m toast.” It’s one of those rare exceptions to the discipline in private, where everyone needed to see him get smacked.

Sue: But emotions are high again in this situation, although slightly differently. It’s not just post-battle, but for all this fleet knows they just lost Leia and they might not get her back.

Thomas: You have to think about it in context. We had the bit about Leia’s relationship with Holdo, think about Holdo’s mindset. Not only has she just taken control of a fleet that’s in a really desperate situation with a lot of people looking to her, but she’s watching people actively die as ships get blown up and she may have very well lost one of her best friends that she’s known for decades. And that’s a tremendous weight to put on anybody’s shoulders. And I think she’s dealing with it in the way that she can, but that’s why I think that plays into it. I go back in subsequent viewings and I just think about that as I watch her recoil and snap back at Poe.

And Michael, you brought this point up earlier, but I think there was a lot of risk that was taken with her interaction with Poe in the sense that it reflects her unfamiliarity, to a certain extent, with Poe’s role. She’s obviously not on the Raddus and not by Leia’s side, she’s off commanding her own ship, the Ninka, and so I think to some extent she doesn’t realize how much Poe is nested in with the crew, how much of a relationship he has. I mean this is an officer that just watched the hangar with all of his friends blow up, thanks to ol’ Kylo. And I don’t know that she’s had time or takes the moment to just process that. And instead of walking away or dealing with it, you saw in the Saving Private Ryan clip, there’s a reason I chose that clip and extended it as much as I did, the bit about “I don’t complain around you.” That’s a huge component. Holdo’s not complaining about anything here, but her reaction and her interaction with Poe and that dressing down, that absolutely has an impact. Like, look no further than Lieutenant Connix, who ultimately takes part in the mutiny. She feeds right into that. It’s not Poe that’s whispering in her ear “Hey I think Holdo is a bad person”, Connix is just watching this all unfold. So I want to talk about the mutiny. Is Poe justified to take over the ship?

Sarah: No.

Sue: No.

Sarah: I think it was a foolish decision, but operating on the information he had and, I think, not an insignificant amount of, maybe, hurt pride, I can see why he reached that point. But yeah, no.

Thomas: I’ll chime in as the JAG officer.

Sarah: I’m not trying to excuse it, just so we’re clear.

Thomas: I’ve had interactions where people are like “well he thought she was a threat, he was trying to save the fleet,” I’m here to tell you that the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is the body of law that governs the military, whether or not you think the Resistance has something like that, there is no defense that you as a junior officer thought that the senior officer was a threat or was acting out of line. If Poe walked into my office (I’m a military defense counsel) as we sit here today, we’d be hard-pressed to find a defense for this.

Michael: The means don’t justify the ends. Even if he was right in saving the fleet and being the Luke Skywalker of this story, he wasn’t right in taking down the ship in the process, taking down the crew.

Thomas: For the flaw in the decision making, this is one of the singular most important moments, in addition to the bombing disaster, that define Poe. And I think you are going to see in Episode IX a completely different Poe Dameron than you’ve seen in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. You saw it as they attacked the superlaser siege cannon out on Crait. You saw he had that moment of realization that leadership and his role, in an instant as they bore down on the First Order he realized everything that Leia had been trying to teach him. And then as Finn is ready to run out alongside along Force-vision Luke and fight, that’s when he really steps up. And I think the cinematography and Luke’s line that “The Resistance is reborn” as it zooms in on Poe’s face there at the end is one of the best examples of really deliberate filmmaking. And I think you’re going to see him finally step into the role that Leia has been grooming him for.

Michael: He’s also had his horizons expanded quite a bit at this point too. He’s now seen two Force-wielders doing their thing. He saw Luke do his Avatar thing and fight down the First Order to save them, to defend their escape, and he was front and center when Rey lifted all those rocks out of the way, which we don’t know if that’s anything he’s ever seen before.

Sarah: And he also saw Leia save herself.

Michael: Yup, he saw Leia save herself and Sue, one of your friends, Christine, when I talked to her at Wholanta, she mentioned Leia used the Force twice in that film because she opened the door, without any other tools or anything there. So he’s seen at least four instances then of the Force being used, and to our knowledge, none before that. So he knows something more exists outside his little universe.

Sue: Well yeah, he’s finally seen himself as part of the bigger picture and that his mission might not be the most important mission happening at that time.

Sarah: Or the most glamorous.

Sue: And something seems to have finally clicked in him by the end of this movie.

Thomas: So I know why you guys all came. It’s not to hear us talk, it’s just to watch this.

Thomas: For those of you that have not read the novelization, that hyperspace jump was the jump that Poe had plugged in. You wonder why he recognized that she wasn’t running away? He plugged in that coordinate and it just so happened that it had the ship turning around, just based on how the fleets were moving. So talk about a poignant moment. I want to ask you guys: What, when you first saw that scene, how did it impact you?

Sarah: Chills.

Sue: Yeah.

Sarah: I mean that was just so…visually and everything that was so unlike anything else we’d seen in Star Wars, that was so awesome.

Michael: I shared the same sentiment as everyone in the packed theatre that was sitting there watching it. It was “Oh we’re building, we’re building” and then it goes complete silence as the ship jumps and all of us are just like…and then somebody broke, down in the audience, like “…what.”

[laughter]

Michael: In a completely packed theatre, with dead silence, that echoed. You’re like “oh my god that just happened.”

Sue: We got into an advanced screening with my temple-slash-base-slash-garrison so we were all sort of crowded together and as it happened, literally we’re all just holding each other in the theatre. Everybody was grabbing on to everybody else. And I left that theatre and my reaction was “Where is the Holdo merch and I need all of it. Here’s my money.” And then it didn’t come out for another month and I was mad.

Thomas: I’m dying to know personally what class of capital warship will be named after Holdo.

Sarah: The biggest one they can find!

Thomas: With a really good hyperdrive on it!

Michael: I’ve had a lot of people ask or posit this idea of why we haven’t seen that, if it’s so effective, used so much in Star Wars? It decimates fleets, right? And my response was “This is still a universe, this isn’t Star Trek where starships are free. This costs a LOT of capital.”

Sarah: And plus you would have to use a big spaceship too. You couldn’t use an X-wing because if you get the vector wrong even just slightly then you miss the whole—

Michael: You shoot right by!

Sue: And hyperspace doesn’t operate like warp drive. You can’t Picard Maneuver this business.

Thomas: I imagine if you’ve got an astromech is a droid like Chopper that’s like “hell no I’m not running right through this.”

*     *     *     *     *

Dragon Con takes place every Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, GA. For more information, please visit dragoncon.org or on Twitter at @DragonCon. For more information on the Star Wars track, please visit swatdc.dragoncon.org or on Twitter at @SWatDC.

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