Why is Everyone Blaming Vice Admiral Holdo?

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I adored Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I have my gripes, but the thematic arcs, the meta commentary on Star Wars itself as a franchise and its fanbase, and most of the character beats are so damn good that even those flaws don’t undermine my love for it. I’ve pretty much been thinking and talking about it to whoever would listen for the past three weeks since it came out. The only thing I’m really salty about is a subset of the fanbase (you know the one) that lobs any and every critique imaginable at the film because they’re really upset that the film no longer centers cishet white male protagonists. One of the critiques currently at the top of my list of “Why Is This What People Are Mad About?” is the criticism of Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo not telling Poe the plan.

People seem to be forgetting that she’s his commanding officer. She is under absolutely no obligation to tell a subordinate all of her plans, especially if he is not involved in the carrying out of those plans. Note that none of the other subordinates on the ship—who also may not have agreed with her decisions and would have liked to know the plans just as much as Poe did—felt the need to mutiny except for those he was able to convince to join his side. Kaydel Ko Connix (played by Billie Lourd if you don’t know the character name), Finn, and Rose likely wouldn’t have mutinied without Poe either.

Also note that, as Holdo’s subordinate, he was required by military regulation to tell his commanding officer (Holdo) the information that he gleaned from Rose and Finn about the tracker. That information and the subsequent plan is only “need to know” because he arbitrarily decided it was, but she’s his superior officer and the one in charge of the Resistance fleet. She most definitely needs to know every piece of intel in order to make an informed decision as to what’s best for the fleet. What Poe says about her ‘not needing to know’ is absolute bullshit and comes from a place of wounded pride (don’t worry, I’ll come back to this).

To me, one of the only reasons I can see that people don’t recognize that Holdo was not obligated to tell Poe but he was obligated to inform her is the gendered nature of their dynamic. Switch the genders around and I have a hard time believing that the same people who are mad that Holdo didn’t tell Poe would be upset that a male Vice Admiral Holdo didn’t tell female subordinate pilot Poe about all of his plans. It would be clear that a male Vice Admiral Holdo was the one in charge and was not required to tell his subordinates his plans. Rather, it was their job, as his subordinates, to do as he instructed regardless of whether or not they had all of the information or even agreed with all of the choices he was making. That’s the nature of command.

When I hear the complaint that Holdo should have told Poe what she was doing, it sounds suspiciously like “FEMALE commander ought to have told her MALE subordinate her plans so that he could approve of them.” Honestly, that’s what people are asking for, that Poe get a chance to comment on or change his commanding officer’s plans based on information that he intentionally withheld from her because he was mad he didn’t get a voice in a decision he had no right to be involved in, but for some reason felt entitled to. In business management terms, Poe believed it was a Type 3 decision (one that required group input to reach a conclusion), when really, it was a Type 1 decision (it was Holdo’s decision and required to input).

That she wasn’t obligated to tell him anything seems to be the stance the film has taken as well. We never get an explanation for why she didn’t tell him, because none is necessary. I like the headcanon that she was concerned about a spy given that she had no clue about the Imperial tracker (thanks to Poe) and thus may have suspected someone on board was feeding Hux intel to track them through hyperspace. However, that’s not even necessary. Poe felt entitled to an explanation of the plan and maybe audiences did, too. But she wasn’t obligated to give one. All Poe needed to do was trust her because she was second to Leia and his commanding officer. He didn’t.

Why? Based on what we see on screen, Poe not being named the replacement leader in Leia’s place when she was in a coma visibly upsets him. He seems to have been under the impression that he would be named commander in her place. Why? I have no idea.He had just been not only verbally taken to task, but demoted. Yet still he felt he would be put in charge. He’s already predisposed to resent Holdo’s leadership based on his expectations. Then, she shuts him out of the decision making process. As I said, she wasn’t under any obligation to include him. Moreover, Poe just defied orders, cost the Resistance dozens of lives and ships they couldn’t afford to lose. He’s reckless, hotheaded, and prone to feats of self-defined ‘heroism’ with costly consequences and very little tangible results. Finn has the same impulse actually. As Melissa Hillman put it,

Both Poe and Finn ignore orders from women to stand down and escape in favor of chasing glorious, but pyrrhic, victories.

The Last Jedi spends an enormous amount of time and care on the theme “sometimes escape is the more sensible option, and glorious victories too often come at such a high cost they become failures.” Women in the Resistance are constantly fighting against cocky young men chasing glory, constantly trying to save lives that these cocky young men would sacrifice for that glory. This is a film that sees glorious sacrifice as a last resort and escape as a pragmatic and sensible choice. This is a film about discretion being the better part of valor.

He’s honestly the last person Holdo would want involved in a plan focused on attrition, running from the enemy, and ultimately planning a secret escape. Her plan required secrecy, discretion, levelheadedness, and seeming stagnation. So…the opposite of Poe’s personality and fighting style. Why would she even want to include him at all? He’s a risk.

Poe actually proves her right by allowing his wounded pride to dictate his actions instead of taking a more levelheaded approach. Rather than inform her of the significant intel he gleans from Rose and Finn, he nurses his disgruntlement. He plays ‘tit for tat’ in a game he doesn’t know all the moves of and ends up getting people killed. He’s mad she won’t include him in a decision he has no right to be involved in, so he excludes her from information and a decision she has every right to be involved in and he was actually going against military protocol to exclude her from.

Maybe if he had gone to Holdo with Finn and Rose’s conclusions about the tracker, she might have approved of his plan. Maybe, by proving that he was someone who could think clearly and follow orders by giving her information she needed, she might have trusted him and included him in her plan. Maybe not. And it would have been within her rights as the commander of the fleet to do any of those things. According to military code, she doesn’t have to act on his intel, but he has to give it to her.

Yet, somehow, Holdo is the one taking all the flak for what happened. But the fault doesn’t lie in Holdo for not giving sensitive information to a recently demoted subordinate who got in trouble for being unwilling to listen to orders and subsequently getting good people killed. The fault lies in Poe for believing his sense of (unearned) entitlement to information meant he could do whatever he wanted even when it went against military code. Even if it went against the established chain of command. Even if not giving Holdo his information meant endangered everyone in the fleet and actually got people killed with DJ betrayed Finn and Rose.

He felt entitled to information his commanding officer held while simultaneously believing he had a right to withhold critical information as punishment even if it was a risk and against the rules. He thought himself above the rules. Not just once, but multiple times. He learns, which is great, but to blame Holdo ignores the fact that his belligerence and pride where she is concerned are not condoned by the film. “You have to tell me yours, but I don’t have to tell you mine”—that’s entitlement and wounded pride, plain and simple.

He’s the one at fault here. From where I sit, blaming Holdo for Poe’s entitlement and wounded pride looks remarkably like sexism.

Image Courtesy of Disney and Lucasfilm