The Force is With Her – Leadership Lesson for Rebel Girls (a.k.a What Happens When You Put A Woman in Charge in Star Wars)


If you haven’t seen Star Wars VIII – The Last Jedi, you might want to come back after you have done so. Here there be spoilers.

When Vice-Admiral Amilyn Holdo—purple hair, bangles, figure-hugging dress and all—takes command of the remainder of the Resistance after General Leia Organa had been incapacitated, Poe Dameron—hotshot flyboy and self-appointed hero—is confused. The woman is not what he expected. She doesn’t look the part, talk the part or act the part of a legendary hero of the Resistance. She is someone who has won major battles; her reputation is that of loyalty and fearlessness; she is known to be a great strategist. And there she stands, wearing makeup, jewellery and a floor-length gown on a battleship.

Then she orders them to keep fleeing the pursuing First Order ships on an apparent dead-end run. Now, Poe is outraged. What?! Retreat? Flee? Run?! To add insult to injury, Holdo sends him off the bridge and declines to let him in on the plan. The woman clearly is a bitch.

Her choice of not making Poe part of the need-to-know bunch will have grave consequences as Poe decides to take matters in his own hands and tries to incapacitate the tracking device on the pursuing ship. His guys get caught and betrayed, the First Order finds out what has really been going on, and promptly starts destroying what little has been left of the Resistance.

Let’s see what happened on that bridge: Vice-Admiral Holdo, Leia’s friend and long-time sister-in-arms, experienced general and acting leader of the Resistance, gave a very clear order: survive. Keep the spark alive. This is your priority. Because if we all die, there has been no point in all the effort.

Turns out she does have a plan: keep the pursuers focusing on the fleeing battleship while using the escape pods to send everybody to an abandoned Rebel station on a nearby planet. It’s desperate, but it’s sound and works pretty well until the First Order finds out about it. She doesn’t feel the need to explain it to a trigger-happy ex-commander; all she asks of him is to follow her orders. To follow her. In effect, to trust her leadership. And Poe, who expected something else, immediately decides not to.

Now, Star Wars is all about the dangers and abuse of authority and position, and thus far flaunting it had been the hallmark of heroes. Problem is, Amilyn Holdo did not come by her position of Vice-Admiral because of her money or connections or politics. Her position of authority has been hard-earned by years of military excellence: the woman has delivered results. Neither does she abuse said authority; she only asks for it to be respected.

Poe, who has just managed to destroy one (one!) star-destroyer (out of twelve) by sacrificing most of the Resistance bomber squad, has neither the experience, nor the results to challenge Holdo’s leadership. But because she is ‘not what he expected,’ he dismisses her and takes it upon himself to save the Resistance—by taking an enormous risk, which doesn’t pay off. I mean, sending an inexperienced team onto enemy territory is going to work out just fine, right?

Star Wars has a long legacy of reckless hotheads not following orders—and up until The Last Jedi they always came out on top. What had me almost shouting ‘yes!’ out loud in the cinema was that this time, finally, once, the outcome of recklessness was not triumph. Poe had just been demoted by Leia Organa herself for leading an unauthorised and disastrously costly bombing attack. Holdo, who is aware of this, and has no personal acquaintance with Poe (unlike us viewers), has clearly decided that Poe is not what she needs now.

Unfortunately, Poe thinks otherwise, but his plan backfires: instead of getting rid of the pursuers, he exposes Holdo’s plan to them. And what does she do? She bundles everybody into the remaining escape pods, then turns her ship around and drives it into the pursuing destroyer while jumping to light speed—effectively slicing it in half. She saves the others from being shot to pieces. She keeps the spark alive, as has been her plan all along.

When I heard that order to retreat, I immediately knew that the character of Vice-Admiral Holdo HAD TO be a woman. Why?

Quite simple. No male character in Star Wars would have ordered a retreat. Not in a million lightyears. The men in this universe are either conniving career soldiers or reckless hotheads, who expect to be rewarded for their derring-do regardless of the price. Guys, who go out with a bang. Actually, it is a miracle that the whole Resistance lasted this long.

In the end, it is Amilyn Holdo who goes out with the biggest bang of Star Wars history. A bang that is, for once, not just a visual effect. A bang, that is not just a glorious let’s-blow-shit-up moment. This one had a point: saving actual people. Really saving them, not simply sacrificing oneself. By saving those people she managed to keep the spark alive. As was her plan all along. Amilyn Holdo, Vice-Admiral of the Resistance and femme extraordinaire, with her lovely hair, wisdom and courage is my new hero.

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Sharon is a 36-year-old new mum living in Herne Hill with her profoundly deaf husband Justin, disabled cat, Boo, rescue kitten, Ish and 10-week-old Elliott. She likes sleeping, caffeine, wine and chocolate. Before having a baby, Sharon worked in theatre as a stage manager and lecturer.