Everything in the theatre went silent.
The Last Jedi was a good Star Wars movie. That there were faults, there is no doubt. But I want to ignore the rest of the movie, the good and the bad – to talk about one character, Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo.
First of all, if you want someone to convey unabashed leadership with a side of well-deserved derision for foolhardy hotheads that risk the success of an entire resistance – Laura Dern is your woman.
Though the character’s entrance into the film felt sudden (I think I would have liked to see some sort of establishment of her authority and wisdom, either in an aside with Leia, or with her giving some sort of order prior to her assuming leadership), it quickly became apparent that she was the cold, logical leader the Resistance needed at the moment. She was also quite possibly the only one who could resist Poe’s attempts to wrest control of the fleet (which probably would have proven even more disastrous than his underhanded plan did).
I went back and forth on Holdo throughout the film – at first enraged and confused at her apparent inability or unwillingness to take action. How could this be the best course? How could we be asked to wait when things were falling to shit, everything seemed hopeless, and she’s seemingly writing off one of the audience’s favourite characters (Poe)? It all appeared so foolish.
But ultimately she did have a plan, and honestly, one that would have probably worked had Finn and Rose not been betrayed by DJ. Learning Holdo’s strategy was a relief to me – she did know what she was doing, we should have trusted her. It was a twist the film pulled off well, moving Holdo from someone who actively appeared to be working against the Resistance’s best interests, to someone who we should have had faith in from the start.
That being said, not all plans are perfect, and neither are all leaders. The escape to Crait was possible, but it was not going to come without sacrifice. Which brings us to Holdo’s heroic decision to go light-friggin-speed through the Supremacy, Snoke’s Mega-class Star Dreadnought.
I can still see it in my mind – like a lightning bolt that leaves an imprint on your vision after you see it. The streak through dark space. The utter silence of selfless self-sacrifice. We were alone with Holdo in the ship, in the void of space, and then – that silence. The theatre may have gasped out loud, but I only processed the soundlessness and the light. Raw power and terrible beauty, blindingly combined in a single shot.
I can’t remember too many other scenes that played with the combination of action and silence like that. Perhaps there was something reminiscent of the tenseness of No Country for Old Men mixed with Kubrick’s ability to use silence to stun. This was just the most emotionally resonant action sequence I’ve experienced. You can make as big of an explosion as you want, but if it doesn’t feel big, it doesn’t matter. This was sacrifice on a cosmic scale, and you damn well felt it. And almost before we realised what was happening, the deed was done.
Holdo’s last moment was quite literally the spark that lit the fire. A humble heroic act by a relatively unknown (at least to us) character that reveals the nature of those who truly believe in the Resistance, its need to survive, and its desire for good in the galaxy. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. They may have many lines or few. They may be well-liked or misunderstood. It doesn’t matter. Heroes are not defined by their background, but by their actions, and what Holdo does in that one, stunning moment defines her character, not only as a hero, but as a total badass.