A few weeks ago, Shannon Moran, host of the podcast “Postcards From the Galaxy’s Edge” put out a call on Twitter for female content creators to submit a 2-3 minute video about the moment Star Wars spoke to them, as a woman. I jumped on the chance to try expressing myself in video format, and I’m honoured to have been included in the project, which you can watch here.
In putting the video together, I realized I had more to say than I’d initially thought. What was supposed to be a 2 minute blurb actually wound up being closer to 10.
While I did edit it down to the length it needed to be (and learn to use iMovie in the process!) I wanted to use my platform to share my thoughts in their (mostly) unedited entirety. And based on the title of this, you can probably guess where it’s going:
There are a lot of Star Wars moments that really stand out to me.
Picture this: it’s 1997, and I’ve finally decided I’m ready to watch Return of the Jedi, much to the delight of my nerd parents. I found most of it confusing, in all honesty, and even the Ewoks (teddy bears!) weren’t quite enough to hold my attention. Interest waning, we come to the sequence towards the end where our hero, Luke Skywalker, tosses his lightsaber aside and refuses to fight Vader. The Emperor turns his scary Force-lightning on Luke, who cries out for help, and then Vader helps him. That was the first time something in Star Wars really emotionally resonated with me. I remember thinking about that whole scene for days after seeing it for the first time. I was absolutely swimming in it. To this day, it’s still my favourite part of that movie.
Not 18 months later, we’re off to the movie theatre because there’s a new Star Wars movie! The Phantom Menace was the first Star Wars movie I got to see in theatres, and that left a huge impression on me too. I got to meet Padmé, a badass fashion icon I idolize to this day, who I also hold personally responsible for my current red lipstick collection. I got to know Obi Wan Kenobi better, and he quickly became my favourite character in the whole saga (also my first ever crush, but that’s a story for another time). I spent that entire summer reevaluating all my career goals. Forget everything I’d ever said I wanted. I knew my destiny in fact lay in the world of professional pod racing. That movie is what got me into Star Wars as a story and a whole.
I grew up in a household where my mother was (and still is) just as into sci fi as my father is. I went to a small school where everyone was interested in everything. So my liking Star Wars, and my “right” to do so were never questioned. But as I got older, I started to see how hostile fandom could be to women outside my small circle. Our knowledge is questioned for no reason. You know the old joke, “Oh yeah, if you’re such a fan of Star Wars, what’s Luke Skywalker’s blood type?”. We get talked at, rather than talked to about these things. And then along came Amilyn Holdo. Her character arc is the Star Wars moment that stood out to me both as a woman, and as an adult woman specifically.
I should probably start by saying that I love this movie. It’s such a character piece, and character-driven stories with internal conflict are very much my kind of story. It’s the type of movie I like to watch. I’ve always been a fan of Star Wars, but The Last Jedi was the movie that made me want to dive deeper into the universe. It inspired me to read all the Disney-era Expanded Universe books, it inspired me to try my hand at cosplay, it’s responsible for my ever growing Star Wars collection:
I think that Holdo’s character arc is the kind that improves on repeated viewing. The first time I saw it, I definitely didn’t trust this new lady. I don’t think anyone was supposed to, unless you’re one of those who read Claudia Gray’s fabulous novel Leia: Princess of Alderaan, where we do get to meet and interact with Holdo as a teenager. I didn’t read the book until almost a year later, though, so in that first screening, I was firmly on Team Poe Dameron: this woman is not to be trusted.
But also, I just have this bad habit of assuming that if a famous actor is playing a mysterious character, then they’ll probably turn out to be the bad guy (an instinct that did pay off with Benicio Del Toro’s character, I should say). With Holdo, I didn’t necessarily think that it would be a bad thing if she did turn out to be the villain. Other than Captain Phasma, we hadn’t really seen a female villain in the Star Wars movies. As of right now we still haven’t, actually.
As we would later learn, she wasn’t the villain at all, but rather someone who just keeps her plans close to her chest, and certainly isn’t the type to divulge them to the crew in a highly charged situation. Nor should she, but I’ll get to that.
I always go see movies like this more than once in theatres. I know the first time I go, I am definitely going to miss things, because I get so caught up in the spectacle and the new information. And like I said, her character arc is one that benefits from more than one viewing. The arc doesn’t hinge on the “twist” that she was actually a through-and-through rebel the whole time. On the second viewing, I began to appreciate that Holdo is probably just as worried about the state of Leia’s health as the rest of the characters are. But unlike the other characters, she cannot allow her feelings to get in the way of her making sure that everyone survives the next few hours.
Then, after reading Leia: Princess of Alderaan, it adds a whole level of characterization, because now I know they’re not just friends, they’re CHILDHOOD friends. Their final conversation before Leia boards the shuttle to escape is beautiful and bittersweet. Leia knows full well, with only a few words from Holdo, what is about to happen, and we realize that all this mistrust, on the part of the audience and the characters, had been misplaced. This had been her plan all along. She didn’t need heroic recognition, or for anyone to try and think of a way to save her too. For Holdo, her sacrifice is not a personal no-win scenario. In ensuring the survival of a cause she has championed her whole life, she views her sacrifice as an absolute win.
And of course, her final line of “Godspeed, rebels”, while she watches the last of the Resistance fly away will never not make me cry. A, emotionally resonant sucker punch delivered right before one of the most stunning shots in a movie already stuffed full of stunning shots.
Many people talk about characters being important role models for children, someone a child can aspire to be as a young adult, and I think Star Wars is full of characters like that. And I don’t mean to imply that an adult can’t look up to someone like Rey, Finn, Rose, etc. I certainly do.
But part of what I love about Vice Admiral Holdo is that she’s someone that, as an adult, I aspire to be more like: level-headed, sure of herself, absolutely willing to do the right-if-difficult thing when the situation calls for it. She never feels the need to justify her actions when questioned. She’s in charge. She shouldn’t have to. As a woman, there have been, and will continue to be moments where my authority is questioned for reasons outside my control. I admire Holdo for not letting that stop her for a second.
Earlier, I singled out Padmé and Obi Wan as characters that jumped out at me when I first saw The Phantom Menace. One thing I found about both of these characters, the thing that made them resonate with me as a child (and as an adult) is that they are the type to follow the rules and try to bring about change from within the system until they just can’t do it anymore and only then do they break the rules. And I saw this same characteristic carry through into Holdo. She tries to play within the system, until circumstances back her into such a tight corner that she has no choice but to react in the most unexpected way possible.
The quiet, confident was in which she asserts herself as a leader and stands behind her decisions make her an ideal role model for adult women like me, who still finds herself in need of someone to look up to.