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Things are falling apart.
Although the Resistance took down the First Order’s planet-demolishing Starkiller Base in the previous film, The Last Jedi finds the forces of General Leia Organa depleted and scattered. The capitol of the new Republic has been destroyed, the galaxy is a mess, and the First Order is wounded but lashing out more violently than ever.
Into this chaos rises a new leader: Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo.
“She enters the Resistance to shake things up,” Dern tells EW.
The question is whether that’s a good thing. In real life, we all know what it’s like to meet a new boss. Sometimes you see eye-to-eye. Sometimes it’s a disaster.
Fans aren’t supposed to know whether they should trust her. Poe Dameron, the X-wing ace played by Oscar Isaac, certainly isn’t sure, which is why the two are side-by-side on EW’s The Last Jedi covers. Their stories are interlocked, even if they’re at odds.
“It’s definitely appropriate that they’ve paired us because a lot of the friction and conflict comes between Poe and that relationship with Admiral Holdo, who is this person that’s been — at least temporarily — put in charge of the Resistance,” Isaac says.
Poe’s loyalty is to Leia. And Holdo has a different style, a different approach, and very different ideas. But even the audience isn’t supposed to know whether she’s right.
“You have to sort of figure out who’s side you’re on or what your feelings are about her,” Dern says.
Some of it has to do with judging people based on their appearances. Fisher used to joke that the Leia dressed like “a fancy gas station attendant” in The Force Awakens, but Holdo arrives wearing gowns and sporting extravagant violet hair. She looks like polished brass amongst the dingy and battered Resistance survivors.
“She doesn’t particularly look like your typical military leader, and so I think there’s a bit of distrust for Poe,” Isaac says. “He’s not sure what to make of her, and then the way she speaks, the things she says.”
And he’s not alone. Many others in the Resistance also lack confidence in their new leader. The question is whether she can win over the battle-weary warriors.
The actress says this part of the storyline relates to our own world. Holdo represents “stereotypes about women bosses,” Dern says. “Like if she looks a certain way, she can’t achieve the job or she must be brazen. You know, all the different versions of what we label someone. I mean, there are reasons why I might look the way I look.”
“I think it’s beautifully subversive,” Dern says of Holdo’s military glamour. “From the director to the producers, everyone was painstaking about not only the look, but even the exact color of hair, what it should be and trying different versions. And all I know is I think it’s so cool. I love the way she looks. I want to be Holdo for Halloween.”
The actress laughs. “Does that just seem horrific and narcissistic? I get a free pass.”
Hey, Kelly Marie Tran dressed up as a Porg. So absolutely. You do you, Laura Dern.
That’s a very Holdo attitude, too. The admiral barges in and doesn’t care what people think, or whether she’s welcomed or meets approval. She’s headstrong, but not necessarily wrong. “Sometimes you need somebody to show up and yeah, teach you a thing or two,” Dern says.
Swagger clashes with swagger. But game also recognizes game.
Poe wants to fight; she wants to strategize. “Poe is grappling with how to become a leader and not just a hero pilot, which means keeping those emotions in check, to keep his fervor in check and think things through a bit more,” Isaac says.
Holdo’s restraint, her willingness to sacrifice for the good of the whole, and her ability to strategize beyond the front lines may prove more useful than battlefield bravado.
“Even if something seems like it’s not the most heroic thing to do in the moment, thinking about the bigger picture is sometimes more important,” Isaac says. “That’s something he’s trying to wrap his mind around, but at the same time, with the Resistance being in such a precarious situation, he wants to do the right thing, and doesn’t want to just wait and let things happen. He doesn’t necessarily agree with the way Holdo sees the role of the Resistance in this particular moment.”
Dameron and Holdo do have one thing in common: both learned everything they know from the same teacher – Leia Organa.
“I’ve always worked under her for the Resistance, therefore with Leia being the boss,” Dern says.
Holdo even turns up as a character in author Claudia Gray’s new novel Leia, Princess of Alderaan, set during the teen years of the princess as she first enters the Rebellion. The younger Holdo, a native of the world of Gatalenta, is a fellow student of diplomacy, and she uses her colorful appearance and offbeat demeanor to destabilize people. In a galaxy full of exotic creatures, she is one of a kind.
She and Poe Dameron have learned from the same master. But of course, in Star Wars, students sometimes have a habit of going astray.
That could apply to either one of them. Or both.
Maybe butting up against each other will keep them on the right path.