I wasn’t sure what to name this post. In defense of Poe? Well, that would imply he did something that needed defending. Poe isn’t a sexist? Well, that’s just a singular reaction to him. So instead of highlighting one particular argument that has been made towards him, I figured I would break down why – contrary to Buzzfeed articles – Poe isn’t the most terrible part of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, or the most destructive man in the galaxy. I’ve highlighted important parts in The Last Jedi involving Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). I’ve explained how they unfolded and how it’s through his relationships with people that his interactions with Amilyn Holdo begin to make sense.
Destroying the Dreadnought:
The opening sequence of The Last Jedi (TLJ) is my favorite in the franchise. We see Poe in light only hinted at before: he’s an ace pilot, capable of flying solo missions, and his talent helps him maintain fearlessness in the face of the First Order. After playing with General Hugs (that’s not a typo), Poe forward to single-handedly take out the guns on the Dreadnought. As he finishes, Leia instructs him to turn around. This is where we learn that the ship he is attacking is a fleet killer. He makes the call to ignore Leia and move forward with the plan. Having called in the bombers, we see the First Order scramble tie-fighters to handle them.
While the bombers start to fall in the barrage, it is the destruction of a single tie that causes multiple bombers to be destroyed, resulting in mass casualties. With one bomber left, Paige Tico drops the bombs and the ship is destroyed. In this case, it’s easy to say he should have listened to Leia, he got people killed. But this is war, and the deaths of those in the bombers resulted in the death of ship that had the capability to destroy the very last of the resistance. As it is revealed, the capabilities to track them through lightspeed requires for the remnants of the fleet to stay out of range of the Supremacy and other ships. Had the Dreadnought survived, the movie ends with the fleet being killed the moment they realize they can’t get out of range on low fuel. The few outweigh the many, and Poe’s actions, as easily as it is to dismiss them as hubris, is a tactical move that ensures their escape.
When he comes back aboard the Raddus, Poe is met by Leia. Without care for those congratulating him on his success, slaps him. It doesn’t take much exposition to know that she slaps him because of his relationship to her. It was a mother to a child, not a General to a soldier. In The Force Awakens‘ crawl, we know that he is extremely trusted. We also know that he is the only one she trusted to find and protect the whereabouts of her brother Luke. One act of ignoring an order would not and does not remove their connection. Leia then demotes him and gives the speech that sets the tone for the movie, dead heroes were on those bombers, not leaders.
We know that Poe’s arc will involve choosing to run instead of “getting in a cockpit and blowing stuff up.” Choosing to live instead of fighting head-on. However, immediately after his demotion, the First Order has shown up on their tail through lightspeed. Poe then asks for Leia’s permission to get back in and “blow stuff up,” to which she agrees. Leia’s last act isn’t demoting him, it’s sending him back into battle. Why would a leader who has lost trust in a soldier send them back into the field? They wouldn’t.
This scene happens after he attempts to put his head back in his cockpit and fight, as per Leia’s instructions.
Poe., a “Man-splaining Flyboy?”
“Poe is a sexist.” “Poe disrespects Hold because she is a woman in charge.” “Man-splaining flyboy” These are some of the things I’ve read since TLJ came out. As a woman of color and someone who doesn’t hesitate to call a spade, a spade, or a misogynist, a misogynist, this hot take is the most infuriating. By coupling his interaction with Leia and his attempts to learn information from Holdo after she assumes control of the Raddus, twitter and nerd outlets have taken to calling him sexist. However, just using his interaction with Leia from TFA, and knowing that Leia, the General and leader of the Resistance, would not hold someone who disrespects women in positions of power in such high esteem, it’s a stretch. It is also a take that ignores the faults of Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo’s leadership style.
Poe isn’t just a pilot, as one of Leia’s most trusted. Because of this, he is respected by those around him and is a symbol of success in battle that the resistance fighters follow. He’s also the best at what he does. as shown in TFA and the opening of TLJ, he isn’t just a flyboy, he is a person who deeply understands warfare. When he jumps into action telling Holdo what needs to be done, it isn’t because she’s a woman, it’s because he sees how to fix things and he wants to get them done. Immediately before this, the bridge is destroyed and Leia is rendered unconscious.
Rian Johnson, the director shows a close-up Poe saying “we need to get out of range.” He then cuts directly to Leia, saying the same thing. Beyond his initial comments of strategy, he doesn’t disrespect Holdo until their second encounter. While Holdo removes him from the bridge, dismisses him because of his interaction with Leia earlier, and calls him a flyboy, he doesn’t retaliate. He doesn’t call her names. He leaves. And when he does, the scared crew of the ship has the most trusted Resistance pilot iced out of the plan.
Poe, Planning Behind Holdo’s Back
What people on twitter and in articles seem to forget, is that Poe didn’t mastermind the plan to destroy the tracker on the Supremacy. He didn’t execute the plan alone, and yet, he is the only one being dragged for not respecting Holdo’s orders. When we meet Rose, we learn that members of the Resistance have been trying to use the escape pods. They’re scared. After stunning and then talking with Finn, a plan is made to destroy the tracker and this is taken to Poe. Poe agrees and is the one who decides not to tell Holdo, and instead opts to include other Resistance fighters in the plan.
It’s the willingness of Connix to join that makes it seem as if Holdo has intentionally excluded most of the crew from her plan. As Connix and Poe cover for Finn and Rose’s departure, it’s important to note that all this happens after Poe’s first meeting with Holdo. With his removal from the bridge, Holdo began to sew the distrust of her among the crew. He doesn’t come up with the plan alone, he doesn’t execute it alone, why should he be the only one getting the blame?
Disrespect on the Bridge & Detainment of Holdo
While Finn and Rose are off, it falls to Poe and Connix to make sure they can make the jump to lightspeed the moment the tracker is disabled. When Poe heads back to the bridge, to find out more of Holdo’s plan and to make sure that he can provide the time that Finn and Rose need, he sees that she has ordered the crew to fuel the jump ships. This is when he disrespects Holdo directly. He calls her a coward, a traitor, throws a chair, and states that the Resistance will be sitting ducks in the jump ships. No guns. Barely enough fuel, and nowhere to go.
Instead of calming Poe and the crew around him, by telling them the whole plan, she says that he doesn’t need to know and has him removed. Although his reaction is aggressive, it is also the moment that realizes his best friend Finn is in danger of being on a mission that is pointless, with no time to make sure that it is a success. When the time has come, with Finn and Rose finally on the Supremacy, Poe tries to stop Holdo from loading the ships. He tells her the plan. She says that it’s too late now. Seeming like if he had he told her before, this animosity and silence could have been avoided. The same way, had she told them the plan with the jump ships, Poe wouldn’t have rallied other fighters to detain Holdo and her first officers for treason.
Holdo’s Plan is Revealed
After being knocked out by Leia, Poe wakes up on a jump ship, with Holdo’s plan proving successful. He asks Leia where they’re going and she points out that there is an abandoned Rebel base on Crait, non-operational, but safe. To which he agrees, Holdo had a good plan. While Poe was being brought onto the jump ship, Johnson even includes a shot of Holdo telling Leia how much she likes him. If you’re a woman and have been in a position of leadership where you were mistreated, and thought it due to your gender and not your performance, you don’t “like” your subordinate. Holdo knew what she was doing. She was written, to teach Poe a lesson, and in that lesson, he had to push back. The lesson had flaws on both sides, not just on his. And by her understanding his fire, she understands him and isn’t holding any grudges. His actions were understandable.
Poe and Lt. Kaydel Connix
In almost every moment of Poe trying to “take control” of the Raddus or “disrespecting” Holdo, Connix is there. She supports him. And works to show that Poe isn’t the only one who is untrusting of the new acting leader of the ship. Don’t give him all the credit for mounting an insurrection, Connix was essential.
Crait and His Arc
While on Crait, the last battle sequence shown is both visually stunning and important. As Poe leads a team to destroy the ramming canon, they soon realize that they are no match for the First Order in their “rust-buckets” from Rebellion days. After experiences losses, Poe makes the call to turn back. He calls to Finn and Rose, Rose listens Finn doesn’t. As he keeps ordering Finn to turn back, he’s put on mute. Mirroring his moment with Leia in the beginning of the film. He’s learned. He’s stopped just fighting and started thinking about preservation. With only a Millennium Falcon full of fighters, this is a necessity and one that will be sure to pay in Episode IX.
Now that you’ve read a version of every Twitter thread I have posted since TLJ came out. I hope you understand my response to Poe was being painted as not only the bad guy, but as a sexist with no regard for Holdo only because of her gender. A lot of the unpacking comes after my second watch, and I believe that Rian’s writing of their conflict was heavy-handed and left both characters, Holdo and Poe with egg on their face. Poe has his flaws, but by just focusing on his and not Holdo’s we bolster up a badly written character as perfection without analyzing the content. By just calling Poe sexist because he is a man and Holdo a woman, we devalue the word. Nothing from TFA or TLJ make Poe into a man who has a problem respecting the authority of women. At worst, he’s a talented pilot who needed to learn to see beyond himself. By making his character a misogynist, we lose his story arc and protect characters that should be critiqued for their leadership styles and the writing that made them that way.
I don’t hate Holdo. I like her in the end. But the way this has played out in the fandom, the conversation that has erupted around them, has me questioning whether those providing this analysis of feminism and sexism in Star Wars understand the meaning of those words. Or, if they’re not looking for a critical analysis but an easy way to overlook problematic writing of female characters they want to love and instead find the easy target.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.