Warning: Major spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi follow!
For too long, Carrie Fisher stood nearly alone on the bridge or in the fray as one of two women in the galaxy. As such, I’m beyond thrilled that Rian Johnson finally added more women to a galaxy far, far away, giving us unforgettable heroes in characters like Rose and Paige Tico. But in some cases, I wish Johnson had a better idea of what to do with these women once he had them in place—particularly in regard to Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo and the insubordination of Poe Dameron. What could’ve been a way to show the steel mettle of the women leading the Resistance instead peters out into a deflated balloon noise of a conclusion. Who will fully hold Poe Dameron accountable? Plenty of digital ink has been spilled already about the toxic masculinity of Poe’s actions in The Last Jedi. Within his story, over and over again Poe ignores the orders of his female commanders. He uses his personal relationship with Leia to undermine her authority, getting an entire bombing squad killed. He bristles under the command of Holdo, clearly put out that she won’t share her plan with him. Poe thinks he knows better. But, by taking matters into his own hands, Poe merely gets more people killed. If not for him, Finn and Rose never would’ve gone to Canto Bight and met Benicio del Toro’s DJ, who then would never have tipped off the First Order about the transports.
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If The Last Jedi is about how failure is the best teacher, Poe learns the most expensive lesson of the main cast. There are hundreds of lost lives at his feet. If only he had listened to the women, all of this could’ve been avoided. But the story sabotages itself at the finish line. Let’s be honest: Poe Dameron should be in the brig or shot out the nearest airlock. The Resistance isn’t a feel-good clubhouse; it is a military, and Poe went AWOL. He got people killed. He started a mutiny and held his commanding officers at gunpoint. No matter how hard-pressed the Resistance is for pilots, Poe is now a risk that can’t be allowed to stand. Letting him roam free on the Millennium Falcon sends a message that subordination will be met with not even a slap on the wrist. When Leia is boarding the transport to Crait, she has a short conversation with Holdo that basically boils down to, “Isn’t he cute, with his adorable little mutiny?” I suppose you could argue this is in character for Leia, who once abandoned the Rebellion and diverted critical resources in order to save Han Solo. But what’s Holdo’s excuse? She barely knows Poe. Having two women who have spent their lives in service of the galaxy overlook Poe’s transgression damages the narrative that toxic masculinity is bad and wrong. After all, despite everything, there are no meaningful consequences for Poe Dameron. Of course, that outcome probably seems exhaustingly familiar to every woman alive. Men failing upwards is a time-honored tradition.
The ship has already sailed (and exploded) for The Last Jedi to fix it, but if Lucasfilm doesn’t want to undermine the legacy of Leia and Holdo, plans for Poe Dameron to step into the late Carrie Fisher’s shoes cannot be allowed to go forward. What kind of message does it send if a man who caused the deaths of hundreds and started a mutiny is elevated to the position of commander? No, Poe Dameron needs to be in the brig. If the Resistance/Rebellion needs a hot-shot leader with questionable morals, Lando Calrissian is a phone call away. Reintroducing Lando in Episode IX could also go a long way towards a rehabilitation arc for Poe. Han Solo’s best frenemy is hothead pilot who has betrayed friends in the past for what he thought was the greater good. He is uniquely positioned to sympathize with Poe. But Lando is also older, wiser, and more world-weary. Using him as a foil to Poe’s brashness, Lando might help teach Dameron the difference between strategy and shooting from the hip. Or, if Abrams wants to fill the vacuum left by Fisher’s death with another strong woman, Mon Mothma has the gravitas and take-no-crap attitude needed to keep Poe in his place. The Last Jedi went a long ways towards making a galaxy far, far away resemble the world outside our window. I just wish it hadn’t been quite so realistic when it comes to the lack of consequences for men in power. No matter how likable a man is, how charismatic, how painfully attractive to look directly at, that shouldn’t inoculate him from justice.