MRS PETERS: (to the other woman) Oh, her fruit; it did freeze, (to the LAWYER) She worried about that when it turned so cold. She said the fire’d go out and her jars would break.
SHERIFF: Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: I guess before we’re through she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.
HALE: Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.
(The two women move a little closer together.)
Trifles, by Elizabeth Glaspell
King as thou art, free speech at least is mine
To make reply; in this I am thy peer.
I own no lord but Loxias; him I serve
And ne’er can stand enrolled as Creon’s man.
Thus then I answer: since thou hast not spared
To twit me with my blindness–thou hast eyes,
Yet see’st not in what misery thou art fallen,
Nor where thou dwellest nor with whom for mate.
Dost know thy lineage? Nay, thou know’st it not,
And all unwitting art a double foe
To thine own kin, the living and the dead;
Aye and the dogging curse of mother and sire
One day shall drive thee, like a two-edged sword,
Beyond our borders, and the eyes that now
See clear shall henceforward endless night.
Ah whither shall thy bitter cry not reach,
What crag in all Cithaeron but shall then
Reverberate thy wail, when thou hast found
With what a hymeneal thou wast borne
Home, but to no fair haven, on the gale!
Aye, and a flood of ills thou guessest not
Shall set thyself and children in one line.
Flout then both Creon and my words, for none
Of mortals shall be striken worse than thou.
Oedipus the King by Sophocles
So, in the first article about Poe, I wrote about how Rian Johnson wisely had the idea to make Poe’s aggression a liability, just as it was for General George Washington in the Revolutionary War, and how Rian Johnson (kind of) establishes that in the first scene. This gives him something to learn in the course of the movie.
Next, I want to get to the subject of Vice Admiral Holdo.
Now, I wrote in my introduction that Rian Johnson has outstanding ideas but he struggles to execute them. Vice Admiral Holdo is a great example of that.
Vice Admiral Holdo is actually an excellent idea.
Writers frequently highlight a character’s qualities by creating another character with contrasting qualities. This character is called a foil. (For example, Rey has no family and Kylo Ren is basically Star Wars royalty.) It makes perfect sense to highlight Poe’s aggression and recklessness by creating a character who is thoughtful and cautious.
I would also argue that it makes sense to make that character a woman.
Rian Johnson states in his audio commentary that he deliberately wanted Vice Admiral Holdo to be not only a woman, but feminine. I think this makes sense from the idea of a foil. Men, in general, are more physically aggressive than women, and we associate masculinity with action and femininity with timidity. This makes Vice Admiral Holdo a good basis for a foil.
Vice Admiral Holdo would have been a very good character to demonstrate the “war of posts” that George Washington had to learn to fight.
Poe does react to Vice Admiral Holdo with suspicion and with a dismissive attitude. I think this makes sense. Poe values aggression and action. It makes sense that Poe would be suspicious of any leader who does not immediately give into aggressive and active impulses.
Now, Rian Johnson’s commentary makes it clear that he wanted Holdo to not only be a woman, but also feminine. Rian Johnson wants to explore the fact that many men react to femininity with distrust and derision. This is a fascinating subject.
I began my article with a quote from “Trifles,” a one act play by Elizabeth Glaspell. In the play, men are investigating the death of a man, and they bring their wives along to the murder scene. While the men search the bedroom and barn for evidence, they leave their wives to the “trifles” in the kitchen. While the women examine the contents of the kitchen, they find evidence that the man was murdered by his abused wife. The women destroy the evidence, and their husbands are none the wiser.
I include that because I think that women are keenly aware of how men routinely overlook “the feminine sphere,” for lack of a better term. Women react to this in a variety of different ways. One way is to lean into that fact and use it to advantage. I remember a blog for single women where the blogger got tired of men attempting to dominate the discussion in the comments. As a result, she made her blog as feminine as possible. She changed the color scheme to bright, bubble gum pink and put pictures of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy all over the page, in the hopes that men would be too embarrassed to read it. As a woman, I have a lot of experience with this phenomenon. But I have no experience with how men view it; either the experience of overlooking “the feminine sphere” or realizing that women are using that sphere to their advantage.
I would love to see that. In another movie.
I also love the idea of suspicion within the ranks of Star Wars. To me, one of the most disappointing things about The Force Awakens is the fact that people just believe that Finn has left the First Order. Poe immediately trusts Finn, Rey is not upset when she finds out Finn lied to her, and Leia just accepts and believes everything that Finn tells her. (Seriously, have none of these people ever heard of double agents?!?!?) So, I love the fact that Rian Johnson has realized that it would be a great source of drama to have the characters wonder if they can really trust one another.
Rian Johnson, in his commentary, describes this subplot as “more of a Battlestar Galactica plot line. If Battlestar Galactica is a character driven piece where the suspense comes from suspicion within the group, sign me up!
What could go wrong?
Here’s the thing. The main thrust of Poe’s arc is “Poe’s aggression is a liability.” In order for the audience to fully realize this, and in order for Poe to change in a meaningful way, Poe must act aggressively, impulsively, and thoughtlessly. He must be responsible for the deaths of many people. And it must be entirely his fault.
The first two elements are true of Poe in the story. However, by framing Holdo as an untrustworthy character, the film exonerates Poe’s actions in the story.
This is a terrible choice.
What should Rian Johnson have done instead?
The second quote at the top of the article is from Oedipus the King by Sophocles. This is the play that served as the basis for Aristotle’s Poetics, and was the play that Aristotle felt most perfectly manifested the elements of tragedy. The play follows Oedipus, a man who is told that the plague afflicting Thebes is punishment for the murder of Laius, the previous king. Oedipus, who became king after rescuing the town from the Sphinx and marrying Laius’ widow Jocasta, resolves to find the man who killed Laius. In the very first scene, Oedipus summons the blind prophet Teiresias to help him find the murderer. Teiresias begs Oedipus not to search for the murderer and refuses to say anything at first. Pushed and threatened, Teiresias at last reveals what he knows: Oedipus killed Laius. Oedipus rejects his statements and belittles Teiresias for being blind. At last, Teiresias prophesies forcefully. Teiresias tells Oedipus that he is truly blind because he does not know the truth about his identity. Oedipus does not know that Laius was his biological father, and that Jocasta, Oedipus’ wife, is also his biological mother!
More than 2,000 years later, this scene has real power.
This is what needs to happen for Poe. Holdo should not be framed as a presumed villain. Instead, she should be framed like Teiresias. (I would also be OK with substituting Leia for this role, because the audience will be more likely to trust Leia and would not blame her for Poe’s missteps.) Holdo should be someone that Poe knows and respects. Holdo needs to tell Poe her plan, which should be a defensive, “war of posts” tactic, the kind George Washington grew to use so successfully in the Revolutionary War. Poe should disagree with this idea and defy her anyway. Or perhaps he finds the lure of a grand heroic action to be irresistible, which leads him to defy Holdo.
This way, the actions of Poe are completely his fault. When Poe’s plan fails and a large number of people die as a result, the audience should not be able to shift the blame to Holdo. Poe must shoulder the blame for his failure and for the deaths that result.