What did you think of Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo when you first met her in Star Wars: The Last Jedi? I knew only that Laura Dern would be in the film, but I had no idea whom she would play or what she would look like.
I didn’t even know the character’s first name, didn’t know it until I started research for this blog entry after seeing the film for the second time. I had, once again, avoided as much news as possible about the new Star Wars film as its release drew near. I’m not sure exactly what I expected of Laura Dern’s character, but I am as surprised by Vice Admiral Holdo as Poe Dameron is in the film.
I am a fan of Laura Dern’s work. Her IMDb entry mentions Jurassic Park first under her name, and we all remember her as Dr. Ellie Sattler in the first and third films in that series. But I also enjoyed her turn as Miss Riley in October Sky, my favorite of her roles prior to The Last Jedi. When I think of Ms. Dern and her characters, I think graceful, smart, passionate, beautiful, mysterious, and always a little different from every other character. This describes her Star Wars character to a “T,” so to my initial way of thinking, she certainly doesn’t play against type. What I’ve discovered is that there is so much more to this character, as it turns out, than what we see in the film.
According to various sources (*Sources: Wookieepedia, IMDb, Vanity Fair, Tor.Com, Newsweek), Amilyn Holdo is known for her quirky speech and bright, dyed hair and clothing, and she is a long time friend of General Leia Organa’s. What we see in the film is the personification of this character’s elaborate backstory, yet without knowledge of the written Star Wars word, we have only the film to go on. As someone who has not read as many Star Wars novels as I would like, I have only what I see onscreen to inform me. It would be easy to dismiss – though not overlook – the character’s quirks as they appear, but Ms. Dern’s subtly dynamic work uses the character’s history to maximize her impact.
The relationship between Leia and Amilyn is clear. Even though we don’t see specifically what they’ve been through together, we know that it has been deep, significant, and long-term. It takes another chink out of Leia’s already broken heart when she realizes that her friend is about to sacrifice herself to save the Rebellion, but Leia is not surprised at her friend’s selflessness. I was. I can honestly say that on my first viewing of the film, I thought Amilyn might turn out to be the “baddie” that is implied by the plot. It’s the middle film of a trilogy and this Star Wars is different than it used to be. Evolving. New. So anything can happen, right? Not knowing which side this character’s heart was on made her sacrifice that much more poignant. The bit of silence in the film at the moment of her death is the dot on the exclamation point. Vice Admiral Holdo is a hero, and I’m glad I was wrong about her.
What about those quirks? The purple hair, topped with a headpiece or crown of some sort, definitely stands out. When I first saw her, I thought that she might be humanoid but not human, perhaps a queen from some Outer Rim system we would learn about, a place whose inhabitants’ hair all have the same hue. It’s a possibility when we meet her, and I almost wanted that to be the case, to be introduced to another new world and way of life. I also wasn’t sure if her dress, which emphasizes Ms. Dern’s graceful, long neck, would be the only garment she would wear. Would she suit up at some point, wear something more typically representative of rebels at war? I love that she doesn’t, that she remains in her flowing, feminine garb as she pilots the Raddus to both her, and the First Order ship’s, destruction. It’s a sad, you-go-girl moment.
What we find out solely in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, without any outside help, is that this exquisite creature is quite human and very powerful. That her poise, grace, and quick wit with the dashing Poe Dameron are overshadowed by a plot which points a finger at her as a possible villain before bringing our hands together to applaud her bravery. That she is an another example of a strong female character in Star Wars, and yet she is so different from Leia or Rey or Rose, more proof that strong female characters come in all different ages, shapes, and sizes. Amilyn Holdo is a celebration of femininity, a deviation from the archetype of the girls-will-be-boys mentality that too many female heroes are forced to demonstrate. She is tall, regal, quirky, and beautiful. Loyal. Passionate.
Vice Admiral Holdo is so much more than I expected.
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