Today, I’m going to deal with something that I’ve seen talked about a bit, in which people complain about the behavior of the First Order in The Last Jedi, and why their behavior absolutely makes sense.
Spoilers follow after the break.
So the complaint going around hinges on the behavior of the First Order during the movie, and how Holdo’s final action supposedly makes no sense because it’s not a commonly seen tactic.
Let’s address the First Order as a whole, first – the mistake I think many people who voice this kind of complaint are making is assuming that they’re the same kind of monolithic evil as the Galactic Empire – or, in more Earthly parlance, that they’re Nazis just like the Nazis that came before them. The thing is that they aren’t the same thing. The First Order is the equivalent of the mediocre young men who collect fascist memorabilia and decorate their private spaces with it, imagining that they’d have been important and valued in the regime. They’re the neo-Nazis who idolize a fallen regime, and badly try to emulate what they think it was like. Where the Empire had an overall goal – to establish order and control of the galaxy – that motivated their evil, the First Order is evil because the Empire was evil. Most of them were raised to idolize the Empire, without understanding anything about it or its goals beyond galactic domination.
They’re mediocre knockoffs of the previous generation of fascists, lacking everything that made that generation effective. They embrace the idea of “what they did, but bigger” as a method and goal. The Empire built Death Stars and told the galaxy that it was there to bring order and peace; the First Order built Starkiller Base and indoctrinates its troops to believe the Order is unstoppable.
They’re petty sadists – they could have come out of hyperspace and began bombarding the planet with everything they had at the start, but Hux had his grand plan in mind to track them – so he went and tried to torment them and lost a dreadnought in the process. The Resistance fled, and had he not had his scheme to follow them, he’d probably have been killed outright by Snoke.
And then we come to the crux of what people are complaining about – once the First Order reveals that they can follow the Resistance, and once the Resistance gets out of reach of their direct attack, they simply follow along and bombard them for most of the rest of the movie. Why not, it gets asked, either have a ship jump ahead of the Resistance and cut them off, or call for another First Order fleet to come cut them off, or otherwise do something tactically sound and unlikely to be survived?
It’s because they’re petty sadists. Hux and Snoke think they have the Resistance under their thumb, the same way that Poe thinks Holdo doesn’t have a plan in mind. They’re content to torment the people they see as victims, bugs for them to crush at their leisure. They’re enjoying the chase and torment, the slow death of the Resistance vessels. Had Poe not sent Finn and Rose off, had the slicer not betrayed them, the First Order would have kept chasing the emptied-out craft until it ran dry, and savored destroying it piecemeal.
As it was, Poe’s error led to something similar – the First Order could absolutely have opened up full-fire on the fleeing transports and wiped them out, but they didn’t because they’re still certain they’re in control and have all the cards. Instead, they started picking them off one by one to terrorize and demoralize the survivors of each strike. They weren’t expecting Holdo to pull a heroic sacrifice, despite that being what she was already doing, because they’re the kind of people who don’t put others first.
Had they been expecting it, Holdo’s maneuver probably wouldn’t have worked; the stunt that Han pulled with the Falcon in The Force Awakens aside, having shields up would probably stop that kind of kinetic attack. But the First Order is confident that they’re holding every card. Holdo’s attack only works because they’re convinced that there’s nothing the Resistance can do, and they’re enjoying tormenting their victims like so many other bullies.
But Holdo, in keeping with the theme that heroes win by protecting what they care about, does something the First Order would find unthinkable and saves the rest of the Resistance. So yes – the First Order was absolutely screwing up by not cutting the Resistance force off, not calling for an additional fleet to support them, not ending them quickly and decisively. But that’s the point. The First Order is full of people who are mediocre wannabes striving to be the people they think came before them, and that smug arrogance is what keeps doing them in. And, if the third movie follows the narrative, they’ll double down on it and try even harder to be Dark, Evil, and Menacing.
The story works exactly as intended, and it does it beautifully.