The Holdo Maneuver: An Idiot’s Guide to Hyperspace
If you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi, turn back now. Not only are you about to read some serious spoilers, it will also be so incredibly nerdy that if you read it by accident, there’s no way you’re going to forget it in time to still be surprised by the scenes in the movie when you finally go see it. I’m officially washing my hands of any responsibility to keeping you (few) readers safe from the spoilers I’ve created below. But, if you plan to watch the movie soon, come on down when you’re ready, and hopefully my geeky-as-hell attempt to make sense of some of the serious problems in the lore expanded by the latest movie can help you, too, become more insufferable at the next dinner party.
Quick recap: as a last stand, Vice Admiral Holdo turns the (now empty) rebel flagship around as her comrades attempt to escape from the First Order in transport ships. Initially done secretly, the transport ships’ escape to a nearby planet is revealed to the First Order fleet, and the vulnerable ships come under relentless fire, picking them off one by one in what seems to be an unsalvageable situation. Then, lo-and-behold, Holdo spools up her jump drive, the First Order assumes she’s saving her own ass and escaping, but then jumps straight through Snoke’s ship, splitting it in half and destroying the rest of the enemy fleet with the debris in what is possibly the most beautiful shot in sci-fi, ever.
If you’re anything like me, your reactions to this scene probably went something like this: “Wow. It so beautiful. (read that in the voice of the moth in A Bug’s Life that flies into the blue bug zapper) I have goosebumps,” and then, shortly after that, “wait a second — that doesn’t make sense at all”. Closely followed by anger, frustration, and then, strangely, many of the other symptoms of the seven stages of grief.
So, if you also want answers, want the most beautiful shot in the movie to be justified, and want to rightfully scoff at the myriad clickbait headlines saying “Holdo’s move ruined Star Wars forever”, then maybe this take on it all can help — or at least give you a much needed nerdgasm over the festive period.
The hyperspace suicide bombing move is generally problematic for several reasons:
1) Why isn’t it then used ALL of the time? It is arguably the most overpowered weapon in the galaxy, especially since all you need is a ship (that can even be built from scrap), and a hyperdrive. It’s even crazier when you realise fleet killing ships don’t even have to cost the lives of pilots, because you could use droids to simply push the button and take out anything. And yet, it seems no one ever thought of this in a galaxy that has had space travel for thousands of years.
2) Hyperspace jumps in the Star Wars universe are generally understood to use a “alternate dimension” for faster than light travel, and not just make a physical ship go ‘real fast’, an understanding which removes the possibility of a ship using hyperspace to be able to physically interact with matter while travelling. And I mean, I’ve shot a lot of invisible finger-gun bullets in my life too, but none of them have split the earth in half. #justsaying
3) Even if you grant that, in the extended canon, hyperspace travelling ships CAN be pulled out of hyperspace by sufficiently large gravitational anomalies, Snoke’s ship wouldn’t be anywhere near large enough to have a gravitational impact sufficient to make it comparable to a planetary body’s.
4) There is no acceleration to hyperspace — it is instantaneous. Even though we all know and love the stars turning to lines every time the Flacon jumps, it’s just a visual anomaly and not indicative of acceleration. This means that there isn’t a brief window in which a ship is still accelerating where it could interact with other physical objects. However, as observed in Force Awakens when the Millennium Falcon jumps out of Solo’s smuggling cargo ship, there is a disturbance, or “wake” left by a ship in a specific area when entering hyperspace, which could be argued to have to do with the relative proportions of that ship.
What if Holdo’s plan all along was to reach a distance of pursuit where the ship’s computer could calculate a stable jump trajectory that would put the rebel flagship’s hyperspace “wake” exactly where it needed to be to cause physical damage to Snoke’s ship — that tiny window where the ship’s jump has some potential to cause damage in the physical world?
In other words, the reason she refused to divulge their next move to her subordinates, and Po, was because she had decided they were now on a suicide mission. It would fit with the “rebels are terrorists and vice versa” narrative Director Johnson seems to be exploring in The Last Jedi, as well as the rebels’ own “we are the spark that will light the fire” credo that seems to hint at the self-awareness that they aren’t useful because they are a military force that can go toe-to-toe with The First Order, but rather that they can inspire widespread enough resistance which could actually stand up to the demagogic overlords of the galaxy successfully, but only as a whole.
Holdo realises that their position is hopeless, and decides to make a decision that will make their sacrifice work for, or at least fit into, the vision for resistance against the First Order that requires a grass roots popular uprising to occur, instead of a guerilla style insurgency that has, at best, had limited success, and seen the rebellion essentially all but wiped out.
When they come within distance of a viable planetoid, however, Holdo, either by seeing an opportunity, weakening resolve, or because Po had started to get to her with his personal attacks and subversive counter ideas (which would also fit nicely with her farewell statement to Leia that she does, in fact, “like” him), decides to evacuate the ship and save her people (again, much like a similar ‘awakening’/moral lesson provided by Rose, later, when saving Finn from his suicide run to the mini Deathstar laser battering ram, because “saving people is good”).
The reason this move to use a ship as a weapon through hyperspace jumps is then less overpowered, in this rendition, is that for a jump to be plotted to be able to cause physical damage to another ship in its path, it needs to be at a precise relative position, given its properties, for the necessary calculations to be made — not just a simple “jump to coordinates” or “manual blind jump” scenario, to then exploit the tiny window of opportunity where a hyperspace wake of a sufficiently large vessel could be used as a weapon — a calculation ships computers aren’t exactly made to do, therefore requiring more time and specific data/positioning. And if this were the case, most combatants would almost never face this threat given that ships are always moving, and wouldn’t tolerate or allow a delayed engagement with another vessel to expose them to such a vulnerability by giving them the time necessary in a stable relative position to make the necessary calculations (a scenario uniquely exploited by the out of the ordinary pursuit the rebels and First Order find themselves in in The Last Jedi).
So, to summarise:
1) Holdo’s plan, all along, was to take the rebel flagship on a suicide run into Snoke’s ship, using hyperspace — hence her silence.
2) Hyperspace jumps don’t allow ships in the Star Wars universe to interact with physical objects while travelling faster than light, but as seen in Force Awakens, there is somewhat of a hyperspace “wake” when a ship jumps. Holdo therefore could exploit the unique nature of the constant pursuit by the First Order to put their pursuers at a stable relative position that could allow for the necessary calculations to be made so that a hyperspace jump could produce a “weaponised hyperspace wake” that is then less overpowered and more palatable since it wouldn’t be something many other ships ever get the opportunity to do.
As for Space Leia; why you would need “bombers” in zero G; or how a man could possibly have as huge a body-width-to-head-size ratio as shirtless Kylo Ren has, are all up to you. Best of luck.