WARNING: The following article discusses in detail the new film Star Wars: The Last Jedi and includes spoilers.
Star Wars is one of the most well-known franchises in the world today. If Disney keeps this mega hit going with its tie-ins to graphic novels, books, video games, television programs, as well as its hit films, its limit likely knows no bounds.
I should say up front that I am a huge Star Wars fan—certainly not the biggest (I’m not a member of the 501st)—but I consider myself a bigger nerd than the average person. I’ve read nearly all the tie-in books, play the video games, have all the films in various forms on my laptop, and toys, toys galore on my desk and around my apartment. Its universe is rich, detailed, and well thought out (except for the prequels, which we won’t talk about here).
Having left the film at nearly 0200 in the morning on the day it came out, I was elated. It was something I had been looking forward to all year. I dutifully worked to avoid all the trailers, so as to go into the movie figuratively naked, but I did read the tie-in books. (As an aside, it is sad that all the greatest Star Wars books are now non-canon and are considered “Legends”).
The movie struck a wonderful balance of humor, drama, and action. It had its high points and its low points, but all-in-all I thoroughly enjoyed the film. The acting was great, the special effects fantastic, and the writing solid. The Porgs, the delightful avian cross between a puffin and a pug are vastly superior to those heinous annoying furballs known as Ewoks. I’ve always hated those teddy bears from hell, but I digress.
I know the film has provoked quite a bit of consternation between those who love it and those who feel it has betrayed the original story line, characters, and overall tone. I won’t dive into that, but suffice it to say I understand the arguments on both sides, and I still enjoyed the movie. There are, of course, a number of open ended issues, which I’ll also avoid discussing here.
Much to the annoyance of my movie going companions, I left the film utterly flabbergasted at the First Order’s (the new Empire in the Star Wars universe) complete and staggering military incompetence from start to finish. This goes well beyond the well-known fact that Stormtroopers can’t hit the broad side of a barn, but permeates nearly every level of military command and begs the question “How on earth did these Muppets get promoted?”
On the Stormtrooper aim question, it’s been argued that the post-Clone Wars troopers were intended to be a constabulary force and not an occupying/combat focused force. The thinking was that the Death Star and large capital ships would be sufficient to dissuade adversaries from fighting and crush any resistance, and we all know how well that turned out.
This easily could be a thesis in and of itself, but I’m going to zero in on a few particularly glaring issues in the film related to the First Order and its use of its incredible arsenal of weaponry.
Spoilers ahead—you’ve been warned.
At the beginning of the film we see the Resistance furiously working to escape its now discovered base. The First Order enters the system above the planet with its massive Dreadnought starship (a Mantador IV-class), spooling up its dual cannons to destroy the base and the fleeing Resistance.
The plucky Resistance dispatch its wise cracking ace pilot Poe Dameron up with trusty BB-8 in a seeming suicide mission to stop the First Order. Comedy ensues before Poe and his X-Wing, Black One, race close into the Dreadnought taking out its point defense cannons, allowing a flight of B/SF-17 bombers to close in and destroy the Dreadnought after one doomed character’s sacrifice.
Okay. How in the hell did the Resistance manage to do this? Poe Dameron is a galaxy-class pilot, but who was manning the defense systems? Why weren’t they automated and why couldn’t they hit one target as it was coming into range or once it was inside the overlapping fields of fire?
And more importantly, why didn’t they deploy their TIE fighters in a combat air (space, I guess) patrol as soon as they jumped into orbit? One of the officers on the deck of the Dreadnought said as much (I’m paraphrasing) when he finally did deploy the TIEs saying “we should have done this five minutes ago”. You think?!
The Dreadnought and its two massive cannons are taken down at great cost to the Resistance, a point Princess Leia, played by the timeless Carrie Fisher, hammers home to Dameron as she demotes him. The Raddus, the heavy cruiser hosting the dwindling Resistance, jumps away and the disembodied head of Supreme Leader Snoke takes General Hux to task throwing him around using the force while berating him in front of his subordinates. It was quite the public dressing down. Snoke takes the idea of civilian control of the military to the extreme. Imagine the president trying to do something similar to Secretary Mattis—I think “Mad Dog” would win that fight hands down.
The Resistance, having jumped to light speed, is quickly caught by the First Order. The First Order, we learn, is tracking them through light speed using an advanced new tracking mechanism that is only located on Supreme Leader Snoke’s amazing capital ship, the Supremacy. If this thing doesn’t become a Lego set, I’ll be quite disappointed. There was also a rather interesting Easter egg in Rogue One—when Jyn Erso is on Scarif attempting to steal the plans, she comes across “hyperspace tracking” as one of the projects.
Here again we have an amazing example of the First Order’s technological prowess. An unheard-of technology aboard a 60km long Mega-class Star Destroyer. Snoke’s flagship is so large it is capable of building and fixing other Star Destroyers. Alas, as with other amazing capital ships, it is not long for this world, but we will get to that in a bit.
The Resistance running on literal fumes speeds up to the point where it is just outside the range of the First Order’s turbo lasers and, presumably, the air defense (space defense) cover as illustrated by a wonderful on-screen red cone, outside of which are the green Resistance vessels.
What ensues is one of the slowest speed chases in space in film history.
But before we get to that, let’s talk for a second about the First Order’s continuation of the Empire’s fascination with large, capital intensive, one and two gun projects. The Death Star One and Two, Starkiller Base, Snoke’s Supremacy, the Dreadnoughts… The Empire was and the First Order is obsessed with large weapon platforms at the expense of smaller more effective vessels. To be fair, so was Nazi Germany with the Bismarck (and its proposed H-class successor battleship) and Imperial Japan with the Yamato class battleships (and the Design A-150).
The fixation on these heavy weapon platforms hasn’t turned out too well for the Empire or the First Order. The weapons are large, expensive, and make incredibly attractive targets for the Resistance. Not to mention they aren’t terribly effective and have a habit of getting destroyed and taking a lot of good Stormtroopers with them.
The First Order has also demonstrated that it can, to a degree, miniaturize the Death Star technology (the battering ram cannon). If this is the case, why not mount it on a sub-orbital or smaller weapons platform? Imagine an A-10-type TIE with a mini-Death Star cannon in lieu of a GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon… BRrrrrtttt pew-pew-pew.
Okay, back to the slow-speed chase… Let’s put the physics of this to bed and just ignore them. The Resistance has three – THREE – ships against the Supremacy and a handful of other Star Destroyers. The largest of these is the Raddus, a heavy cruiser, which becomes home to the fleeing and dwindling Resistance fighters for the bulk of the film.
*Heavy sigh* why wasn’t the First Order able to destroy these three vessels? Why did General Hux recall Kylo Ren in his amazing TIE Fighter, the Silencer warning them that they couldn’t protect them as they were outside the range? Ren, by the way, destroyed the hanger holding Dameron’s Black One X-Wing and pretty much put their fighter squadron out of action. That and his escorts blew up the bridge and killed (but really didn’t) Leia and Admiral Akbar (who sadly dies for real).
The Raddus, by my guess, was effectively defanged after this attack. No, rather than finish off the Raddus with an endless wave of TIE Fighters (which are seemingly disposable at this point), Hux and co. decided to sit back and fire off the turbo laser shot after turbo laser shot, and slowly pursue the Raddus as it wandered (seemingly) without a point or direction.
For that matter, why didn’t Hux just order some Star Destroyers to jump into the path of the Raddus and cut off their line of escape? Surely there are enough assets to do just that? One look inside of the Supremacy and you can see the armada held within. If they weren’t there, just call up one or two Star Destroyers, plot the course, mark and X and intercept. The Raddus couldn’t jump to light speed, was draining (as we learn) its fuel to gas up the escape craft to land on Crait, an Alamo-like location (it seems at first) for the Resistance. Supposedly so far off the grid it isn’t mapped. But surely the First Order could remote sense Crait, blockade it, or possibly infer that to be an option? I guess not. Once again, they are content to just fire the odd laser bolt and wait for the Resistance to flame out.
As the Resistance starts to flee to Crait, they are betrayed by Benicio del Toro’s character—DJ, a slicer or hacker—who discloses that they are using smaller vessels to evacuate the Raddus. The First Order starts picking off the fleeing craft. Realizing what is happening, Vice Admiral Holdo—briefly the successor to Leia—remains aboard the Raddus and turns it to face the Supremacy and the other Star Destroyers. Hux sneers but Holdo spins up what is left of the Raddus’ fuel and jumps to light speed colliding with the Supremacy and splitting it and the other vessels in half in one of the coolest scenes I’ve watched in many years. The quiet is deafening as the cut vessels drift apart, their halves lost amid the yawning space.
You can argue that they didn’t have time to react. Balderdash. They had enough time to make snarky quips in an upper class toff accent, surely, they could have fired off those turbo lasers or done something. This is, of course, putting aside the fact that the Raddus should have been destroyed well before it got to this point, but I digress, again.
Even before they belatedly reacted it never seemed to cross their mind that someone would do something like this—turn into the fight and go on a suicide mission. Ignoring the fact that that is how the tide at the Battle of Scarif turned. A Hammerhead-class corvette called Lightmaker crashed into the Star Destroyer (Imperial I-class, if you’re curious) Persecutor to push it into the Intimidator, both of which collided with the shield gate, allowing the Death Star plans to be transmitted from the surface (all seen in the amazingly well-done Rogue One film). Institutional memory, it seems, is exceptionally short.
So, the Supremacy is cleaved in two. (I hope this isn’t a feature in the Lego set. The pieces would just get everywhere). The weapons bay, at least one of them, is heavily damaged allowing Finn, BB-8, and Rose Tico to escape to the surface of Crait.
Crait is supposed to allow the Resistance to broadcast its distress message to the Outer Rim and, hopefully, rally support to the cause and push back the First Order. Mind you the First Order for all its ineptitude has done an amazing job, in spite of itself, whittling down the Resistance numbers. Three escaping vessels to one, and then ultimately none. Hundreds of individual fighters to a handful huddling behind a massive blast door in the mountains on Crait.
Crait looks to be the last stand for the Resistance, or at least that’s the objective of the First Order. Occupying fixed positions (read trenches) outside the blast door the remaining fighters mount individual weapons, a few crew served weapons, and some larger caliber artillery. They have, at best, a handful of rusting and literally falling apart V-4X-D Ski Speeders to take on AT-M6s (All Terrain MegaCaliber Six walkers (AT-ATs on steroids—also an amazing Lego set), a number of AT-ATs, TIE/fo and sf fighters, all of which are commanded from Kylo Ren’s Upsilon-class command shuttle.
The First Order lands some way away from the Resistance base and slowly drags forward a battering ram cannon that uses the same technology as the Death Star, just smaller. Why couldn’t they just nuke them from orbit, you ask? Apparently, a shield went up protecting the planet, preventing just that contingency. How convenient.
The First Order slowly plods along dragging this cannon forward as the Resistance launches their Ski Speeders on a direct attack against the assaulting force. The First Order has air superiority and presumably a heck of a lot more resources and assets than the Resistance. So why don’t they take advantage of this?
They don’t use the TIE fighters for close air support (I would love to see the aforementioned A-10 version of a TIE Fighter), they barely attack the fixed ground positions, nor do they even attempt a standoff attack. Surely, they have the equivalent of cruise missiles (ALCMs or SLAM-ERs) or even land-based indirect artillery (HIMARS). If the First Order couldn’t attack from orbit, but could breach the atmosphere and land ground assets, surely, they could have launched bombers or sub-orbital strike assets.
Of course, the Millennium Falcon piloted by Chewbacca (and co-piloted by an adorable Porg) with Rey at the guns, flies in to save the day, taking out multiple TIE Fighters and baiting the remainder to pursue them, on the orders of Kylo Ren.
Why are there not more air assets to support the ground assault? The Supremacy was 60km long. Yes, it was cut in half, but it wasn’t totally destroyed. Same with the other Star Destroyers. So where are the supporting TIE Fighters? And how hard is it to shoot down one bloody Corellian YT-1300f light freighter? Yes, it was piloted by Chewy who we can all agree is a great pilot and yes, Rey was at the guns, but where are the First Order’s AARAMs or ground-based SLAARAMs?
Here also we see the consequence of military leadership taking things personally. Kylo Ren’s dispatching of every available air asset to go after the Millennium Falcon is asinine and reckless. His personal feelings (obviously a character flaw throughout) led him to tactical blunder after tactical blunder jeopardizing the overall strategic objective of crushing the resistance.
The ultimate consequence of this is we have an Iliad-esque fight between Kylo Ren and his mentor Luke Skywalker on the salt plains of Crait. I’ll leave that to the side—go watch the movie.
The important part to note is that the fight buys the greatly reduced Resistance to board the Millennium Falcon, flee the battlefield, rally more to its cause, and continue the fight.
So, we are left with a bumbling First Order, a somehow still alive Resistance, and a whole lot of destroyed equipment all across the galaxy. Amusingly director Rian Johnson has a bit of a dig at the military-industrial complex with the wealthy enjoying the spoils of war on Canto Bight—basically the Star Wars equivalent of Monaco.
After all of this I would have to imagine there would be endless inquires, after action reviews, and lessons learned from the First Order. Well, in a normal military organization I’m sure this would be the case. Senior leaders—I’m looking at you Hux—would be replaced and drummed out of service, and, hopefully, a new crop of experienced battle-hardened leaders would take command. Arguably since the First Order is modeled as a quasi-fascist organization, this isn’t going to happen. I guess we will have to wait and see for Episode IX, and you can believe I will be dead center of an IMAX on opening night to watch.
To engage with the author on Twitter, follow him at: @joshuachuminski
Photo by Official Star Wars Website Gallery.