Star Wars: The Last Jedi featured a lot of death (even for a franchise centered on its protagonist killing all his friends and a group of children in a matter of minutes): Supreme Leader Snoke, Captain Phasma and, most heartbreakingly, Luke Skywalker (although he's sure to return as a Force ghost) all met their end before the credits rolled. And yet, as the salt dust settles on Rian Johnson's controversial entry in the Saga, another brutal killing has become a point of contention among fans: the death of Admiral Ackbar.
Early on in The Last Jedi, after being humiliated by Supreme Leader Snoke for his failures in the previous film, Kylo Ren leads a space assault against the Resistance the First Order is currently trailing. He blows up the hangar bay of the Raddus, then targets the bridge, only pausing when sensing his mother. A rogue TIE fighter does the job, however, blasting open the command station. And, while Leia saves herself using the Force, the rest of the leaders on the bridge die, among them one Gial Ackbar.
Related: Luke Skywalker's Death Explained
This incidental moment in the film has caused quite a stir as the initial reaction to the film have settled. There's been various thinkpiece written about how it was a disrespectful move from the filmmakers, and even editor Bob Ducsay has voiced concerns over how the moment was handled, saying to The Huffington Post, "I watched the film last night and I thought, hmmm, maybe that’s too incidental." But is this response fair or does it fundamentally misunderstand who Admiral Ackbar actually was?
Admiral Ackbar's Death Had Story Purpose (This Page)
The Purpose and Execution of Admiral Ackbar's Death Is Misunderstood
First things first, let's get one oft-misrepresented fact out of the way: Admiral Ackbar doesn't die off-screen. We get confirmation he's died after the fact, yes, but in the shot of Leia just before she's flung out into space you can quite clearly see the collected Mon Calamari in the background getting engulfed by the fire of the explosion. That's a by-the-by observation, but something that needs to be clarified, especially as it justifies why the General doesn't try and save Ackbar while in space; he (and presumably the rest of the leadership) are already dead.
The other misconception is that there wasn't a reason for Ackbar to die when there quite clearly is, albeit a story one rather than character-based. For the subsequent Resistance subplot where Poe and Holdo butt heads, you need a complete removal of the top brass - not just Leia, but Ackbar and his Mon Cal brethren as well. Otherwise, you undercut the conflict; to have Ackbar assume command would uncharacteristically position him as an antagonist or reveal immediately that what became Holdo's plan is actually logical, while for him to side with Poe would, by nature of his higher status, rob our hero of his autonomy. Ackbar had no place in The Last Jedi's narrative. You could shift things around, but Episode VIII is a tight web of threads - pull this one and the whole thing falls apart.
You can argue he should have had a greater send off - that appears to be Ducsay's point - but it must be said that to do so would undercut the entire set piece. The primary purpose of the scene is to have Leia save herself from peril. Now, that has obviously become infamous in its own right (although quite why so many have rallied against the General saving herself is unclear - we've known space physics in Star Wars are fluid from the moment sound was heard, and Return of the Jedi resolutely established her Force affinity) but it would only be more ridiculed if the scene had to take into account tertiary characters too. And that's the real squid in the room; in defending the act of killing Ackbar, we're missing the bigger picture.
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