ByPramit Chatterjee, writer at
Enthusiastic reviewer of anything that moves. My undercover Twitter id is: @pramitheus
Pramit Chatterjee

Captain Jack Sparrow has been up against undead skeletons, escaped a deadly prison, been eaten by the Kraken and has even been brought back from the dead, but now he has succumbed to the might of the dreaded plot hole. After successfully sailing through the weekend and bravely including an after-credit stinger, a sixth installment is inevitable at this point, making it all the more necessary to address the film's current continuity and, more specifically, the curious case of Jack Sparrow's compass.

Warning: This article contains major spoilers for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Read at your own risk!

Throughout the years, there have been many McGuffins in the Pirates franchise; It started with the Pearl, then it was Davy Jones' heart and in Dead Men Tell No Tales, it's Poseidon's Trident. However, the most subtle of them all has to be Jack Sparrow's magical compass, due to its capability to point its keeper in the exact direction its owner wants to go. After being kept close to Jack through his many adventures, Dead Men Tell No Tales gave the compass a backstory that connected it to the fate of Captain Salazar - giving fans greater knowledge of the device while also making room for a potential plot hole in the franchise's lore.

Establishing Pirates Lore: What Is The Curse Of The Compass?

In keeping with Jack Sparrow's bizarre introduction, Dead Men Tell No Tales attempted to one-up previous entries by making the wobbly pirate drag an entire bank, in an attempt to rob some gold. After massively failing at that, Jack Sparrow made his way to a bar to get drunk. Devoid of any money, he decided to barter his handy compass for some rum - leading to the eventual freedom of Captain Salazar from the Devil's Triangle.

Although it may have been confusing at the time, we were later shown a flashback where a seemingly healthy Captain Salazar was chasing down pirate ships. On one such ship was the young Jack Sparrow, who was just made captain due to his predecessor's death. During the ex-captain's dying moments, he had passed on the compass to Jack and warned him to never betray the compass.

In the light of this new lore, fans will remember that Jack had already betrayed the compass multiple times throughout the franchise, most notably by giving it away to delay his doomsday. According to the new lore, those actions should've triggered Salazar's escape from the Devil's Triangle.

As it was never explained how Salazar knew he was cursed due to the compass and how the system of betrayal works, we have to move forward with the assumption that Salazar was fully aware that the compass is responsible for his curse. So, let's dive a little deeper into the open waters in the hopes of finding a solution to the film's lack of continuity.

How Was The Compass Handled In Previous Installments?

The fact that Jack had previous betrayed the compass brings us to a slight complication, because Jack Sparrow has previously given away his compass to save himself a total of three times without any perceivable intention of getting it back.

Here's a brief explanation by POTC Wiki as to how the compass works:

Unlike other compasses, Jack's compass didn't point north, but it had supernatural qualities. The compass could not be used to navigate in a conventional sense, but it does direct the owner to whatever he or she wanted most ... even if the bearer in question does not know the actual location of their desires, making the compass an invaluable tool for purposes like treasure-hunting and navigation. The effect of the compass was not limited to finding locations and objects, but could also indicate the user's desire towards another person, even if that person wanted him or her dead.

This brings us to the situations when Jack gave away his compass without being forced to do so:

  • In Dead Man's Chest, Jack gave away his compass to Elizabeth and convinced her that the only way to find Will Turner was to find the Chest. During the DVD commentary, writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott explained that the compass only points in Jack's "direction" - not at Jack himself - when Elizabeth holds it and on Isla Cruces. It continually points at the location of the Chest, despite Elizabeth believing it is pointing at Jack. Therefore, the compass was actually faithful to what Elizabeth wanted at that moment.
  • In At World's End, Jack gives the compass to Will, who probably doesn't use it, but remains the owner of the compass until he gives it to Beckett, who then returns it to Jack. However, Jack gave it to Will to save himself, thus breaking his loyalty to the compass.
  • In On Stranger Tides, Jack gives away the compass to Gibbs, who finds the Black Pearl. As Jack mentioned that it would lead him to his freedom, the compass led him to Blackbeard's ship, which was the nearest means of getting off the island. There he probably had a change of heart, robbed the miniature ships and sailed back to the island to rescue Jack.

Is This Really A Plot Hole For The Franchise's Continuity?

It is a common misconception that Jack has previously traded his compass out of loyalty, or that he has only even given it away with the expectation of having it returned to him. The two instances where he gave away the compass, he did it to save himself from the hands of Davy Jones and Cutler Beckett. In the third instance, he gave away the compass to Gibbs and didn't expect him to return with it because he has previously stranded Jack.

Despite the mysterious origins of the compass, it is considered that the compass releases the owner's greatest fears if he or she dishonorably trades it or doesn't expect it to return. So, as it has been confirmed that Jack dishonorably traded his compass, the next problem comes when the compass releases Jack's deepest fear, Captain Salazar.

Going by what we've seen in theaters, Jack Sparrow knew that he had put an end to the pirate-killer, and thus had no reason to fear his return. It's worth noting that Jack has shown a considerable amount of fear for Davy Jones in previous films, and if that is the explanation for the post-credit sequence then this plot hole can be partially pardoned.

'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End' [Credit: Disney]
'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End' [Credit: Disney]

Regardless of this, the fact remains that the curse on Salazar should have been lifted at least once out of the three times Jack had traded the compass. In addition to that, as the temporary owners had also used the compass, while expecting it not to return, it should have released their deepest fears as well.

Finally, even if Jack had willingly given the compass to Elizabeth in Dead Man's Chest, he took it back without her consent. As the compass was still obeying Elizabeth's command before ending up in Jack's pocket, it shouldn't have worked for Jack throughout the rest of the franchise because Elizabeth was the rightful owner of the compass.

With this in mind, it seems as though the writers could have focused on a previously established villain rather than creating a backstory that raises numerous questions about the franchise's continuity. The compass has caused a number of discrepancies, and fans of the Pirates franchise have to hope that the next installment will give clarity to the history and mythology of the Pirates saga.


Do you think this is a significant plot hole?

(Poll Image Courtesy: Disney)


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