IN DEFENSE OF: Luke Skywalker and The Last Jedi
A spoiler-filled overview of Luke's character arc and why it works.
Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi ahead.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi flew into cinemas almost a week ago now, and it has left the Star Wars fanbase divided. Some love it and others hate it so much they think it should be stripped from canon.
One of people’s primary problems with the film seems to be centred around the handling of Luke Skywalker, with many people taking snippets from actor Mark Hamill’s own answers in interviews to reinforce their point. With the man who made Luke who he is on your side, it can be hard to argue with your logic.
But I’m going to anyway.
Because I loved The Last Jedi, and I think this whole #NotMyLuke issue needs to be examined.
Throwing history over his shoulder
Few things irked fans more than seeing Luke nonchalantly throw his father’s lightsaber over his shoulder and off the side of a cliff.
It’s been deemed disrespectful, but is it really that bad? Let’s think about that for a second. Luke has stepped away from fighting and relinquished the role of Jedi Master. He’s gone to ‘the most unfindable place in the galaxy’, only for some random girl to show up and give him a lightsaber he lost decades ago. To some, that lightsaber is the Star Wars equivalent of Excalibur; it’s this holy sword that is passed down from generation to generation. But what has it been used for over all that time?
The lightsaber’s maker, Anakin Skywalker (better known as Darth Vader), used it to slaughter countless Jedi and several children while enacting Order 66. After it was passed to Luke, he used it to combat his father in the Cloud City above Bespin, where his own dad chopped his hand off and dropped the mother of all bombshells. So yeah, if some random girl showed up with an item that represented the murder of children and that time your father took domestic abuse to a whole new level, you’d probably want rid of it too, and that’s without the whole ‘the Jedi must end’ thing, which we’ll get to shortly.
Luke’s daily routine
After Luke rejects Rey’s gift, and starts to go about his daily routine, he seems to be a shell of his former self, and a far cry from the hero of the Rebellion we knew from Episodes IV through VI. He drinks freshly secreted green milk from the udders of the Thala-siren and goes fishing in a rather extravagant manner before retiring to his hut and lamenting untold mistakes. In short, he lives a sad, but peaceful and simple life, coexisting with the inhabitants of Ahch-To and living out his final days as a hermit. It’s a rather shocking transition from the young man who blew up the death star and faced down not one, but two Sith, in his prime.
But let’s be fair, Luke comes from simple beginnings; he was a farmer, doing his part to survive and help his family. But now, he’s all alone, in what is not unlike the Jedi equivalent of a retirement home. It’s not the most exciting end, but not all war heroes fight until the day they die – some take a step back and take it easy in the last years of their lives.
It’s time for the Jedi to end
As disappointing as this reality may have been to fans, it seems even more so to Rey, who finds that her last hope for understanding this power she can’t control is little more than a washed up old man. She argues that Luke needs to return to the fight, and save them from Kylo Ren and the tyranny of the First Order. After a bit of coaxing, Luke agrees to give Rey three lessons, which will teach her about the force and why the Jedi must end.
In these lessons, he points out something that should be blatantly obvious to those watching: that the Jedi are failures. Sure, books, comics and video-games have since shown us the majesty and heroic acts of the Jedi, but going off the films alone, what have we seen the Jedi do? Qui-Gon Jinn argued that the Jedi should take in Anakin Skywalker due to some vague and non-specific prophecy. Obi-Wan trained Anakin, and was generally unaware of the fact he broke their code and was slowly succumbing to the Dark Side of the Force. Anakin himself murdered a hell of a lot of people. The Jedi council let their order become embroiled in a war that ended up killing most of their number and were completely oblivious to the fact that everything they did over the course of the Clone Wars took the galaxy closer and closer to Sith rule. Even Grandmaster Yoda and master swordsman Mace Windu failed to defeat Darth Sidious, despite both having the upper hand.
If you’ve dedicated your entire adult life to an order plagued by failure, it’s fair to say that at some point, once you’ve truly come to understand them, you may have second thoughts. And let’s be honest, Luke never truly understood what the Jedi were during the original trilogy; he just got some half-truths from Obi-Wan and some riddles from Yoda.
Creating Kylo Ren
Another big ‘no no’ for fans is the revelation that Luke considered killing his nephew Ben Solo, who then turned against him and became Kylo Ren – murdering most of Luke’s students in the process.
Fair enough, it’s not the best seeing your hero considering killing an unarmed teenager, although that’s not exactly new to Star Wars (see: my points on Anakin’s lightsaber up top). The thing that people seem to be brushing by, however, is that Luke considered it for a second, and then felt ashamed of himself. That is not out of Luke Skywalker’s character, even if it was a member of his own family.
In the original trilogy, Luke killed thousands of people when he blew up the Death Star, and he nearly beat his own dad to death after confronting him in the hopes of turning him back to the Light Side. Luke has some anger issues; understandable ones, what with his dad being a real jerk, but issues nonetheless.
In fact, what’s the first power we see Luke demonstrate as a fully-fledged Jedi Knight at the start of Return of the Jedi? He chokes out two guards; something we never see any ‘good’ Jedi like Obi-Wan and Yoda do. Furthermore, seconds later, he uses a Jedi mind trick, proving that choking people isn’t his only means of overcoming a minor opponent at his disposal, it’s just something he does from time to time.
He takes after his dad in that way.
Snoke’s theory sucks
An issue that we’ll deal with again later is that people feel that Luke doesn’t demonstrate any awesome Jedi acts or engage anyone in a lightsaber fight. This is, in a way, tied to an offhand comment by Supreme Leader Snoke, while he is in the company of Rey and Kylo Ren.
He muses about how “Darkness rises, and light to meet it”; how he assumed that Skywalker would grow in power to face down his nephew. But the thing that both Snoke and audiences got wrong is that this isn’t Luke’s story. Not anymore. In The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker isn’t the Luke Skywalker of this trilogy. He’s the Obi-Wan Kenobi, or maybe even the Yoda. He’s the opposite of Snoke, not Kylo Ren. That position is filled by Rey. And if you think back to the original trilogy, we don’t see Yoda or Obi-Wan engage in any epic lightsaber duels, do we? We see Obi-Wan waggle his saber around a bit before being cut down, while Yoda lifts an X-Wing and later dies of old age.
Meanwhile, in this film, when he finally makes his move, Luke demonstrates immense power comparable to that of Snoke’s, and greater than anything the Jedi Masters of the original trilogy ever do. But again, we’ll get to that later.
The greatest teacher, failure is
Before The Last Jedi became Star Wars fans favourite target, that honour, during Disney’s reign, fell to Rey. Rey was critiqued for being a ‘Mary Sue’; excelling at everything and having no flaws. She took down Kylo Ren the first time she ever used a lightsaber and she demonstrated powers it took Luke years to learn.
The thing is though, you can explain all those things away. Rey’s good at fighting; you see her training herself in both this film and the last. She knows what techniques to try when using the Force because she’s watched other people use them (or had them used on her). What does Luke learn, really, from Obi-Wan and Yoda?
From Obi-Wan he gets lessons in mindfulness, but no actual talks on what physical applications the force has. From Yoda, he gets riddles, a strict exercise regime and a demonstration in how to lift rocks and salvage a poorly parked spaceship. Also, more lessons in mindfulness. It’s an important topic when it comes to being a Jedi.
But at the end of the day; we don’t see him learn that much, so it’s rather harsh of us to expect him to know how to do all these miraculous things. Furthermore, it’s harsh of us to expect him to be this perfect, ideal hero. Luke Skywalker is just a man. He’s not the strongest or smartest Jedi who ever lived. He’s just a farm boy who pulled off a couple of spectacular feats, and was deified as a result. Imagine how hard that must be, for him. To have done something spectacular, and then have everyone expect you to continue to do the spectacular again and again and again, even though it’s not within your power.
Luke’s only human; he’s allowed to fail. So, give him a break. If things went the other way, and he showed godlike abilities all the time, then where’s the sense of danger? The excitement? The character progression? It would be boring.
Cool, but boring.
Facing down the First Order
Earlier on in the film, Luke and Rey debate his place within the conflict between the Resistance and the First Order. He brusquely claims that he has become a legend; he knows the above point – people expect more of him than he can offer. He jests that people can’t expect him to just stand down the whole First Order and save the day. Because that would be ridiculous.
But you know Luke; he’s such a stand-up guy that he does it anyway. And it’s amazing.
As the film reaches its climax, Luke swaggers up to the remaining Resistance fighters on Crait, has a heartwarming reunion with his sister, Leia, before flashing C-3PO a wink and marching out to face down a horde of First Order AT-AT’s and AT-M6s (accompanied by some fantastic music, might I add).
It’s a suicide mission, for sure, and the members of the Resistance know it. But he’s not doing it because he thinks he can win. He’s doing it so that his friends can escape to fight another day. Because again, this isn’t Luke’s story anymore, and he knows that.
We see Luke shrug off a heavy barrage of artillery and gracefully dodge the slashes of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber. Eventually, he decides to give up the façade, and lets Kylo realise that he’s not really there. He’s just projecting an image of himself from across the Galaxy.
Some dislike this, as it means Luke didn’t even show up for his own big moment. But really, what do you want to happen? He shows up in the flesh and gets blown to bits? That would have been a bit of a downer ending.
Instead, he gives the illusion of doing something amazing. He presents an idealised version of himself that can live up to the legend, and in doing so, Luke becomes truly immortal. And by that, I don’t mean what happens to him next (again, we’ll get to that in a moment), I mean he becomes the best chapter of a story, that people across the Galaxy will tell for generations. That time one man stood up to a whole army.
‘But him not being there means that he can’t truly participate in an awesome lightsaber battle’, you might say! This is true, but again, think back to the original trilogy. If Luke is now the Yoda or Obi-Wan of the Sequels, then he should act accordingly. Lightsaber fighting is a young Jedi’s game; Alec Guinness showed us that in a fight that has since been deemed one of the most boring duels in the entire Star Wars saga. No, with Jedi Masters, the way they amaze us is through using the Force. Obi-Wan showed us how to ghost. Yoda showed us that size matters not. Luke showed us how to become a legend.
See you around, kid
I’ll level with you. The first time I saw this film, I was heartbroken when Luke died. Not just because he’s a hero to many, but also because it meant that none of the original heroes could show up in the flesh anymore (except for Chewbacca, of course). Sure, Luke will almost certainly be back as a Force Ghost in Episode IX, but it’s just not the same.
I spent the rest of my day mostly stewing in a melancholy silence, reflecting on what I had seen. But I got more chipper as days went by. The events of Star Wars: The Last Jedi were constantly on my mind, and day by day, I was growing to appreciate them a little bit more. By the time I’d seen the film again, I had come to love and appreciate nearly every bit of it.
In dying, Luke had fulfilled the final part of the Jedi Master trope. After passing on your teachings, you must become one with the Force. Obi-Wan protected and placed Luke on the path to becoming a Jedi before he passed. Yoda taught Luke how to use his powers for good and gave him an end goal, before he too, disappeared. Luke out-staged them all. Sure, he didn’t directly pass anything on to Rey, after Yoda told him to, but instead, he gave a lesson, and more importantly, hope, to the whole Galaxy, as the man who stood alone against the First Order and didn’t flinch. As the man who became a legend.
And as Luke succumbed to the strain of his immense force expenditure, projecting an image of himself across the Galaxy (something we’re told is lethal earlier in the film) he gets to remain a man of his word; he went to Ahch-To to die, and that’s what he did, but managed to squeeze in saving his friends one last time before he went. And with a twin sunset paralleling the start of his journey, Luke Skywalker found his much-deserved peace and purpose, as a new hope.