The last several days have been a Star Wars-induced haze because I’ve been catching up on all the movies I never saw before. All that’s left for me now is the prequels (I’m talking about catching up on the Skywalker saga – not the spin-offs and weird holiday specials). I was especially interested to watch The Last Jedi because I knew it was shrouded in controversy.
My thoughts on the film in general are better saved for a different post (spoiler alert: I thought it was great, even better than The Force Awakens). Today I want to focus on Luke – and the wild discussions and accusations regarding his character in The Last Jedi.
Even though it might seem like I’m incredibly late to the table/the Star Wars fandom in general, I have been a fan ever since I saw A New Hope when I was ten or eleven. So I do have Thoughts and Feelings about these characters. (And, by the way, if you hated The Last Jedi, hated Luke’s arc, all of it…that’s totally okay with me. I understand we all approach stories differently. This is all my personal opinion about a, you know, fictional character.)
So, from what I can make out, most of people’s complaints about Luke have to do with two main things: the fact that he thought (for one second) of murdering a child. And his abandonment of literally everything after the whole Ben Solo fiasco. I’m going to take on these issues one at a time and see where it goes…
Luke is not a child killer.
Everyone understands this. Everyone knows that Luke didn’t kill Ben. But sometimes it’s hard to separate what he thought of doing from what he actually did. (Okay, and maybe Luke was lying to Rey about his intentions. But who are you going to believe? A whiny, emo Darth Vader wannabe or a Jedi warrior who has a track record of integrity and uprightness?)
I think we all need to remember who Luke’s father was. (I know, I know – it’s impossible to forget. But stay with me.) Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, of course, but before he was Vader, he was a Jedi apprentice. He had the potential for light and dark inside him and Luke had to know (or at least suspect) that Obi-Wan waited and waited and hoped and waited some more for the light to win in Anakin’s heart.
Except that never happened and millions of people suffered and died because of that. Luke had to have been terrified of creating another Vader, his father’s shadow hanging over him even as he pushed those thoughts away and focused on training Ben. Especially when Ben began exhibiting some tendencies toward the dark side – he had to have, or else why would Luke have probed his mind in the first place?
Alternately, maybe the worry of Ben going bad – any of the students going bad – was what led Luke to be suspicious of Ben in the first place. Paranoia, you know. Fear is one of the hardest emotions to contain and it’s especially insidious because once it’s there, it grows even as you try to ignore it.
Luke probably snuck into Ben’s room (tent?) that night, fearful of what might be in his mind, but assuming (or hoping) that he’d find nothing. So when he did detect whispers of darkness (future or otherwise), he freaked out. His instincts took over, his instincts as a Jedi warrior tasked with rooting out the dark side, and he drew his lightsaber.
But he didn’t kill Ben. He didn’t.
And then everything went horribly wrong anyway.
Leaving the Jedi, ignoring the Force.
This is, I think, the larger sore spot of the two: Luke retreated from his failures (supposed or real), went to a lonely island, and closed himself off from the Force. So many people have said that he would never do that, that the writers were idiots, that this isn’t the Luke they know.
(Oh my word, I have sooooo many thoughts in my mind right now. How to untangle them?)
First of all, I think that Luke may have felt he didn’t deserve to be a Jedi anymore. Fear is one thing that can turn a Force user to the dark side and I believe Luke was incredibly fearful. (As detailed in the previous section.)
He was afraid of failing Ben the way he figured Obi-Wan had failed Anakin. He was afraid that Ben would turn to the dark side and he’d have failed Leia and Han too – his sister and his best friend. And when Luke saw that fear reap awful consequences, he ran from it all. Which, of course, was another type of fear. So maybe he didn’t feel worthy to wear the Jedi mantle, to use the Force and take on the innate responsibilities that entailed.
I’d also like to point out that Obi-Wan did the exact same thing Luke did: he hid away in some forgotten corner of the galaxy. I don’t think Obi-Wan did it because he was an introvert or something. He did it because he felt so keenly his failure with Anakin. And Luke is the Obi-Wan figure in the sequel trilogy. I think most of us kind of thought Han was in The Force Awakens, but Han is Han. He wasn’t ever Rey’s mentor or teacher (if you think about it).
Then there’s another thing. I don’t feel like we really got to see Luke process his feelings/grief until The Last Jedi. Just think about it: in the course of the original trilogy, he endures almost unspeakable amounts of trauma. His aunt and uncle are brutally murdered. His beloved mentor is also murdered. His hand is chopped off. He finds out that one of the most evil, brutal men in the galaxy is his father. Then his father dies soon after being brought back to the light. And through all this (and I’m probably forgetting some stuff), we don’t see a lot of the grieving process.
Yes, we do see some. But there isn’t a lot of time for introspection when you’re running from and then taking down an evil dictatorship. I’m sure that after the dust settled, Luke found time to grieve his father. I’m sure he did. But Return of the Jedi didn’t show that, we don’t really think about it, and then when The Last Jedi does show the grieving process (I’ll get to that in a minute), we don’t know what to do with it. Gone is younger, more gung-ho and interested Luke Skywalker. What we get instead is someone who is reaching the end of their life – and who is believably going through the five stages of grief.
First, there’s denial. Luke has been living in denial ever since the whole Ben Solo thing went off the rails. He’s secluded himself, told himself that the Jedi aren’t needed anymore, that life will go on just fine without him. And it does, until a strange girl shows up, begging for his help (on behalf of his sister no less).
Then there’s anger. Luke’s past has caught up with him and the resistance needs him again and he doesn’t want anything to do with it. So he resorts to anger (which is another emotion that can tempt someone to the dark side, I might add). Bargaining comes when he tells Rey he will train her…but only to show her why such training is unnecessary (and get her to leave). He becomes depressed after Rey goes, after he tells her what he’s done – so depressed that he goes to destroy any last vestiges of the Jedi order.
Finally, of course, there’s acceptance. With Yoda’s help, Luke accepts that the galaxy still needs the Jedi. Still needs him. And he rises up to meet that challenge, as he’s done so many times before. (Also, who didn’t cry when R2 played the old tape of Leia?)
Whatever anyone might say about The Last Jedi, I love how it gave me an appreciation for Luke Skywalker that I never had before. (I mean, I did quite like him in Return of the Jedi. He was cool. And more mature. The Last Jedi, however, was where I really, really liked him.) Luke Skywalker started out as an archetypal hero – the everyman thrust into strange, exciting new circumstances.
But through the course of the Skywalker saga, he’s become so much more. He’s become a complex character with shades of both darkness and light, weakness and greatness, the mystical Force and messy, human emotions flowing through him.
And it’s amazing to see.