For all of its financial success, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has become quite a controversial offering from Lucasfilm. As everyone knows, it saw the long-awaited return of Luke Skywalker, which came two years after his famously silent cameo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In the story, this occurs roughly three decades after his victory in Return of the Jedi.
Yet, there’s been a strong backlash against The Last Jedi. Certainly, many enthusiasts have even asked for the film to be struck from the canon. And this isn’t just because they dislike its use of humor, or its new characters.
Moreover, a large portion of the anger stems from Luke’s characterization as a disillusioned and downtrodden Jedi, which fans have decried as too different from his younger self. A #NotmyLuke movement even commenced on Twitter, which proclaimed that The Last Jedi has “senselessly” ruined a wholesome character for (particularly) young men to be inspired by.
But why is there so much contention over Luke Skywalker? And are these concerns even necessarily valid? Let’s investigate..
The Luke Skywalker Of Old
Luke Skywalker is beloved by Star Wars fans the world over. He may not be the most powerful of characters when we first meet him, but his courage and loyalty more than make up for that. Indeed, in the Original Trilogy, Luke rushes to save others with little concern for his own safety on two occasions.
For some 35 years, Luke’s heroism continued in the highly popular Expanded Universe, which picked up where Return of the Jedi left off, with new compelling characters and memorable stories. Even if it was a labyrinthine and highly contradictory continuity, these beloved comics and novels allowed fans to get to know the characters more intimately outside the runtime of the adored movies.
Moreover, whilst he was still plagued by the shadows of his past, the EU saw Luke triumph against many new problems and conflicts. Among his many accomplishments, he attained a great mastery of the Force, founded a flourishing New Jedi Order, married the vivacious Mara Jade and fathered Ben Skywalker.
Thanks to the Yuuzhan Vong – and remnants of the Empire – it wasn’t exactly a fairytale ending for Luke. However, these idealized tales did provide him with some degree of happiness. Plus, they contained a whole lot of Force-badassery. As such, the EU – and particularly Luke Skywalker – became a potent form of wish fulfillment for fans. This contentment continued until 2014, when Disney erased the Expanded Universe from the Star Wars canon in lieu of a new one centered on the Sequel Trilogy.
Star Wars fans weren’t happy that their emotional investment had “gone to waste.” Their mood did not improve when The Force Awakens was released, either. After all, many saw the re-purposing of some EU ideas – such as Darth Caedus/Kylo Ren – to be a pale imitation of something they deemed to be sacred.
Nevertheless, the allure of the absent Luke Skywalker still drew their attention. But trouble brewed in April 2017, when Mark Hamill revealed that he’d “fundamentally disagreed” with director Rian Johnson’s vision of Luke in The Last Jedi. You see, Hamill’s words carry a lot more weight than many other people involved in Star Wars. He had championed the saga more than anyone else from the Original Trilogy, and since played popular roles in various prominent pop culture properties.
Mark may have swiftly backtracked and clarified his comments, but the damage was already done for some fans, who already felt aggrieved with the Sequel Trilogy. Therefore, the stage was set for enthusiasts to balk against the new Luke.
“Darkness Rises…And Light To Meet It”
There are plenty of cases where Luke is depicted as an enthusiastic and compassionate individual in the Star Wars saga. Therefore, The Last Jedi’s director and writer Rian Johnson had to provide a sufficient reason for this man to shut himself away prior to The Force Awakens. And we soon find out what caused his exile through two different viewpoints.
In Luke’s idealized version, he calmly confronted Ben Solo, who then turned on him. In Kylo Ren’s memory, meanwhile, a sadistic Luke tried to kill him and Kylo reacted defensively. Then, Luke reluctantly recalls the truth: that yes, he briefly considered murdering his nephew to prevent the horrors which would result from his fall to the Dark Side, but decided against it. It’s clear that we’re intended to believe the latter because, let’s face it, Luke’s far more trustworthy than Kylo Ren.
Like Rey, we viewers are saddened as we familiarize ourselves with a distressed Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi. Indeed, it’s upsetting that Luke verges close towards the Dark Side during this fateful encounter, and inadvertently assists the First Order through his inaction. But some commentators see this despairing, darkness-tinged Jedi Master as an insult to the Luke of the EU and previous movies.
Moreover, if you prescribed to another lot of online hyperbole, you’d find that Luke is seen as a Jesus-esqe figure; a paragon of kindness, goodness and optimism. Sure, he does exemplify these qualities on many occasions in Star Wars, there’s no denying that. But this viewpoint is especially strange considering how the EU Luke actually full-on turned to the Dark Side for a while in Star Wars: Dark Empire. Have goodness and virtue always been Luke’s sole defining attributes? Absolutely not.
We’re first introduced to Luke in A New Hope, where he typifies many adolescent stereotypes. Indeed, fans have joked about the many occasions where our hero whines, with particular reference to power converters and moping in front of binary sunsets. Luke does mature through the series, but to assume again that Skywalker junior is full of virtue is unwise. Despite his aptitude, he constantly struggles against the strictures of the “good” Jedi Order.
Furthermore, as we learn through Return of the Jedi, Luke’s duel with Darth Vader left a considerable impact upon his psyche. He strays perilously close to the Dark Side in the movie, using aggressive Sith-favorite moves like Force-choke against Jabba’s Gamorrean guards. Plus, he very nearly kills Darth Vader out of sheer rage in the film’s climax, before resisting the lure of the Dark Side. Instead, Luke defeats two powerful Sith Lords through empathy, and in doing so he helps save the galaxy. And this is crux of the Luke Skywalker controversy – the distinction between the man and the myth of his actions.
“I Failed. Because I Was Luke Skywalker. Jedi Master. A Legend.”
The Last Jedi has been named the most self-aware Star Wars movie because of its introspection. However, for all that the saga has drawn upon ancient history and legends, it’s always chipped away at them as well. For every step that it follows in the traditional hero’s journey, there’s a sobering realization around the corner.
For example, in The Force Awakens, we discover that evil still rises after happy endings. There’s the crushing comprehension that the shining Jedi Order was undone by their hubris. And the horror of discovering your supposedly heroic father was a genocidal dark lord.
By overthrowing the evil, Sith-led Galactic Empire, the assumption is that Luke would be somehow immune to the problems of the past. Of course, we all know that it’s never that simple. It would be so cool to see Luke stride out and face the First Order (in person) with nary a worry or care. But this is not how people work, and it wouldn’t be true to the conflicted and empathetic character we’ve known since 1977. The fact of the matter is that for all of his great deeds, Luke is still a man. Even the greatest of people are flawed and make mistakes, especially if they don’t evolve. Indeed, as Luke himself admits, it’s his failure to learn from these past errors that helped create Kylo Ren.
Moreover, like his father – the Jedi before him – Luke always struggled between the light and the dark sides of the Force. But unlike Anakin, Luke recognized the warning signs and rightly chose to seek compassion.
Even at his lowest moment this is evident. In the case of Ben Solo, Luke’s murderous impulse is undoubtedly repulsive, yet his reaction is completely understandable. It isn’t borne out of hate; it’s his attempt to stop all the horrors he’s seen and fought against coming true once again. As Mark Hamill recently posted on Twitter, it would be like coming face to face with Hitler as a baby. How could you not weigh up the options in that situation? And wouldn’t it leave a massive psychological scar?
Sure, Luke does no one any favors by emulating his masters and going into exile. However, by using the past as a springboard, Luke finds his purpose once more. The Jedi Master then honors his masters, his family and friends, and gives the last of his life-force to save the Resistance on Crait. And Luke’s creation of a Force projection is highly pertinent.
“No One’s Ever Really Gone.”
The projection abides by the Jedi adage of using the Force “for defense, never attack.”It also represents the limits of legends, such as that of Luke Skywalker himself. Putting too much stake in them can be disastrous, as Kylo Ren discovers when he fails to realize that his uncle isn’t actually there. But as a symbol, it can provide help and inspiration.
As the end of The Last Jedi shows, Luke’s act of defiance captures the attention of everyone across the galaxy and helps guide them towards the light. Luke may be a scared hermit who succumbs to exhaustion, but he and the “spark” he provides are not any lesser because of this.
Certainly, in this moment Luke is the emotional, flawed farm boy that we know and love. At The Last Jedi’s climax, his ploy may mimic the cunning of Obi Wan Kenobi, who gave his life to allow the Millennium Falcon to escape from the Death Star all those years ago. Yet here, Luke rushes to help his friends and family as he did in The Empire Strikes Back, regardless of the harm it will cause him. His heart is just as big as it was before.
The Luke Skywalker that we see in Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the sum of his – and his master’s – failings and successes. He’s also a commentary on our own views of our heroes. As he becomes one with the Force, Luke’s still the flawed, powerful, compassionate character we know and love from the Original Trilogy – but wiser, older and bearded.
Of course, it’s saddening that Luke never found that closure we all craved for him. But his exile and his despair prove that the greatest of us are troubled and can make mistakes. The redemption of Luke Skywalker also proves that we can fight to move past them, to help and inspire others. To move beyond. All we need is a little bit of hope.