There seems to be two schools of thought on Luke Skywalker’s character as depicted in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The first is that his character is actually completely true to that of the original trilogy, and in the defeated hermit we see on screen in TLJ lie the tattered vestiges of heroics, idealism, and youth that have naturally fallen away under the harsh realities of a galaxy constantly at war.
The second is that the Luke we see on screen is an entirely new creature, one so far removed from the Luke we see in the original trilogy that he may as well be another character entirely. And either because of this, or maybe because the filmmakers haven’t done a good enough job convincing us otherwise – it takes us out of the film entirely.
I personally fall into the latter category, and there are many reasons that myself and others think this way. Let me be clear, though. There are specific reasons why many of us think this way, and you can believe I’ll get to listing them.
What I’m going to talk about are basically the acts and philosophies already performed or espoused by his established character before his time in the newest Disney-owned trilogy of films. But, to be fair – I will also list his shortcomings in each film as I know them, and then maybe make a final point at the end stating what he learned in that film by the end credits. And then we can compare what he’s already learned and performed with his actions on screen in the newer movies.
Let’s start at the beginning. And if you haven’t watched The Last Jedi yet, I wouldn’t read ahead as this post contains spoilers.
A NEW HOPE
In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope – we see one of the only incarnations of Luke Skywalker that would really give much credence to the argument that TLJ Luke is as he should be by the end of The Last Jedi. Luke in the first of the old trilogy is very headstrong, sometimes whiny, and even a little bit entitled. But that’s part of the root problem with the argument. A New Hope is way before Luke has overcome his demons and transformed into a legit Jedi Master. He’s still a farm boy living on a desert planet who has these big dreams of doing something better with his life. He at this point has done nothing of note, aside from maybe blast some womp rats with incredible accuracy from his T-16. He is at the beginning of his story arc, and his character moves through several different incarnations in his journey through episodes IV, V, and VI. Not to say that he doesn’t experience a few changes within A New Hope itself, though.
Here are some instances in which he performed some heroics, or espoused some good qualities.
1.. EVEN AS A NAIVE, SELFISH FARM BOY – LUKE STILL WANTED TO BE A HERO, TO SAVE LEIA
“We’ve gotta’ do something. We’ve gotta’ help her.” – Luke Skywalker, Episode IV
This is basically the main heroic thing that Luke actually followed through on in the movie. Early on, he accidentally sees the hologram of Princess Leia and immediately presses R2-D2 for information. He didn’t even know who she was. He just felt like she was in trouble, and said as much in the presence of the droids.
Later, after Obi-Wan Kenobi enlists his help, and after they join up with Han and Chewie, Luke does many heroic things, including disguising himself as a stormtrooper, swinging with Leia across a chasm, and even trying to rush to Obi-Wan’s aid despite overwhelming odds. And to be fair, his rescue – though he had help – was a success. In that moment, he became a hero.
2. LUKE CHASTISED HAN SOLO FOR WANTING TO LEAVE, AND ULTIMATELY IT RESULTED IN HAN RETURNING FOR THE BIG BATTLE.
“Well, take care of yourself, Han. I guess that’s what you’re best at, isn’t it?” – Luke Skywalker, Episode IV
In this instance, Luke clearly has the moral high ground. And we all know what happens when you’ve got the high ground in Star Wars. He basically shames Han into eventually coming back and helping, which ultimately helps the Rebels win the day, and without Luke’s smuggler-shaming, the battle may have been lost.
That is another point to make here. Luke didn’t shy away from his new responsibilities. (Though he comes close to it in later films, which I will discuss later) He became an active member of the Rebellion, and expected his friends to be on the same page as he was. This was him displaying leadership qualities, which are important for his eventual role of Jedi Master. And it also displays his views on friendship, which will come into play later on.
3. LUKE PARTICIPATES IN THE DEATH STAR RUN, HEEDLESS OF HIS OWN LIFE, AND DESTROYS THE DEATH STAR.
“Use the Force, Luke. Let go, Luke. Luke, trust me.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Episode IV
Yes, let’s not forget the climax to the original Star Wars film in which – beset by enemies on all sides, with his comrades being shot down by Lord Vader and his cronies – Luke still plows ahead through the trench and makes one last-ditch effort at destroying the Death Star. Yes, he had help – but he had to trust in the Force, and trust in himself in order to make that last pass. This not only shows that he has some self-control and patience, but it also shows that he is brave and heroic.
LUKE’S BAD TRAITS IN STAR WARS: EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE:
As I said above – I’m going to talk about a few of his bad traits here.
First of all, Luke is a bit whiny. I think this was his introduction as a character, and as such – he made a bad impression on many of us. Still to this day, people think of Luke as whiny. And, to be honest – at least in this movie, those observations are justified.
However, let’s be real. In A New Hope – he is supposed to be whiny. He’s a headstrong kid. This is part of his natural character arc. He begins as this “angsty” kid with big dreams, a big heart, and a sort of rebellious nature. And in later films, this tendency to be whiny sort of just goes away.
LUKE’S JOURNEY THROUGH A NEW HOPE
Luke Skywalker follows Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” throughout this film. First, Luke receives the “call to action” in the form of R2’s hologram message from Princess Leia. Then, he initially refuses the call to action, until his aunt and uncle are murdered by Imperial Stormtroopers who are looking for C-3PO and R2-D2. At that point, he must make several choices in order to establish himself as an actual “hero” – and he comes through in spades.
He refuses Han’s offer to climb aboard and come with them, choosing the greater good and staying with Leia to help the Rebels. He experiences character growth as he listens to Obi-Wan Kenobi, his mentor, and trusts in himself and in the Force and brings himself one step closer to being a Jedi by helping to blow up the Death Star. Luke Skywalker, as he has followed the “Hero’s Journey” throughout A New Hope – is still undeniably an actual hero. And this growth is important to note for future discussions about his character in The Last Jedi.
- Displayed his desire to help people in need. His aunt and uncle, whom he rushed to try to save or warn. Princess Leia, whom he was concerned about without knowing who she was. Obi-Wan Kenobi, whom he attempted to rush toward to help before Han Solo dragged him aboard the Millenium Falcon. And then later on, the Rebels whom he joined up with, despite the odds, because it was for the “greater good”.
- Performed heroic deeds, including the rescue of Princess Leia, the destruction of the Death Star.
- Demonstrated loyalty to his friends and even leadership qualities. He chided Han Solo for abandoning his newfound friends in their time of need. He also put himself in danger multiple times for other characters.
- Displayed character growth, moving from a whiny teenage farm boy to what amounts to a Padawan Learner under the tutelage of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Force Ghost. He starts to practice patience and critical thinking by the end of the film.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
In Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, we see a Luke Skywalker struggling to command his abilities with the Force, and also struggling with the implications of what his own destiny is. On Hoth, Luke helps the Rebels fight off an invasion of the Imperial army and get away, and then makes it to Dagobah where he begins to train with Jedi Master Yoda. The training is difficult, and Luke struggles with it. He leaves without fully completing his training and goes off to help his friends in Cloud City, where he finds out that Darth Vader is actually his father.
This is the darkest of the original Star Wars movie trilogy, and we see that represented not only through Luke Skywalker, but also with most of the other characters. However, Luke’s journey through The Empire Strikes Back is very poignant, because at many points throughout the movie, Luke has the capacity to give in and join the Dark Side. Yet, ultimately he moves through some more character growth and resists the temptation, setting himself up to become a true Jedi Master by the end of the movie.
Here are some more instances in which he performed heroic deeds or espoused some good qualities.
1.. LUKE ESCAPES FROM THE WAMPA, BUT DOES NOT KILL IT – THOUGH HE EASILY COULD HAVE.
“Wampa was HUNGRY (not EVIL) – Luke would never do this!” – Mark Hamill, Twitter.
Mark Hamill was, of course, talking about cutting the Wampa’s arm off. According to him, he didn’t know he sliced into the beast and he thought he would only be staving off the snow creature by singeing its fur or scaring it away with his lightsaber. However, we all know that Luke actually did cut off the creature’s arm – though it was only in self-defense.
However – we must remember that Luke did this only to survive, and even if Hamill disagrees that he would have done it at all, he still did it but didn’t kill the wampa, though he easily could have. Instead, he fled from the cave and into the frozen wastes of Hoth, while the wounded wampa stayed behind.
However, it should be noted that Hamill essentially thinks that Luke – at that point in the trilogy – would not have hurt the wampa unless it was absolutely necessary. This is important, because later on, in The Last Jedi – Luke essentially changes his philosophy and is ready to kill his unarmed nephew in his sleep. But at this point in his character development, he has shown compassion and at least some modicum of respect for life in non-battle situations that aren’t strictly life or death.
2. LUKE NOT ONLY LEADS THE BATTLE ON HOTH IN HIS SNOW SPEEDER, BUT DEVISES A PLAN TO TRIP THE AT-AT’S UP WITH TOW CABLES – AND THEN SINGLEHANDEDLY TAKES ONE OUT WHILE ON FOOT.
Obviously, we have seen Luke in action before, putting himself at risk for the greater good. But this is the first time we’ve seen him do so outside of a vehicle, and on foot where he’s much more vulnerable. It takes guts to go up against something like an AT-AT and he not only takes one down with his snow speeder, but also takes another one down by himself after his A-Wing crashes. This makes him a certified war hero.
3. LUKE SHOUTS FOR R2-D2, WORRY EVIDENT IN HIS VOICE, AFTER R2 FALLS INTO THE DAGOBAH SWAMP – THOUGH R2 IS JUST A DROID.
“Artoo? ARTOO! Artoo, where are you?!” – Luke Skywalker, Episode V
Luke shows some more compassion as he becomes genuinely worried about R2-D2 after he accidentally falls into the swamp surrounding his crashed X-Wing. This compassion is important, as it is a continued trend with Luke. He does not easily abandon his friends and companions, and even a droid is no different. Again, this is in stark contrast with his character in The Last Jedi, so it’s important to take note.
4. LUKE ABANDONS HIS TRAINING ON DAGOBAH TO GO SAVE HIS FRIENDS, WHO ARE ALL IN TROUBLE ON BESPIN.
“They’re my friends, I gotta’ help them.” – Luke Skywalker, Episode V
Again, Luke rushes into danger despite knowing he is not fully trained, and despite both Obi-Wan and Yoda’s warnings that Vader is too strong. However, he cannot leave his friends to die, or worse, so he ultimately leaves – promising to return for more training. Again, this is a trend with Luke. We see him saving Leia in A New Hope, as well as trying to rush forward to save Obi-Wan Kenobi before Vader strikes him down. And we also saw him speed toward Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s hut, despite knowing they were in danger. And in The Empire Strikes Back – at this point, he has already fought to protect his fellow Rebels, has been really worried about R2-D2, and now rushes forward into the unknown to try and save his friends. His history as a character up until this point is not to abandon his friends. That is a very important quality that Luke possesses.
And for everyone who inevitably tries to make the argument that Luke was super-reckless…he was, but he was no different from lots of other Jedi before him, and also keep in mind – he is still basically a padawan. He doesn’t become a Jedi until The Return of the Jedi (hence the title). As it stands, Luke was sort of too old to begin Jedi training at this point in the trilogy but Obi-Wan and Yoda had no choice but to try. It’s amazing he did as well as he ended up doing with all he had going against him.
When Yoda mutters the line “I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience,” – the following exchange takes place. (I edited out some of the conversation to get to the meat of Obi-Wan’s point)
OBI-WAN KENOBI: “He will learn patience.”
YODA: “Much anger in him, like his father!”
OBI-WAN KENOBI: “Was I any different when you taught me?”
YODA: “…[Luke is] reckless!”
OBI-WAN KENOBI: “So was I, if you remember.”
So, yes he was reckless – but apparently not any more so than Obi-Wan, at least according to the man himself. And, again – Luke is still highly-untrained, and still basically a kid. He learns several valuable lessons, which only make his character stronger – and I’ll get to those. But first:
LUKE’S BAD TRAITS IN STAR WARS EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
As I said before, I will still talk about his bad traits as a character in this film as well, and he has no shortage of them because…well…he’s still young and a padawan learner.
One of Luke’s worst traits at this point in the trilogy is his fear and another is his anger. He has always been emotional and sort of a hothead at times, which is why he constantly rushes off to save his friends despite the dangers to himself. However, he largely overcomes his fear by the end of The Empire Strikes Back. The reason for this is because of his failure at the Cave on Dagobah.
This is a really significant scene because what we have here is a literal battle within Luke between the Light Side of the Force and the Dark Side. Yoda cryptically warns Luke that what is in the cave is “only what he takes” with him. Luke has the choice to go inside empty-handed, or to grab his weapon. He brings his weapon which ultimately ends with him failing his own personal test.
Later, when Luke is fighting Vader in Cloud City – Vader notes that Luke has finally overcome his fear. This is directly because of the lessons he learned in the Cave, and despite his loss to Vader at the end of The Empire Strikes Back – he ultimately retains those lessons through Return of the Jedi, and so it makes sense that he would have held on to these lessons all the way up to the events in The Last Jedi. It appears that’s not the case, so it’s important to take note of this. This is a lesson which has a real-life counterpart in The Last Jedi, which Luke fails again for no particular reason.
Anger is Luke’s other major problem, and it takes him until the end of Return of the Jedi basically to get it completely under control. We see him stupidly try to outmaneuver Vader when Vader clearly is in control – and as a result, Luke loses his hand. “Control, control, you must learn control” is what Yoda mentioned to him during training. This is yet another lesson that impetuous, impatient Luke learns. It’s important to note that he does learn from these mistakes in The Empire Strikes Back, because he overcomes these shortcomings by the end of Return of the Jedi – and yet in The Last Jedi, it’s as if he’s become a padawan learner once more, because Luke does not act like the Jedi Master he becomes by the end of Return of the Jedi. He doesn’t really make many mistakes like these in the final movie in the original trilogy, but somehow makes them in spades in the new trilogy despite being a practiced Jedi Master who has the ability and patience to teach students the ways of the Force.
LUKE’S JOURNEY THROUGH THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
This was the point in Luke Skywalker’s development where he acquires the skills necessary to overcome his obstacles in the remainder of his character arc. Through the entirety of the movie, Luke isn’t a Jedi. Not yet. And Vader reminds him of this while they’re fighting by saying “The Force is with you, young Skywalker…but you are not a Jedi yet.” This reminder is further compounded when Luke loses a hand.
Again, people make the mistake of conflating Luke’s incompetence as just pure incompetence as a Jedi when he’s not actually a fully-trained Jedi yet. He faced some pretty big tests in this film, and he didn’t pass most of them – but he did learn from them and retained that knowledge until at least the end of Return of the Jedi. Cut the guy some slack, he’s just a kid getting all this stuff thrust on him, but he’s actually doing a decent job if you look closely.
Despite everything, Luke does not grow into a darker character. The potential is there, but he resists the Dark Side – and I think as his most important test during the entire trilogy – he passes it. Luke grew as a character, even more than he did in A New Hope. And this continual growth is important, because the only time in established canon that he has seemed to regress has been in the new trilogy, though it was never fully explained as to why, at least not in a way that makes sense for his established character.
- Again displayed his desire to help those in need. First with his fellow Rebel soldiers during the Battle of Hoth. Then, with R2-D2 after crash landing on Dagobah. Then, with his friends on Cloud City though he was in the middle of training with Yoda and Obi-Wan. Again, it’s important to note that this trait is a continued trend with Luke, and it has been consistent for two films now.
- Performed several heroic deeds, including battling the wampa and not killing it, taking down an AT-AT first in his A-Wing, but then another on foot. He also faced Vader one on one despite the immense danger to himself. Again, for those who think he’s whiny and not heroic – he has performed several heroic deeds in each movie thus far (though he was a bit whiny during his training with Yoda, it eventually waned).
- Displayed character growth – overcoming his fear by the end of the movie, and learning not to give in to his anger (due to losing his hand to Vader). He also learned from Yoda some very important information about being a Jedi when Yoda said “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never attack.” It’s important to note this, because Luke seemingly forgets that piece of information by the time he confronts Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi.
RETURN OF THE JEDI
This is the final film in the original trilogy, and the last time (in my opinion) that we get the “real” Luke as we know him before his character is entirely assassinated in the newest Disney-owned trilogy.
Though Luke is still a bit hamstringed by his anger for some of the film, by the end of it he has completely overcome these obstacles through the defeat of Palpatine via the turning of his father, Anakin, from the Dark Side of the Force to the Light Side. This was only possible because Luke learned from all of his previous mistakes and also patiently appealed to Vader’s softer nature, which he could sense underneath the machinery and heavy breathing and hatred. These are exactly the lessons that Obi-Wan and Yoda taught him and he learned them successfully, through trial and error. Luke was never perfect, and this isn’t an argument that he is. He is definitely a flawed character, but not completely and not enough to have performed some of the actions depicted in his later life, at least according to the events in Return of the Jedi.
Here are some more instances of good qualities and heroic deeds:
1.. LUKE CONFRONTS JABBA THE HUTT, AND THEN FACES OFF AGAINST THE RANCOR IN ORDER TO TRY AND SAVE HIS FRIENDS
“You can either profit by this, or be destroyed. It’s your choice, but I’d advise you not to underestimate my power.” – Luke Skywalker, Episode VI
When Luke confronts Jabba in order to try and save Han Solo, he is dropped into the Rancor pit and forced to do battle with it while Jabba and his cronies look on. Not only does he not have his lightsaber with him (R2-D2 is holding onto it) but he is trapped in an enclosure with no way out. Thus, he is forced to outsmart the Rancor and kill it by dropping a mechanical portcullis on top of its head.
This fight displays Luke’s ingenuity (which he actually does display in The Last Jedi when he “battles” Kylo Ren) and also again displays his courage, especially when under fire.
2. LUKE BATTLES JABBA’S MERCENARIES THOUGH VASTLY OUTNUMBERED, AND SUCCEEDS IN FREEING HIS FRIENDS AND HELPING TO PUT AN END TO JABBA THE HUTT – AS WELL DEFEATING BOBA FETT IN SINGLE COMBAT
“Jabba…this is your last chance. Free us, or die.” – Luke Skywalker, Episode VI
Aboard Jabba’s barge, we see the only instance in the Original Trilogy in which Luke Skywalker squares off against many opponents (something which happens regularly in the Prequel Trilogy with Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and Anakin) with his lightsaber. Through his heroic actions on the barge, we see him display again a sense of heroism as well as being able to follow through with a plan (though the plan doesn’t make sense to many people). We also see that his training has come along nicely because he not only uses mind tricks when he first enters Jabba’s Palace, but he also now has become adept at fighting with his lightsaber, which seems much improved from when he sparred and lost against Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. Another thing to note is that Luke displays patience. Patience when he first confronts Jabba in the throne room of his palace, and then patience again when he’s on the barge and about to plunge into the Sarlacc pit. This is very important to note, because his patience reflects his newfound personality by the end of Return of the Jedi – and that conflicts directly with his patience (or lack thereof) we see in multiple scenes in The Last Jedi.
3. ON DAGOBAH, LUKE DISPLAYS HIS NEWFOUND PATIENCE, AND A DESIRE TO AVOID KILLING HIS OWN FATHER, AS BOTH OBI-WAN KENOBI AND A DYING YODA IMPART TO HIM TRUTHS ABOUT HIS LINEAGE AND DESTINY
“I can’t kill my own father.” – Luke Skywalker, Episode VI
When Luke returns to Dagobah in order to complete his training, he finds it’s too late. Yoda dies, but not before giving Luke some advice. The Force Ghost of Obi-Wan follows suit and through the both of them, Luke learns that he must confront Vader – but isn’t convinced that he should outright kill him. Because he can sense the good within him, as well as the conflict. This seems to heavily go against his philosophy in The Last Jedi – in which he goes so far as to stand above his sleeping, unarmed nephew and ignite a lightsaber with brief intent on murdering him. This is very important to remember, because nowhere in the entirety of Return of the Jedi do we see Luke giving in completely to his darkest impulses. In this installment of the Original Trilogy, Luke has become less whiny and more patient, and seems to weigh the consequences of his decisions with a critical mind.
4. LUKE SURRENDERS HIMSELF TO DARTH VADER AND EMPEROR PALPATINE, KNOWING HE COULD BE KILLED – BUT KNOWING HE HAS TO TRY TO APPEAL TO THE GOODNESS BURIED INSIDE HIS FATHER
“I will not turn, and you will be forced to kill me.” – Luke Skywalker, Episode VI
This is not only one of the most heroic deeds ever performed by the character of Luke Skywalker, but also one of the best indications that his character arc has finally come full circle. He is not brash, here. He is patient, his words hold meaning, and he successfully appeals to his father’s hidden good nature. He does all of this while unarmed, and in the presence of two powerful Sith lords. This is the final nail in the coffin for the argument that Luke Skywalker is not a heroic character. He has proven time and again throughout the Original Trilogy that he is one. And his actions and character growth displayed within Return of the Jedi directly reflect the title of the film itself.
5. LUKE ULTIMATELY DOESN’T GIVE IN TO THE EMPEROR OR HIS ANGER, DROPPING HIS WEAPON (AND FINALLY BECOMING A REAL JEDI) INSTEAD OF KILLING HIS FATHER, AND KNOWINGLY DOOMING HIMSELF UNTIL VADER TURNS TO THE LIGHT SIDE
“Never. I’ll never turn to the Dark Side. You failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” – Luke Skywalker, Episode VI
In his final deed as “real” Luke – we see Luke Skywalker finally become an actual Jedi. There were moments before where he could have completely given in and joined the Dark Side, but he overcame everything that was thrown at him, despite all odds. This final moment is the culmination of all of his learning and all of his failures throughout the previous films. It was also the final heroic act we see from his character before he abandons all of his friends and family and students to die at the hands of the First Order and Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. It’s very, very important to note his character growth especially at this point, because it directly conflicts with his character motivations and actions in the newest Disney-owned trilogy, and especially The Last Jedi.
With a final nod to Luke’s ascension as a Jedi Master, we see the Force Ghosts of Anakin Skywalker, Master Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kenobi all looking on with pride and happiness.
Luke’s character arc is complete. With his movement through the Hero’s Journey, Luke finally reaches the “Freedom To Live” stage when he drops his lightsaber, and thus the final stage of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey “monomyth” philosophy.
“Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division, from the perspective of the apparitions of time to that of the causal deep and back—not contaminating the principles of the one with those of the other, yet permitting the mind to know the one by virtue of the other—is the talent of the master. The Cosmic Dancer, declares Nietzsche, does not rest heavily in a single spot, but gaily, lightly, turns and leaps from one position to another. It is possible to speak from only one point at a time, but that does not invalidate the insights of the rest. The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment. His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him; he becomes, that is to say, an anonymity.” – Joseph Campbell, The American Monomyth
And, despite all this character growth, as always (because Luke Skywalker is far from a perfect character):
LUKE’S BAD TRAITS IN STAR WARS EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI
Compared to the previous two films, Luke is a vastly improved character in Return of the Jedi. Gone is most of his impatience, his whining, and his impetuousness. He presents himself as calculating, reserved, and works well in the heat of battle.
However, anger was his one glaring issue in Return of the Jedi. We see this played out when Vader mentions possibly using Princess Leia, his sister, in his place if he won’t turn to the Dark Side. At this, Luke goes berserk and strikes at Vader until the Sith lord succumbs and loses his hand, defeated by his angry son.
We can clearly see and hear Luke’s complete rage. He uses savage, powerful strikes – meant to kill. And even before Luke fights Vader, he tries to strike at Palpatine as he sits in his throne, goading him, but his strike is blocked by Vader.
LUKE’S JOURNEY THROUGH RETURN OF THE JEDI
Despite these brief glimpses into Luke’s remaining well of anger, we must remember that when he flew into a rage both times – he was NOT YET A JEDI. He was expressly not a Jedi Master until he resisted the temptation of the Dark Side and threw his weapon to the ground. Despite the danger to himself, he willingly became disarmed and left himself to the mercy of his father and Palpatine. Only at this point was he a Jedi Master, and not before. A Jedi Master can practice control, even in the heat of battle. Luke struggles but ultimately perseveres with this. And self-control is something that Luke seems to lack severely in the newest Disney-owned trilogy. While it’s still possible to make uninformed decisions as a Jedi Master, most of the time their actions as a whole seem to be tempered by keeping their emotions in check. And even here, Luke only displays his anger under great duress – but has otherwise kept his temper and fear largely in check. This is in stark contrast to Luke’s character in The Last Jedi, when just because he sees darkness within Ben Solo – a darkness he saw and was able to turn within his own father SUCCESSFULLY before he was even a Jedi Master – he ignites his saber and comes just short of attempting to kill his sleeping, unarmed nephew when he should know that the Force doesn’t work in absolutes, and visions are not things that are set in stone.
Over the course of the movie, Luke displayed some familiar traits from the previous two films.
- Once again, Luke displayed his willingness to set out after his friends and help them when they’re in trouble. He helps Han, Leia, and the others escape from Jabba’s clutches. On top of that, he risks his own life and turns himself over to Lord Vader and Emperor Palpatine.
- Luke demonstrates his increasing proficiency in combat – first by defeating the Rancor without the aid of his lightsaber, and then by defeating Boba Fett as well as several other mercenaries hired by Jabba the Hutt. On top of that, he finally bests Darth Vader in saber combat, severing one of his hands.
- Luke displays his newfound patience by returning to Dagobah for more training, and also not giving in to the Dark Side by succumbing to anger. This movie was largely a showcase for Luke’s character growth. He has come full circle.
SO WHY BE UPSET ABOUT HOW LUKE WAS PORTRAYED IN THE FORCE AWAKENS AND ESPECIALLY THE LAST JEDI?
Well, for starters – those of us who know Luke, who understand his character development in the Original Trilogy – we are not opposed to how Luke turned out. If they want to regress him and make him “unlearn” everything he learned in the Original Trilogy…that’s fine! But they have to earn it. They can’t just present it to us the way they did, because the filmmakers didn’t do a good or sufficient job showing us how Luke essentially was self-demoted from Jedi Master to Padawan Learner. At least not for lots of us. I mean, c’mon….we grew up with the guy.
With the information I presented, there is no way that you can say that Luke didn’t gain control of his emotions by the end of Return of the Jedi. There’s no way that you can say that he’s an overall “whiny” character just because he was whiny in the first movie and maybe a little in the second. There is no way that you can correlate any of his actions in the Original Trilogy with his willingness to commit murder when it comes to his student and his own nephew, the son of his own sister Leia Organa and his best friend Han Solo. He had reservations about killing his own father, let alone his nephew. If you want to convince us that he takes up arms against his defenseless student and family member, come up with a better reason. After all, Luke has successfully turned Darth Vader – a being far more consumed by the Dark Side of the Force than Ben was. There was no reason for him not to try.
You want to make him a hermit? Fine. But we see in all three previous films that Luke never abandons his friends, not even the ones who are droids. Time and again he has come to their aid, despite his personal failures and despite the danger to himself. This is without question something he never wavered from in the Original Trilogy. So to see him do it in the newest Disney-owned trilogy….we need a reason, a concrete one. And the one that was presented doesn’t add up.
You want to make him hate the Jedi Order and the past conventions of the Force? That’s fine, but make it make sense. As someone who has learned the conventions of the Jedi Order through masters like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, Luke would understand that even if he isolated himself and cut himself off from the Force, the Sith and the practitioners of the Dark Side would resume their activities unchecked. So his tantrum and subsequent abandonment of his friends and family really makes no logical sense. The only thing he’s accomplished is to aid the First Order by not being present to combat it. And lest we be reminded of other situations where Jedi have gone into exile – Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi did so because the Jedi were being hunted and exterminated, and they were the last remnants of the Jedi Order. To protect Leia and Luke, and to pass on the knowledge – they essentially had to go into hiding. And Yoda even had plans to come back.
“Until the time is right, disappear we will.” – Yoda, Episode III
Yoda mentions that Obi-Wan has some more training to do on Tatooine while he watches over Luke, under the tutelage of his former master Qui-Gon Jinn. And between Episodes III and IV, we really don’t know everything that Obi-Wan and Yoda were up to. In order to avoid being exterminated, they just had to go into hiding – but they were going to come back. Luke never was going to come back, and he never did.
Here is a list of things that Luke does in the newest trilogy which seem totally out of character for him, according to character traits and behaviors already established in Episodes IV, V, and VI:
- Doesn’t notice, until it’s too late, that Ben Solo has been on the road to the Dark Side.
- Does not try to engage Ben with dialogue as he successfully had done with his father, but instead ignites his lightsaber (remember how he learned his lesson about this already in the Cave on Dagobah?), momentarily ready to slay his nephew and student.
- Leaves for self-imposed exile in order to “die” by himself.
- Leaves behind his sister, his best friend, and other practitioners of the Light Side of the Force to the mercy of the First Order. This includes millions of other lives in the galaxy.
- Refuses to teach Rey the ways of the Force, despite her knowing about it anyway.
- Refuses to leave Ach-To despite direct pleas from Leia, Rey, Chewie, and others…and despite knowing that his best friend, Han Solo, has been killed as a direct result of Luke’s own negligence.
So, in closing – I know some of you will love the newer films regardless. I actually thought Mark Hamill did an amazing job as Luke Skywalker. I cried when he faded away, looking at the setting sun on Ach-To. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is why they chose to portray Luke the way he was portrayed – as a critically-depressed, sociopathic coward when in the Original Trilogy – he was anything but. The evidence is all there that he was not this character, and if that’s the sort of character they wanted him to eventually become – then they didn’t give us a good enough transition. They didn’t earn it, at least not from this Star Wars fan of over 30 years.
So instead of closing with some sort of closing argument, I’m just going to ask some questions. These are very simple questions, and none of them seem to have been answered, at least not yet, by the filmmakers.
- If Luke Skywalker didn’t sense Ben’s pull to the Dark Side of the Force, this must mean his powers had waned, similar to the Jedi Council’s slow dissipation of Force connection in episodes I-III. If this is the case, then why didn’t the filmmakers explain it? By the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke was a powerful Jedi, with a strong connection to the Force. How would he suddenly become so much weaker in the Force abilities he possessed so as not to notice a very powerful Force wielder such as Snoke?
- Luke had already learned his lesson about “taking things with him” in the Cave on Dagobah, where he failed his first major test. Why would he have brought a lightsaber with him to check up on his nephew, Ben? Why would he ignite it when standing over his sleeping and defenseless student? For Luke to make a complete shift like this, it needs to be shown. Luke has sensed darkness in others before but he never thought about murdering them. Fighting them, sure. But not cold-blooded murder. Luke has previously expressed and shown reluctance to kill even a wampa when it was directly attacking him. He’s expressed concern for droids. He has shown loyalty to his family and friends. At no point were we given an indication that Luke had transformed into a sociopath.
- What was Luke thinking when he went into exile on Ahch-To? It makes no sense. Yes, Jedi had done before in the past the same thing, but they had done it with purpose. Luke had no purpose other than to hide and maybe waste away. But his character had never exhibited these tendencies in previous films. In literally every single film in the Original Trilogy, Luke has participated in coming to the rescue of his friends or family members. To show him leaving the galaxy to an entity like the Sith or the First Order, that’s just not Luke. So where did that transition happen? Because many of his students had died? Well, if he feels that way about a handful of his students, why would he not feel that about the millions of other lives that were now at stake? Luke was always the first to jump to action, aside from in the new films when he didn’t do that at all.
- If Luke was so concerned about the Force being mishandled, why didn’t he simply either try to kill Rey so she didn’t misuse it or try to teach her the right way? It was pretty apparent she was proficient with the Force already, and so I don’t understand why Luke was trying to dissuade her from using it. If she was going to potentially misuse it and harm people, it makes more sense for Luke to assist in her training. This way he teaches her about its complicated nature and doesn’t just essentially leave someone with a loaded gun to try and figure it out on their own. But then again, if he abandoned everyone anyway, why would he even care to do what little he did do? And I’m not suggesting that the Luke Skywalker I know would simply kill Rey outright, but this new version of Luke would apparently consider murdering his unarmed, sleeping nephew for less so why not Rey too?