By Julien Vedrene
Luke Skywalker, as I had known him to be, was the most powerful Force user to walk the galaxy far, far away. Not only in ability, but in philosophy as well. He was the culmination of everything the Jedi should have been: a powerful avatar for the Light Side with foresight that reached as trees stretch to greet the sun. He was a leader who did not embrace galactic conflict when it first reared its head, but sought council deep within the Force, always striving to remain in balance. Like many of us, Luke Skywalker’s feats at the tail end of the New Jedi Order and Killik Trilogy were more fantastic than anything I could’ve dreamed up. What’s more, I prayed that this Luke would grace the screen one day. During that final scene of Episode VII on Ahch-To, my heart was overflowing with boyish nostalgia. As nostalgia gave way to a single tear, I knew the visions of Master Skywalker that I experienced as a boy to be true. Except that they were not true. The Last Jedi has cast Luke as the polar opposite of what I had known his progression to be, and it makes all the sense in the world.
I know it seems like I’m stanning for The Last Jedi but, to be frank, I was highly alarmed when Mark Hamill said that he disagreed with Rian Johnson about Luke’s progression…on a fundamental level. Yikes. I’d been optimistic about Episode VIII up until this point. Mark is beyond fandom. He understands the fundamental tenets upon which the Star Wars galaxy operates. I found his lack of faith in Rian’s Luke disturbing. Then I saw the movie. Then again and again. I’ve finally come to understand Rian’s vision for Luke and why it makes the most sense.
Rian Johnson is clearly also beyond fandom. Every self-respecting Star Wars scholar knew that the New Jedi Order mirrored the most logical progression for Luke’s character. Rian stepped outside of that vision and embraced one that was more deeply rooted in our mundane world. Once I was able to separate the Luke of Legends from The Last Jedi and give him a clean slate, I could see Rian’s vision.
Somewhere in this world, the children and grandchildren of a fallen empire are living tormented lives under assumed identities. The descendants of Heinrich Himmler, inventor of the mobile gas chambers, and Amon Goeth, the Nazi Butcher, will forever live under that grotesque shadow of their forefathers. Even though, as children, they cannot be blamed for the legacy which was left to them, they will forever carry it. Undoubtedly, if they have a shred of decency, they are doing everything in their power to be paragons of virtue because of the legacy that they were born under. In spite of all of their philanthropy, they’ll never escape the legacy of their sire. Their tortures come in the form of night terrors, mental illness, and a manic need to do EVERYTHING good as opposite to the vile deeds of the Third Reich leaders with whom they share bloodlines. Their guilt will remain draped over them like a heavy coat, although they never sentenced anyone to death in a gas chamber or firing squad.
This plays out in less extreme circumstances as well. If our parents are bad with money, we’ll be penny pinchers. If our parents abused us, we’ll be sensitive to physical punishment with our own children. This is natural human progression. Now, turn your minds to the stars. Imagine a galaxy where this Empire was personally responsible for the death of trillions, including your aunt and uncle. On top of that, it’s military leader belonged to a dark religion that only existed for the desecration and domination of all life. This avatar of sadism and death is your father?! Breathe that in and let it flow through you.
We know that the Third Reich served as a blueprint for the Galactic Empire so we should not be surprised when they share the same collateral damage. When examined from that perspective, it’s easier to see why Luke was so hostile to the idea of not only training Jedi but letting his nephew live. Master Skywalker was bearing the weight of two failed legacies: that of his father, Darth Vader, and the Jedi Order. While he clearly embodied the power we’d expected, he also was a vessel for the hubris of both the Order and powerful Skywalker bloodline.
In the Originals, we saw Luke become what Anakin should have been. In The Empire Strikes Back, when faced with the choice of joining the Dark Side in order to save himself or meet his doom…he chose death and was ultimately justified for his selflessness. Upon more intense examination, Luke suffers from the sins of the father. The life and terrible decisions that Anakin made came with a cost that would be paid by his descendants. When Luke felt the darkness rising in Ben, his nephew, he took it upon himself to snuff out that flame. Luke knew the darkness that lurked in his veins. He was so certain that this future would come to pass. Yet he, in all his glory as a Jedi Master, failed to heed Master Yoda’s warning that visions are “difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” In his ignorance, Luke caused that very vision to come to pass and gave Ben the push he needed to become Kylo Ren. Just like Anakin, his father, when he followed a vision of his wife’s death too rigidly and made that come to pass as well. You see, the Skywalkers, much like the Order itself, suffer from hubris. Their main lot in life is to “save the world”, as Cypher told Neo in The Matrix . This fosters an unconscious need to control events. This is why both Luke and Anakin couldn’t see that these visions were not written on the wall. In reality, the visions were a direct correlation to their own actions. Their actions were to the galaxy’s detriment. Control is much like a watermelon seed. The harder you try to hold on to one, the more elusive it becomes.
However, as a Jedi Master, how could Luke fall into this trap? Where was the trademark Jedi serenity? The resolve? You might recall his master’s master, Qui-Gon Jinn. When cautioned about Anakin’s dangerous and clouded future, not training the boy never crossed his mind. Where the council feared what they couldn’t understand, Qui-Gon’s trust in the Force allowed him to see clearly Anakin’s important role in galactic events. His relationship with the Force took precedence over the Jedi hierarchy. This is the serenity and resolve that Luke himself was missing when addressing Ben’s own dangerous future. Naturally, Luke didn’t want another Vader on his hands, but, I can’t help but wonder, what would Obi-Wan do? Ah, but we know what Obi-Wan would do if put in a similar scenario. Luke Skywalker certainly has the heritage of the Jedi. What he doesn’t have is the foundation. A few months on Dagobah does not a foundation make. Obi-Wan was fresh from the Clone Wars, his apprentice had just become a Sith Lord, and now it turned out that he fathered children in secret. He had every reason to get rid of the children so that they wouldn’t follow in Vader’s footsteps. Obi-Wan had even more justification than Luke did. He’d seen first hand the horrors orchestrated by the Sith and the folly of the Jedi by playing into their trap. He lived it. But, where Luke saw despair and shadow, Obi-Wan saw a new hope. His foundation as a Jedi gave him that. He knew that the future was not set in stone and that these two children could bring hope to the galaxy. Obi-Wan trusted in the Force, as he’d been raised. There was nothing else. For Luke Skywalker, there was so much more to lose.
In the Originals, Luke’s greatest strength proved to be his emotions. The Jedi practiced self control to the point that emotions were almost non-existent. Their stoic presence and lack of feeling proved to be a shatterpoint for them. We saw this when Ashoka Tano, Anakin’s apprentice, was framed and ousted from the Order. However, as Luke’s emotional pendulum has swung, so have the consequences. Almost striking down his nephew is not the first time we’ve glimpsed Luke struggle with control of self. Had he been equipped with the steel discipline of a fully trained Jedi Knight, would he have rushed off to save his friends? No. Would he have lost his hand? No. The Jedi have faith in their own abilities to guide their way, with the Force as their ally. Because of this, emotional attachments are neither a factor nor detriment to them. Conversely, it was because of Luke’s faith in others that he was able to succeed. Growing up on a homestead with his family, living a normal life, equipped him with the tools that he’d truly need to defeat Vader. Still, his lack of a foundation as a Jedi worked against him in The Last Jedi . Had Luke been raised as his master, Obi-Wan, had, he surely wouldn’t have even thought about striking down his nephew out of fear. He wouldn’t have felt compelled to control the fate of others. Moreover, had he and his father before him been raised in the Jedi Temple, it’s hard to fathom that either of them would make the terrible decisions they did later in life.
Star Wars is the modern pantheon of archetypes. The hero’s journey, the damsel in distress, the devilish rogue and his faithful steed. But we do the mythos a disservice when we forget that the characters have always been infused with dynamism. The natural progression of the son of the Chosen One was to restart the Jedi Order, have a few kids, and conquer the galaxy with Herculean feats one after the other. Rian Johnson knew this. He’s a fan just like you and me. What he did instead was to look at Star Wars for what it always has been: an examination of the triumphs and failures of human life. When you look at the two legacies that Luke Skywalker inherited, Darth Vader and the failed Jedi Order, for him to reach a breaking point is simply natural human progression. He was a Jedi Master in ability yet he possessed little of their nature. How could he? He was the last of the old yet the first of the new. He didn’t grow up in a temple being constantly chastised and guided by masters. Luke grew up living the wondrous and frightening human experience. His father was Darth Vader and, lo and behold, his own nephew was following in those same ominous footsteps. Is it really so surprising that he shut himself off from the galaxy, his family, and the Force? Is it so incredible that, in a moment of weakness, he raised his blade against Leia’s own son?
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