I saw The Last Jedi last week. And anyone who knows me knows I’m all about Star Wars. So naturally, I have a lot of complex thoughts about this film especially. But I’ve noticed a lot of backlash for this film and I think it stems from people missing the mark, so I’m going to break down my thoughts on this film. And just in case it needs to be said, this article will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t see the film and don’t want things ruined for you, go read a different article and come back later.
So without further ado: Luke Skywalker.
A lot of people are unhappy with Rian Johnson’s treatment of Luke in this film. He’s cynical and jaded. He’s lost his faith in the force and the Jedi and has turned his back on the struggles of the galaxy. And a lot of people are unhappy with that. #NotMyLuke is trending and Mark Hamill himself has said, “Luke wouldn’t act that way.”
But I’d like to stop and ask the question: Why wouldn’t Luke grow into the grizzled old cynic we see in The Last Jedi? I mean, he’s not exactly the shining example of the Jedi Order.
Luke disobeyed his Jedi teachers and left when he was specifically warned not to. In Return of the Jedi, we see Luke tempted by and nearly fall to the Dark Side of the Force. It’s constantly reiterated that he is impatient, impulsive, and always looking to the future, never on the here and now.
I would wager a guess that most members of the #NotMyLuke crowd are wrapped up in the prophecy of the chosen one. The same prophecy that the prequels insinuated was false in some way. And that’s the thing about prophecy. They are purposefully vague and intended to be self-fulfilling. Anyone can be the “chosen one” if you interpret the prophecy a certain way.
So how would I choose to interpret it? The “chosen one” to bring “balance to the Force” isn’t one person acting on a Galactic scale. It’s a warning about the perils of fanaticism. True strength lies in balancing the Light and the Dark. And therefore, we are all the chosen ones, destined to bring balance to the extremes of logic and emotion within ourselves.
Luke is not a galactic “chosen one”. He’s a man. Like any other. A farmboy who aspired to greater things and reached out to achieve them. Luke’s journey – the hero’s journey – can be applied to anyone. And that’s the message of The Last Jedi. These characters are all real people. With real motivations, relatable feelings, and realistic hangups.
Perhaps let’s interpret Luke’s journey this way: A young farmboy who aspires to greatness sets out to follow his dreams and achieves them, becoming the first Jedi Knight in 20 years. A member of an Order the Empire spent countless efforts and resources erasing knowledge of. As such, Jedi have been relegated to the ranks of mythology and legend in the galaxy. Luke sees himself go from nothing to mythological warrior in a short 5 years.
Naturally, Luke begins to dwell in his own success. Some call it arrogance, but I would call it hubris. Does this make Luke a bad person? No. And I believe he acted with the best of intentions, but he remains that naive farmboy from Tatooine.
Until his failure. Sure, he’s failed before, but not like this. He sees evil rising once again in the Galaxy after he sacrificed so much to purge the Galaxy of the same evil in the form of the Empire. His new Jedi Order comes crashing down when one of his most gifted and powerful students – his own nephew no less – begins to show signs of the Dark Side in him. Terrified of the horror this evil unleashed upon the Galaxy in the form of Vader, Luke panics for a moment and thinks of wiping out that evil in one terrible swoop.
But this creates a conflict in Luke. In his hubris, he never imagined he’d let himself fall to fear like this before, and here he is, standing above his own kin with the intent to murder. He’s horrified. Horrified in the futility of the battle, horrified in the fear in himself, and horrified at his failure as a mythological hero.
What other option would there be than to withdraw one’s self to an ancient Jedi temple, searching for answers. Perhaps he’s not finished his own training yet. Perhaps Jedi Masters past have some answer he’s not seeing. Imagine his horror and pessimism when, for 30 years of searching, all he finds is repeated failure of the Jedi Order.
Luke is a real person. With real motivations and responses. Luke is not perfect, and he never was. That’s what was so compelling about Luke Skywalker in the first place. He’s a young farmboy. A naive kid looking for some greater purpose. And aren’t we all? Can we not relate to that?
What would you do when you found out the real world wasn’t all rainbows and daisies? What would you do when you discover that the fights you engage in for years aren’t as easy as you once thought? Is it so unrealistic that a real person might be discouraged?
For me, the Last Jedi shows that the Star Wars galaxy is inhabited by real characters. People I can relate to. And if someone I can see my own reflection in can become the great Mentor character, that gives me hope.
Sometimes there is no “chosen one” to come save the day for everyone. Sometimes, we have to be our own chosen ones.