(Just assume that this post contains spoilers for all nine Star Wars movies in one way or the other.)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi hit theaters a little over three years ago. From the first showing to just a few minutes ago, the debate has been endless. Some love it, some hate it. Some think it’s an abomination and that Rian Johnson should be cast into the Pit of Carkoon.
Opinions will never change, but the castigations, accusations, justifications, and rationalizations endure. A recent review of WandaVision compared it to The Last Jedi in that it failed to meet fan expectations. Another article declared that the future of Star Wars needed Johnson. Yesterday, a story gleaned from a 2018 tweet by Mark Hamill explained what really happened to Luke Skywalker.
Three weeks ago, Johnson poked the Yuzzem by saying that the Luke in his movie was 100-percent consistent with the character in the Original Trilogy. The Twitter retribution was swift and merciless. ‘Luke Skywalker is not a selfish, pouty, quitter who would let his friends die!’ the fans responded while casting aspersions upon the writer/director.
This sect of ‘purists’ must have unlearned what they had learned from the previous movies. Otherwise, they would remember the Jedi Council’s reluctance to train a nine-year-old, much less a moisture farmer who was 19. Luke didn’t gain command of his emotions until some indefinite length of time between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Or did he?
Vader goaded him into fighting by bringing up his sister Leia. Luke gave in to his hate and fear and almost turned to the dark side. This was supposedly after becoming a Jedi Knight. During the celebration on Endor, he was sullen and melancholy. With his advanced age and limited training, Skywalker would never be as placid or in control as Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan.
From the moment we met Luke, he was full of doubt. “It looks like we don’t have much of a choice…,” he says to Aunt Beru. He doesn’t believe he can help Obi-Wan and provides half-hearted excuses explaining why leaving is not possible. While training with Yoda on Dagobah, Skywalker held little faith in what he was told and was in disbelief when his master lifted the X-Wing from the swamp.
Luke was also petulant. He begins his whining with the “Tosche Station” line and continues it until jumping into an X-Wing before the Battle of Yavin. Yoda had to hear it too, “You ask the impossible!” Skywalker then ended his training by completely ignoring warnings that he shouldn’t travel to Bespin.
These character traits – emotional, doubtful, stubborn, impatient – are still with him in The Last Jedi. Johnson didn’t imbue Luke with these flaws; he just accentuated them. Is it so hard to believe that the boy we met on Tatooine would fall to pieces after his nephew destroyed the new Jedi Temple and slaughtered most of its students?
And to be clear, Luke wasn’t going to murder Ben Solo. He says to Rey that the instinct to strike “passed like a fleeting shadow,” and he instantly felt remorse. Sounds like a Jedi Master who is confident and in complete control of his facilities, doesn’t it? The doubt crept back in. He doubted his own teaching abilities as well as Ben’s ability to overcome the darkness inside him.
He doesn’t want to train Rey because he is afraid of her power. He doesn’t want to help the Resistance because he doubts that he would make a difference. He cut himself off from the Force and was content to let the Jedi order die because he failed Ben Solo.
But these aren’t the only traits of Luke Skywalker. He was also courageous, daring, heroic, loyal, and selfless. Once he was properly motivated and provoked, he almost single-handedly defeated the Empire. And he was willing to sacrifice the fate of the entire galaxy just to save his friends in Cloud City.
It was the same in The Last Jedi. When Master Yoda showed up to impart one more lesson – that failure is the greatest teacher – it spurred Skywalker to one last legendary feat. While Force projecting himself lightyears away to confront and distract his nephew, what remained of the Resistance escaped. It was an incredible display of power, one that would ultimately lead to the First Order’s end.
Just as he did in the Death Star trench run, he gave the galaxy a new hope. Luke’s death was a perfect way to bookend his story, gazing at a binary sunset as he became one with the Force. At first, he was reluctant and doubtful. But in the end, he did the right thing. Just as he always did.
If anything, The Last Jedi confirmed who Luke was at his core. A flawed hero. Those who deny that are falling into the same trap that doomed the Jedi Order. Perhaps it’s a case of vanity and hubris. To admit Luke wasn’t perfect and made questionable choices is to recognize it in oneself.
Overall, The Last Jedi is an ambitious movie that tried to propel the Star Wars universe forward. Johnson was evident in his intent; it’s right there in the dialog. “This is not going to go how you think.” “It’s time to let old things die.” “The Jedi need to end.”
Johnson attempted to posit that one didn’t need to come from a familiar lineage – Skywalker, Kenobi, Jinn, etc. – to make a difference in the universe. It wasn’t until the third act of Empire that we discovered Luke wasn’t just some farm boy from a desert planet.
Fans are fickle, however. If a story doesn’t live up to the expectations of some, they immediately declare it unredeemable. ‘The Force Awakens was good, but it was too derivative of A New Hope.’ When Johnson tried to do something original, those same fans said, ‘That’s not my Star Wars! You ruined my childhood!’ Then J.J. Abrams overcorrected and tried to fix Johnson’s choices with too much fan service, leaving more disappointment in his wake.
Maybe time will be kind to The Last Jedi, and future generations will see the movie for what it is. A wholly original take on a franchise that desperately needed some time in the bacta tank.
And maybe one day Luke will be seen for who he was. A flawed hero who had no patience, much anger, and always “looked to the horizon.”
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