Whenever people ask me who my favorite Jedi is (which, given the percentage of my wardrobe that is comprised of Star Wars T-shirts and the fact that I haven’t taken a non-Star Wars related vacation in a decade, is probably more frequent an occurrence for me than for the average person), I have instinctively answered, “Luke Skywalker, no question!” for the lion’s share of my life. Luke, after all, embodies what it is to be a Jedi.
I portray Luke Skywalker as a member of the Rebel Legion, an international community-and-charity-minded costume club, and I probably spend more time than is healthy trying to get deeper into his head to better portray him for charity events and the like. (My girlfriend has long had a crush on Luke, so that’s pretty great, too. My mom has as well, but we don’t like to talk about that as much.)
That’s why his line at the end of The Last Jedi‘s long awaited teaser trailer delivered such a gut-punch, right in the middle of the main floor of Star Wars Celebration Orlando as we watched on the live stream stage.
“It’s time for the Jedi to end.”
It wasn’t just any gut-punch. It was a gut-punch by a metallic cyborg hand with the power of the Force behind it…or maybe without, if the Jedi are really ending. “What do you mean, ‘end?!'” I exclaimed umpteen times, testing the patience of our travel companions. “I just want to reach out and give him a hug! Get back in there, Luke, you can do it!”
But the journey home from Orlando and the following mundane week have given me much time to ponder what could be motivating our once wide-eyed idealist into being such an Uncle Owen, and I think the answer was there all along, from the beginning of Luke’s story. Let’s take a look at Luke’s relationship with the idea of the Jedi, which may be more complicated than any of his familial relationships, and for a Skywalker, that’s saying something.
“I want to learn the ways of the Force,” Luke tells Obi-Wan Kenobi, “and become a Jedi like my father. At this point, Luke is on the business end of the worst day the galaxy has ever dealt him. The only family he has (sort of) has been brutally slaughtered by an Empire whose academy it was, until now, his dream to attend. He has learned that they have lied to him about his father’s identity his entire life, and he’ll never be able to get closure for that any more than he’ll get those power converters from Tosche Station. Luke is aware there is nothing left for him on Tatooine. All he has is Obi-Wan Kenobi, the memory of his father, the noble ideal of a Jedi Knight, and the stench of burning Jawa. (Jedi rituals be damned, why make a terrible day worse like that?)
Three years pass. Luke does some training here and there as chronicled in novels and comics, but his next great leap is Kenobi’s command that he travel to Dagobah and learn from Yoda. He clearly still dreams of being a Jedi, as he hurriedly leaves the Rebellion as soon as he can, zooming off to learn about the Force and inspiring a generation of children to desert their military obligations to join fringe religious revival movements.
On Dagobah, once again, Luke’s aspirations to be a Jedi hinge on his idealized image of his father. When Yoda asks why Luke wants to be a Jedi, he tells him, “Mostly because of my father, I guess.” This is the same reason Luke will soon lose a hand and jump down a dangerous wind tunnel, which, understandably, complicates matters.
While no story in the canon has really delved into the period yet, the implication is that between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Luke delves deeper into the ways of the Force. He dons a curiously all-black Jedi outfit (which falls short of Rebel Legion standards, thank you very much…I get it that your dad was the chosen one, but we require three pouches, Skywalker) and proclaims himself a Jedi Knight to Jabba the Hutt. It’s not all bluster, as he fares pretty well with his lightsaber at the Great Pit of Carkoon, but Yoda laughs at the notion that Skywalker is already a Jedi when he returns to complete his training. He must yet confront Vader, who he now knows to be his father.
After Yoda’s death, Luke leaves the hut feeling dejected. Obi-Wan tells the young learner that he has essentially given up on Luke’s father Anakin and reaffirms that Luke has to kill Vader, which he refuses to do. We all know how that ends; Luke was right about Anakin all along. Before his death, though, what does Luke tell the Emperor? “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” Again with the father.
Luke’s quest in the original trilogy was not about becoming a Jedi, to him. He’s always so ready to proclaim himself one after completing a trial, ignoring Yoda’s wisdom that it requires, “the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.” Being a Jedi was first a means to leave Tatooine, then just what he was being told to do by the only two authority figures and links to his father left in his life. At the end, being a Jedi was the only way he could save his father, which was his ultimate goal.
Following Anakin’s redemption, there isn’t much information on Luke until The Force Awakens. The Aftermath trilogy’s latter two installments have him training Leia in meditation. The final book references people in the New Republic sarcastically referring to Luke as the “golden boy” and implies that he is already an elusive figure traveling the galaxy in search of Jedi lore within a year of his father’s death, which makes sense, because without Anakin, he really had no purpose beyond being a Jedi. It was almost like a chore that he put off until there was nothing else he could possibly do and then decided to tackle it.
The Jedi Unravel
Of course, we all know how the story ends for Luke Skywalker’s newest crop of Jedi. His nephew, Ben Solo, falls to the dark side and destroys everything his uncle has built, except for a legacy of Skywalker men with vaguely androgynous hairstyles. Despite his heroic stature, Luke is something of a giver-upper, and so he abandons the dream of restoring the Jedi to greatness. Why does he do this so easily? Because the dream was never his to begin with.
In all of the original Star Wars trilogy, Luke never once declares intent to actually rebuild the Jedi Order. He doesn’t respond to Yoda’s command to pass on what he’s learned. His ultimate purpose is to redeem his father, and his training built up to that climax. Following the final confrontation, Luke is directionless, and with the destruction of his efforts, it’s actually pretty logical that he would give up.
In my next installment, I’ll explore what has been said about Luke and his role in the story by creative forces driving this new trilogy in a further effort to better understand why he believes the time of the Jedi has ended, and why he will most certainly change his mind.