I still remember walking out of that theater on December 12, 2017. Luke Skywalker had just died, and I had no idea how I felt about his characterization in the film (let alone his death). How could a moisture farmer from a fictional planet affect me in such a deep way? How could I feel so conflicted about choices made by a 60-year-old fictional space wizard? And how could I feel so moved by his choice to make the ultimate sacrifice for a galaxy that I don’t even live on? These are questions that rattled my head that night. Questions that I still ask myself 3 years later.
Throughout this article, we will explore the character of Luke Skywalker, all the way from A New Hope to The Rise of Skywalker. We will examine his choices, triumphs, failures and the lessons we learn with him, coupled with my own opinions and experience with the character. Let’s take a deep dive into The Legend of Luke Skywalker.
I can’t remember a time in my life when I was not a Star Wars fan. I was 4 when my dad took me to see the Original Trilogy re-release, back in 1997. Though I don’t remember all the details of being in that theater, I recall falling immediately in love. However, Luke was never my favorite character. Sure, I liked him quite a bit. He could use the force, he had a cool weapon and he was the hero. When looked at a surface level, Luke was just the obvious pretty boy hero, destined to save the day. For this reason, I rather found myself drawn to Han’s every-man position and Leia’s “move over, I have a war to fight” attitude. As such, I was never bothered by his absence in The Force Awakens’ marketing, or the “Luke Skywalker has vanished!” first sentence of its crawl. Was I curious about his ware bouts? Of course! But I was way more excited to see Han and Chewie wreaking havoc with The Falcon. Then came The Last Jedi…
I had my fix of Han Solo, and seen enough of Leia, through The Force Awakens. After that last-minute cliff hanger, with Rey and Luke on Ahch-To, it was Luke’s time to shine. However, Rian Johnson’s film kicked the life out of me. What happened to the hero we last saw celebrating on Endor? The Last Jedi asked me “what makes you like Luke?”. Upon answering, it then asked me “If we strip those qualities away, do you still like him? Or Is there something else?”. There was something else.
Luke Skywalker was never unrelatable, I just preferred other characters. However, he is undeniably our hero. He receives the hero’s call, confronts the ultimate evil, risks everything for his friends and saves the day. On the surface, he embodies the stereotypical hero, which makes him a mainstream icon. But upon closer examination, there is so much more to Luke. What really defines this character, what makes him iconic over 40 years later, are the lessons we learn with him through his failures. Yes, failures.
Luke’s failures are not really explicitly present in A New Hope. The film’s main objective is to set up the characters, the lore and the world of Star Wars. However, we can’t deny that Luke is immature. His flaws, though not deeply explored, are set up in the film. At first, Luke is throwing out any excuse not to join Obi-wan in saving Leia. After Obi-wan gave his life for them, Leia (who just saw her planet blown up) had to be the one to console Luke. In the most beautiful scene in the entire saga, we learn that Luke is constantly looking to the horizon, not living in the moment (this will span all the way to The Last Jedi).
However, these flaws do not define Luke Skywalker throughout the film. He overcomes his hesitance to initially join Obi-wan. After grieving for his master, Luke joins the Rebellion and jumps into an X-Wing to save the day. We begin to learn that Luke is defined by how he’s able to overcome his flaws.
Empire Strikes Back really starts to take a deep dive into his character. Here we begin to see Luke really fail for the first time. Upon meeting Yoda, Luke judges him based on his preconceived notions. He is unable to lift the X-Wing, as he fails to believe in the Force, Yoda’s lessons and himself. When learning that his friends are in trouble, he abandons his training (well knowing that it could mean the end of everything Yoda and Kenobi worked for). Finally, with just limited training, he decides to face Darth Vader.
Luke’s failures in Empire are interesting. We see them impact every decision he makes, leading to his brutal defeat at the hands of Vader. They lead him to a state where he will eventually be overwhelmed upon learning the truth about his father. However, these failures are not corrected until Episode VI. What truly makes his failures interesting though, is how relatable they are. We would all feel strange when learning that a great warrior is a short little green man. We would all feel overwhelmed when asked to lift a spaceship with our mind. We would all feel the impulse to abandon everything to save the ones we love. But just because his failures are relatable, does not mean they stop being failures.
In Return of the Jedi, Luke is revealed to be in a completely different state than in Empire. He’s more mature, powerful and (most importantly) balanced. Luke is leading the mission to save Han Solo. He then is heavily involved in the mission to Endor. Finally, in order to allow his friends to continue fighting, he leaves to confront Vader and Palpatine.
In the throne room, Luke fails twice. When taunted by Palpatine about the death and destruction of the Rebellion (and his friends), Luke loses his balance and ignites his saber. This sets off one final duel with his father. During this final fight, Luke fails once more. When Darth Vader mentions turning Leia to the Dark side, Luke (once again) loses his balance and attacks with all his anger. Luke cuts off his father’s mechanical arm, leaving him completely vulnerable for one last finishing blow. Only to realize he was about to become what he was fighting to destroy.
Once again, these failures do not define Luke Skywalker. Luke is able to look at his actions and learn from his mistakes. Which leads him to the ultimate Jedi move. After allowing his emotions to get the better of him, and leaning to the Dark side, Luke throws away his lightsaber and refuses to fight. When looking straight into the face of evil and being able to destroy it, Luke choses peace over violence. In doing so, he not only redeems his failures throughout the trilogy, he inspires his father to redeem his own failures and complete The Chosen One prophecy. This single act of kindness completes his arc, making him the greatest Jedi who ever lived.
Return of the Jedi not only shows us Luke’s transformation and ability to overcome his failures. The movie teaches us a very important lesson: Even the most balanced Jedi can fail. However, what’s important is how he grows from his failures. This will be very important in the Sequel Trilogy.
Luke Skywalker has vanished! Luke is absent throughout the entirety of The Force Awakens. He is the myth, and everyone is searching for him. Rey, Han and Leia see him as the last hope for the Resistance. Snoke sees him as the only threat to his power. Kylo Ren sees him as the embodiment of his pain and suffering. However, his absence is only a repercussion of his own failure.
After the party on Endor, Luke began to explore the galaxy in search of Sith and Jedi relics. After years of exploration, training and growth, he rebuilds the Jedi Order and trains a new generation of Jedi, including Ben Solo (his nephew). As we learned in The Rise of Kylo Ren comic, Ben Solo would accompany Luke on adventures, and he was one of his star pupils. However, through these adventures, Ben got exposed to Snoke, the Knights of Ren and the Dark side. Though we still don’t know all the details, somewhere along the way his mind was corrupted, and Luke sensed it. As we learned from Luke in The Last Jedi, he tapped into young Solo’s heart, only to learn that:
“He would bring destruction, pain, death, and the end of everything I love because of what he will become. And for the briefest moment of pure instinct, I thought I could stop it.” - Luke Skywalker (The Last Jedi)
Though not explicit, I believe that Luke probably saw: Ben killing his apprentices, the destruction of his academy, the destruction of Hosnian Prime, and the death of Han and Leia. Just like in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the mere thought of harm coming to his friends makes him snap. This leads to Luke Skywalker’s greatest failure: igniting his lightsaber on his defenseless nephew.
Luke allowed the dark side to empower him once more, and almost struck down his vulnerable nephew (just as he almost did to his father). Like in Return of the Jedi, Luke realizes he is about to become what he is trying to destroy. Luke is left with shame, and the disappointed face of the nephew he just failed (the same face he saw when almost striking down his father).
Instead of owning up and facing up to his mistakes, Luke fails once again. After the destruction of his academy and the turn of his nephew, He is left only with fear, suffering and shame. Luke was the new hope, the last hope for the Jedi. Yoda and Obi-wan placed all their trust in him to defeat the Empire and bring back the Jedi Order. Luke became a legend to the galaxy, a hero. He knew all of this very well, only to disappoint those who he loved most. The Jedi always say: “trust your instincts” but doing so caused Luke to almost strike down Ben. Luke doesn’t trust himself and stops believing in his own legend. For these reasons, Luke disappears.
When Rey arrives, Luke is still lost and disconnected from the Force. Luke is not the same person we as the audience remember, and he does not embody the myth Rey knew. When she realizes that he failed Ben, and that he will not come back to fight, she leaves. Luke is once again left with shame. But, thanks to one last lesson from an old friend, the last Jedi returns.
“Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery, hmm… but weakness, folly, failure also. Yes: failure, most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.” – Yoda (The Last Jedi)
The Resistance was almost decimated after the attack on D’Qar. With nowhere left to run, they make a courageous last stand on Crait. But the First Order overpowered them. When all hope was lost, the old hero returned. Luke Skywalker, the myth, was back to save the day.
After an emotional goodbye with Leia, Luke walks out to face the entire First Order and his biggest failure, Kylo Ren. However, Luke is not really there. Before our eyes, Luke performs the most powerful and Luke Skywalker-thing possible. He projects his image all the way across the galaxy to face his failure and to give hope to the Resistance fighters, Rey and Leia. Luke’s image is there to redeem his mistakes, but he is not physically there to fight. Once again, being the greatest Jedi who ever lived, Luke chose peace over violence. Just as Ben Kenobi did for him and his friends, Luke gives his life so the Resistance can escape, giving one last spark of hope to the galaxy.
Death is but the end to a Jedi like Luke. Even after he’s gone, he returns one last time to give Rey a final lesson. When she needs him the most, he catches the lightsaber he once threw away, acknowledging his failures to her, and teaches her the importance of facing our own fears and the power of her spirit. When she is down and overpowered by Palpatine, Luke encourages her to rise and push back on evil. Finally, at the end, Luke returns to give her his blessing to continue to build on the Skywalker Legacy. Though he disappointed her in The Last Jedi, Luke reaffirms that he is there for her and that she will never be alone again.