Why you may have had Luke Skywalker wrong this whole time
Last week Twitter user and writer Jonathan McIntosh [@radicalbytes] kick started an interesting conversation about Luke Skywalker, how action heroes are branded, and the fallout of Episode VIII.
In his tweets, McIntosh pus forward the idea that there are sections of Star Wars fandom that are drawing the wrong conclusions about Luke Skywalker and his role in the Star Wars saga. McIntosh claims that fans misreading the final showdown between Skywalker and Vader have gravely undermined their understanding of Luke’s character in the latest instalment.
And he’s right.
Luke Skywalker ain’t no cuckold
Let’s break down the peak of Luke’s hero’s journey:
In Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker and his father (spoilers) Darth Vader square off for a Lightsaber duel on the bridge of the new Death Star. Watching from his throne, Emperor Palpatine looks on excitedly. For him, the death of Skywalker heralds the final end of the Jedi, and the death of Vader will complete Luke’s transition to the Dark Side of the force, eventually leading Luke to replace Vader as Palpatine’s stronger and younger apprentice.
Throughout the duel Luke hides, only to emerge when Vader learns of the existence of Leia, Luke’s sister. Fearing that he’s put her in danger, Luke’s fear and anger takes over and he beats Vader down, ultimately cutting off his father’s hand just like his own.
Luke stops and stares at his robotic hand. Contemplating how far down the dark-side rabbit hole his actions are taking him, he throws away his Lightsaber and once again chooses not to fight.
And there it is, the moment that makes or breaks how Luke Skywalker will forever be remembered within Star Wars fandom. For most, Luke taking the path of non-violence was never perceived as a moment of weakness or a desire to show his moral dominance over his foe, instead it was interpreted the way Lucas intended; Skywalker, coming face to face with the reality of the Dark Side, chooses to no longer act in anger to save his own soul from turning to the dark side.
Of course, there’s another viewpoint. By assuming that Vader was spared because Luke chose to demonstrate his newly found heroic power over life and death, you wrongly assume that Lucas’ intention was to portray Skywalker as an omnipotent being like Darkseid or Galactus.
This way of thinking is deeply entrenched in the portrayal of male role models as hyper-masculine figures of power. It leaves no wiggle room to believe that powerful characters can show weakness and demonstrate clemency simply because it’s the right thing to do or that it's important for their own development. It lends itself to the idea that this is part of some “SJW soyboy” infiltration of Star Wars.
Keeping that in mind, let’s fast forward to Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
++++ WARNING: Mild Spoilers ++++
After a search to discover Skywalker and bring him back into the fold of the Resistance, he’s finally tracked down by Rey and Chewbacca on the remote former Jedi outpost of Ahch-To.
It’s at this point everything that we gleaned from Luke at the end of ROTJ comes into play; refusing to leave, Skywalker tells Rey that not only have they wasted their time in trying to convince him to join the war effort, but that it’s also for the best if the Jedi order becomes extinct.
If you’ve always believed that Luke Skywalker represents a manly “badass” action hero, then you’ll probably perceive his portrayal in the Episode VIII as a strange 180 degree flip: He doubts his own leadership abilities, he refuses to join the fray and he seems weak in the face of the oncoming enemy. This, accompanied by the absurd notion that Star Wars is careening into a leftist, latte sipping, SJW, do-gooder’s virtue signalling parade has lead to some exceptionally toxic takes on Rian Johnson’s direction into the Star Wars universe.
Of course, looking at Skywalker’s journey the way Lucas intended, you can see that Luke’s direction in The Last Jedi was pretty much right on the money. On the verge of killing his own nephew and having once again almost fallen prey to the dark side, he abandons the newly created Jedi temple and forces himself into exile. Having spent years in isolation he comes to the conclusion that the existence of the Jedi also means the continued existence of the Sith, a notion portrayed in the movie as a cave below the Jedi temple that represents balance to the force.
Having faced Vader in ROTJ and seen firsthand the transition from light to dark, Luke concludes that the Jedi, like the Sith, exist only to push their own vain interpretation of the force and exert their own form of power.
Hence, he chooses not to fight or to continue training the next generation of Jedi. This isn’t weakness, this is the reality of the force.
He’s simply doing the very thing he chose to do at the end of Episode VI.
Why the Jedi need to die
Luke’s decision to no longer fight Vader in ROTJ also plays a big part in the extinction of the Jedi order. Skywalker, the Last Jedi, was never trained by the Jedi order, nor was indoctrinated into their ranks by their deep rooted psychology. Luke stumbled into a world of Jedi and Sith through circumstance: the capture of Leia’s cruiser lead to C-3PO and R2D2 falling into Skywalker’s hands. Without this intervention, Luke would never have known anything about the force.
In other words Luke is an outsider, observing the Jedi without the blinkers that most apprentices are given when they are first entered into the Jedi’s training program. It’s a system that’s flawed and eventually leads to hard decisions by new trainees; Anakin, Luke’s father, couldn’t reconcile his objections to the order’s strict moral code and ultimately rebelled. Thus, Darth Vader was born.
The Jedi order we came to see in episodes I, II and III were also a stark contrast to Luke Skywalker’s view of the Jedi as he stood astride Vader, victorious, in Episode VI. As an almost mirror image of Mace Windu standing over Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith, Windu would have had no second thoughts in killing Palpatine right there and then. To Luke’s point in Episode VIII, the Jedi were doing nothing more than serving their own self centered goals in eradicating the Sith wherever they found them. The prequels showed more often than not that the Jedi were more than willing to kill for their own purposes.
While Luke chose to resist violence, the Jedi showed justice, quite often at the end of a Lightsaber.
This is why Luke is the “last Jedi”, not Rey. Rey represents a new generation of force-sensitives that don’t need to be bogged down by the dogmatic views of the Jedi’s ancient texts. Instead people like her (and the young stable boy) are guided, just like Luke in ROTJ, to fight for what is right through morality and not scripture.
This is why the Jedi need to die. For all of their posturing and for all of their good will they were ultimately undone by the Sith and failed.
Here we can see how important that final showdown with Vader truly was; by way of a higher road, Luke learned the truth about why the Jedi failed. By failing Ben Solo and creating Kylo Ren, Luke finally understood the Jedi’s role in perpetuating the ouroboros cycle of light and dark. Without the Jedi, the next generation of force-sensitives won’t be clouded by dogmatic ancient doctrine, instead they can show mercy where it’s needed and reform characters that have ventured too far into the dark side of the force.
You see, Luke ain’t no cuck.
He’s a goddamn shining light.
- Andrew Archer