One More Look at “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and the Luke Skywalker Controversy

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The “Star Wars” fanbase has never been short on strong opinions and impassioned points of view. Sometimes that can be a wonderful thing. Other times, not so much. That has never been more true than with Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” and more specifically its handling of the iconic Luke Skywalker character. And with the Johnson-less “The Rise of Skywalker” about to hit theaters and Last Jedi apologists already sharpening their blades, what better time to look back at one of the film’s biggest stirs.

“The Last Jedi” has been criticized for a number of issues, and in many cases deservedly so. But no issue has infuriated a portion of the fan base as much as the film’s portrayal of Luke. The meat of the argument revolves around how different Luke is in TLJ compared to where he was at the end of the original trilogy. Many feel it completely butchered the character and killed any semblance of the Luke they grew up with. I actually see it a little differently.

“Star Wars” was a huge part of my childhood and my passion goes back to 1977 with the release of the original film. So I’m not some “lightweight” or “casual” fan. While I respect those who feel differently, personally I had no problem with how Luke was handled and here’s why. First of all it treats Luke like a human being who despite having immense powers still has genuine and relatable feelings. It’s tempting to look at him as an unshakable superhero of sorts and I suppose Johnson could have made him a dry old sage spouting the same Jedi wisdom. But clearly a lot has happened in his life since the end of “Return of the Jedi” and his bitterness and frustration is a very human reaction.

And remember, the Jedi’s track record isn’t exactly spotless. It was the Jedi who allowed (among other things) the rise of Anakin (a.k.a. Darth Vader) right under their noses. Yes I know he was eventually instrumental in bringing balance, etc., but the Jedi made some pretty bad calls that carried some hefty consequences. Now combine that with Luke’s own tendency to be both emotional and impulsive. Once again, you can imagine a scenario where frustration and bitterness could set in.

Then you have the big revelation. Let me go ahead and say right here [SPOILERS ARE AHEAD]. Many people hate the very notion that Luke would strike down a young Kylo in cold blood. I get that but that perspective overlooks something critical – the revelation is told twice through two very different perspectives. In Kylo’s version we see a cold and determined Luke who is only stopped by Kylo’s quick reaction. But in Luke’s telling we learn that he stopped before going through with it. He caught himself and you can instantly see the shame and remorse on his face. As he himself said “It passed like a fleeting shadow.” And remember what I said above – he has a history of being impulsive. He did the same thing with Vader on the Death Star, coming mere inches from destroying his father in a rage only to catch himself and come to his senses.

I do agree there are some things about Luke in TLJ that confuses and other things that deserve more satisfying answers. TLJ throws out some ideas but doesn’t exactly go far enough with them. Yet ultimately I liked the complexity TLJ brought to Luke’s character. He isn’t a one-dimensional carbon copy of other Jedi who have come before him. He’s still passionate, at times borderline impetuous, but steadily moral and upright. He’s no coward. He has simply lost faith in the Jedi way and one could argue for good reason. But as the wonderfully wise Yoda reveals, even the best of us can still learn and grow. It’s part of being human.

But what would I know. I always was a Han guy.

Now what say you?

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15 thoughts on “One More Look at “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and the Luke Skywalker Controversy

  1. I mostly agree with you. I liked Luke’s grizzled approach to the Jedi and that he clearly did make mistakes and felt doubt and remorse. Where I disagree is that even after sensing the darkness in Ben, I don’t think he would have thought to kill him. Luke was the one who constantly said that there was good in Darth Vader and never gave up hope on turning him back into Anakin. Because of that, I feel he would have taken the same mindset against his nephew and would not have even thought that the only course of action was killing Ben but rather attempted to bring him back to the light.

    • I see what you’re saying, but at the same time, despite saying there was always good in Vader, he still almost killed him. I think it speaks to Luke’s impulsive nature. I also think that we only get a glimpse of that moment. There is so much that is left out which could have influenced Luke even more.

  2. I too am a Han Solo guy yet I did enjoy Luke Skywalker’s arc in that film. Notably as someone who is consumed with guilt, shame, and failure over the fact that he felt responsible for the death of a new generation of Jedis while was unable to help his nephew and nearly gave in to the dark side. His reluctance to train Rey was more of his own fear of failing her but also in her connection to Ben.

    That was one of the reasons why I enjoyed The Last Jedi as it showcased many layers of Luke Skywalker while I also loved his eventual confrontation with Kylo Ren as I think it marked not just a sense of redemption for Luke but also him making peace with his faults and failures.

    I’m glad to have the film in my laptop as I get the chance to re-watch it and upon that re-watch, the sequence in the casino is still flimsy and a mess while I also felt it didn’t do enough to discuss some of the fallacies of war and how both the First Order and Resistance have their faults. Still, I think Rian Johnson deserves credit for at least trying to do something different and not give in to what the fans want. Fans bitched about The Force Awaken for being too familiar with the past films but they bitched about The Last Jedi for not being like the other films. I don’t have much expectations for The Rise of Skywalker other than just be entertained but I also hope it’s not Solo which upon replays in my head is severely flawed. I’ll be seeing it Saturday morning as I will present my review later in the day.

    • That whole casino sequence was sloppy as was writing which led to it. For me that is the biggest issue with that movie, not Luke. As for Rise of Skywalker, I’ll be seeing it tomorrow night and I’ll admit my expectations are high. But I’m like you, I just want to be entertained and as a fan I want it to make sense. Do those things and I’ll be very pleased.

  3. Very interesting piece. I didn’t have an issue with Luke’s story or arc in The Last Jedi as it was, aside from some of Johnson’s tonally off-putting humour, very solid and consistent. The main problem is the rest of the film. Clearly the third one will tie up loose ends (hopefully), but Rey’s story is almost non-existent. I don’t feel the writing has seen her earn hero status in the way Luke did in the original trilogy. Her story has frankly been a mess.

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