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?