There aren’t that many movies from the past year that I have thought more about than The Last Jedi. As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I immediately went to see it with a good friend of mine in theaters when it came out back in December. We spent some time over food and drink afterwards discussing it and we both came to the conclusion that it was not only a fantastic Star Wars movie but a fantastic film in general. I connected to it on a level I never expected to, feeling all the emotion, the pain, the failure, the elation, and the tragic triumph that the characters felt. Upon repeat viewings, it evoked all the same feelings and more, transforming and taking on new meaning with new experience. It is a rarity to see a film of such quality, something that should be treasured and experienced by all.
This part of the reason why I found the backlash to be all the more puzzling. To me, The Last Jedi was Star Wars near perfected, evoking that sense of that time a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away while telling a thrilling and emotionally impactful story.
Nevertheless, this essay isn’t a defense of The Last Jedi or an attempt to convince those who hate it of the film’s merits. Rather, this is a personal reflection of what the film meant to me and why it has stuck with me so. To do that, I will focus on the surprisingly controversial Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, my favorite character period growing up and still among my favorites now as an adult.
Needless to say, but spoilers for The Last Jedi are ahead. If you haven’t seen it yet and you really want to, it’s on Netflix and also DVD
What Luke Skywalker Meant to Me as a Child
I will admit, my liking of Luke Skywalker when I was young wasn’t necessarily the most sophisticated one. It boiled down to these essential traits:
- He was the main character
- He wielded an awesome future laser sword
- He fought for the side of good
That’s all you needed to win the admiration of younger me. Just like Luke, I wanted to be a hero, to go on grand adventures and fight the bad guys and win the day.
Upon reflection, there may have been some more reasons why I gravitated toward Luke Skywalker happening on the subconscious level. For one, Luke is idealistic, striving to seek the good in people and trying his hardest to save as many people as he can. He’s fiercely loyal to his friends, willing to sacrifice everything to help them. He is also impulsive, setting on courses of actions with barest amount of information, and over-corrective, going to extremes to fix his mistakes. He can be obsessive, as well, unable to shake distressing notions he has for situations and for himself. In his good traits, I saw someone I wanted to be. In his… lacking traits I identified with, albeit not knowingly.
His good traits hardly need explaining as they are plain as day. For his lacking ones, a few examples would help.
- Impulsive: In A New Hope, when R2 starts showing the message of Leia, he is immediately interested in rescuing her, wanting to see the whole message. He also stops to watch Darth Vader and Obi-Wan duel as they’re trying to escape, firing on Vader when Obi-Wan is cut down and attracting the attention of the Empire’s forces. In The Empire Strikes Back, when he has a vision of his friends in danger, he decides to leave Dagobah and his training to rescue them, even facing Darth Vader, despite the warnings from Obi-Wan and Yoda. This leads him into a trap and almost dying at the hands of Vader. In Return of the Jedi, when he realizes that Vader can feel his presence on Endor, he abandons the mission to confront Vader and the Emperor is a bid to save his father and defeat Palpatine.
- Over-corrective: In Empire, part of the reason why he sets out to save his friends is because he feels responsible for putting them in danger since he is the one Vader and Emperor want. His solution is to mount a solo rescue op without knowing anything about what is happening in Cloud City. In Return, after realizing that he tapped into the Dark Side to defeat Vader, he renounces violence and tosses his lightsaber away in a effort to prove to himself and the Emperor that he is a true Jedi.
- Obsessive: In Empire, he is unable to shake the vision of his friends in danger to the point where he’s convinced he needs to save them. He is unable to let go the good he felt in Vader, going to great lengths to proving it (and ultimately succeeding, actually leading to a good outcome). He gets hung up on his failures, like his inability to lift his X-Wing on Dagobah or his failure in the Dark Side cave or the fact he put his friends in jeopardy by just being around them.
Luke is able to overcome these or, at the very least, use them to his advantage. But more often than not, he’s led into danger and is forced to learn and grow from his mistakes. But none are so grievous that he is pushed into the depths of despair and self-loathing. He bounces back from them, gets back into the fight. And as a kid, that’s what made him a hero.
As an adult, I can sympathize with Luke Skywalker and I recognize myself in him. That’s why his portrayal in The Last Jedi is all the more important. He makes an unforgivable mistake, causing a lot of death and destruction and pain as a result. The guilt eats at him until he is willing to give up on himself and the very order he worked his whole life to building up.
What Luke Skywalker Means to Me as an Adult
The Luke we meet in The Last Jedi is not who we expect, but still very much in line with who we saw in the Original Trilogy. He is surly and morose. He has given up on himself, the Jedi, and hope for the future. His solution to everything is for him to disappear and die, taking the mistakes and legacy of the Jedi with him. At first, just like Rey, we don’t know why Luke is the way he is. Last we saw him, he was the Luke of legend, the man who defeated the Empire and saved Darth Vader from the darkness. He was going to restore the Jedi and maintain balance in the Force and the galaxy. Now, everything is in disarray and Luke has given up, scoffing at the notion that he or his image could serve any purpose aside to die. He had even cut himself off from the Force, feeling unworthy to participate in it or its light. This is shocking and distressing. Luke Skywalker has lost his way, he has given up. Can there be hope? What drove him to these depths.
As the movie unfolds, we slowly see the moment where Luke lost himself and his way, the moment where it all came crashing down. At first, according to Luke, it was because he failed to save Ben Solo from the Dark Side and Snoke, leading to the destruction of his temple and the death of many of the Jedi he was training. He lost his nephew to evil, failing his sister and his best friend who trusted him to protect and train their son.
Kylo Ren reveals a little bit of that day, though from his perspective. It was because Luke tried to kill him out of fear of his power, unhesitating and with madness in his eyes. For a moment, it seems that Luke crossed into an unforgivable realm and that he deserved all that happened.
After pushed by Rey to reveal the truth, Luke finally tells her. He sensed complete darkness in Ben and that it would lead to the destruction of everyone and everything he ever cared about. As he put it, in a moment of pure instinct, he lit his lightsaber to end it all, to kill Ben Solo and his potential for destruction. And just as quickly as that feeling came, it left, leaving him with a profound sense of regret. Except it was too late. Ben had already seen what he master about to do, sealing his turn to the Dark Side. Luke lost everything that night. In his effort to correct his mistakes, he ran, hiding himself so that all the problems he created or could possibly create by his existence would die with him.
Luke committed a grave mistake, almost killing his nephew in an effort to save everything, believing that his fate was sealed and that his death was the only way to bring it all to an end. He recognized the error he committed. However, instead of learning from it and moving on, he internalized it all and ran away. He sought to correct his mistakes, but it least helpful way possible. Rather than teach himself and others to learn from he has done, he opts to have it all die out.
This is where Yoda comes in. Luke, seeking to finally end it all, goes to the Jedi temple to destroy it. Yoda appears, his agenda unknown. When Luke hesitates, Yoda destroys the temple himself and gives Luke one final lesson:
“Skywalker, still looking to the horizon. Never here, now, hmm? The need in front of your nose… Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength. Mastery. 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.”
Luke could not see what he needed to do now, he could only see what was in the horizon. He saw and felt pain on the horizon and his only solution was to end what he believed the source of it all was: the existence of the Jedi. He did not see that he could pass on his failures as lessons as a means of preventing such pain in the future. Only then was he able to become the person the galaxy needed him to be: a beacon of hope, a spark to ignite the rebellion that would set the First Order aflame. He also became the master Kylo Ren needed in that moment, teaching him that his mistakes would stick with him, yes, but it was what he did with them that mattered.
“No one is truly ever lost” were his last words to Leia. He spoke from experience and knew that it was possible to come back from darkness, to come back from despair, to come back from folly. Mistakes are not the end, but the opening notes of a new beginning. It’s what we do with them that matters.
This Luke Skywalker has stuck with me for months. Oftentimes, just like him, we get so wrapped up in the mistakes – both big and small – we have made and see no way out. We believe our only recourse is to allow darkness to sink in and that we no longer deserve goodness or companionship. Because we have failed, we somehow became worthless and that it would best for all if we just disappeared from the face of the earth. How could we possibly be a positive influence if he have stumbled in such a way. Nevertheless, there is a way to come back, a way out. Rather than hide, we can stand tall and continue to move forward. By making mistakes, we can become the people who we need to be for ourselves and others. There is no error so grave that one can’t return from it. We just need to remind ourselves of the light that still exists within and around us and let that guide us into a new life.