There is a great disturbance in the Force as millions of Star Wars fans rage about Episode VIII’s (The Last Jedi) story and characters. Specifically, there is much angst about how Luke Skywalker turned out.
The crux of the backlash against Luke’s portrayal is that he is a cynical, pessimistic quitter. He turned away from the Jedi, closed himself off from the Force, and essentially accepted defeat and as the First Order rises he has gone to end the Jedi order and die miserable.
Even Mark Hamill didn’t agree with this approach. He felt like Luke from the Original Trilogy wouldn’t have given up. Like Obi-wan and Yoda didn’t give up despite twenty years of exile after their Order was massacred and the Republic destroyed. Sure, they say, maybe he was a whiny teenage in Episode IV but once he was beyond that he was a wise and mature Jedi by the end of Return of the Jedi. Specifically, he said,
“I said to Rian, ‘Jedis don’t give up.’ I mean, even if [Luke] had a problem, he would maybe take a year to try and regroup, but if he made a mistake, he would try to right that wrong, so right there, we had a fundamental difference,” Hamill shared of his reaction to reading the script. “But it’s not my story anymore, it’s somebody else’s story and Rian needed me to be a certain way to make the ending effective. That’s the crux of my problem. Luke would never say that. I’m sorry.”
Which has it exactly backwards. Luke was a whiny teenager, yes. Not only because he was a teenager, but because that’s how he’s wired. He’s a pessimist which drives him to give up too easily (unless in combat) and when he finally has a moment to think, he’s a gloomy gus. Let’s consider all the times Luke was overly pessimistic or quit prematurely:
- He threw a fit about not being able to follow Biggs to the Academy. (Yes, his uncle was playing for time, jerking him around, but so what?)
- The ‘looks like I’m not going anywhere’ line and his moping with the droids in the workshop are just signs that he’s not emotionally resilient. He gets surly and pessimistic as a first reaction.
Negotiating in the Cantina:
- Luke gets up to leave after Solo makes the initial offer. He doesn’t even think counter it. He doesn’t even try to bargain. He apparently has never negotiated before in his life.
- Obi-Wan has to plant Luke’s butt back in the seat before he can even counter Han’s offer. Obi-Wan was annoyed.
- Luke wants to be a Jedi. He has tossed away the remnants of his life on Tatooine to learn how from Obi-Wan (Obi-Wan is a living connection to the father he never met. He trusts Obi-Wan.)
- When eager Luke finally gets his first lesson, Obi-Wan blocks Luke’s vision. Luke freaks out because he can’t see. The drone duel won’t work.
- Luke has to be cajoled and goaded into the lesson.
- Dude has given up right out of the gate.
As the Falcon races away from the Death Star, Luke gets all mopey because Ben is dead.
- Han and Chewie are in a dogfight but Luke doesn’t seem to care.
- Leia, the woman who just had her planet destroyed, her family killed, and her ‘only hope’ die, has to toss a blankie on Luke to comfort him.
- Luke, the guy who has achieved his dream of getting off Tatooine, is in the middle of the biggest adventure of his life, is all in the dumps when he finally has a chance to sit down and think.
- Even the blankie doesn’t help.
- It’s only when Han needs his help, does Luke spring into action.
- Dude gave up.
Dagobah, Part I:
- Luke gives up on trusting the little guy who would take him to Yoda
- Remember the tree? Luke assumes the worst and brings his weapons with him.
- When Yoda wants him to lift his X-Wing out of the swamp, Luke at least tries, but expects to fail and does.
- Luke is now in his early-mid twenties, so there are no whiny teenager excuses any more.
- To top it all off, he gives up on his training to go save his friends.
Dagobah, part II:
- He’s still hung up on not being told about Vader.
- He can’t go on without Yoda.
- He can’t go on without completing his training.
- When Obi-Wan shows up after Yoda has to kill himself to get away from all the negativity, Luke promptly gives up on defeating Vader. He still is quit even when Obi-Wan threatens him (“then the Emperor has already won”). Luke mumbles that maybe he can train a student to take down Vader. That is when Obi-Wan tells him about Leia. Leia, by the way, doesn’t give up on anything or anyone.
- When Luke is on the stolen shuttle and senses Vader, he concludes that he’s threatening the mission and shouldn’t have come. Mr. Doom and Gloom is ready to give up.
- When Luke tells Leia about their family, it’s to explain to her why he is giving up on the mission and turning himself in. Yes, he hopes to turn his father, that is the only thing he is positive about.
- When Vader tells him it is too late for him to turn back to the light side, Luke promptly gives up on turning him and resigns himself to die with him and the Emperor on the Death Star.
Inside the Death Star: Luke can’t stop giving up or assuming the worst.
- When the Death Star rips apart the rebel fleet he tries to kill the Emperor.
- When Vader reads his concern for Leia, Luke gives up on not fighting him and almost kills him.
- Luke gives up on fighting the Emperor and all but begs the Emperor to kill him.
Now, let’s turn to The Last Jedi and consider the context for Luke, the already pessimistic Jedi Master:
- Several of his students turned to the Dark Side.
- He has let down Leia, who had given him responsibility to watch over her son
- His Jedi order was destroyed
- His students, who depended on him, died
- His academy was destroyed
- His teaching skills were proven inadequate
- He didn’t measure up to his own legend
- For roughly ten years, he has blamed himself and punished himself
Yes, some resilient Jedi may have regrouped after a calamity like this. But not this guy, without someone to counterbalance his pessimistic darkness. He runs off to gloomy seclusion and pretends to research the Jedi.
From The Force Awakens, we know that Luke disappeared after Ben Solo turned to the Dark Side. He has already abandoned the Resistance and the Republic. Han all but says that Luke ditched everyone and everything to go find the history of the Jedi. Before you go blaming TLJ’s director Rian Johnson, note that Luke’s arc was already established in the previous movie.
Luke’s Arc? He is the Ron Weasley of Star Wars
Many hardcore fans are no doubt upset because The Last Jedi‘s evolution of Luke is 180 degrees different from how he was treated in the Expanded Universe. In the EU stories, which came boiling out of Lucasfilm from the 1990s through 2010s, Luke diligently rebuilt the Jedi Order, was a good and honorable mentor to his students. He barely shouldered any doubt when more than one student fell to the Dark Side and destroyed solar systems or started wars. Even when his nephew fell to the Dark Side and killed his wife. Expanded Universe Luke never gave up. But he never *existed*.
Rian Johnson tapped into Luke’s actual personality. Whiny teen Luke became cranky cynical old Luke. He gave Rey a different point of view about the viability of the Jedi order. Yoda laughed at his defeatism and quitterness, in case the audience hadn’t picked up on the clues.