One of the most common critiques of The Last Jedi is the portrayal of one Luke Skywalker. The cries of “That’s not my Luke Skywalker,” have become almost as common as a porg at a Wookie barbecue. The big issue seems to be that the Luke we see at the end of Return of the Jedi would never have made the choices of the Luke of The Last Jedi.
At least, from a certain point of view.
But the Luke we see in The Last Jedi is not supposed to be the Luke of Return of the Jedi, and the battle he is fighting is not the same either. Return of the Jedi is designed not to turn Luke into a superhero who shall never face trial and tribulation, but rather to show that Luke has finally come to accept who he is as an individual.
Let us not forget that Luke was mere moments away from killing his father out of anger and aggression. In the act of Anakin like hypocrisy, Luke lashes out at Darth Vader only when Vader threatens those he cares for. However, Luke makes the choice Anakin never could. He chooses the path of love over the path of anger, aggression, and brute force.
Nonetheless, this is a very personal victory. Notice that Luke says, “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” I. It is a personal victory. It is the finding of that which a lonely moisture farming teenager sought. Luke didn’t leave because he wanted to save the galaxy. He, a boy who was got excited about the mention of the Rebellion and the idea of joining the Imperial academy, now becomes the man he is supposed to be, a man who seeks love above hate.
This did, however, make him more than a man. It made him a myth and a legend. We hear Rey use that exact language in both of the sequel trilogy films that have been released. “I thought Luke Skywalker was a myth,” and “The galaxy may need a legend,” give us an eye into what Luke Skywalker became in the eyes of galactic citizens. This, however, is not what Luke was seeking in the original trilogy. But it does not change the fact that it is what he became.
When we meet up with Luke in The Last Jedi, we see that this has taken a toll on him. Much like Anakin’s downfall was due to his not being taught how to appropriately handle his emotions, Luke is broken because he never learned how to handle being a legend. The Luke we see in TLJ is not supposed to be the Luke of the original trilogy. Luke’s arc in those three films was about a boy becoming a man. Luke’s arc in The Last Jedi is an arc focused on learning to handle his legend.
This does not negate all that was done on the second Death Star. It shifts it, most certainly, in a direction many did not expect, but that’s the point. Just like Luke, we have to learn to separate the man and the myth. This was Luke’s great failure. He always looked to the horizon, just as Yoda said. He became hyper-focused on maintaining the myth because he believed that the “Legend of Luke Skywalker” is what created the balance. But in an effort to maintain that facade, the man became overtaken by the myth. The myth stood over Ben Solo willing to kill rather than let the darkness win. The man switched the lightsaber off, feeling shame for the failures of the myth. It takes Yoda literally burning that idea down for Luke to realize what we as viewers have to realize as well. The man and the myth are two separate entities, despite their being centered around the same person.
When Luke gets to Crait, we see these two entities finally able to separate themselves. Luke the Man is able to meet with his sister and also apologize to Ben Solo for allowing the legend to take precedence over the man. He is able to accept that he failed not because Return of the Jedi was pointless, but because he allowed what people expected him to be to win out over who he knew he was supposed to be, much like his father before him.
Anakin’s biggest issue was that he was never able to balance the Chosen One he was supposed to be and the caring, loving young man he wanted to be; this leads him down a dark path because he feels he must maintain these twos mutually exclusive identities simultaneously.
In his final act, Luke, like his father before him, is able to truly accept who he is. For Anakin, that acceptance meant learning that power and brute force are not stronger than the power of love and trust in the Force. For Luke, that meant learning that the man and the myth must be separate parts of a larger whole, both of which the galaxy needs in some way.
Both which must live in harmony with one another. Balance.