The most artistic and different film of the Star Wars saga is without a doubt The Last Jedi. Not only did it set the fan base afire (in both positive and negative ways) it caused some fans to cry out, “That’s not my Luke Skywalker.”
Six months later, it still seems that there is a lack of understanding when it comes to Luke, as is evidenced by the Remake The Last Jedi campaign and the more recent “We, The Fans of Star Wars” letter written to Lucasfilm. Unfortunately it seems that many people have not taken the time to fully delve into Luke’s character, instead taking it on face value that he is a grumpy old man who wants nothing to do with his past accomplishments, or for that matter his failures.
What has made Luke compelling for over 40 years is not his skills with a lightsaber nor his skills with the Force, but that he is the one who makes the hard choice when the hard choice needs to be made. This doesn’t always end well, but still the same it proves that he is a leader and a hero that the galaxy, both in and out of universe, can look up to.
The Luke we see in The Last Jedi is that same Luke. “Don’t let the wrapper fool you, friend.” He went to the island to die not because he was bitter, but because he had seen what happens when Jedi rise to prominence. It doesn’t end well. So going to the island was not an act of selfishness, but rather selflessness.
During the original trilogy, Luke’s hero’s journey centers around him finding his identity, which he finds in Han, Leia, and the rest of the staple characters of the saga. Would Luke just give that up? Would he throw away everything he worked so hard to learn? Absolutely not. But he knew, or at least believed, that if he were to stay around, things with the First Order would only escalate quicker, and that would be damning to those he loved. He also knew, wisely so, that he was not the one who could save Kylo. Just like Yoda before him, Luke knew his best path was to leave the galaxy and trust the Force to do what must be done, in this case bringing Rey to the forefront of the story with Kylo.
However, while the man is the same, the part of him that the story focuses on is not. In the original trilogy, Luke’s journey culminates with him asserting, “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” In The Last Jedi, his story culminates with him restoring hope. Both are heroic, but they are very different.
Luke went to the second Death Star not to save the galaxy. He trusted Han, Leia and the rest of the Rebellion to take care of that. He went to save his father, to make a connection with the man he always looked up to but never knew. This is true from the moment Luke accepts the call to adventure, “I want to come with you to Alderaan. There’s nothing for me here now. I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father.”
Luke fully expects and understands that the probability that he will die on the space station is, as K2-SO would say, “high…very high.” In fact, he tells the Emperor as much, “Soon I’ll be dead, and you along with me.” The fact that this ends up not being true does not negate the intention. Luke is there knowing the only two options he has is saving his father or dying. But take a moment and consider when Luke throws away his lightsaber. He is bestowing the trust, and love, onto Anakin that he has not had since Padme. Yet, even more importantly, he is declares, “I am Jedi, like my father before me.”
I. My. Me. Luke is now fully realized as an individual.
Jump ahead thirty some odd years, and it is easy to miss the fact that the Luke on Ach-To is that same Luke. He threw away his lightsaber because he trusted his father to make the right choice. He goes to Ach-To because he trusts in the Force to bring forth the next person to carry the flame. Nonetheless, he is clearly beaten and bruised from his post-Endor experiences. Which begs us to ask, as Rian Johnson expected us to, why?
Remember that Luke’s hero’s journey was about him. His identity and his place in the galaxy. What he was not prepared for was what that identity and place would mean. Skywalker became a name of legend and lore because Luke not only never explained the events of the throne room to the larger galaxy (again emphasizing that it was something very personal for him), he basically disappeared on his quest for the lore of the Jedi. In his absence, his legend took his place.
Luke failed to control, or for that matter even influence, his legend. By isolating himself, he allowed the legends of Luke Skywalker to grow bigger than the man himself. So when he steps into the hut of his young apprentice, Ben Solo, he is not worried about maintaining the person he was on the second Death Star. He was worried about proving his legend true for the fear of what would happen if he didn’t. Moreover, for a hint of a second, Luke thought he was making the hard choice. That’s what he does. That’s who he is. The harder choice, though, was to let Ben live knowing what it would cost, and knowing to trust the Force.
The Force returned his trust in kind.
Though the journey was long and hard for both parties, Rey and Luke finally met and the story of the next hope stepped up. But that doesn’t mean that Luke’s story was done. A character’s motivation leads to actions, which inherently have a reaction, which create a result. Luke’s motivation now has moved from identity to protecting the galaxy. By going to Ach-To, Luke thought he was protecting the galaxy from the hubris of the Jedi that would naturally lead to a bad end. He was wrong, and Rey shows him that. Finally, on Crait, Luke confronts his legend and his role in the galaxy by facing down Kylo Ren, who is the manifestation of his greatest mistake. In doing so, he restores hope to the galaxy once more.