Star Wars: The Last Jedi just released a little over a week ago and just like almost everything in pop culture, it is causing quite the stir. Some fans loved it, some fans hated it. Some fans had expectations on where the story was going, and the movie did not live up to those expectations. A lot of these fans have become very vocal on social media, some even going so far as to start a petition for TLJ to not be Star Wars canon.
These are some of my thoughts on one of the most divisive points in the film. This is not a review of the whole film, just some of what has been running through my head about one character and one story line from the film. This will contain spoilers. If you have not seen the film, please stop reading here, go see the film, and then come back and read this. Now I am going to add a pic, but then I am going to dive into spoilers, so you have been warned.
What is he going to say?
The Force Awakens ended on a big cliffhanger. There was Luke, finally, and Rey was holding out his old lightsaber. It ended on the two of them making eye contact, neither oner saying a word. For the last two years, fans have been speculating about how he was going to react, what was he going to say? I don’t know that I speculated about it, but I definitely wondered what he was going to say. Like many fans, I couldn’t wait to see Luke in action again.
When the moment came, it all happened so fast. He took the lightsaber, held it in his hands, and then…threw it over his shoulder and off the cliff, and then he walked away. I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t think anyone did. This was the moment when I realized I was going to have no idea what was coming. I’ll be honest, I was excited about that idea.
Now that I have had a week to think about it, and let it stew, the more I like the reaction we saw. To me, his actions fell in line with what we have seen from old hermity Jedi masters. Specifically Yoda. It seems like a really Yoda kind of thing to do. I think back to the first time Luke meets Yoda, and it feels right. Everybody was making such a big deal about that lightsaber. In just a few seconds, Luke makes it very clear that the weapon really means nothing.
This isn’t the Luke of my childhood
This has been one of the most common things I have heard people say, and one that I disagree with the most. Well, kind of. I get that a grumpy, living on an island all alone kind of Luke is very different from the youthful, staring into the horizon kind of Luke. I understand that, but I think in a lot of ways, this is the Luke of my childhood, after he has experienced a lot of stuff. When Rey and Luke are looking at each other, before he takes the saber, there is a powerful moment. The look on his face, the exhaustion, the depression, the fatigue- there is no doubt this Luke has seen a lot. It was a brilliant moment from Hamill.
One of the biggest characteristics that ties Luke now to young Luke is his self-doubt. You can see it throughout the series. He doubts himself while he’s training with Obi-Wan, he doubts himself while flying his X-wing in the Battle of Yavin, he doubts himself again while training with Yoda, and so on and so on. Why would this be any different as he becomes the lone Jedi Master in the galaxy. As he establishes a new Jedi Order and Academy, and then as he isolates himself in an unknown corner of the galaxy. I think, in this way, this is exactly the Luke of my childhood.
But, as we see again and again in this saga, he always comes across as self-assured and confident, despite the self-doubt, and he ends up pulling through. We see it as he flies across the galaxy to face Vader and save his friends in Empire, and again when he stands before Jabba in his palace on Tatooine, and finally as he stands face to face with the Emperor and successfully turns Vader back to the light.
We see that here, in the Last Jedi. He has had years of isolation and self-doubt to dwell on his past mistakes, what he should have done differently. It’s made him cynical and crabby, but eventually, that self-assured, confident Luke returns and faces down the First Order all alone. Sort of. This is the Luke everyone loves, and everyone wanted to see more of, but this Luke doesn’t exist without the other Luke. They are one in the same. For this reason, I have no problems with Johnson’s take on the character. I think it works, and it works well.
But what about that one scene? Luke would never…
The one scene that seems to be causing the most trouble for a lot of fans is when Luke went to Ben Solo’s dwelling to murder him in cold blood because he had already turned to the Dark Side. Luke would never do that. It’s not in his character at all. Except, that’s not really what happened. We saw three versions of what happened, Luke’s watered down protect himself version, Kylo’s twisted, from a certain point of view version, and Luke’s what really happened version. For some reason, all the fans seem to be focused only on Kylo’s version, where Luke set out to murder his nephew.
I think Luke’s second version of what happened is what probably really happened. He was not proud of it, he was deeply ashamed. It was his biggest failure. But let’s look at what happened. Luke knew Ben was in trouble. We still don’t know who Spoke was, or why he was allowed to have so much influence on young Solo, or how he turned him to the Dark Side, but Luke knew something was up. He went to see Ben that night to find out how far he had gone.
He did not go with the intention to kill his nephew. It was not premeditated murder. He just needed to know how far gone Ben was. When he reached out and read Solo, he knew he had already turned. He knew the potential Ben had, and now he was dedicated to the Dark Side. He could be the next Vader, or worse. In that moment, out of sheer fear and terror, he reacted. He drew his lightsaber, prepared to do the worst thing he could imagine, to save the galaxy from more pain and suffering.
In a way, it was pretty heroic. He was willing to do something just awful, for the greater good. But, and this is the most important part, he didn’t do it. He stopped himself. He knew giving into his fear, his anger, and even his hate, would lead to the Dark Side. He stopped himself. Making him even more heroic. He knew it would be crossing a line, and he could never go back, so he stopped himself.
I don’t understand the struggle with this scene. I think it makes sense. I think it adds depth to his relationship with Kylo Res, it explains why he ran away from his sister, and from his best friend, and from everybody. This scene and his reaction to it explains a lot about his character, and a lot about his relationship with the Force when Rey finds him. I think when he had that temptation in that moment, he could not forgive himself. He was not worthy in his own mind to be a Jedi, to teach others. With time, and again in isolation, he came to resent his relationship with the Force, to the point he cut off his own connection.
This whole scene makes fans of Luke uncomfortable because it had him almost doing something unthinkable. It reminds us of some of the unthinkable things Anakin did after he turned and became Vader. We don’t want our shiny, great hero to even come close to doing those things. I think we are missing the point. We have a tendency to deify our heroes. All of us are faced with tough choices, with temptations, but what separates the heroes from the villains are the things we do when we are faced with those choices. Luke did not kill the youngling in his charge. He stopped himself. Vader did not stop. He killed the younglings and went on to do more. Luke is a hero, even more because of this scene.
In the end, The Last Jedi will age well
Most fans of Star Wars probably walked out of Empire wondering what had just happened. They were probably stunned and confused, or enraged. They didn’t have Facebook or Twitter as outlets, so it probably didn’t get as ugly as quickly, but I am sure there were feelings of betrayal. Yet, Empire is now recognized as one of the best installments in the Star Wars saga.
Write this down, The Last Jedi will be ranked near the top with Empire as time goes by, and for a lot of the same reasons. It was a good movie. It was a compelling story. It moved the saga forward, by totally destroying the good guys, and putting the bad guys on top. The Resistance is in even worse shape than the Rebellion was at the end of Empire. That’s where the good guys should be at the end of the middle installment of a trilogy.
I came out of this film wanting more Luke, like most people, but only because I liked Luke even more at the end of the film than I did before. In my mind, he was more awesome for what he had to overcome. And he was more relatable because of the doubt and the failure. I fail a lot and doubt myself even more. Maybe there is hope for me to someday stand in front of my own First Order and face them head on.
Here are a couple of other takes on the newest Star Wars film:
Some Thoughts on The Last Jedi by Quinn Rollins
Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review by Scoops Mangum
Great art is something that makes you think of something in a new way. That’s not always easy to handle. It’s cool to think that a silly little sci-fi space opera is great art, but it has people in the fandom thinking and talking about its meaning. That’s great art.