How The Last Jedi honors rather than destroys the Luke Skywalker character (SPOILERS)

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE LAST JEDI IN THIS POST.
If you have not seen this movie and don’t want parts of the plot spoiled read no further!

Watching Luke Skywalker hover over Ben Solo, green light sabre casting a ghastly glow on the older Jedi’s haunted face, was a heart-rending scene to see for two reasons. Firstly, Mark Hamill’s performance of this broken Luke Skywalker we barely know is sublime. It’s heart-rending for another reason. I still remember being 7 years old and sitting silent and spellbound next to my dad until at the end of Star Wars (A New Hope). Then I looked up at my dad and said “But the baddie got away” as Darth Vader spins off into space in his Tie Fighter.
Luke Skywalker was the very first hero that I engaged with in a movie – a dramatic story – a story that was not a cartoon-like Jungle Book or Robin Hood.
This is also why the first blog post I ever did on this site was a story structure break down of A New Hope. It’s here if you are interested in the subject of writers craft.

I’d like to rationalize what has happened to Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars saga. Any other aspects of the movie are outside the scope of this discussion otherwise it will turn into something that takes hours to read.
I’m telling myself this is how The Last Jedi honors rather than destroys the Luke Skywalker character.
If you are finding what has happened to Luke hard to accept, maybe this will help. I hope so.

Luke Skywalker is not an unimportant side character existing just to support the new protagonist Rey in this story. Despite Mark Hamill saying in at least one interview that Luke is no longer the protagonist in the story, at least in The Last Jedi, I believe he is. Here’s why.
The second movie in the trilogy is about testing the protagonists and showing their old ways of working and their weaknesses failing them in reaching their goals in the face of the antagonist. This is so that they must overcome those weaknesses and do something they have never done before to resolve the conflict – so that we don’t know if they will succeed in the final movie.
In The Empire Strikes Back Luke defied his mentors, didn’t complete his training, failed to rescue Han, lost a battle with Darth Vader, lost a hand and discovered the (second) greatest villain in the galaxy is his father. Ouch! That’s heart-rending. And utterly brilliant. An impossible act to follow. It works because there is really no greater failures you can heap upon Luke at this point in his story. We feel for him.
For The Last Jedi, what would you do to throw catastrophic failure at Luke in the strongest possible way?
The answer, in my view, is exactly what Rian Johnson did and boy it hurts to watch it.
On the one hand, Rian dishonors the character of Luke Skywalker by having him go against his character as we knew it by considering killing Ben Solo. On the other hand, it ticks the box for visiting the strongest possible failure on him which is required in the story at this time. His goal is to become a Jedi master and teach others. His failure is more than losing his new students. He was also the trigger for that failure in his moment of weakness. And then he cuts himself off from the force and everyone he loves. Luke’s failure is absolute and complete. By the end of the story, he fights back and protects his friends once more redeeming himself. Sure, it would have been cool to see Luke go out in a blaze of light sabers but that is not really the Jedi way. Remember the Luke that tossed aside his light saber refusing to kill his own father. He won without that weapon. In The Last Jedi, he wins with a force power we’ve never seen before. A little anticlimactic maybe, but it is appropriate for the nature of a true Jedi in the end.

From a story mechanics point of view what happens to Luke Skywalker is perfect, even if not everyone likes it or we find it hard to accept.

The Last Jedi honors the Luke Skywalker character by treating him like a protagonist. Failure is thrust upon him and he rises from it giving the farm boy from Tatooine one more character arc.

Do share any thoughts in the comments below. I know this is an emotive subject in the Star Wars fandom and there are many other aspects of the movie that could be discussed. Let’s try to keep the scope down to how Luke Skywalker’s character is portrayed.

4 thoughts on “How The Last Jedi honors rather than destroys the Luke Skywalker character (SPOILERS)

  1. It’s a hard act to follow but certainly not an impossible task. I appreciate your attempt at trying to make us feel better about this travesty but protagonist or not, the story is too sloppily thrown together to survive even a basic critical examination (ergo it doesn’t really matter whom the story is about, because the story itself, the core of any narrative in any media, does not hold, and neither do the characters because they are clearly slaves to what is, yet again, a poorly written story which in turn breaks their ability to take part in a character-driven plot, because well, slaves). It’s like instead of giving it their best shot, Disney has instead decided to blend Looper and episodes IV, V, and VI together and give us whatever comes out without really thinking about where it leads or whether or not it really tells a convincing story. Which is regrettable A.) Because it is a much loved franchise B.) Because we know they can do better, like they have been doing with the Marvel movies and C.) They really really really should’ve known better.

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    • TLJ is a strange one because if you don’t think about it too much the action and some of the subversions of expectations aka surprises can be fun to watch. If you’re thinking about it and looking for consistency between scenes and consistency of character, well…
      Personally, I would have done something different with the story and Luke and found a way for it to not be a replay of “Yoda teaches Luke”.
      As I said above my article here is strictly “From a story mechanics point of view”. It doesn’t sit well for me to have Luke this way or fade out at the end the way he does. It is a let down.
      The animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels is pretty good and keeps true to the world built by Lucas.

      Like

      • Yeah, crazy Luke was pretty fun in a weird WTF way (he looks insane and that made me laugh, especially when he rides that stick and milks that creature, it’s both horrific and comedic, like “OMF, what’s happening”). Also thanks for the recommentaions, maybe I’ll give those a try again. They seemed a little too kidsy which is surprising because I liked the older Clone Wars series by the creator of Samurai Jack (and Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Lab, Hotel Transylvania) Genndy Tartakovsky. I was pretty miffed to learn that the new Clone Wars series uprooted the most excellent Clone Commando books and caused the writer to be unable to finish her series https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/96176/mandalore-planet-karen-traviss-versus-clone-wars . But I guess not reaching for better ideas for the sake of just getting something out there is, unfortunately, becoming par for the course.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. If a character’s action(s) are fundamentally against character or if you attempt to bend established mythology simply because either or both is “required of the story at the time” you’re being a bad dungeon master/writer. Part of the skill of a writer is both having the requirement of this needs to happen but also being able to set up such and event and then hit it over the net by making it believable within the established mythos. If you can’t clear the net because you have to break something you have to go back to the drawing board to figure out a way to either convincingly establish why this particular character would do this, convincingly retconning a power, or reshaping the narrative to make sense. If you can’t thread that needle you probably shouldn’t be helming a beloved billion dollar franchise.

    Liked by 1 person

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