Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi has continued to divide fans and audiences, despite generally positive reviews from critics. One of the major criticisms that The Last Jedi has received is director Rian Johnson's alleged mishandling of the character of Luke Skywalker. Even Mark Hamill, who magnificently portrays the character for the fifth time in the movie, is reported to have voiced concerns about The Last Jedi director's interpretation of his character during the movie's pre-production. Before we begin I must relate that I expect some views expressed in this article may cause upset to some, so please try to remember this is an opinionated article, not decisive fact. The views expressed therein are no more right or wrong than those you may have. Also, I think it goes without saying, but...
Warning: Spoilers ahead
To understand the criticisms aimed towards Luke Skywalker's portrayal in The Last Jedi we must first understand the point of reference from which these criticisms are sourced; that being Lukes portrayal in the original trilogy of Star Wars movies (Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi).
Luke Skywalker was raised by his uncle Owen and aunt Beru. After learning his uncle Ben and late father were once Jedi Knights, Luke found his aunt and uncle murdered, before heading to Alderaan, only to find it destroyed. Lured aboard the Death Star Luke aided in the rescue of Princess Leia Organa before witnessing his uncle Bens apparent murder at the hands of the empires most feared Darth Vader. After escaping the Death Star Luke joined the rebels and destroyed the Death Star. After nearly dying and helping to evacuate Hoth Luke traveled to Dagobah and was briefly trained by Jedi Master Yoda before rushing to his friend's aide on Bespin, where he was confronted by Vader, who cut off his hand and revealed himself to be Lukes father. Later Luke and his friends rescued Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt before he returned to Dagobah and learned that Leia was his twin sister. Regrouping with his friends they infiltrated Endor and were kidnapped by killer tribal bears (Ewoks) before Luke met again with Vader, of whom took Luke to his master, Emperor Palpatine. Angered repeatedly by both Vader and the Emperor, Luke fought and defeated Vader before almost being killed by the Emperor. Saved by Vader, Luke then witnessed his father die as the galaxy celebrated the apparent defeat of the Empire.
However, to further understand the criticism towards Luke Skywalkers portrayal in The Last Jedi we now have to look at his portrayal in the movie in question, and the reasons given within the movie for Lukes change in character.
It is inferred that between Episodes VI and VIII, that Luke Skywalker fought alongside the rebels before eventually rebuilding the Jedi Order with Ben Solo, his nephew, as one of his students, who was being seduced to the Dark side by the First Order's supreme leader Snoke. Believing Ben's redemption past Luke faced Ben and seeing the darkness within contemplated murdering Ben but didn't. Ben, however, saw Lukes intent and destroyed Lukes Jedi Order, killed most of the Jedi students and left with the rest to join Snoke and the First Order. Devastated Luke went into exile on Anch-To and shut himself off from the force, waiting to die. Rey's arrival and pleas for Lukes help against the First Order were initially ignored before Luke agreed to train her only to show why he had turned against the Force and the Jedi. Sensing great power in Rey and after witnessing her using the Force to communicate with Ben Solo Luke was again left alone. After failing to destroy the ancient Jedi texts Luke was then reminded by Yoda's force ghost that failure is life's greatest tutor. Later, with the rebels/resistance facing imminent defeat on Crait Luke opened himself up to the force and projected his visage across the galaxy, apparently facing down the First Order and dueling with Ben as the rebels escaped, after revealing the illusion to Ben Luke died and becomes one with the force, like Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin before him.
A child of the eighties I grew up with the original trilogy of Star Wars, before creator George Lucas started his tinkering of the movies in the nineties. As such one would imagine that I would hold the original trilogy in the highest esteem when compared to the other Star Wars movies. While this is technically true I am more forgiving toward the other movies than most. I feel the prequel trilogy fleshes out the galaxy far, far away much more than the original trilogy ever did, with multi-layered narratives and characters greatly expanding the mythology. Sadly the trilogy would have benefitted from a more capable director(s) and screenwriters for the dialogue. George Lucas is an amazing creator and storyteller, but his direction is sub-par and his scripted dialogue is unnatural (see Harrison Ford's objections for lines in Episode IV). Also, in my opinion, Episode III's post-crawl opening is arguably the best in the saga. I had expected Rogue One to disappoint and so was pleasantly surprised to have greatly enjoyed the movie, and while I agree that The Force Awakens retreads familiar ground the movie successfully introduced new characters and mysteries that fuelled two years worth of speculation. As for the Last Jedi, and the matter of Luke Skywalkers portrayal. I fear many fans and the more nostalgic driven of general audiences that may have grown up with the original trilogy of Star Wars movies may be looking at Luke Skywalkers previous exploits through rose-tinted spectacles. Let us look again at Lukes story...
After discovering his father was a Jedi, he discovers his aunt and uncle murdered, witnesses the destruction of an entire planet and watches his uncle Ben die at Vader's hand. After joining the rebels and almost dying on Hoth he meets Jedi Master Yoda and is taught a few Jedi tricks before facing his uncle Bens killer, who cuts of his hand and reveals himself to be his father. After learning Leia is his twin sister, and watching Yoda die, luke again meets with Vader, who together with the Emperor almost seduce Luke toward the Dark Side twice ('strike me down' and 'you have a sister') before he is almost killed by the Emperor, and then having his father die in his arms. Despite his efforts and sacrifice to destroy the Empire, they reform as The First Order, proving to be a much bigger threat than the Empire was, the leader of which seduces his nephew towards his side, resulting in the destruction of and the slaughter of his attempt to rebuild the Jedi order. Inbetween Luke also learns that his father was the prophecized chosen one, born of the force, who was accepted into the Jedi Order but held back from their fear of Anakin's power. Luke will also have learned that Tusken Raiders raped and beat his grandmother, and that the Jedi Order remained blind to the Emperors manipulation of the Senate and his rise to power, which culminated in his father joining the Dark Side under the belief of preventing his death of his mother, killing younglings and ultimately being responsible for his mothers death.
Considering Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Yoda both escaped into exile having experienced much less hardship and considering all of the turmoil that Luke had experienced and uncovered about his life and his family history, it is unsurprising Luke ran away and disconnected from the force, which had been responsible for much heartbreak in his life. Luke Skywalker may have had a heroic heart but he was naive, impulsive and was ill-prepared to face the any of the hardships he did, most of which held the very fate of the galaxy on his fragile shoulders. Like his father Anakin before him, Luke was thrust from humble life onto a pedestal of hope for all that he had to embody while processing untold truth and horrors. Like Anakin before him, whose last moments saw him fulfill the prophecy as he turned against the Emperor and saved Lukes live, Luke realized in his last moments the symbol of hope he had become to others and realized his heartbreak failed in comparison to that which millions would and have faced under the First Orders domination. Had Luke been able to face Ben Solo in person on Crait he would likely have died in doing so and put the lives of Leia and the last rebels at risk, but by projecting his visage across the galaxy Luke not only ensured the rebel alliances survival but demonstrated an unseen mastery in the force that will inspire hope across the galaxy and inspire the galaxy to stand up against the First Order. It is because of this selfless act that Luke Skywalker became one with the Force as he died, fulfilling his destiny.
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