While many plot details were tightly guarded at Friday’s Celebration panel for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, one tidbit from Daisy Ridley regarding Rey’s storyline with Luke Skywalker particularly resonated with fans. The orphan from Jakku has a certain level of expectation about meeting the Jedi of legend, but it turns out she may be anticipating a different reality than what actually transpires between them. “It’s difficult when you meet your heroes because it might not be what you expect,” Ridley said.
It’s been argued–logically, in fact–that the Star Wars saga could also be referred to as the “Skywalker saga,” and for the most part, all of the films in the franchise have revolved around characters tied to the Skywalker family tree in one form or another. Luke’s story lies at the heart of A New Hope and becomes a through-line spanning the original trilogy. Against the backdrop of the war between the Empire and the Rebellion, we follow his journey from his humble beginnings as a moisture farmer on Tatooine, dreaming of a future at the Imperial Academy. Everything changes, though, when his uncle Owen purchases two particular droids who will change his life forever, leading to Luke learning the ways of the Force–first with Obi-Wan Kenobi, then later with the reclusive, puckish Jedi Master Yoda.But while Luke might be one of the main protagonists, he’s not a perfect hero archetype by any means. He’s brash and impulsive; he abandons his Jedi training early in The Empire Strikes Back, against the warnings of both Obi-Wan and Yoda, in order to save his friends from what he believes to be certain death on Bespin. It is only when he arrives on Cloud City that he discovers it’s a trap set by Darth Vader to lure him into a fight (and an unexpected father-son reunion). The reason Vader manages to execute his plan so perfectly is because it preys on one of the biggest aspects of Luke as a character: his compassion for his friends. Even as Leia continues to warn her erstwhile twin brother of Vader’s manipulation, Luke can’t help but press forward until the trap is sprung.
Luke’s empathic tendencies are also the source of his greatest internal conflicts throughout Return of the Jedi, especially once he learns that Vader is actually his father. While the Rebellion prepares to engage the Empire in a last-ditch final battle, Luke continues to mull over the personal ramifications of an Imperial defeat, and whether or not he would be able to strike a killing blow against his own father during their inevitable rematch. In spite of the fact that Jedi are cautioned against letting their emotions overwhelm, lest they act as a potential gateway to the dark side, this empathy makes Luke’s emotional turmoil–and ultimately, his forgiveness of Vader in the closing moments of their battle–that much more moving.
What ensues for Luke between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens is still shrouded in mystery; he’s still an “important part of the overall arc,” according to actor Mark Hamill, but the Luke we know and love is not the Luke we’re seeing now. He may have been absent and voiceless for much of The Force Awakens, but thanks to the The Last Jedi teaser trailer more details are beginning to emerge about the reasons why he went into hiding, and perhaps his state of mind too. The Force Awakens revealed that Luke originally vanished after his nephew, Ben Solo, turned to the dark side and slaughtered his Jedi peers. A betrayal of this magnitude–by his own family--would cut deepest of all. Luke was able to help Vader achieve some kind of redemption shortly before his death, so he likely believed he would be able to save Ben, his twin sister’s child, from a similarly evil fate. Luke’s retreat to hermitage once Ben Solo transformed himself into Kylo Ren could certainly be interpreted as an act of guilt or of self-doubt, which would explain why he seems to have become a much more cynical, disillusioned person during the events of The Last Jedi.
“I only know one truth: it’s time for the Jedi to end,” Luke utters in the final moments of the teaser trailer. While his proclamation is brief, it speaks volumes about his current mindset. It’s not the first time that the Jedi have dwindled over the course of history; as we learn from Obi-Wan in The Empire Strikes Back, they were all but extinct prior to the events that set Luke on his way to becoming one. Now, thanks to the actions of Kylo and the other Knights of Ren, their existence has once again been endangered. Apart from Luke himself–and now, Rey–the Jedi are gone, but it appears as if Luke would rather it stay that way. While it’s uncertain if his confidence in the demise of the Jedi will manifest into reality, one thing remains clear: Luke’s journey, as it stands now, is shaping up to be one of the most compelling onscreen storylines to resolve when The Last Jedi premieres on December 25, 2017.
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