One of the more controversial elements of this season’s hit film “Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi” was the portrayal of Luke Skywalker. Once the great hero of the galaxy now a lowly hermit in the most secluded planet so far. This rubbed a lot of people the wrong way to see their idealized hero delve so low.
The hero’s journey is a cycle of events that cause the hero to become better and make the world a better place as well. Check the graph below
One of the advantages to this set up is that the cycle repeats itself end on end, causing a constant upward progression for the character as long as the hero is progressing and moving forward. Luke Skywalker is an example of what happens to so many heroes and people when they become complacent.
It seems to be the law of the universe (any universe) that when you aren’t moving forward, you’re moving backward. Consider the original Jedi order from the prequel films. Their fall came about when they were taken from their roles as peace officers and placed as generals. Several episodes of the hit series Star Wars The Clone Wars touch on the very notion that as the Jedi are led to more and more violence, they lose their way and end up digressing, becoming no better than many of the enemies they fight. Such is the case with Luke Skywalker.
Luke in the film was obsessed with his failure. We learn through flashbacks that Luke’s failure wasn’t so much the fall of the Jedi but forgetting to look for the light in someone rather than the fear of evil. This is consistent with his character and his story arcs through his original trilogy. It starts with hatred for his Uncle keeping him on the farm. All through Episode 4, Luke is filled with vengeance and a hatred towards Darth Vader for killing his father. In Episode 5, this hatred led Luke to fight Darth Vader prematurely. It was only in Episode 6 after his lessons with Yoda and Obi-Wan that Luke was able to look past his own hatred and try to redeem Vader. He moved forward, but that’s not good enough.
As a character lives, they need to keep moving forward and constantly try to improve themselves, particularly when faced with the temptation to move to a viceful form of living. This is due to virtues being active in nature. You aren’t just selfless, you have to work at not being selfish. You aren’t just moral, you have to work to be immoral. You aren’t just strong, you have to work at not being lazy.
Luke became complacent. He went on to do exactly what we expected he would do after Return of the Jedi. He started up a new training temple, he started trying to teach what he knew. There was peace in the galaxy. He didn’t have to face his temptation against hatred for years. That is until he meets Ben Solo and senses the darkness in him. That darkness scares Luke and he lashes out momentarily.
Return of the Jedi
Luke’s new story now starts somewhat differently from his original. Rather than having an option thrown at him, his own regression forces a new situation on him. Everything he worked for, the Jedi order and the republic, are now gone. The hard work of hundreds of people to overthrow the empire was now moot. 30 years have gone by and nothing has changed. Luke then had the choice that every hero has to make and it’s the same choice that he had to make when he first saw the droids. He can stay on the metaphorical farm or fight the good fight. This time, a tired and worn out Luke Skywalker chose to stay on the farm.
Culturally, this is a pretty tough pill to swallow. Many of us have always seen Luke as a pillar of light in the otherwise dark world of Star Wars. He is the hero of the galaxy and it hurts to see him reduced like that, but that is the hero’s journey. The hero has lost himself and lost the battle now he must return to atone for his error, which he does.
A New Hope
The movie ends with a few of the slave children we saw from earlier in the film retelling the story of Luke Skywalker’s Last Stand. One of the children picks up a broom and begins to passively sweep the outside of the stalls. He stares into space. His broom lights up reminiscent of a lightsaber.
The legend of Luke Skywalker brings hope to the people who hear it. Not only of overcoming the things outside of your control, but also how he faced his failure. Luke passed on what he was taught through his years and, in the process, created the spark that Ignites the flames of the Jedi Order in all of its intended glory. Spreading hope, redemption, and adding atonement to the mix. The heroes journey is now complete.