Letting Go of Luke Skywalker
When I was a kid, Luke Skywalker was my hero. More than that, he was a mentor to me. As I watched his character grow from a young farm boy with aspirations for bigger and better things in Star Wars, to a Jedi in training with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, to a full-fledged Jedi Knight in Return of the Jedi, he gave me hope that I too, would one day fulfill my own potential.
Like Luke, I was raised by my aunt and uncle. My father had turned to the Dark Side long ago, having left when my twin sister and me when we were babies. And my mother, fueled by insecurity and sadness, was in no shape to take care of us. Like Luke, I needed to be shown the ways of the Force.
Like many people my age, Star Wars permeated my 1980s childhood like no other pop culture force. Some people related more to the roguish charm of Han Solo — the scoundrel turned hero. For others, Leia Organa was their hero for her strength and leadership. But for me, it’s always been Luke.
So, when I went to see The Last Jedi, I had my own theories and hopes about what was going to happen, specifically with Luke; that I felt needed to happen to fulfill my incredibly high childhood expectations.
In the days since seeing it, I’m still processing how I feel about Rian Johnson’s take on the Star Wars saga. Like many people I’ve talked to around my age, there were many things I liked about it — the space battles, the lightsaber duels, the way Johnson made the force mystical again, rather than building on the whole awful Midichlorians concept. I didn’t have a problem with some of the more controversial decisions Johnson made regarding plot and dialogue. Even the Porgs I liked. But the choices Johnson made with Luke are not sitting well with me. And it’s because I feel like I didn’t get the return of Luke Skywalker that I’ve been waiting for since my childhood to see. I feel like I was cheated.
I don’t mind that he’s become a bitter old man, that when we meet him in The Last Jedi, he isn’t the strong, hopeful Jedi he was in the original trilogy. In fact, I don’t mind that he had become a broken man who at all but given up on everything he once believed. But what I was hoping for was a return to form, that he would once again fight in one glorious, force-wielding, lightsaber battle that finally showed off his jedi skills in only the way current technology would allow. Like Darth Vader in Rogue One, I wanted to see Luke really be a badass. And I wanted it in abundance. We got a glimpse in his duel with Kylo, but just a tease. And then he died, and I just felt unsatisfied. I wanted more. And I didn’t get it.
As much as Star Wars is about legacy, The Last Jedi is about letting go of the past, or killing it, to put it as violently as Kylo Ren. And in a time where nostalgia is at every corner of pop culture, it scares the shit out of me. Because frankly, I don’t want to let go.
While I was watching the film in the theater, I was nervous and unemotional. I expected to cheer and cry and be inspired after all I had read from film critics. But there was none of that from me.
Maybe it’s because I was just let go from my job the day before seeing it and I was still in shock from it, trying to figure out what went wrong and how I would support my family. Or because I was nervous about what was going to happen to my childhood hero from what I had seen in trailers and online speculation; that this wasn’t, as Luke warns Rey in the film, “going to go the way you think.” And it didn’t.
As I’ve had time to think about Johnson’s vision of Luke, I’m realizing just how superficial I’m being. And as I contemplate a second viewing, Johnson’s message about Luke is starting to seep in.
The Last Jedi currently stands at a 93 percent critics rating with an opposing 56 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Few movies have such a massive divide between critics and the audience.
Star Wars fans, like comic book geeks and Trekkies, can be an obsessive and obstinate lot. In the age of comic book movies and nostalgic reboots, we want our heroes and villains portrayed onscreen the way we grew up with them.
But for me, there’s more to it than that. Like Luke, I’m getting older. I’m growing more cynical and the world in which we live in right now seems full of pessimism. As cheesy as it no doubt sounds, Luke is my True North when it comes to what is right in this world. He’s good, where Darth Vader is evil. He’s the light side of the Force, opposing the Dark Side. In The Last Jedi, Johnson seems to turn that idea — as well as the Jedi as a whole — on its head.
But on an even deeper level, as an aging Star Wars fan, seeing my hero die reminds me of my own mortality. It forces me to think about my past and how I’ve lived my life, and how in some aspects, it’s not the life I had planned it to be when I was a kid. Maybe it’s my fear that as I grow older, I’m losing my relevance. And it scares me.
Maybe I just don’t want to say goodbye.
But The Last Jedi, I realize, isn’t just about saying goodbye to our childhood heroes and the pain that comes with it. And as much as Johnson is forcing us to move on, to pass the torch to a new generation, he’s still honoring the Skywalker legacy.
The more I allow myself to process Luke’s final moments in the film, the more I realize that Johnson has, in fact, given Luke a much more meaningful sendoff than anything I could have possibly imagined. Luke didn’t die violently the way Han did in The Force Awakens. He died peacefully, with the fullest potential of his Jedi powers intact, offering hope to a galaxy full of people who needed it the most.
As I write this, with no job and no idea what the future holds for me, Luke Skywalker is there for me once again, in the most unexpected of ways. He once again is offering me hope for a better future. And finally, I’m allowing myself to feel like a kid again, with aspirations to fulfill my own potential, with the many possibilities that are now in front of me.