In the latest installment of the Star Wars franchise, The Last Jedi, the emotional story of a whole generation comes to its spiritual apotheosis — its ultimate moment of dramatic climax — with only emotional denouement to follow.
One could easily watch the Star Wars film series and believe it is a space opera about Princess Leia. She begins the tale in the (chronologically) first movie, Star Wars IV: A New Hope, by standing up to her father, defying his rule of law and order. The daughter of power and privilege, but of mixed genetics, Leia is both a galactic princess and the granddaughter of a woman who was never free of slavery a day of her life, even though her son would one day grow-up to be the most powerful man in the galaxy.
In the prequels, we see how Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala meet, fall in love, and have two kids. Only trouble is Leia’s dad, Anakin, goes mad when he loses the only thing that matters to him — his wife, Padme. After losing his mother to the systemic violence of slavery and then his wife to a cruel twist of fate, Anakin grows so angry, so controlling, he begins to measure the limits of the galaxy with his ego. This is the man who Leia stands up to in her first scene: the most powerful and most corrupted man in the galaxy, her father.
Leia then spends the next two movies, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, saving her brother and the love of her life from either themselves, their arrogance, or an unexpected danger. In the two most recent films, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, Leia is no longer a princess; somehow she has grown not into a queen but instead into a general. The fight has shaped her. The Rebellion is gone. Now, she leads the Resistance, a ragtag group comprised primarily of the younger generations. The love of her life is a wasted man. Her brother is a hermit. She’s the only one still fighting, inspiring, leading. Still engaged with the world. It would not be wrong to see Star Wars as Leia’s space opera. But, we all know, this is the myth of the Skywalker family, and specifically, Leia’s twin brother, Luke Skywalker.
Luke’s story is the sprawling epic cultural myth of the baby-boom generation. His legend tracks the rise and fall and redemption of one man — but it also represents the struggles of men of his generation. Luke Skywalker is the cinematic soul of western baby boomer men.
Originally dreamed-up by George Lucas, the Star Wars franchise is a Camelot myth for western baby boomer men’s collective unconscious. Due to their dominance of American culture, it has become the monomyth that dominates our culture. We lived in a world baby boomer men have primarily dominated, the one they took over from their parents, and have been so unwilling to relinquish control to their children. By analyzing Star Wars, we can understand and transcend the baby-boom generation’s whole “how paradise becomes doom” death trip. And save the world from their destructive ways.
Before we dive into Luke’s psychology, and why his cinematic redemption represents a real new hope for our world, let’s back up and frame this tale in generational terms. And to do that, let’s return to Princess Leia.
If Luke is a baby boomer, so is his twin sister, Leia. Their father, Darth Vader, is from the Greatest Generation. And his teacher, Obi Wan Kenobi, Luke and Leia’s spiritual uncle, is from the Lost Generation. Leia’s child, Ben Solo, is a very angry millennial man. Her adopted son, Poe Dameron, is a fearless latch-key kid of the galaxy and obviously a Gen-Xer. The young woman, Rey, whom Leia mentors and protects and guides into her power, is a quintessential millennial woman.
Amidst the swirl of these generations, Leia is peerless. She maintains relationships with all of them. She keeps the family together. She keeps hope alive. And she does the day-to-day business of saving the galaxy faithfully, selflessly, and without judgment, preachiness, or self-aggrandizement. She is the quintessential symbolic baby boomer woman.
Leia tries to save the men in her life. She tries to protect them. She tries to change them. And suffering through hard lesson after hard lesson, Leia learns that she can only lead the ones she loves to water, she cannot make them drink. She can bring wisdom to them, but it’s up to them to adopt and use her lessons.
Consider Leia’s relationship with her adopted Gen X son: Poe Dameron. He’s the hothead stuck between the big generations. He’s the anti-authority skeptical one who chafes at the lack of respect he gets, makes noise to be heard, insists his questions be answered, and demands that he know what the fuck the plan is. Leia has the difficult task of teaching Poe to focus on what’s before him, to believe women, to listen to a woman in a position of leadership who is not his (adopted) mother, and to learn to be of service, regardless of whether or not he fully agrees with, or understands, what’s going on. She teaches him to calm his male hubris and think of the community before himself, the way women have for aeons. Poe bristles at this humbling. He’s a space pilot. An independent badass. He wants to blow things up. But he’s always overlooked how many lives are lost in the wake of his fearlessness, how many have been sacrificed to his sense of self-importance. Poe finally accepts this as earned wisdom from Leia. (Which foreshadows Luke learning this same lesson.)
As a representation of baby boomer women, Leia is saddled with men who struggle to come to terms with the most basic understanding of how a group of people save the galaxy. Yet, one by one, she leads them all to some understanding of what sacrifice is and how it must be honored by continuing the struggle forward. This attitude has been a prevailing struggle for baby boomer women, ones whose fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons have all been rather selfish asses. For Leia, each of these asses is ultimately jockeying for control and fighting to restore order and balance to the galaxy while she saves the damn thing tirelessly and with smart humor.
Unlike baby boomer men, she does not have the luxury of living in a self-confirming fantasy. Leia lives in the real.
In order to save her deadbeat, hermit brother who once believed himself to be the Chosen One –– but has now retired to a distant island like some aging tech billionaire holing up in New Zealand –– Leia re-ignites her brother’s spark of life. And she initiates his ultimate sacrifice by sending him a fiery, millennial woman to tell him what a shithead he’s been. Rey’s expectations of how a man like Luke should act burns into his wooden sense of himself, like some living fossil waiting to die.
The conflict between Rey, the idealistic millennial woman, and Luke, the self-defeated and self-exiled boomer, restores a new balance to the Force. And it’s Leia who makes this happen in her calm, hands-off, quasi-Taoist way. Her lead from behind style. Which, mind you, she does while mourning the loss of her own son to the Dark Side. Which is thanks to her deadbeat brother, Luke. Does Leia point this out? Does she lord this over him? No, she forgives Luke and recognizes the world for what it is, rather than what she wishes it were. Unlike baby boomer men, she does not have the luxury of living in a self-confirming fantasy. Leia lives in the real.
One baby boomer male hero we’ve yet to really discuss is Leia’s great love of her life, the father of her child, her estranged partner, Han Solo. When we pick back up with him in the storyline in The Force Awakens, Han Solo has also been suffering from the grief of losing his son to the Dark Side. He’s ashamed of his failures as a father. To get over his grief, he’s chosen to hang out with his giant hairy buddy, Chewbacca, and together they cruise the galaxy picking up junk he thinks is valuable. Not to mention, Han continues to act half his age, as he fails to mature gracefully. (Bet you may know a boomer man kinda like that.) At least, compared to Leia. Anyway, that’s Han.
Han Solo, as a baby boomer archetype, is the independent-minded, self-obsessed hero of his own rogue’s tale. He’s also the cinematic representation of the sexiest possible version of a confident baby boomer man. His own man. Doing his own thing. And fuck society for asking him to care about that shit show. Han’s smart enough to see through that trap. He stays disconnected from any struggle to save the galaxy; that is, until he meets Leia. And then, when his millennial son, whom he lost to the Dark Side, kills him in a peak moment of their Oedipal family space drama, his story takes its final shape: Han Solo, tragic baby boomer dad.
This generational friction between a selfish baby boomer father and his darkly idealistic millennial son culminates in a moment of patricide that is so symbolically rich it could make a symbologist faint. Standing on a bridge, the baby boomer father thinks, for a moment, his angry millennial son, with his lightsaber in his grip, will forgive him for his failures to save the galaxy and for his hubris and his emotional distance. Instead, the millennial son burns into him with a hot phallic intensity that sums up the collective desire of millennial men to burn down everything and kill everything their dads’ loved, like chain restaurants, doorbells, and napkins. It’s a final rejection of their dads’ selfish boomer bullshit.
Although Luke is not a father, (he’s a genetic dead end), as Leia’s twin brother, Luke remains the focal point of her messy family drama and multigenerational space opera. Luke Skywalker is Star Wars. And as such, he’s the central figure in our culture’s most popular legend. He may be George Lucas’ imagination and emotional avatar; but more importantly, Luke Skywalker is the soul of baby boomer men.
In this latest entry, The Last Jedi, we finally witness Luke Skywalker achieve his destiny. And thus, he gives his whole life shape, dimension, meaning, all of it relative to his final action. His full story is now known. And so, we can examine his story in full.
Dad was the enemy — for their whole generation. Dad was The Man. Dad was Nixon. And for Luke Skywalker, Dad is the most powerful Man in the galaxy.
First thing to keep in mind, Luke Skywalker is the creation of George Lucas — a man who tapped into the psyche of his generation, spelunked into the depth of his subconscious, and his generation’s collective unconscious, and returned with Luke Skywalker.
George Lucas was raised a California boy in Modesto, located in the center of the Golden State. If you’d like to know what his childhood looked like, just watch his early film American Graffiti. It’s a loving expression of nostalgia for his coming-of-age years as a young baby boomer man obsessed with fast cars, cute girls, and rock ’n’ roll. After his teenage years in a small town America, Lucas went off to Los Angeles to attend USC. Soon enough, he became a member of a young crew of film directors, auteurs inspired by French New Wave films, Italian Neo-realistic war films, and the Saturday matinee adventure serials from their youth, who spun those influences together to invent the blockbuster. Spielberg, Coppola, DePalma, Scorsese. These men acted as conduits of baby boomer dreams, nightmares, and male psychology. And by doing so, they created economic juggernauts that forever changed the industry they loved.
The men who invented the blockbuster movie ruined the tastemaker studio system with their economic success. They attracted corporations to come in and replace the retiring and dying Great Men of the Hollywood Golden Era. As the baby boomer men replaced their cinematic heroes, they didn’t care if Hollywood handed the keys to a board of directors, as long as they got to play in their sandboxes of imaginations. They didn’t care for business; that was something their dads cared about. They wanted to be profitable, sure, they knew that was important, but they left the business to other men, greedier men, because that’s what businessmen are, and were, and will always be. Which, of course, they were allowed to think, as long as they kept making such incredible fortunes for the stockholders.
What George Lucas pulled from his subconscious, the alchemical gold he mined from his generation’s collective unconscious, what he turned into a cinematic avatar of his psyche and stand-in for his generation of men’s emotional stories, is a genius level of myth-making. Star Wars rivals Greek myth. It’s that powerful. It’s kinda funny that, (and very typical of a Boomer), Lucas didn’t even try to disguise the fact this archetypal hero story is him.
George Lucas is Luke Skywalker, and Luke Skywalker is George Lucas.
A boy from the sticks gets drawn into adventures among the stars, ones beyond his wildest dreams, from back when he was a boy, toiling in the middle of nowhere. It’s a hero tale of himself. Joseph Campbell, and all that. But the funniest part is how Luke Skywalker sounds like the sort of name a baby boomer dude with a head full of acid partying at any of the famous Sixties music festivals would give himself. “Yeah, my name is Luke Skywalker, man.”
As writers like Ian Crouch pointed out in The New Yorker, in The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker finally gets to be cool. Finally, he gets to be the hero the galaxy needs. And frankly, the hero he always wanted to be. And he does it with the aid and prodding of an angry millennial woman. (Just pointing that out, baby boomer men, since you seem resistant to the idea you should listen to millennial women.)
If we’re being all the way real, other than the generation’s problematic relationships with women, baby boomer men are predominantly shaped by their interactions with one looming figure in their life: their father. Baby-boomer men have complex daddy issues. George Lucas did. Spielberg did. Scorsese, DePalma, Coppola, all did, or at least from the distance of any armchair diagnosis, they all exhibit evidence of daddy issues in their films. Far more than any need to reconcile with, say, their mothers, it was daddy’s love that made them stronger, either in its absence, or in its traditional strength, as is the case with the Italian directors: Scorsese and Coppola.
In Luke Skywalker, we have an avatar of George Lucas’s psyche, an archetype of his generation’s soul, so, of course, Luke has daddy issues. Like it was for so many, if not most baby boomer men, Luke’s father was an imposing figure. In his presence, and in his absence. Darth Vader is a symbol of order. He’s also a symbol of society’s impulse to repress young men, like these filmmakers making castles in their sandboxes of imagination. Dad was the enemy — for their whole generation. Dad was The Man. Dad was Nixon. And for Luke Skywalker, Dad is the most powerful Man in the galaxy.
The only man who steps in and offers to help Luke understand his father, to understand how to transcend his father, is his spiritual uncle, good old Obi Wan Kenobi. Naturally, as a member of the Lost Generation, Obi Wan could teach a baby boomer dude like Luke how to defeat a man from the Greatest Generation, an imposing father figure, like Darth Vader. Only problem is, Luke don’t listen. Like other headstrong, cocksure, iconoclastic baby boomer men, Luke won’t take the time to listen. To anyone. Instead, he goes off half-trained and ill-prepared to face the hard realities of the struggle to save the galaxy. All high on emotion, he rushes off to battle his dad.
What’s the result? Luke’s dad kicks his ass and he loses his hand. Luke stumbles off, his mind blown by the hard truths his dad drops on him. And — shocker of all shockers — his sister, Leia, has to come in and take care of him. Yet again. Leia has to nurse her dumb ass brother Luke back to health while her boyfriend Han is frozen in carbonite because he owed money to some gangster. And remember Han is the same guy who, when Leia told him she loved him, said, “I know.” That emotionally-stunted charmer. That lovable baby boomer rogue.
Between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Luke spends his time trying to find himself. And in typical ’80s style, he tramps off into the woods on some Iron John trip, looking to reclaim his masculinity and overcome his daddy issues. Meanwhile Leia sneaks into the lair of the gangster who’s displaying her boyfriend on his wall like a carbonite trophy. On her own, she tries to save the love of her life. But she’s unable to. Captured by the gangster, she becomes the presumptive sex slave of that obese space slug, Jabba the Hutt. Baby boomer women have never had it easy.
Eventually, Luke, who, let’s face it, has grown kind of weird because of his unresolved daddy issues, shows up to rescue everyone. What does Luke do? Well, he fucks up, of course. Only when Leia kills the obese space slug and frees herself from sex bondage are the rebels able to save one another and escape. Of course, Luke is still focused on how he can kill their dad, and restore order to the galaxy in a way their father never could because he was The Man.
After Luke hangs out with some Ewoks, (those Developing World stand-ins disguised as furry little creatures), he finds the mental calm and confidence to finally go and confront his father. Hoping this time he can finally finish his Oedipal path and be free of his father oppression, Luke is easily tricked and trapped by an evil old man, his dad’s boss.
What happens this time? Well, Luke fucks up, of course. But he finally gets to have a high quality father-son moment with his dad, after his dad has to save his dumb ass from a real existential threat (see: the Soviet Union), one that Luke does not fully understand, so he’s bound to recreate its danger again in the future (see: modern Russia).
Just before his father dies in his arms, Luke and his dad have a real tender moment. Luke finally feels some peace after his father, Darth Vader, redeems and sacrifices himself, which Luke subconsciously interprets as an apology for being such a mean dad. Luke forgives his father for his emotional distance and desire to maintain traditions of power and domination. But he does not learn from them. He’s still tied to the cycles of violence and trauma, and thus is doomed to repeat them. Why? Because he never stops to examine his own soul.
Now, we leap forward to our present day moment with The Force Awakens. The first installment in the new series of this sprawling space opera is the first one populated with millennials and Gen Xers, which freshens the story with new perspectives. It offers a cinematic reflection of our present day generational struggles. Nowadays, the baby boomers are no longer the young ones fighting against the Greatest Generation for control, each generation seeking to establish order and bring balance to the Force, in a way that favors their worldview. Today there are millennials and Gen-Xers clamoring for power and respect, seeking to advance their agendas, motivated by their opinions, working with their own worldviews, each generation built upon different ideals. And, to both generations, baby boomers mostly represent what they would like to replace. Or burn down.
In The Last Jedi, we find Luke Skywalker is an aging baby boomer man. He’s a dude who’s retired to a remote island. He’s turned his back on the galaxy that he wrecked with his hubris. And he’s now waiting to die while he feels sorry for himself and regrets his biggest mistakes and failures of judgment. Luke’s no longer trying to save anything. He’s tired. So, now, in his place, millennial women and men fly around the galaxy as the new heroes, with their fellow members of the Resistance, the Gen-Xers, who tend to act like an overlooked source of good ideas. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Poe Dameron.)
So, why exactly did Luke give up on the world? To understand that, we have to check in with what the space monk’s been doing prior to the latest installments in the series.
Imagine Luke spent the ’90s and early ’00s training a bunch of talented youngsters. He attempted to create a new galactic order, one based on his Jedi worldview. (Think of it like the baby boomers’ invention of the internet, based on their hippie world views.) But, even in middle age, Luke is still naive. He lacks wisdom, mostly because he never listened to anyone. Luke has to learn everything firsthand, the hard way. By rejecting tradition and his father’s ways, he never became the master he could’ve become. So now, in middle age, the talented youngsters he trains to become Jedi see things he cannot. They grow more powerful than he expects. He gets scared they’ll wrest control from him. So, Luke does what he’s learned to do. He chooses domination, just like his father before him. Luke tries to regain control and assert his aging dominance. What’s the result? Luke gets beaten and left for dead. He loses his Jedi school. Everything burns.
Most importantly, Luke’s failure pushes his millennial nephew, Ben Solo, to embrace the power he finds in the Dark Side. His nephew changes his name to Kylo Ren and runs off to join a new start-up Empire — a more fascist permutation called the First Order. Morally and ethically crushed from watching all he built be trashed and destroyed, Luke quits the galaxy and leaves the field of play. He goes off to go sit on his distant island and sip green milk from the udder of a space walrus.
From the glimpses we see in flashbacks in The Last Jedi, as Luke was building his start-up Jedi temple, and acting as the master to young Ben Solo, the parallels with our world seem rather obvious. It feels a lot like how baby boomers fucked around in the Dotcom Boom, never fully understanding what the internet was, or could be. Instead they focused on the all wild profits to be made, treating it like a casino and digital gold rush; and thus, squandering an opportunity to make the internet into something lasting and free. Thanks to their failure to understand what they’d created, the internet has become another persistent theater of advertisement and ugly commerce. The internet could’ve been so much better than what it is, if only the Boomers protected their creation from their worst impulses. But, just like Luke, they had cycles of trauma to work out. They liked having control, even if they were ill-suited to control something they did not fully understand. (There’s that Boomer arrogance again.)
In order to save the galaxy from Luke’s heedless and ultimately reckless self-confidence, a new millennial hero emerges. She comes to Luke in The Last Jedi. She returns his lightsaber to him. She asks for him to come back with her and help the Resistance. And, most personally, Rey asks Luke to train her as Obi Wan Kenobi trained him. You would think bringing it full circle would appeal to someone who’s so focused on balancing things. But not old boy. Luke walks off without a word.
Lucky for the galaxy, Rey is stubborn. She persists. She informs Luke that his sister Leia sent her. (Because of course she did.) And Rey informs Luke that she expects him to give a shit. He gets curious and lets her hang out. But later, when she learns what Luke did to her quasi-boyfriend Ben Solo, how he abused his nephew’s trust, how he tried to dominate him due to his own fears and his arrogance, Rey explodes with righteous anger. She confronts Luke. She attacks him in a way Luke never attacked his master Obi Wan Kenobi. Rey takes her staff and beats on Luke like she’s chopping wood. (When Rey knocked the Jedi master on his old ass, I laughed mine off.) Yet, still, Luke ignores Rey’s pleas for help. He ignores the fact his sister, Leia, sent Rey to fetch him and bring him back to help the Resistance. Instead, he stays by himself, and sulks on his island.
This is no surprise that a baby boomer man would choose not to listen to a millennial woman. Nor is it a surprise he ignores a baby boomer woman. The more surprising move would’ve been if –– with no strings attached, no conditions, and no questions –– Luke hopped up and helped without reservation, motivated by the fact someone he loved asked for his help. Now, that would be surprising. (You know, the way Leia would do it.) We all know that ain’t happening. Which hints at the big lesson that Luke — and by symbolic extension, baby boomer men — needs to learn.
Since Luke is no feminist, since men are the primary drivers of his emotional relationships, and since he’s a man without a love interest (other than that one weird moment where he taunts Han with the fact his sister kissed him in The Empire Strikes Back), it’s time we look at how Luke relates to men, the multiple generations of men in his life, men who are not his father.
When The Last Jedi begins, Han Solo is gone. Luke’s best buddy (other than Biggs Darklighter) is dead. And Luke is a recluse. His nephew, Ben Solo, is the new hothead Skywalker in the galaxy, but with the same old anger and daddy issues. As Kylo Ren, he’s an immature imitation of Luke’s father, Darth Vader, who Ren seeks to emulate since Luke failed to be the father figure his nephew needed. Ben Solo is the angry millennial man. He’s tempted by hate. He’s desirous of power. He’s a conflicted soul. It’s possible that he could be flipped back to being a good guy, one who so desperately wants to be seen, loved, heard, respected, and supported as he becomes the man he could be. The only person who still believes in him is his millennial girlfriend. Even his baby boomer mom, Leia, has lost faith that there is any hope to save him. He’s a lost young man.
In effect, Ben Solo embraces the Dark Side because he was failed by his father and his uncle, the important men in his life, and he’s left with no one to train him to be as powerful as he feels he should be. So, of course, Ben Solo chooses the Dark Side. (There is great power in anger, as young men of the internet prove every day.) And, of course, his millennial girlfriend Rey believes she can love him out of his fascination with darkness. She has her own fixation with its allure. Trouble for her is, she doesn’t understand how his feelings of betrayal by the men in his life fuel his hatred. Rey doesn’t get why Ben wants to kill his uncle Luke. But if he killed his father, Han, you better believe he’ll kill his uncle to make way for the new order. And to become as powerful as he feels he should be, they must clear the way.
It’s obvious to the audience that Ben Solo hates Luke Skywalker. His uncle Luke’s failure cut him off from the wisdom and power of his grandfather, Darth Vader. He didn’t always hate Luke. In fact, he revered his uncle Luke, especially as a stand-in for his missing grandfather. We assume Ben Solo loved Luke; but when Luke believed he was losing control of his startup Jedi academy, when he attempted to put Ben back in his place, that’s when the man who became Kylo Ren learned he could not trust his uncle. That’s when he knew that Luke would not love and support him and help him become as powerful as he could become. That awareness is a devastating betrayal. Kylo Ren’s anger makes perfect sense. And thus, Ben Solo commits himself to violent opposition of Luke, and his father Han, and what they represent. He literally wants to burn it all down.
Sitting in the audience, it’s no surprise to us that a powerful, promising millennial man would hate a baby boomer — have you seen the news? To his eyes, baby boomer men destroyed everything worthwhile with their callous disregard for tradition, their naive and undeserved confidence that turned into a society-wrecking hubris.
Now, the Gen X view of Luke is more kind. His flaws are more easy to forgive. His hubris is more familiar. Stuck in the middle between baby boomers like Luke and millennials like Rey, the Gen Xer, in this case, Poe Dameron, sees the strengths and weaknesses of both other generations. He’s less idealistic than both other generations. Instead, he sees a dire situation, one spinning out of control, and he’s prepared to do something drastic in response. For the Gen X hero, the sky has been falling his whole life.
Poe Dameron wants smart decisive action to be taken. By everyone. Right now. And he’s tired of people not listening to him while they engage in what he sees as bullshit generational conflicts. “Enough arguing. Do something!” is Poe’s life mantra. Poe regards Luke as a legend. Which is cool, but how useful is a legend, if he ain’t around? Poe has little use for Luke if Luke has little value to the Resistance.
As the Gen-X version of Luke Skywalker, Poe Dameron is the new cocky hero of space battles. He’s the dude who flies a darker version of Luke’s iconic X-wing fighter. But Poe is different than Luke, like an updated version of him. Notably, he’s kinder. Poe loves his droid, BB-8, far more than Luke ever loved his droids. Poe treats his droid like it’s a loyal and trusty dog. His partner, his buddy. Luke treated his droids like servants, or employees, at best. And just like Luke, the younger star pilot, Poe, is also suspiciously single, which suggests he has some work-life balance issues, so typical of Gen X men.
All of these inter-generational masculine conflicts are important. But they remain secondary to Luke’s relationship with the most important man in his life: himself. Luke’s personal conflict and his journey to overcome his greatest challenge — himself — is something few Baby-boomer men ever manage to attempt. And one that fewer still are successful at overcoming. They rarely try to transcend themselves and redefine the stories they tell themselves. But in The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker offers a spiritual path to emulate — a road map to follow to overcome oneself as a baby boomer man. (Interestingly, it’s Gen X writer-director, Rian Johnson, who created it for him, and did it masterfully).
You may curse the storm that takes your child, but no one ever seeks revenge against the sky.
The great lesson of Luke’s life is how to overcome domination and repression, forces he attributes to his father. Originally, to defeat his father and his father’s worldview, he tries to increase his spirit, to train his powers, to battle against his father, so he can bring balance and order to the galaxy. It’s the most masculine thing about Luke. The genius of The Last Jedi is how Luke finally figures out that no Jedi can ever defeat domination. It is a cycle. One will always and inevitably lead to the rise of the other. Light defeats dark. Dark defeats light. Light defeats dark. And so on, like the cycles of day and night, forever and ever, ad infinitum.
Perhaps it’s telling that a cynical Gen X space hustler is the one to point out the great truth about the Empire and the Rebellion, the First Order and the Resistance. The two eternal enemies, are, as DJ, Benicio del Toro’s shady underground hacker character, calls them, “a machine.” Like two pistons, stuck together, rising and falling, in a rhythm, it’s a cycle of violence. One that DJ plans to profit from because the best advice a Gen X space hustler like him can offer is: Don’t join.
The dropout generation knows this advice well. But it’s only part of the picture. It’s also a coward’s reaction to this understanding of cycles of domination. Luke goes further. Deeper. He transcends.
Luke recognizes the cycle of violence will never be broken until the machine is broken. As Audre Lorde warned us, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Violence that seeks to dominate will never free anyone. Instead, there is a community-minded idea of violence, one that can sustain, without dominance.
Self-defense is righteous violence. It stands apart from the cycles of violence. If someone attacks you, and you defend yourself, that’s it. It’s done. But if you then retaliate, the cycle perpetuates itself. When you use self-defense to protect yourself, each time it is a separate action. There is no cycle. It’s like any other calamity, or misfortune. You may curse the storm that takes your child, but no one ever seeks revenge against the sky. They understand that this is a risk of life. And instead, they focus on protecting who they love, rather than avenge who they lose. Leia understands this. Luke learns this.
Never forget: when Leia lost her ENTIRE planet in the first Star Wars: A New Hope, she still ended-up comforting Luke, who’d just lost his master Obi Wan Kenobi. It’s safe to assume Luke never considered the emotional labor Leia performs, and constantly provided him, not until the very end of The Last Jedi, when he visits her in his astrally-projected form and gives her Han’s gold dice, the ones from the Millennium Falcon.
Finally, in this peak moment with his sister, after he’s emotionally confronted how he failed her son, Luke gets it. He understands domination. He chooses to sacrifice himself, as his father sacrificed himself before him. And importantly, Luke does this to protect Leia, to protect Rey. In his greatest act, Luke sacrifices himself to protect and hand power to a baby boomer woman and a millennial woman. He transcends both his dad, Darth Vader (which literally means “dark father”), and his uncle, Obi Wan Kenobi, with the same self-sacrifice. He breaks the cycle.
Luke combines his original thesis of meaning (become a Jedi) with its antithesis he later believes (destroy the Jedi) to reach synthesis, as he sacrifices himself, his dark side, and his light side. He does this to protect people he loves. And to protect the rest of the galaxy, obviously. This is the culmination of decades of growth on Luke’s part. This is a true spiritual glow-up. His soul reaches whatever the Jedi equivalent of enlightenment is. Luke, finally, gets it.
If you wish to conquer those who seek to dominate and destroy, the only way to defeat them is to defend your community, and pass on wisdom to the next generation. Anything is a weapon if you hold it right. Plus, as Master Yoda teaches Luke, the greatest burden of the master is that the student surpasses the teacher. That’s also the great hope of the master. You hand the galaxy you protected to the next generation and you ask them to do the same. Sometimes you must sacrifice yourself, if necessary. That’s the true job of the hero.
For Luke to become the hero he was always meant to be, he has to save himself. He has to become the change he wishes to see in the world. Like Gandhi, but with space pacifism. In his final action, Luke steps out, alone, and squares off against his nephew, Ben Solo. An epic moment. But Luke uses their fight not as a means to win, or dominate with his will and excellence, instead, he’s a distraction. For now, Luke knows there is no good form of domination. He must not fight to control, but instead give up control. Selflessly. He learns to protect his community, rather than fight for some abstract concept like “save the galaxy.” He stops gazing at the horizon. He lives in the moment. In now.
As the soul of the baby boomer men, Luke Skywalker represents the best they could become. That is, if only they would get over their egos, start listening to millennial women, get the hell out of the way of Gen X dudes, and make amends to their baby boomer sisters who’ve been quietly carrying them the whole time, whether they recognize it or not.
Luke Skywalker is gone. But his legacy has never been so powerful.