Something is wrong with Luke Skywalker.
That much by now seems evident. The Luke Skywalker we’re going to encounter in Star Wars: Episode VII is going to be very different from the hero we’re used to or even from the young man we last knew from those timeless final scenes of Return of the Jedi.
By the way, possible spoilers ahead; so be warned.
Now that in itself is a fascinating prospect with great potential for new storytelling. The possibility of a brooding, troubled Luke Skywalker, perhaps echoing the troubled Anakin Skywalker of Revenge of the Sith. I think we should be cautious, however. I had already half-written this post a few months ago, after seeing the second Episode VII teaser (in which Luke’s voice features), but had forgotten to publish it. Then I waited for another trailer; and now we’ve had the *final* trailer and Luke Skywalker still isn’t anywhere in sight. More extraordinary, he isn’t even in the official poster that was recently unveiled; Han, Leia and Chewie are, but no Luke.
And as if THAT wasn’t curious enough, the official character posters have also just been put out and there isn’t one for Luke! All of which only adds to the sense of mystery and intrigue; and for some of us, adds to the low-level anxiety over just what the deal is with Luke Skywalker. Seriously, omitting him from both the final trailer and the poster is a serious mind-game being played with us; albeit a very effective one in marketing terms.
Official character posters are still omitting Luke.
It’s worth mentioning, in fact, that Luke hasn’t been in *any* of the two teasers and main trailer; most people feel like he was in the second teaser, but that’s not necessarily the case – we heard his voice (which may have been re-used audio from 1983) and we saw a mechanical arm reaching out to touch Artoo-Deetoo, which we take to depict Luke Skywalker, but we actually don’t know for certain who that’s supposed to be. For one thing, it appeared to be an unadorned mechanical hand, and as far as we know, Luke Skywalker has a synthetic-flesh artificial arm from Empire Strikes Back onward.
All of this omitting of Luke Skywalker is for the most part obviously a very shrewd marketing decision, designed to tease fans and build up intrigue and uncertainty. It’s very clever and is proving highly effective, as no one would’ve imagined we’d be two months from the film’s release, with three teasers/trailers having been watched, and yet no sight of Mark Hamill’s iconic character.
But all of this omission might also signify a deeper meaning.
The omitting of Luke from the final trailer has reignited fears and anxieties over his fate, with a number of articles appearing suggesting again that Luke may have turned to the Dark Side, along with various other theories and speculation (even The Guardian has gotten in on this, publishing an article a few weeks ago).
This is something that’s been vaguely troubling me for some months now.
Dominic Jones on Star Wars Underworld laid out the theory some time ago that the villain of Episode VII may turn out to be Luke Skywalker himself, with most of the talk of other new characters and names (‘Kylo Ren’, for example) being red herrings.
This theory that Luke has either turned to the Dark Side or gone off the rails in some other way has started to gain currency among numerous fans and spoiler-hunters. Some are insisting that the mysterious villain ‘Kylo Ren’ is in fact Luke Skywalker in his new form. While this would present us with fascinating story potential, and while it would also thematically resonate with the themes of all the existing Star Wars movies, I tend to doubt this is true (and sincerely hope it isn’t).
I’d like to think it isn’t true, because I’d like to think the new custodians of the Star Wars legacy wouldn’t be so radical as to take the hero of the Original Trilogy and make him a villain. Having said that, Abrams was pretty radical with the 2009 Star Trek reboot, killing off the entire Vulcan planet (and the species, pretty much) and setting up a whole new timeline. So he’s shown his willingness to break with tradition and try to impose his own mark on a franchise.
But would those handling George Lucas’s world really do that with Star Wars?
It would certainly be messing with expectations. It would also be messing with the legacy of Star Wars – but then I always said that’s exactly what this whole new enterprise was in danger of doing in the first place. Return of the Jedi is, to me, the perfect, decisive ending to the ‘Star Wars Saga’; and going beyond that ending is a dangerous pursuit, particularly if it concerns the canon of Luke Skywalker, because Luke already has the perfect closure. You cannot have a better ending for Luke Skywalker’s character than what we saw in Return of the Jedi – it was thematically and emotionally the only fitting conclusion and it has resonated for decades. Since I was six years-old (and to this day), I still get a little emotional when I think of that climax to ROTJ and the Skywalker saga.
In a moment I’ll explain why having Luke ‘go Dark’ is a terrible, terrible idea that would gut the entire Star Wars saga; but first, just a quick look at some relevant information.
The ‘Spoiler Boy’ alleged inside-leak from a while back, which described Lawrence Kasdan’s Episode VII screenplay as “too good for Abrams”, also claimed to reveal the following; that ‘the original Luke went into seclusion for 20 years…’, suggesting something went wrong after Return of the Jedi. That Luke might’ve been in a grim state following ROTJ isn’t necessarily surprising, given that he’d just killed his father and come very close to turning to the Dark Side, but the implication of course is that a lot more has also happened since.
But the leak also added that ‘he has a purpose and a plan behind his decision…’ This could set up Luke as more of an Obi-Wan type figure in this new trilogy; a recluse in hiding, biding his time (for what, we don’t know) and waiting for the right moment to fulfil his ‘plan’, whatever that may be. This too would be an interesting direction, echoing Obi-Wan in the first Star Wars. George Lucas often said of the way he wrote the stories for the existing films that he liked the idea of one story mirroring or echoing the other; characters go through the same challenges, the same repeating motifs, in what Lucas called “an epic, repeating poem”.
Luke’s frame of mind after Return of the Jedi is actually something I used to think about a fair bit, even as a child. It was clearly evident from the end scenes of ROTJ that Luke was deeply affected by his confrontation with Vader and Palpatine.
When he comes back down to Endor to join in the celebrations, he isn’t happy, isn’t someone ready to join in the party. He is distant and aloof. He burns the body of his dead father, looking traumatised by it, and even when he comes to rejoin his friends, he doesn’t look present in the moment. Leia has to come and guide him back to the celebrations. This makes sense, of course; he’s just seen his father die mere minutes after having redeemed him from the Dark Side. And he has also just recently learned Leia is his sister.
I always wondered, even as a child, what was going on with Luke in the immediate days and weeks after Endor. Would he come to terms with what had just happened – and with all the truths and revelations he’d just been hit with – or would he be afflicted and distant? Would he be questioning everything? Remember, he was angry at both Yoda and Obi-Wan in Return of the Jedi, because they’d lied to him for so long about his true heritage. The Jedi Masters he’d trusted all this time had been lying to him. Could his anger at Obi-Wan and Yoda have continued? And, combined possibly even with anger towards his father for having fallen to the Dark Side in the first place and how died and left his son alone, would Luke have become more and more depressed at this point in time?
And not just depressed, but more and more distant and aloof too, as was already evident in the final scenes of ROTJ? After all, he is now the only Jedi in existence and must surely feel very alone. What if his relationships started to break down at this point; he already seemed like he was drifting away from Han Solo in most of ROTJ – could that too have gotten even worse? And maybe he even drifted more from Leia too, particularly given her inability or difficulty in understanding the Force, as evidenced in the Leia/Luke dialogue in ROTJ just prior to Luke setting off to confront Vader.
With all of that borne in mind, it isn’t entirely unrealistic to think that Luke might’ve been set on a troubled path, post-ROTJ. Perhaps even one that, after an additional thirty years, could have ended up with him being someone virtually unrecognisable to us come the events of the imminent Episode VII (and especially as we don’t know what events have occurred in that thirty-year interval).
Some of those convinced that the Luke we’re going to encounter in Episode VII is on the Dark Side point to a 2005 episode of the US television show ‘Dinner for Five’, in which Mark Hamill himself pitches the idea of returning as a Dark Side Luke Skywalker (JJ Abrams is also in this video, along with Kevin Smith and Marvel’s Stan Lee).
There is also precedent for a ‘Dark Luke Skywalker’ in the classic 1991 Dark Horse comic-book series, Dark Empire, which portrayed Skywalker (briefly) turning to the Dark Side as an apprentice of a reincarnated Emperor Palpatine. Disney has (rightly) insisted all Expanded Universe material is considered non-canonical and won’t be drawn from; but that doesn’t mean some existing ideas can’t be re-packaged.
So my objection to the possibility of Luke ‘turning Dark’ isn’t about whether it’s realistic or not; it could be conceivable.
No, my objection is that it would utterly wreck the whole point of Luke Skywalker – and with it the entire Star Wars Saga as it presently exists. Here’s why having Luke ‘go dark’, despite its obvious dramatic potential, is a bad idea.
Luke is the ultimate hero of Star Wars. Everything he stands for is as The Good Guy, the one who withstood the Emperor’s seduction, the one who didn’t turn, the one who didn’t repeat the mistakes of his father, the one whose abiding goodness even helped redeem his dark father at the end. Having him go bad in any of the new films would utterly wreck the Original Trilogy, especially Return of the Jedi. All of the power of those utterly compelling ROTJ scenes with the Emperor, all those scenes where Luke comes so close to going dark but doesn’t – all of that would be utterly undermined and gutted were he to be now revealed as having gone down that road.
Besides that, this has all been done already in the prequels with Anakin’s fall from grace – it doesn’t need to be done again. The whole poetry of the six films was that the son did not succumb to the same seduction to the Dark Side that his father did; change that now and you severely damage both the Original Trilogy and the prequels.
Those late scenes in Return of the Jedi are some of the most powerful scenes – and certainly the most thematically important – of the Star Wars mythology.
If the same Luke Skywalker who was able to withstand Palpatine himself has now subsequently turned to the Dark Side anyway, then Return of the Jedi will never be the same again; for that matter, this is the same Luke who resisted Vader on Bespin too – so he twice overcame the seduction of the Dark Side, and his refusal to be seduced ultimately saved Anakin’s immortal Jedi soul and helped topple the Empire and restore freedom to the galaxy. That’s how utterly central to Star Wars Luke’s ‘goodness’ is – it’s not simply a case of me saying ‘hey, you can’t make the hero bad’, but it’s a case of not rewriting a central thematic POINT of the entire saga; in fact, not just a central thematic point, but the central emotional core of the entire saga. Because when all is said and done, the central core of the existing saga is that Anakin fell to the Dark Side and Luke did not.
Luke Skywalker was my childhood hero. There are plenty of dark, gritty ‘heroes’ or anti-heroes around, and some of them are great characters; in some ways, even Anakin Skywalker could be regarded as such, along with all kinds of fictional legends like Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, etc. But we also need our ‘clean’ heroes; those who are simply the Good Guy, regardless of the world around them.
And Luke Skywalker is the ultimate Good Guy. Indeed, the prequel trilogy, for all the darkness of its conclusion in the lava plains of Mustafar, only served to reinforce and re-emphasise the abiding heroism of Luke Skywalker. Because as we watched Anakin Skywalker fall to the Dark Side, and as we watched Jedi like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Mace Windu have to try to do grim things in desperate times, we were reminded all the while of how Luke Skywalker would later *refuse* to do grim things, refuse to commit the ‘necessary evils’, and how he would ultimately stand firm against all darkness, all temptation, all subversion, in order to be true to the Jedi way and in order to prove that Good would ultimately win, even against all the odds.
When a dying Yoda and even the ghost of Obi-Wan both insist that Luke has to kill his father – that this is the only way to win – Luke refuses. And this is a Luke who, at this point in time, has every reason to ‘go Dark’; having just discovered that he’s been lied to his entire life.
Yet even now, he does not succumb. As the only Jedi left alive in the galaxy, he doesn’t give in to his anger or bitterness; he fights the good fight. And in so doing, he not only defeats the Dark Side and redeems his father, but he demonstrates his mother’s dying insistence at the end of ROTS that “there is still good in him”. Padme’s dying conviction that “there is still good” in Anakin Skywalker can only be fulfilled because of the uncorrupted good that is in Luke Skywalker. The good that is in Luke Skywalker is the definition of Luke Skywalker; and is the underlying pulse of the entire Star Wars mythology. Again, if you change that, you not only cheapen both Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith, and you not only severely damage Luke Skywalker, but you irrevocably damage the entire Star Wars saga and mythology and what it’s about.
That is why I object to the idea of Luke ‘going Dark’. And that’s why every Star Wars fan should also object to it; because after all the excitement and short-term glee over the new films and stories has passed, there’s a bigger question of the longer-term Star Wars legacy. I’m not, by the way, trying to spoil the party; I’m very excited about Episode VII, but Star Wars is important to me, and Luke Skywalker is particularly important to people like me.
I asked a fellow blogger and Star Wars fan, Robert Horvat, for his views on this subject. This is what Rob says; ‘When I was growing up, Luke Skywalker was my hero in the Star Wars saga. I will never forget that first scene that introduced Luke Skywalker. It wasn’t dramatic, in fact, it was very mundane; but with every new scene that followed I began to realise that I was a lot like him. From humble beginnings as a reckless farm boy, we watched him go on a hero’s journey of self-discovery and grand adventure, mature into a Jedi, restore freedom to the galaxy and in the process save his father’. And like so many of us who were enchanted by the Star Wars galaxy and the Tatooine sunset as children, Luke wasn’t just a fictional hero but a symbolic figure of personal significance for Rob, as he explains; ‘For a suburban kid like me growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Star Wars was my release from the hardships of growing up in a migrant household. It sounds corny but when Luke Skywalker opened the detention level door to Princess Leia’s cell on the Death Star and said, “I’m Luke Skywalker. I’m here to rescue you,” metaphorically he was speaking to fans worldwide, who wanted to escape with him on his hero’s journey…’
Just what a fantasy hero like Luke Skywalker can mean to people is also summed up very touchingly in this item I recenty came across, in which a US soldier, a veteran of the ‘War on Terror’, was asked to justify all the war and invasions of the post 9/11 era. Daniel Crimmins gave a very poignant, honest reply, but this is part of what he said; “You grew up wanting so bad to be Luke Skywalker, but you realize that you were basically a Stormtrooper; a faceless, nameless rifleman, carrying a spear for empire, and you start to accept the startlingly obvious truth that these are people like you…”
But the point, as far as this particular post is concerned, is that Luke Skywalker himself is an ideal; whether it’s to a yearning farm-boy, an isolated kid in a migrant household or a soldier fighting a war in unfamiliar lands.
Thinking about what Luke Skywalker means to us, I am reminded of what I wrote earlier this year, in response to the death of Leonard Nimoy, about ‘the extent to which our modern, shared mythologies form a huge part of the cultural, even moral or ethical, framework of our lives because they’re such an embedded and such a rich point of reference; the way that people of older generations referred to Bible stories and characters or religious stories, for example, is the same way people like me, and (I’ve discovered) some of my friends, refer to our modern mythologies. I’ll talk about Luke Skywalker in the Dagobah swamp trying to decide whether to confront his father the same way someone else might talk about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene…’
And what I wrote about Nimoy in the same post is equally applicable to Luke Skywalker and Mark Hamill; ‘These characters and their epic struggles are to us what the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh must’ve been to young Babylonian men as they grew up or what the Greek demi-gods or Roman myths must’ve been to their respective enthusiasts within those cultures…’
It is possible of course that all of these suggestions, rumours or theories about Luke will prove untrue. Maybe they’ve even been discreetly encouraged from official sources in order to provoke intense debate and anticipation prior to the film’s release. Clearly, something has gone wrong in the galaxy and something is wrong with Luke Skywalker; but I’m still holding out hope that he’s ultimately still the good guy and that if he is in isolation somewhere it’s because he’s playing out some sort of plan or biding his time, just like Obi-Wan Kenobi was in A New Hope.
Ironically, given how widespread the belief now is that ‘Luke Has Turned Bad’, it might be that the biggest shock moment of Episode VII is finding out that Luke is in fact still the hero, still the epitome of the Good Side of the Force; and because so many of us might’ve been expecting him to be dark and tortured, that moment will act as a joyous affirmation and will become one of those triumphal Star Wars moments, like the Falcon blowing up the Death Star or Yoda beheading the Clone-Troopers. Imagine that – some grim, hopeless scenario that our younger, new characters are struggling in, where all hope seems lost… and then Luke Skywalker emerges, performs some extraordinary act of heroism and Force-power to save the day.
Wouldn’t that be something wonderful? Wouldn’t that feel like a hundred Christmases all at once?
Or, if it’s the darker stuff we want (since ‘darker’ does tend to make for better drama), the scenario could be simply that one of Luke’s young Jedi trainees has gone off the rails and that might be Kylo Ren. There are all kinds of other possibilities in that, of course; Kylo could be Luke’s son, or could be Leia’s son. The idea that Luke’s attempted training of either his own child or Leia’s child might’ve gone wrong and resulted in a wayward Jedi with a fondness for the Dark Side would also nicely echo Obi-Wan and Anakin. The other theory gaining a lot of traction suggests that Kylo Ren and Daisy Ridley’s ‘Rey’ might be Skywalker/Solo twins. I tend to infer quite strongly from the trailers that Daisy Ridley’s character is a Skywalker and is set up to be the central hero of this new trilogy.
Rey’s line in the final trailer – when she says “no one” to the question of “who are you?” – could indicate her ignorance of her heritage, which would echo Luke and Leia’s own situation in the Original Trilogy.
This could set us up for a rehash of the classic Vader/Luke “I am your father” moment from ESB, with Luke himself this time being the one saying it. Not only would this play perfectly into the established George Lucas motif of the ‘repeating poem’ that underlies all the existing Star Wars films, but JJ Abrams also has some form with this kind of thing, having consciously recreated key scenes and scenarios from The Wrath of Khan and inverted them for 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness. I am, at this moment in time anyway, convinced that Rey is Luke’s child. She just totally looks like a Skywalker. But that remains to be seen.
As for the suggestions that this may be Luke Skywalker’s big send-off, I’m not sure that’s likely. What seems more likely is that Luke will not feature in much of this film and may even only appear at the end (hence his absence from the poster and the trailers). Thinking about it, I can picture a final, climatic scene of Episode VII where Luke appears, and then he’ll probably feature more in Episode 8.
The rumors have of course also been strongly developing that Han Solo may not make it out of Episode VII, however. The idea of Luke or Han (or Leia, for that matter) being killed off as early as Episode VII is almost too distressing to even think about, but those guiding the creative decisions of this new generation of Star Wars may want to do something that radical and make a clean break with the ‘old guard’ in one big send-off movie before handing over fully to the new cast. This idea seems to be reinforced by the trailers, which focus most on the new characters and not the old ones. As I said elsewhere, there’s no guarantee that fans are going to get that magical moment of reunion between Luke, Leia and Han; in which case, the 1983 scenes of them celebrating on Endor with the Ewoks might even remain for all time as the final footage of them together.
But if killing off Luke Skywalker seems like a drastic move, having him turn to the Dark Side is just as much so. Because again, and I can’t state this enough – the whole POINT of Luke Skywalker is that he’s the one who doesn’t turn to the Dark Side. He is the ultimate good, the ultimate innocence. It was Luke’s abiding goodness, his faith in the power of redemption, his belief in Anakin Skywalker, his unwillingness to succumb to the Emperor, his lack of interest in power or greed, that defined him; and it was this that ultimately put things right in the Universe.
So here’s to hoping this is all a clever bluff and that the Luke Skywalker we encounter in Episode VII will in fact still be the ultimate galactic hero we know and love.
Also, don’t want to let the moment pass without marking the sad passing of 32 year-old Daniel Fleetwood, the Star Wars mega-fan, who passed away in the last couple days from a terminal illness. Daniel, who had been given only months to live, had been holding on, wishing to see The Force Awakens before he died and fearing he wouldn’t last long enough.
Thanks to a massive social media push, the studio allowed Daniel to see an unfinished edit of the film, and he died days later, to become One with the Force. The image above is borrowed from @BajaSquad on Twitter and is the only appropriate tribute.