What I’m about to write pretty much spoils all of The Last Jedi. Don’t read it if you don’t want it ruined. K?
When the credits smashed onto the screen and John William’s triumphant score filled the auditorium, I adored what I’d seen. Well, almost all of what I’d seen. I found The Last Jedi to be smart, bold, emotional, and fresh. I can write for hours on the film itself and why I love it so much. But, instead, I want to write about the aspect I didn’t enjoy so much, and it was a doozy:
The treatment of Luke Skywalker.
Now, I know that expectations in art and entertainment are the path to the Dark Side. We shouldn’t gauge our experiences with stories, or judge them, based on their wish fulfillment. It’s a path laced with folly, rife with the impossible standard of giving everyone what they want while delivering something new at the same time. Expectations isn’t exactly what I’m talking about here, though. See, while watching The Last Jedi, I kept waiting to a redemptive arc to play out for Luke; I kept hoping for him to shake off the grumpy, sad, and defeated man he’d become and rediscover the hero I’ve always known him to be. In short, I wanted him to snap out of his funk and become Rey’s Jedi mentor; I wanted him to come to terms with his mistakes and return with a renewed sense of purpose.
And that’s exactly what the movie gave me; I just didn’t realize it at the time.
In my ruminations on the film—and conversations with friends—I had to really consider what I knew about Luke. Why did I want him to be a certain way? The question I had to ask—the question I think we all have to ask—is a simple one:
Who is Luke Skywalker?
Strip everything away —Luke’s lineage as the son of Anakin/Vader, as the last hope of the galaxy, as the man charged with leading a new Jedi Order because the assumption was that was what had to happen. What’s left is who Luke is at his core: A poor farm boy who grew up looking to the horizon, craving adventure and desiring to be anywhere other than the furthest point from the galaxy’s bright center.
But Luke was also hope. And not because he was a Jedi, not because he could wield the Force and fight with a “laser sword.” Luke was hope because, through his courage and commitment, he could inspire those around him to greater things. His goodness made Han so much more than just a smuggler, it helped lead a rebellion, and it redeemed the soul of his father. None of which required the power of a laser sword.
Luke only failed because he lost sight of who he was. He lost sight of the simple farm boy, looking to the horizon, craving not only his role in the galaxy but how he could make a difference within it. Once the war was over, we learned that Luke took it upon himself to bring back the Jedi Order and train a new generation of Jedi. Which, in a way, is a noble pursuit. The problem was that it wasn’t the right pursuit—not for Luke. In his attempt, Luke was inadvertently bringing back a past—the Jedi Order—that had a hand in creating the turmoil that altered the course of the galaxy for generations. The Jedi had grown arrogant and misguided; they had lost their sense of purpose and, while connected the Force, they were disconnected from the galaxy around them. And in their hubris, in their adherence to the strict demands of their order, they failed. They failed themselves, they failed each other, they failed galaxy. Yet they were considered, at the time, to be “at the height of their powers,” and there was no one around to show Luke the error of their ways. In that vacuum, he fell back on a past that wasn’t his own; a narrative he didn’t fully understand. He wasn’t arrogant to do so, he wasn’t weak. He was just doing what he thought he was supposed to do: He was maintaining the same narrative that’d been in place for generations. Unfortunately, he lost sight of the one narrative that really mattered: The one where he banded together with others—a ragtag group of rebels, scoundrels, and swindlers alike—and, with their combined power—not the power of a Jedi Order—they toppled an empire.
In the end, The Last Jedi returns Luke to his core. It strips away the burden that wasn’t his to shoulder and refocuses him at the beginning of an all-new story that is looking at him not as a Jedi master, not as a powerful sorcerer who taught others to be powerful like him in some kind of mystical (and elite) school. That’s not what those kids back on Canto Bight are seeing when they play with their Luke Skywalker action figure. They’re seeing the farm boy who rose up and fought back against those who oppressed him, who oppressed the entire galaxy. They’re seeing the hero who inspired others to be exactly like him through his bravery and goodness. And that’s why the final shot of the boy holding his broomsaber, looking to the stars, is absolutely perfect. It’s Luke. It’s a boy who knows he can be more. It’s a boy who will do great things for a great many people, just like his hero.
Luke, too, returns to that simple farm boy. Like A New Hope, The Last Jedi finds Luke looking out to the horizon filled with dual suns. Only now, Luke is no longer searching. The bitterness he harbored as Luke Skywalker, failed Jedi master, is gone. All that remains is the farm boy who could do extraordinary things and helped save the galaxy through his love, not his power. He’s back to who he’s supposed to be, leaving this world with the knowledge that Rey has found in him—and herself—the message the Luke should have imparted all along.
That is the legacy of Luke Skywalker, and I can't imagine one more appropriate.