By the Sword

In 1977, a low-budget film that was part Flash Gordon, part Jidaigeki¹, part 1970s radical progressive sensibilities (feminism, anti-fascism, anti-imperialism, etc) was released. It was called Star Wars, later retitled Star Wars: A New Hope.

Two more films were added later to create a trilogy, and then a prequel trilogy, a couple of one-off films, and a sequel trilogy. And that’s where it all changed. The sequel films, while remaining very true to the original, were rejected by many. In December 2020, by the magic of graphics processing, the young version of Luke Skywalker was brought back in a short scene where he hacks his way through opposition in quite the way his father (spoilers!) Darth Vader used to do.

Okay?

Darth Vader Jr fans are happy to have gotten a scene that, for them, erases the memory of Luke in The Last Jedi. As someone wrote: “Luke is not a quitter or loser”.

For the Darth Vader Jr fans, restraint, humility, and discernment are inferior to swashbuckling. Darth Vader’s rage and callousness is the ideal they want to see embodied in Luke. They want the Force to be a superpower to be used for domination and destruction, not a tangled web of life power shared by all. Was this really the Luke they saw all along? It certainly wasn’t the Luke I saw when the original trilogy films came out. In those films, Darth Vader was a tragic puppet, and Luke the one who saw clearly and narrowly avoided his father’s fate.

The Last Jedi completes Luke’s arc in a stunning way. He has again avoided disastrous temptation by abandoning his attempt to recreate the Jedi Order². He has cast off the toys of his youth, the lightsaber and the X-Wing. The lightsaber toss in the beginning was sublime: in A New Hope, Luke saw it as a shiny toy; in Empire Strikes Back, it was a weapon to enforce his will; in Return of the Jedi, it³ was a tool for his mission. In The Last Jedi, he has grown up from toys, he doesn’t need a weapon, he has no mission. He discards it in a very Zen moment.

After almost giving in to the impulse to kill his nephew (both of them being influenced by Snoke) he has retreated to exile, just like Yoda and Kenobi did. This is not being a loser: it is removing himself from a conflict he can’t win, where a defeat would mean that his own powers would be added to the enemy’s. He isn’t egotistical enough to assume that his presence is crucial in the fight, and he doesn’t allow himself to be fooled into thinking that he should try. Possibly he thinks he can atone for his misstep and become more ready to return to the fight, but he knows that the moment for this is not now.

When he ultimately fights his last fight, his goal is to give others the chance to continue the struggle. He fights without drawing blood, symbolised by the lack of red tracks on the ground. When he fights, he very literally isn’t in the fight. His mind is on Leia’s escape, and Ben’s redemption.

The Last Jedi made the original trilogy matter. Luke shouldn’t just go on taking lives and trampling the galaxy under his feet. Luke should grow spiritually, walking away from the killing and towards understanding himself and his place in the universe. His speculation that something good remained in Vader contributed to the victory in the original trilogy. Luke absolutely must preserve the goodness in himself.

Otherwise, what is the point of the saga? Was it after all just a question of who can kill the most? Was the thing about the Light side of the Force just something the Jedi deluded themselves with⁴?

Given that an epic drama places a hero in the context of the history and ethos of a nation, I feel that there are three ways to go here:

  1. admit that the Star Wars saga is nothing but inconsistent ramblings
  2. allow the story to go full circle with the heroes becoming fascists, the new Vader and Tarkin, building a superweapon to exterminate dissidents⁵
  3. break the cycle: the warrior lays down their weapon, the Force is no longer used to uphold despotism.

Footnotes

  1. A genre of Japanese period drama: in this case mainly Akiro Kurosawa’s 1950s and 60s films, in particular The Hidden Fortress.
  2. Quitting is exactly the right way to deal with a trap that targets one’s behaviour.
  3. The replacement, that is.
  4. Well, according to the prequel trilogy it probably was. Let’s save it for another essay.
  5. If we really are an audience that prefers #2, then I don’t see how 2020 can ever end. If so, totalitarian populists will keep getting elected until we are no longer invited to elect, and wealth, power, health, education, and happiness will remain outside the grasp of the ordinary people.

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Peter Lewerin

Peter Lewerin

Algorithmician, history buff, non-practicing hedonist. Whovian, ghiblist: let there be wonder. Argumentative, punster, has delusions of eloquence.