Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Who Is Luke Skywalker? And is He Who The Fans Want Him to Be? By DarthLightlyBruise
Here’s a guest piece by DarthLightlyBruise (not Jason or Amanda) from a name you may remember from the very spoilery TFA plot synopsis.
We all feel that we know Luke Skywalker, but different people identify with different parts of his character. For some, he embodies the promise that our “accidents of birth” do not have to define our boundaries as human beings. We can all get off our own “dusty rocks” if we want to bad enough, even if it means abandoning our parochial attachment to power converters. For others, Luke is best defined by his commitment to his friends and family. Initially on Tatooine, he refuses to abandon his uncle and aunt to follow Obi-Wan to Alderaan. Later on Dagobah, despite pleading from Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke makes a decision to save his friends from danger on Bespin. Still for others, Luke’s decision to turn off his lightsaber in the face of the Emperor, refusing to kill his father, and in effect, sacrificing himself in order to uphold the principles of the Jedi way, is what defines who he is at the end of his arc in the original trilogy. He is someone who has learned that patience and principle, even if impractical in the short run, must be upheld; even in the face of almost certain death, and even if it means that others might die in the process. In effect, he had come to embrace the philosophy of his masters.
Now, a new story is being told. Thirty years have passed since that fateful moment between father and son on the Death Star. Many things have happened since that time, some of which we know about through rumors from this website, and hints in official materials, but most of which remains in the dark. But perhaps we now know enough to start answering the question:
Who is Luke Skywalker now? Who is he in The Force Awakens?
In the absence of official information, asking this question among the Star Wars fan community inevitably leads to a discussion revolving around who fans want Luke Skywalker to be in the new films. Such discussions often reveal a discrete range of “desired Lukes” among the fan base. These “desired Lukes” are useful to explore, as they can put the Luke we may be getting in The Force Awakens in context of who he could become in the rest of the trilogy, and thus help alleviate fears of Luke being “thrown under the bus.” So before we get to which Luke (or Lukes) it seems J.J. Abrams is giving us, let’s look at the different Lukes that fans seem to want in this trilogy, not all of which are mutually exclusive.
The Luke(s) Fans Want
Based on a close observation of various fan communities on the internet, especially the Jedi Council forums at theforce.net, it seems that these “desired Lukes” fall into five basic categories, with shades of grey in between.
The “Leading from the front” Luke: First, there are legions of fans who want to see a Luke Skywalker that follows the heroic tradition, normally found in the West, of the Dark Age and early medieval warrior, knight, or king. This is the archetype of the man of action that leads from the front. The Richard the Lionheart, the Charlemagne, the William Wallace, or the Stannis Baratheon at the Blackwater, charging the gates against a hail of arrows. He says stuff like “Good. Bad. I’m the guy with the lightsaber.” This is a Luke that constantly puts himself in danger to lead the free people of the galaxy, and to save his friends. This is a super-powered Empire Strikes Back Luke. He brandishes his lightsaber a lot, uproots trees and mountains The Force Unleashed-style, and kicks some serious Sith and stormtrooper butt. That’s a Luke (or a Mark Hamill) that would have probably made more sense in the early 1990s, but there it is.
The “Wizard of action” Luke: Second, there are many fans who pine for a Luke of the Odinic tradition. This is the wizard of action, who orchestrates and manipulates in the shadows, but is not averse to stepping into the fray when needed. This is Luke as Gandalf, Merlin or, indeed, Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope. He leads from behind, for the most part, but he doesn’t sit back. His “nudging” and “meddling” is assertive and impatient. He awakens slumbering minds, as Gandalf did with King Theoden of Rohan, and he spurs the complacent or ignorant into action, such as Obi-Wan did with Luke. He says stuff like “You must learn the ways of the Force, if you’re to come with me to Alderaan.” He is an enlivening presence, pushing others to the front of both their own stories, and the story of the fight against evil.
The “Leading from behind” Luke. Third, some fans like the idea of Luke as the mysterious Zen Master type. The mystic on the tall and misty mountain that takes weeks of hiking to reach. The Yoda 2.0. This is a Luke that has acquired an enormous amount of wisdom through experience and contemplation, and has now become a spiritual guide for the next generation of Jedi. He says stuff like “Do or do not, there is no try” and “Double rainbow all the way… what does this mean?” He is the greatest Jedi that has ever lived, but he has retired his lightsaber. He leads from far behind the lines, on his remote hideout, but his role is critical. Without the knowledge and wisdom he imparts on the new generation of Jedi, there would be no countervailing force to resist the resurgence of evil in the galaxy.
The “Has actually accomplished something” Luke. Fourth, there is a significant group of fans that is perfectly OK with any of the above, as long as Luke has accomplished something substantial by the time of The Force Awakens. They want to see that Luke has “passed on what he has learned” in the intervening 30 years. This group wants both a happy beginning and a happy ending. They want Luke to have a functioning Jedi Order at the start of The Force Awakens, and to have that Order grow throughout the trilogy. Most, though not all, in this camp want Luke to have a child. This group fears the idea of a “Luke Lebowski” lounging about idle and depressed and drinking Blue Russians. An impotent Luke that has failed, and has done nothing to correct that failure by the time of The Force Awakens, is an absolute nightmare for this crowd.
The “Has an arc in the new trilogy” Luke. Fifth, there are those who are absolutely fine with Luke having experienced failure in the 30 years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, and are interested in seeing Luke bounce back from that failure throughout the course of the new films. These fans are mostly OK with any of the above options, and perhaps a number of other possibilities, as long as Luke redeems himself at some point in the saga.
Ultimately, the Luke fans want, and the Luke we may be getting in The Force Awakens, will not always align, as fans clearly want differing things. Furthermore, the Luke we get in The Force Awakens may not be the same Luke we see at the conclusion of this new trilogy. Leaving that aside, we may now have enough information to start fleshing out which Luke we may actually be getting–at least in the first film.
The Luke(s) It Seems J.J. is Giving Us
This Web site has had a significant amount of its information regarding The Force Awakens validated by official information, whether that be teasers, statements from cast and crew, or behind-the-scenes photos. It is therefore worth considering what we know about Luke’s role in The Force Awakens, based on MSW’s rumors, and to try to come to some preliminary conclusions about who Luke might be throughout this first film. So without further ado, here is what we know about Luke:
- Luke is missing for most of the film, and may have been missing for about a decade
- Luke’s blue lightsaber turns up at the start of the film, and ends up in the possession of our new heroes
- Maz Kanata, a new alien that our heroes visit in a pirate hideout, seems to be a Force sensitive that was once a student and/or teacher at a Jedi Academy that Luke may have started in the past
- The Jedi Academy that Luke created after the events of Return of the Jedi seems to have been utterly destroyed by an attack from evil forces
- Luke arrives at the scene of the Jedi massacre too late, departs, and is not seen again
- One of Luke’s hands is now visibly made of metal
- Luke may have trained Rey in the past
- The film’s villain, Kylo Ren, seems to be looking for Luke
- Rey discovers Luke’s location through the decryption of a code of some kind
- At the close of the film, Rey finds Luke on a remote planet, on top of a mountain on an island in the middle of the sea, and hands him his blue lightsaber
- According to Jason Ward here at MSW, there seems to be a sense of Luke needing to “atone” for past failures.
In this context, it might be safe to hypothesize that we are likely to see either one of two possible Luke “types” in The Force Awakens: “Passive Luke (The Fisher King)” or “Quietly Active Luke (47 Ronin).” The first is a Luke that has failed, has isolated himself, and is awakened by the end of The Force Awakens. The second is a Luke that has failed, but makes a move at the start of The Force Awakens that gets the gears moving for an assault against the forces of evil. For the first film, at least, these Lukes certainly do not fall into the “leading from the front” category that a number of fans want, as he is missing from the action for the entire film, and seems to be isolated on top of a mountain on a remote planet that nobody is able to find. However, it is uncertain if that Luke is going to be passively waiting to be “activated” in this first film, as were Obi-Wan in A New Hope and Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, or if Luke will be actively creating the conditions that get everything rolling.
- Passive Luke (The Fisher King). This first possibility essentially involves a passive Luke that is “activated” at the end of the film by Rey. Given that the “monomyth” ideas of Joseph Campbell have permeated the Star Wars universe from the beginning, it is not so far-fetched to imagine that Abrams and Kasdan have taken inspiration from the popular myth of The Fisher King–not least because this particular myth has arguably already influenced the Star Wars saga. To top this off, the rumors of Luke’s role thus far seem to back this scenario up quite strongly. But first, some explanation.
In the Celtic/Arthurian myth of The Fisher King, sometimes referred to as The Wounded King, we have the story of a failed King who must be “healed” or “awakened” by a youth. In most tellings of the legend, the Fisher King has somehow been rendered wounded and/or impotent, with an inability to procreate or develop a new generation to carry on his legacy. So far, we have a match. Luke’s Jedi Academy was destroyed, he seems to have been wounded (either physically, given his new robotic hand, or emotionally), and he disappears to his isolated island planet. Like the Fisher King, he has suffered some wound, and is now impotent and incapable of fostering a new generation of Jedi, as he was supposed to do.
Another feature of the Fisher King story is that his impotence affects his lands. What once was fertile, is now a barren wasteland. Again, we see a parallel. From what we have heard and seen, both officially and unofficially, the galaxy seems to have been reduced to a wasteland, with the wreckage of war littered across worlds. Luke’s absence also seems to have coincided with the resurgence of a new evil, Kylo Ren (and his master) who lead the First Order.
Perhaps most strikingly, in most of the early versions of the tale, the Fisher King is “healed” by the arrival of the young knight Percival. Here we have a very strong parallel. We know from the rumors that Rey, the young prospective Jedi lead, travels to Luke’s remote island, and hands him his blue lightsaber. Though in the earliest version of the Fisher King, it is the Fisher King that hands Percival a sword, there are other Fisher King-inspired stories that maintain this event in reverse. The aforementioned Gandalf and King Theoden moment from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, for example. In it, Gandalf awakens the King from his impotent slumber, which has caused his lands to be ravaged. The final moment in this progression from asleep to awake is the delivery, to Theoden, of his old sword, Herugrim. In the film version of The Two Towers, as Theoden grasps its hilt, he comes alive. It is difficult to not see a clear parallel between this Fisher King-inspired scene and the rumored scene of Rey handing Luke’s old lightsaber to him at the close of the film.
Last but certainly not least, there’s precedent within the Star Wars saga. Both Obi-Wan and Yoda were essentially Fisher Kings, having failed to stop the destruction of the Jedi Order. They were both “awakened” by the arrival of the young Luke Skywalker, the “Percival” of the original trilogy. Imagine Luke going to see Yoda at the very end of The Force Awakens, and you’ll get a good picture of how this might play out.
This type of Luke, at least in The Force Awakens, seems to fit the fifth category of “desired Lukes” best, though that does not preclude him becoming any of the Lukes that fans want. Essentially, we have a Luke Skywalker that has failed, and is about to begin his journey towards redemption. It is logical to assume, in this case, that the next two films will show us Luke redeeming his past failures, through contributing to the revival of the Jedi Order (and the defeat of evil) in some significant way. Whether he does so as a man of action leading from behind, a wizard of action nudging and harassing the new heroes, or a wise teacher, remains to be seen.
There are a few problems with The Fisher King Luke scenario, however. It does not necessarily account for the rumored “lightsaber in space,” and it seems a little at odds with Luke’s character until this point, which seems to have always been proactive. If, indeed, Luke is sitting impotently on his island, and will need to be saved by an outside force, why would he send his lightsaber out in search of this film’s “new hope?” Now, we can’t really assume that Luke has sent the lightsaber himself. It may simply be that the saber has been found (possibly lost by the alien Maz Kanata, who may have had possession of it), and that Luke has no idea that it is out there. But if we assume that Luke has something to do with its appearance (as some rumors suggest), and that he is in effect reaching out to Rey, that would suggest that we are dealing with a much more active Luke. This more active Luke would also seem to be a little more consistent with who his character was in the original trilogy.
- Quietly Active Luke (47 Ronin). A second reasonable possibility involves Luke, having experienced a failure before the time of the film, taking a significant action that gets the entire story of the film rolling. Given that Star Wars is awash in eastern influences, and that George Lucas was heavily inspired by the Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, it is also not a stretch to imagine that The Force Awakens may have a little “47 Ronin” in it*, which would give Luke a much more active persona in The Force Awakens, even if we don’t see him until the end. And at this point, there is some evidence to support this hypothesis (though not as strong as the evidence supporting a Fisher King Luke).
First, it seems possible that Luke may be secretly reaching out, through his lightsaber, to other Force sensitives in order to begin the process of avenging a past evil (the destruction of the Jedi Academy and/or the general rise of the First Order), and fighting back. If Luke is indeed the one who sends his lightsaber out into the world, in order to draw Rey and/or other force sensitives to him, and precipitate a movement against the First Order, then he will be the individual ultimately (rather than proximately) responsible for the events of the entire film. Though we don’t know if Luke is reaching out to just Rey, or a number of other force sensitives in hiding, the “call to action” would be a similar dynamic to that found in the Japanese story of the 47 Ronin (leaderless samurai), who were called by one of their number (Ōishi) to join together and enact vengeance on their common enemy.
A second bit of evidence for this scenario, though a bit thin, revolves around official information and rumors that have given us two names inspired by the Japanese language, and more specifically, the story of the 47 Ronin. We have the force sensitive Maz Kanata, who we could think of as one of the other “Ronin,” and we have the Force sensitive Rey, who rumors suggest also goes by the name of “Kira.” Kira is, in fact, a major character in the 47 Ronin tale (though there he is a male, and an antagonist rather than a protagonist).
Third, the 47 Ronin waited 14 months for the “right time” to enact their revenge. This is consistent with the idea that Luke may have waited for the “right time” to re-emerge from hiding, and fight back against the growing evil of the First Order.
If this scenario pans out, the “lightsaber call” could be the first salvo, or just the most important salvo, in Luke Skywalker’s plan to resurrect the Jedi Order and fight back against the First Order. A clandestine group of semi-autonomous “Ronin-like” Jedi, that band together when the need arises (in this case, to fight the Kylo Ren/Supreme Leader Snoke/First Order threat), but otherwise operate in the shadows. Not as a hierarchical order attached to a government, as in the prequels. But rather, as a loosely-connected group of do-gooders who take instruction and inspiration from the masters, such as Luke, but live in obscurity, in their bat caves and abandoned temples, and without need for recognition. But when something major threatens the galaxy, or a great master such as Luke Skywalker sends word, they come together. Will that just be Rey and Maz Kanata in The Force Awakens? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Either way, this scenario involves a Luke that is actively affecting the events of The Force Awakens.
The Many Lukes to Look Forward To
Based on all the evidence we have thus far, mostly from this website, it may be a safe bet that the “Fisher King Luke,” which some might call “Yoda 2.0” is the most likely Luke we will be getting in The Force Awakens. There is no compelling reason to believe that Luke recovered his Bespin lightsaber, and so it is easier to assume that it arrives on the scene independent of Luke’s actions. However Luke turns out in the first film, though, says very little about the kind of Luke he will become in the trilogy. The full range of Lukes that fans want to see realized on screen–leading from the front, wizard of action, leading from behind, imparting wisdom from on high, or a combination of all or some of those characteristics–are still very real possibilities. There will be two more films in this particular saga, and as far as we know, Luke survives at least until the next one. Therefore, even if “Fisher King Luke” or “Ronin Luke” or some other kind of Luke that operates at the margins of The Force Awakens, disappoints those who were hoping for him to lay down some serious Jedi law (i.e. kick ass), there may still be a lot of Luke to look forward to in the subsequent films. If you’re worried about Lebowski Luke, remember. All it took was for someone to piss on Lebowski’s rug, and he sprung into action. The death of his friend Han Solo, the return of his old lightsaber, and the arrival of the next new hope for the Jedi, is definitely going to inspire something in him. And since we close the first film with the discovery of Luke Skywalker, it is almost guaranteed that we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the next installment. And what’s a more interesting story for Luke in this new trilogy: a journey from failure to success, or a journey from success to success?
*Credit to A Chorus of Disapproval, a moderator over at The Jedi Council forums, for initially bringing this possibility up