Guest Talker: Michael J. Miller
In the months leading up to the release of The Force Awakens, one of the most prominent questions on everyone’s mind was – Where is Luke Skywalker? He wasn’t in any of the trailers. He was shockingly absent from the poster. We only heard his voice, narrating a slightly altered version of what he tells Leia about his family and the Force in Return Of The Jedi. Speculation was rampant. And there were even those (apparently the ones who’d never watched Star Wars or totally missed the point of the whole narrative) who were insistent that Luke had fallen to the Dark Side and perhaps was even Kylo Ren. Now, all those questions have been cleared up. But the most important question for me still remains. And I hope I get an answer worthy of the mythic hero of Star Wars.
The answer to this question is important because, to put it simply, Luke is important. Luke Skywalker is the hero of Star Wars. Yes, it’s Anakin’s story but Luke is the force (no pun intended) of redemption that allows Vader to do what must be done. If Anakin is the savior, Luke is the redeemer. And both of them are necessary to bring balance to the Force. So we know where Luke was at the end of Return Of The Jedi – happily celebrating a major victory with his family and friends, while the redeemed Force ghost of his father looks on with Obi-Wan and Yoda. And we know where Luke is at the end of The Force Awakens – doing his mystic hermit thing on a not-so-easily-accessed lake front property in utter isolation. Even R2 was left behind. His hand hasn’t been cared for (presumably), leaving the synthiflesh to rot away and expose the metallic hand underneath.
The question I need answered (the question I am so, so scared won’t be answered with the clarity and detail it absolutely needs) is what has Luke been doing in the thirty years since the Battle of Endor?? One of the major faults I have found with the Disney Canon is that (with few exceptions) it gives us no real worthwhile details. It’s all painted in broad strokes. We are left struggling to fill in almost as many gaps during those thirty years as we had before The Force Awakens was released. Disney seems to perpetually tell stories set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, stories (more often than not in my opinion) having little to no significant impact on the saga, while ignoring the gaping holes in the timeline Star Wars fans want to know about.
The major exception to this rule would be Claudia Gray’s beautiful and brilliant new novel, Star Wars: Bloodline. This was the first novel I’ve encountered since Disney took over that gave me the thrill I almost always found with the old EU. It gave a detailed look at the Star Wars galaxy. It expanded on what was in the films in a way that made logical sense. And the expansions were helpful and felt necessary. Also, she gave us both a picture of Leia that was organic and dynamic as well as new characters who were exciting and seemed to naturally fit in the Star Wars universe. Ransolm Casterfo is the first new character I’ve found in the Disney Canon who seemed as complex and integral to the Star Wars universe as characters like Pellaeon, Natasi Daala, and Talon Karde did the first time I met them.
The novel also left us with some MAJOR question marks in regard to Luke Skywalker. (If you haven’t read Bloodline yet, this paragraph and the next contains minor spoilers about moments Luke is mentioned in passing in the novel but doesn’t address anything that’s central to the plot of the book.) You see, Bloodline is set six years before The Force Awakens. Granted, we only get glimpses of what Luke’s been up to since Return Of The Jedi. But it doesn’t seem like he’s been doing much. He and Ben Solo are bouncing around the galaxy doing…something.
A discussion in the Senate sees Lady Carise Sindian remark, “Princess Leia spoke of her brother, the famous Luke Skywalker, who has been little seen in the public sphere for many years now.” Then Tai-Lin Garr replies, “Since the Rebellion, Skywalker has lived a private life. He has asked no more of the New Republic than any of its other citizens, nor have we just cause to ask any more of him than the substantial service he has already given.” So the last of the Jedi decided to…retire? He’s road tripping with his nephew? Whaaaat??
Judging from the little information the new Disney Canon has provided us, Luke is apparently completely disconnected from the New Republic and almost entirely cutoff from his family. We can infer then IN THE PRECEEDING TWENTY-FOUR YEARS he didn’t rebuild the Jedi Order. So, I ask again, what was he doing?
The final conversation Luke has with Yoda before his death on Dagobah makes this even more confusing. As Yoda lays down for the last time he tells Luke, “Twilight is upon me and soon night must fall. That is the way of things, the way of the Force.” His final words to Luke are, “Luke…when gone am I, the last of the Jedi will you be. Luke…the Force runs strong in your family. Pass on what you have learned. Luke…there is…another…Skywalker.” The literal final instruction Yoda – the Jedi Master that Kenobi told Luke to find to complete his training – gave Luke was to pass on what he had learned. And the Disney Canon wants us to accept that Luke’s response was, “Nah.” I don’t buy it. It doesn’t make any sense.
Luke wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. He spends much of the Original Trilogy trying to become a Jedi Knight like his father. In A New Hope, Obi-Wan taught Luke, “The Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy before the dark times, before the Empire.” So he knows that the Jedi were an order who protected people during the Old Republic before Vader and the Emperor wiped them out. He finds Yoda, completes his training, is instructed to pass on what he’d learned, and THEN DOES NOTHING FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS.
Why?? Again, it makes no sense and a legitimate answer must be given.
This story must be told and it must be told with a depth and intimacy to rival Claudia Gray’s depiction of Leia in Bloodline. A few lines of exposition (and maybe a few flashbacks) in Episode VIII aren’t going to cut it for me. Luke Skywalker is too important a character for that! We need to understand why he turns his back on everything he was, everything he did, and everything he was instructed to do.
As I watched Yoda’s death scene in Return Of The Jedi a few more times, I wondered if perhaps Disney wanted us to buy that Yoda told Luke to pass on what he learned to his family alone. You could make the argument, from the phrasing, that Luke could have interpreted it that way. But we know this isn’t the case. In The Force Awakens, Han tells Rey and Finn that Luke was bringing up a new group of Jedi when Kylo Ren cut the order apart and Luke took off. We know that there can’t be that many Skywalkers around. So, in the six years between Bloodline and The Force Awakens, he was (finally!) training new Jedi. But the question remains, why did he wait? What was he doing??
In the Expanded Universe, Luke spent much of his time after the Battle of Endor learning everything he could about the Jedi to rebuild the Order. By seven years after Endor (in Kevin J. Anderson’s “The Jedi Academy Trilogy”) Luke was taking his first tentative steps in recruiting new Jedi and training them on Yavin 4. Yes there were problems. There were ups and downs. But Luke was passing on what he had learned and trying to restore the Jedi to the galaxy. Why isn’t he doing that in the Disney Canon? Why isn’t he advising the New Republic in any role? What could possibly be going on that’s more important than all of this?
All Luke Skywalker, last of the Jedi, does post Return Of The Jedi in the Disney Canon is…fight for shrubbery?? In the (weirdly lackluster) conclusion to Shattered Empire, our first new canon look at life post-Endor, we see Luke Skywalker and Lieutenant Shara Bey infiltrate the highly secure Imperial base on Vetine…to save two trees. They’re important I guess? Luke says of the trees, “These are all that remain of the tree that grew in the heart of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. The Force is with them.” And they are clearly important enough for Luke to risk his and Shara’s lives by invading this facility three months after the Battle of Endor. But they’re also important enough for Luke to just randomly and spontaneously give one away to Shara so she could plant it in her family garden?? What? So Luke redeems his father, fights for a shrub (a shrub we never hear about again), and then does absolutely nothing.
We’re supposed to believe that the man who destroyed the first Death Star, who became the last Jedi Knight, who learned from Yoda, who redeemed Anakin Skywalker so balance could be restored to the Force just walked away? He did nothing. For over twenty years. He was just sitting around…waiting? Why? WHY?
The cynic in me believes it’s because Lawrence Kasdan remains pissy that Lucas didn’t use the darker ending he wanted for Return Of The Jedi. As is well documented, Kasdan wanted Han Solo dead and Luke, so broken by his ordeal, to fade into the mist like Shane at the end of the famous Western of the same name. Lucas didn’t go that route (in part, I’d argue because he understands the purpose of myth and what lesson Star Wars was supposed to be teaching us) and Kasdan has been open about his displeasure with it. Well now The Force Awakens rolls around and look what happens! With Kasdan helping with the writing duties Han Solo dies (admittedly, in a powerful moment that I feel served the character and the story well) and Luke Skywalker has disappeared only to be found out in the wilderness alone, not unlike a wounded gunslinger haunted by what he’s had to do (something that doesn’t fit his character or the tone of the end of Return Of The Jedi at all).
Cynicism aside, this is still a MAJOR question that needs an appropriate answer. There’s no logical reason Luke Skywalker hasn’t been active in the galaxy since the Battle of Endor. And every instance he’s shown up in the Disney Canon has only served to make his absence and apparent apathy more confusing. So, when the time comes, I hope we get a story that honors who Luke Skywalker is. The relevant question for Episode VIII is no longer Where is Luke Skywalker? but rather What has Luke Skywalker been doing for THIRTY YEARS that is more important than rebuilding the Jedi? The answer, whenever Disney decides to give it to us, better be damn good. Luke Skywalker as a mythic hero, and we as Star Wars fans, deserve nothing less.
Check out these other Guest Talker posts by Michael Miller: