I Finally Figured Out Who the Greatest Ever Jedi Was and It’s Luke Skywalker and Because Of the Events In The Last Jedi
The negativity that so many Star Wars fans have voiced for The Last Jedi is one of the more baffling things I’ve witnessed since I consider myself one of the more devoted fans and I came away from viewing it rather elated. One of the reasons I was so elated was I finally had an answer to who the greatest Jedi of all time was. It’s 100 percent Luke Skywalker.
This was a discussion I’ve had many times before TLJ with other Star Wars nerds and I had settled on Obi-Wan. He was one of the more powerful Jedi in the series but it was mainly that his compassion separated him from his more dogmatic colleagues. He was also able to move past the rigid outlook they often had more easily.
But until The Last Jedi, no one had better demonstrated an understanding and embrace of all the things Yoda taught in The Empire Strikes Back– lessons I’d gather he learned after watching how badly the Jedi order failed– than Luke Skywalker. It would seem, judging from the outcry, that this outcome was not what a lot of fans expected but honestly some of those expectations were odd. I had one friend who was disappointed Luke wasn’t pulling Star Destroyers out of orbit and crashing them like he did in one of the Expanded Universe stories. I’m guessing there were a lot of fans expecting some sort of “badass” display of destructive power from him, like maybe watching him cut down legions of troops with nothing but a lightsaber. But that sort of screams dark side Sith behavior to me. At the very least it’s drenched in the old school Jedi way of violent absolutism. To me, that sort of behavior flies in the face of Yoda’s teachings. After all, wasn’t it Yoda that said the Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never attack?
Rian Johnson’s take on Luke felt like a studied interpretation down to the smallest character detail, including Luke’s faults. For all the talk that Johnson didn’t get Star Wars, I actually saw the film as the work of someone who is likely a bigger Star Wars nerd than me. His choices often come from the picky minutiae that fans get made fun of for knowing.
Many had a problem with Luke turning his back on The Resistance. Even Hamill himself felt this was out of character. As a side note, I thought Mark Hamill’s portrayal of Luke in the OT bordered on corny at times, so I was happy to see this character given some different texturing with the grumpy, curmudgeonly Luke we got here. We’ve seen the patient, ethereal type teachers so often in these films that showing us an impatient, hardass teacher was actually refreshing. And Mark Hamill is excellent as a result. I’d argue he has never been better.
I did not have a problem believing he’d turn his back nor did I feel anything about this portrayal was out of character. The choices Johnson made with Luke come from precedents set by his portrayal in past films coupled with Luke learning things about the Jedis history since we last saw him. Luke has always had a problem with impulsiveness, impatience and letting his emotions get the better of him. That struggle in controlling them is what made him interesting and gave his journey its stakes. On at least two occasions this character flaw was near disastrous for him—rushing to face Vader before he was ready, and coming within a hairs breath of replacing Vader as Palpatine’s brand new apprentice. Both actions were set in motion for benevolent reasons, the former to save his friends and the latter to save his sister from being turned, but they were impulsive, emotional decisions that almost cost him his life and his soul, respectively. In the former case, he messed up so badly that he needed the very friends he came to save to come and save him. By the way, isn’t there another major Star Wars character whose tendency to be impulsive and emotional would get him into trouble?
Which brings me to my next point. The other factor that adds authenticity of Luke’s decision to exile was in his accurate interpretation of why the Jedi died off in the first place. Until the prequels we had only ever heard about how benevolent and just the Jedi were. It was almost a shock to see Lucas turn around and depict those same Jedi as full of hubris, pride, and what can almost be called a bloodlust that blinded them to better solutions– the biggest example being the Jedis’ treatment of Anakin. To put it bluntly, if the Jedi, and Mace Windu especially, weren’t such dicks to Anakin the entire time they knew him they would have seen that, though he was damaged, he was a well meaning person begging for some sort of guidance. His not fitting into the immovable Jedi mold was not a flaw in Anakin, but a flaw in them. The Jedi were blindly beholden to doctrine that dealt in the same absolutes that they accused only the Sith of dealing in (and still justified breaking those doctrines when it suited them). How drastically would’ve things been different if Anakin didn’t have to keep his marriage to Padme a secret? What if he could’ve actually turned to his friends when confronted with her dying? Without someone among friends that he could trust enough to be open with and validate his concerns, he was easy prey for a sympathetic ear to take advantage of him. Luke’s had nothing but time alone on an island to study this history and if it is indeed canon that Anakin’s force ghost has been visiting Luke over the years, maybe he’s getting the tale straight from the horse’s mouth.
I was tickled to see this failing of the Jedi acknowledged in a non-prequel film. Luke brings up this very hubris and narrow vision as why Darth Sidious flourished in the first place, right under their noses, and set in motion their undoing. More importantly he knew this kind of failure from experience. Like Mace Windu, blinded by absolutes, giving into hate and fear and attempting to ex-judicially murder Sidious, Luke nearly killed his nephew, Ben Solo. Even if only for a spilt second, he caught himself following in Windu’s shoes, perhaps even recalling the time when giving in to hatred and fear nearly had him killing his own father. Anakin witnessing Mace’s betraying of the Jedi way further pushed him all in on the Sith just like Ben witnessing Luke’s betrayal was enough to push him beyond reach. And the Jedi order failed all over again. It would seem the Jedi way, with its “you’re either light or dark” simplistic view of human emotion, was folly. This is what comes from the hubris of anyone thinking they can control and teach the Force and worse, Luke’s mistakes directly brought about his best friends’ kid becoming one of the most powerful Sith in the galaxy. I could see anyone becoming demoralized, even broken by this. Not being able to trust yourself with an incredible power is a scary thing and unlike the Jedi of old, Luke saw that he was losing control. This same thing happened to Rey in Rise of Skywalker when she also tried to run and hide out on Ahch-to.
Luke was never the solid, all knowing, super cool person that a lot of people seemed to expect here. In a way, how this movie deals with the Skywalker legend in story plays off the real world Skywalker legend a lot of fans had in their heads. Luke struggling with something makes him human, relatable and far more interesting than the legend. It also allows him to have an arc beyond, “Rey’s teacher”.
Now that we’ve covered his motivation, here’s the thing—you’re supposed to disagree with Luke in this film. You’re supposed to be upset with him turning his back the Resistance. Disagreeing with or being disappointed in a characters actions is not the same as those actions being unmotivated. His arc in The Last Jedi is how he learns to overcome his guilt and throw off that almost martyr complex he’s settled into. It took the presence of someone like Rey, with her innate compassion and (maybe a little naïve) hope, interrupting his cycle of despair and inspiring him to reconcile with the Force enough to be open to visits from Force Ghosts again. “We are what they grow beyond” is what Yoda, the wisest of all Jedi, tells him. There’s only so much responsibility Luke can take for what his students will become beyond his instruction and that includes Kylo Ren. At a certain point, Kylo is his own person making his own choices. It’s not up to Luke. You can’t make someone learn the important lessons, you can only trust that you’ve given them the tools to learn on their own. That means allowing the possibility for failure. Even in yourself. “The greatest teacher, failure is”. Failure is actually necessary for success as it’s how we learn what doesn’t get the results we want. Yoda agrees with Luke that the Jedi way needs to change because its rigidity doesn’t allow for the very human trait of failure. The rigid emotional control exercised by the Jedi of old is not natural or even healthy. It’s also not on Luke to try and carry the entire mantle of the Jedis’ failures because that stems from the same vanity that gave the Jedi the idea that they had some sort of ownership over the Force in the first place. He doesn’t own the Jedi brand and it’s not his place to end it. He needed to go through all this to finally realize what it means to become one with the Force and it freed him to become the master we always hoped to see.
It leads to the climax of the film and a confrontation that shows us the most badass and powerful Luke has ever been. He doesn’t pull Star Destroyers out of orbit. He doesn’t go on a lightsaber rampage. Luke Skywalker instead does something we’ve never seen in a Star Wars movie before, and I’m not talking about the doppelganger ability which indeed was canon before this movie. I’m talking about a Jedi Master single-handedly stopping an entire advancing army without ever firing a shot. He uses Jedi Jiu-Jitsu to exploit Kylo’s weaknesses and cause him to defeat himself. He is in complete control here. Instead of mass destruction, Luke demonstrates sheer mastery in the light side of The Force. He wins through peaceful means. He fulfills in every way, everything Obi-Wan and Yoda were trying to teach him post fall of the Jedi order. He uses the Force for wisdom and defense, never attack and saves his Resistance, by himself. He also possibly plants the seed of redemption in his nephew by letting him see that as long as hatred is his dominant state it will always bring about his undoing. It was indeed a new path for the Jedi, one that took the established lessons of the previous films in the series, distilled them down to their essence and finally put them in motion.
So how is that even remotely a disappointing end to Luke’s story? Instead of the borderline totalitarianism of the old Jedi way, which is about withholding and gate keeping, his actions inspire and empower in such a way that it reverberates throughout the galaxy. At least until The Rise of Skywalker.