[Update: This is a repost from April 14th for #StarWarsDay. Enjoy!]
After being absent for virtually all of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens marketing, Luke Skywalker factored heavily into the first trailer for The Last Jedi that premiered at Celebration Orlando. Narrating the preview, the original trilogy protagonist turned many heads with his closing line, “It’s time for the Jedi to end.” The young farm boy who once dreamed of nothing more than following his father’s footsteps is now suggesting as a weary older man the entire Order should come to a close. It’s certainly a shocking change in perspective, playing into Daisy Ridley’s claim that Rey’s expectations of what Luke can offer greatly differ from the reality of the situation.
Given the ominous nature of the teaser’s closing shot (with Luke shadowed in a complete silhouette), some may interpret this as evidence Skywalker has turned to the Dark Side, but that most likely is not the case. Instead, Luke is very much a broken individual whose entire belief system has been shattered through his experiences. He tried to follow in Obi-Wan and Yoda’s footsteps to lead a new generation of Jedi, but Ben Solo’s transformation into Kylo Ren was a crushing blow. Luke blamed himself for everything that happened and went into exile, perhaps believing he causes more harm than good. Though viewers only saw glimpses of footage, it’s apparent that Luke no longer has faith in the Jedi way and is searching for a new path to follow.
Any longtime Star Wars fan can understand why that might be, as the franchise has frequently illustrated the Jedi’s history of failing. Their arrogance and blindness led to the rise of the Galactic Empire (which happened right under their noses), and Luke’s training of Ben helped the First Order come to power and eventually caused the death of his best friend. Even in the original trilogy – when the heroes won – the Jedi display rather dubious morals to advance their agenda. Both Obi-Wan and Yoda blatantly lied to Luke about his heritage so Luke would want to kill Darth Vader and end the reign of the Sith. Neither gave much thought to Anakin’s redemption, and only Luke’s kind-heartedness saved his father. Kenobi once said only the Sith deal in absolutes, but the Jedi seem to operate under the assumption that their principles are the only “right” ones and stick very closely to them.
The Jedi Code is a rather strict religious doctrine that requires its members to essentially suppress all emotion and live life as a robotic, celibate monk. The full Code can be read below:
There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the Force.
Following this, the Jedi Order became a cult-like establishment, and it’s difficult to say it did much good. Just in the prequels, the Jedi push the extent of their influence by getting involved with the political landscape of the galaxy and becoming military leaders because they relied more on the Code than the Force itself for guidance. Their teachings steered Anakin towards Palpatine, since whenever he tried to willingly work with his masters, they recited tired proverbs instead of helping him. The inciting incident that turned Anakin to the Dark Side was Mace Windu saying Chancellor Palpatine was too dangerous to be kept alive – echoing the words Palpatine said about Count Dooku. In their quest to achieve righteousness, the Jedi became very closed-minded and forced their system on anyone they deemed fit.
Not much is known about Luke’s post-Return of the Jedi travels, but Skywalker has been mentioned periodically in some of the other canon materials. A few of the recent novels allude to the fact that he is on a galaxy-wide quest for the “lore of the Jedi,” meaning he’s curious to learn more about their history. One of the more intriguing shots in the Last Jedi trailer is of a bookshelf that’s presumably on Ahch-To, indicating Luke found some readings in his search. Right now, all signs are pointing to him not liking what he found, causing him to leave the “Jedi way” behind. The possibility Luke has become a Gray Force user is even stronger now.
Though Luke has left the Jedi, he still embraces the Light Side of the Force, which is apparent through his investment in Rey’s training. Both Luke and Rey have flirted with Dark Side emotions like aggression and anger in the past, both are ultimately well-meaning people who have no truly evil intentions. It would appear that Skywalker’s goal in The Last Jedi is to establish something that can replace the Jedi Order for those who subscribe to the Light Side – a set of beliefs that isn’t as controlling as the old Code and allows for more freedom. Writer/director Rian Johnson could be looking to deconstruct the franchise’s history, tearing down everything we thought we knew about Star Wars and the Force in the process. That’s one way to celebrate the saga’s 40th anniversary.
It’s not a stretch to suggest the Jedi had a very backwards way of thinking (remember: they were forbidden to love), and instead of repeating past mistakes, Luke wants the basic practice to evolve so it can survive. He knows all too well that the “Jedi way” doesn’t always work, and he wants to do something different with Rey so she does not suffer the same fate as Ben. It sounds uncharacteristically egotistical of Luke to say he can change the way things have been for generations, but he’s been through a lot in his life and possesses plenty of knowledge and power to make it happen. With a student in the young scavenger from Jakku, he could be on his way to finally relinquishing darkness from the galaxy.