WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Luke Skywalker story in Star Wars: The Last Jedi isn't the one fans used to know, but is the loss worth it? It's a question that fans have been forced to ask since Disney purchased Lucasfilm, announcing a new era of Star Wars storytelling that would render the decades of Extended Universe stories merely "legends." The Force Awakens showed that the life and legacy of Luke Skywalker was no longer as glorious, as heroic, or as influential as they had been in the previously canonical novels, video games, and comics books. With The Last Jedi forever changing the Star Wars brand, fans were forced to accept that Luke Skywalker's story wasn't just changed - it was finished, ending with his Force-connected death like Ben Kenobi and Yoda before him.
As tempting as it is for Last Jedi supporters to dismiss detractors - often suggesting that strong, passionate fan investment in previous stories and creators is a bad thing - they have an argument. When even Mark Hamill says Last Jedi isn't "his" Luke Skywalker, questions need to be asked. Questions weighing not only the new stories made possible by Last Jedi, but the ones that were tossed aside to make room. And comparing the new, canonical story of Luke Skywalker to the version fans had before leads to a disappointing, but clear conclusion.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi details the last days of Luke Skywalker, but his role in the new canon, like the legacy of the Skywalker name, has been largely diminished for the sake of newer, younger characters.
The Original Story of Luke Skywalker
Since many Star Wars movie fans may only know the chapters of Luke's life told on film, his future beyond Return of the Jedi has always been a mystery. A mystery that countless writers and artists spent years expanding, beginning with his ascent to the rank of a Jedi Knight. His faith in The Force and the Jedi values that both he and his father lived by restores, Luke set out to restore peace and power to the Light Side. The threats facing the galaxy were far from over, but their eventual defenders would hail from Luke's New Jedi Order. Originally founded on Yavin IV, Luke's real grapple with the Dark Side was only beginning. He had seen what it could do to his father, but seeing it take his students would push him to new limits.
Some will say that certain stories of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master were more successful than others. Perhaps joining the cloned Emperor Palpatine to bring down the Empire from the inside (and getting drawn into the Dark himself) was a story not fit for every fan. But one thing was true of Luke's many missions, failures, and betrayals: he grew wiser from each of them. Becoming wise in the balance of The Force, Luke learned to carry his burden: training students despite his doubts, not for glory or pride, but to keep the Dark Side at bay.
In the end, Luke Skywalker rose to the rank of Grand Master of the Jedi Order. He fell in love with Mara Jade and fathered a son who would, like all other descendants, be tempted to the Dark Side. But all of them would return to the Light, establishing the true destiny of the Skywalker line. Light and Dark would wage war forever, but like Anakin, and Luke, and Ben, the Light Side would always triumph.
The New Luke Skywalker (The Last Jedi)
The new canon of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi don't flesh out Luke's entire story, merely the most important parts of it. By which we mean his failure in training Ben Solo, causing his nephew to be lost to the Dark Side. At which point Luke seemingly went into exile on a distant, forgotten world - leaving the galaxy, the New Republic, the First Order's brutality, and his family behind to... well, die. His grief can be understood by every fan, since movie Luke is as unsure of his own skills as the Luke of the earliest post-RotJ novels. But even if Luke returns to save the day in The Last Jedi by stalling Ben Solo, so the Resistance can survive another day... his legacy isn't glowing.
In Mark Hamill's opinion, the Last Jedi claims the Jedi "give up," which rings as false to him as many fans. It's not the first time Hamill has mentioned his own concerns about the story for Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, which were ultimately put aside for the sake of the script, and director Rian Johnson's vision (he's only the actor, after all). Regardless of where you fall on these particular topics of conversation, the movie states it plainly: Luke feels that he failed Ben, and would rather hide from the galaxy than try to right that wrong.
That weakness and doubt color Luke's whole story, which is why his return to the battlefield (from across the galaxy) carries so much weight. After years spent running from his mistakes, he uses the last of his life to face them.
Luke's Story is Ruined... So Rey Can Have It Instead
Luke's lightsaber fight with Kylo Ren makes an impact, but only because he has fallen so far from the Jedi he used to be. He believed in goodness so much, his own father - the Empire's enforcer - returned to the Light. By The Last Jedi the chance to save Ben has long passed, now apprentice to Supreme Leader Snoke. In the end, Luke's doubts overwhelmed his beliefs, his mission as the last Jedi, and his hope that good can triumph over evil. It is only Rey's belief that draws him out of seclusion (with some help from Yoda), causing him to give his nephew a new prophecy. Luke (and the movie) show that Rey will succeed where he has failed. She will begin the Resistance anew. And she will ensure that he is not "The Last Jedi."
The problem for many disappointed fans isn't with that promised story, but that it used to be Luke Skywalker's story. Even if Luke's future in Star Wars is full of potential, his past is set. It's even impossible to claim that this new trilogy's story won't be better overall (the fact that Rey's parents are not important means a new, powerful message can be sent). The Star Wars fans have every right to rejoice at seeing the torch passed to a new generation, and audience... while regretting that the previous heroes' story is being handed off along with it.
As Yoda so wisely said, it is the master's true burden to be what a new generation "grows beyond." Or in billion-dollar franchises, as Luke Skywalker now knows, what they grow in place of, instead.
Header Image art by Phil Noto