Star Wars: The Last Jedi divided fans when it revealed the fate of Luke Skywalker, having turned his back on his family, his friends, and the entire galaxy along with them. As a result, the First Order rose unchecked, putting the blood of millions on Luke's hands--at least to his harshest critics. But a new glimpse into Luke's unseen adventures suggests he may not be to blame at all, and that his self-imposed exile wasn't just his decision... but the direct influence of Emperor Palpatine, only thought to have died in Return of the Jedi.
Now that fans know Emperor Palpatine is returning for Star Wars 9, it's time to reconsider what they thought they knew about Luke's victory, and the reasons he retired on Ahch-To. It's tragic enough that Luke Skywalker lost faith, but he soon replaced it with guilt, anger, and doubt instead. Since those emotions and defeats proved far more effective in driving him out of the war and into isolation than a lightsaber ever could have, it's worth reconsidering what role Emperor Palpatine played in Luke's eventual exile. Because as it turns out, Luke decided to do exactly what the Emperor always hoped he would.
The First Time The Emperor Reached Out to Luke
As hard as it may be for some to believe that the Emperor influenced Luke well beyond his presumed death, the newly released Star Wars: Age of Rebellion - Luke Skywalker is compelling evidence. The issue is just one of a larger series, intended to flesh out the new Star Wars canon with never-before-seen moments, conflicts, or internal conflicts. And it's in this new canonical flashback that Star Wars fans get to witness a moment they never knew took place: the first time Emperor Palpatine reached out for Luke Skywalker using the Force, and made contact.
The Emperor is successful in making contact--even if Luke could only sense a sudden presence of darkness, and Palpatine could only convey suggestions. Most fans will assume that the Emperor reached out to Luke in an attempt to seduce him using the Dark Side, and compel him to become his new apprentice (as he did when they finally met aboard the second Death Star). But as this story from Greg Pak, Chris Sprouse, Scott Koblish, and Stefan Landini shows, the Emperor didn't want to pull Luke closer. He wanted to push him right out of the war completely.
The Emperor Almost Talked Luke Into Quitting
If you believe that the Emperor wanted to possess Luke Skywalker, like he had intended to do with Anakin, then this new story may be a problem. But in hindsight, it does seem like the simplest strategy the Emperor could have taken. By this point, Luke has distinguished himself as not just a hero of the Rebellion, but the sole reason for their success in defying the Empire. And knowing that he is a Skywalker, Palpatine stokes all of the same pride, resentment, and doubt in Luke as he did in Anakin, to justify one action: fly away. Leave the war behind. Realize that authority figures are all the same... and don't serve them when you can serve yourself.
It's a strong reminder of just what made Palpatine so successful a leader and manipulator. More than anyone else, Star Wars is the story of Sheev Palpatine, exposing and taking advantage of hypocrisy, greed, ego, apathy, and weakness. When people like himself or Anakin (or Luke) are capable of doing so much on their own, any hindrance can lead to frustration. So at the precise moment that Luke's instincts in the Force are ignored by his commander, and thousands of lives are put in danger because of it, Palpatine makes his move. As Luke Skywalker's eyes roll back, losing consciousness and succumbing to the power of Palpatine, the readers see what Luke does, and what Palpatine wants him to: what would happen if Luke stopped fighting?
Luke has a clear vision of what would await him if he decided to turn his back on the bureaucracy, corruption, and endless struggle of the Rebels and the Empire, and decided to just fly away to a distant world. Once there, he sinks his iconic X-wing beneath the waves, and tosses aside his lightsaber, informing R2-D2 that those items are no longer of any use. In some obvious ways, Luke's vision of retirement is a return to the life that he would have had if he never left Tatooine in search of glory and adventure. And stumbling upon a small community of farmers, Luke finds his place, finds love, and grows old with children at his knee.
At this point in Luke's story, he still believed that his life could hold such happiness. But the fantasy is soon broken, and Luke regains his senses in time to make a heroic rescue of the Rebel soldiers in peril. The Emperor is enraged... but remember: this is literally the Emperor's first attempt to deal with Luke Skywalker, a Jedi Knight far less corruptible than his father had been. And with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker now approaching, fans must ask themselves if the Emperor's seduction ended up working after all.
Luke Gave The Emperor What He Wanted (Eventually)
Sure, the urgency and immediacy of the war combined with Luke's own spirit and youthful exuberance pulled him out of his darkness the first time. But what about when the war is won, the Rebels victorious and the Empire vanquished, and the universe saved... only for history to simply repeat itself with a new empire, a new rebellion, and another family torn apart? From the description above, it should be clear that the temptation offered by the Emperor (leave the war, sink your X-wing, and stop believing you can change the galaxy) is almost exactly what Luke ends up doing. And for mostly the same reasons.
Even ignoring the evidence that Emperor Palpatine corrupted Ben Solo, not Snoke, setting Luke's exile into motion, the case is compelling. Back during the Rebellion, Palpatine needed to drive Luke away from the fight so it could be won. When the new Star Wars trilogy begins, it is made abundantly clear that Luke may be the key to this entire conflict. And no matter what, the survival of the First Order demands that the Resistance NEVER find Luke Skywalker. With the filmmakers admitting that the return of Emperor Palpatine was always the plan, and he was therefore still potentially influencing events through or beyond the Force, this new encounter connects the dots perfectly.
If the First Order is Palpatine's second chance, and he needed Luke to actually run away and stay away this time, then it's no coincidence that the Emperor's original plan finally comes true. We wouldn't say that it lets Luke completely off the hook, since he was manipulated by Emperor Palpatine just like his father... but it would sure make his decision to 'give up' on the galaxy easier to understand.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019