If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ve probably heard a creepy uncle figure whisper, “Have you ever heard of the tragedy of Darth Plageueis the Wise?” While ol’ Plageuis certainly came to a sad end, he ain’t got nothing on the tragic triad of Skywalkers who serve as the backbone of the Star Wars saga.
In this three-part series, we’ll explore the threads of tragedy that define and redeem Anakin Skywalker and his children, Luke Skywalker and Princess (now General) Leia Organa. (We’re also going to have a few laughs, make s’mores, and French braid each other’s hair. Because sometimes you need to laugh through the sad parts to keep from crying.)
This installment focuses on the tragedy of Luke Skywalker — the boy from Tattooine who was burdened not only with the hefty weight of knowledge, but the tragedy of knowing just enough.
The Tragedy of Knowing Just Enough: Luke Skywalker
In A New Hope, Luke Skywalker is an innocent boy who dreams of adventure — not knowing that with adventure, comes profound change. (Ask Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.) He wants to escape the mundane existence of his uncle’s moisture farm on Tattooine, and while Luke’s an orphan, he does have loving familial figures in his life in the form of his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru — and a steady supply of blue milk.
Luke knows enough about his father, but not the whole story. In time, he learns his father Anakin Skywalker was a pilot and a Jedi knight, but doesn’t find out the entire truth until much later.
In a string of non-coincidences, Luke meets Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi, a former friend of his father’s. What Luke doesn’t know is that after the Jedi order had been obliterated, Kenobi hid on Tattooine and kept watch from a distance over the child of his former padawan.
Due to Luke’s association with Kenobi, his life changes instantly. Luke was targeted by the Empire and poor Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru got torched by Stormtroopers looking for the boy and Ben. (There’s a running gag throughout Star Wars with Skywalker parental figures dropping like Spinal Tap drummers.)
And thus, Luke begins a life of adventure without truly knowing what it entails.
Under the Tutelage of Obi-Wan Kenobi
Armed with two plucky droids and his father’s lightsaber, Luke begins his Jedi training under Kenobi. While Luke has heard tales of the cantinas, smugglers, and adventures that lay beyond the moisture farm, he’s not quite savvy in the ways of the world to navigate bar fights and negotiation tactics with smugglers and other shady characters.
Luke learns just enough from Kenobi about using a lightsaber and tapping into the Force. He also learns that Darth Vader murdered his father. What he doesn’t know is that Obi-Wan is using murder as a metaphor. That the good man who was Anakin Skywalker was actually the same person as Darth Vader — the “Dark Side” alter-ego that consumed him.
Before Obi-Wan can offer Luke a full Jedi education (Jeducation?), he’s killed in a duel with Darth Vader as Luke helplessly watches on. Young Skywalker knows enough about the Force and swinging a lightsaber, but not enough to save his master.
And one more Skywalker parental figure bites the dust. If you’re Luke, this is likely taking a toll on you.
A New Mentor: Master Yoda
With Obi-Wan having become one with the Force, he recognizes that Luke knows just enough and needs to complete his Jedi training. From the Great Beyond, he directs him to find wise, ancient Jedi Master Yoda in the Dagobah system.
While Obi-Wan exiled himself to the populated desert planet of Tattooine, Yoda went into hiding on the isolated swamp planet of Dagobah. Having gone without any company for nearly two decades, Yoda launched into full-on prankster mode with young Skywalker before agreeing to tutor him in the ways of the Jedi.
This is understandable, given that Yoda wanted to be sure Luke could be trusted with a lightsaber, let alone the Force. Yoda had made a mistake before, having trained Anakin when he was considered “too old” (at the venerable age of 9) and well…. we all know how that turned out.
Before completing his training with Master Yoda, Luke feels through the Force that his friends are in trouble and wants to jet off to save them. Yoda cautions him that he needs to complete his training or risk falling to the Dark Side. Luke opts to take his chances, favoring his loyalty to his friends over his personal betterment and promises Yoda he will return.
Luke, I Am Your Father
Knowing just enough about the situation and possessed of just enough formal Jedi training beyond his extraordinary natural talents, Luke confronts Darth Vader — the man who he believes not only iced his father and turned Obi-Wan into a pile of Jedi-scented laundry, but who has taken his friends hostage.
The two men duel and Luke is doing damn good for a guy who’s had only a grand total of a few weeks of formal Jedi training. However, Vader gets the better of him, slicing off Luke’s hand before delivering the real blow: He tells Luke he is his father and asks him to join him on the dark path.
Luke is hesitant to believe that this monstrous figure is his father. Yet, through the power of the Force, the boy who knew just enough now understands a whole lot more. And in that instant, Luke recognizes the true burden of knowledge and all that comes with it.
Coming to Grips with Knowledge (With Just One Hand)
By the time Return of the Jedi rolls around, Luke is a changed man. He’s still idealistic, but somber. He’s accepted the loss of his hand (replaced with a cybernetic appendage), and the fact that Darth Vader is his father. He’s also taken to wearing all black and listening to Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes’ covers of My Chemical Romance songs.
After helping rescue Han and Leia from intergalactic gangster / space slug / Chris Christie lookalike Jabba the Hutt, Luke makes good on his promise to return to Yoda to resume training.
Sadly, Master Yoda is preparing to become one with the Force and dies shortly after Luke reaches him. Before he fades, Yoda has a revealing and heartfelt chat with Luke. Shortly after, Luke is visited by the Force Ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Knowing the truth, Luke has an opportunity to grill ol’ Ben about why he lied. Obi-Wan gives his reasons for fudging the truth about Anakin and drops another truth bomb on Luke: Leia is his sister.
Before Luke faces Vader again, he informs Leia that they are siblings — and the truth of their parentage. In stark contrast to Luke who often knows just enough, Leia notes that “somehow… I’ve always known.”
Knowing “Just Enough” as a Saving Grace
Luke knowing just enough keeps him perennially innocent throughout the saga — despite how uncharacteristically grizzled he becomes by Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (#NotMyLukeSkywalker). It’s Luke’s optimistic belief that there is still good in his father that prompts him to take action.
He puts his own life on the line to not only save his friends and the galaxy, but to prove to others and to his father that there is still, in fact, hope. In facing Vader, Luke also confronts the man who turned Anakin to the Dark Side: Emperor Palpatine (arguably, the biggest piece of shit in the Star Wars universe).
It’s Luke’s innocence that prevails and appeals to Darth Vader / Anakin Skywalker to redeem himself and defeat Palpatine once and for all. Anakin dies, but is redeemed thanks to the actions of his son.
Training a New Generation
Nearly 30 years elapse between the end of Jedi and when we find Luke in self-imposed exile on Ach-To in the final moments of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. We learn he rebuilt the Jedi Order only to see it fall to the hands of his nephew, Ben Solo (who gives Palpatine a run for his money as Biggest Piece of Shit in the Star Wars Universe).
After killing many of Luke’s New Jedi Order students and turning some to the Dark Side, Ben Solo dubs himself Kylo Ren. He becomes more emo than Luke ever was in ROTJ, and likely used his light saber to scrawl Dashboard Confessional lyrics on his dorm wall.
Luke blames himself. He had seen this power and potential to turn to the Dark Side in Ben. Whereas Luke’s trusting, still-innocent nature was right about there being good left in Anakin, he had underestimated the darkness in his nephew.
In a moment of weakness, Luke attempted to kill Ben Solo in his sleep. (Probably because he was tired of Ben walking around the Jedi temple and having to yell at him to put a shirt on.) Luke stopped himself before striking a death blow, but Ben Solo had seen Luke hovering above him and went ballistic.
While this feels incredibly unlike the Luke Skywalker many of us who grew up with the original trilogy knew and loved, it’s plausible that, Luke may have remembered how much death and destruction on a galactic scale Vader had caused and thought to prevent that by slaying his nephew in his sleep. It crossed his mind, but then he thought better of it. (While this is possible, it’s still out-of-character for Luke. Young Master Skywalker was never a sneaky little bitch boy who would try to off someone — let alone his own flesh and blood — in their sleep. He’d be more apt to have a face-to-face confrontation and try to reason with the boy, a la Return of the Jedi.)
However, Luke has to face the consequences for his actions. As a result, Luke feels immense guilt for having had an unwitting hand in creating the First Order that threatened the freedom of the galaxy as the Empire once did three decades prior.
You have to wonder if the decades of not knowing everything finally caught up to Luke. The “what if” factor and wondering if he’d be doing the galaxy a public service by icing his nephew before he could attain full power.
While in exile, Luke disconnects himself from the Force, vowing never to train another Jedi because the risk of them turning bad is too great. Luke agonizes over mistakes he had made, feeling he was inadequate as an instructor and didn’t know enough to effectively train an order.
However, Luke finds it within himself again to train Rey in the ways of the Jedi. And, like Yoda before him, has taken on a playful, prankster persona in training a new padawan.
When Luke hesitates to burn down the Jedi Tree of Knowledge on Ach-To and the sacred texts, Force Ghost Yoda appears and is able to ignite the fire, burning away the old to make room for the new.
Luke freaks out, concerned that no one else will ever hold the knowledge in those texts. He’s concerned for future generations being left without a link to knowledge. Yoda, having felt this sense of failure himself with the fall of the original Jedi Order, reassures Luke that all Rey (and future Jedi) need is contained within.
We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.
Yoda tells Luke that failure is natural and the greatest teacher of all. We’re not meant to know everything. Not even a Jedi Master will know everything. You just have to have faith that the ones you train will learn more than you.
Luke’s Last Stand
Luke takes one final leap of faith in Force-projecting himself in a last ditch effort to battle for the soul of Ben Solo on the salt planet of Crait. (Now this is the Luke Skywalker I know!) We witness the humble farm boy who accomplished so much, falsely believing he failed, and now striving for redemption — just like his father before him. And like his father, Luke eventually uses the last of his strength to return to his roots — committing an act of pure selflessness and belief in the power of redemption.
Before he completes his last act, Luke has the opportunity to say goodbye to his faithful droid R2D2, his sister Leia, and C3PO. (Once again, this feels much more like the Young Master Skywalker of the original trilogy.) Luke’s a changed man at this point. A sliver of the innocent farmboy remains, but in his final moments, Luke is at peace with the uncertain. He’s okay with not knowing what lies ahead — but he will still try.
It takes the last of his strength and although it doesn’t produce the desired effect, Luke makes a “haunting” impression on Kylo Ren. He will mess with Ben Solo’s psyche from beyond the grave and attempt to catch his conscience.
Luke Skywalker’s life may have ended, but his story did not end entirely. As a Force Ghost, Luke appears to his former apprentice Rey, helping her also come to grips with a pretty heavy truth and the burden she would now bear as the last Jedi. He was also one of the voices of the Jedi of the past who rooted Rey on in her final confrontation with Grampy Palpatine.
Now that Luke is a Force Ghost, he’s still learning and still growing in the Force, as demonstrated by his newfound ability to lift his X-wing out of the water. (Take that, Empire Strikes Back-era, Luke!) “No one is ever really gone.” And no one ever really stops learning.
Stay tuned for more posts in this series.