Luke Skywalker Is Way More Awesome Than You Thought

In a lot of discussions and forums, the way I see people speak of Luke Skywalker is usually with some form of disdainful tolerance, or a tone of “He’s alright, but this other character is so much cooler.” There’s also a Buzzfeed article explaining why Luke’s the “absolute worst.” But the people who criticize Luke haven’t considered all the reasons he’s actually a soundly crafted character:

 

  1. He makes mistakes.

Luke Burning homestead

In A New Hope, Luke is designed to look weak. The film is a modified form of the Hero’s Journey, and that journey involves a weak character growing into a strong one.

This weakness doesn’t just fulfill a story type, however; it actually makes us understand who Luke is and care about him. The poorly thought-out Buzzfeed article points out some of his valid weaknesses (among other completely useless details) as though they make the audience hate him, but some of what Luke does actually makes us relate: he’s a just a restless kid with little to look forward to. He’s beat up, saved by an old man, and then he just complains about his mind-numbing tasks that he’ll have to do for the rest of his life.

Like a lot of people, Luke’s made some stupid mistakes and has a rather dim future, but he wants something more. His hope to join something useful, to have a purpose and an adventure, is a pretty universal desire. Seeing him play with a model of a ship shouldn’t make us scoff—it should make us realize that we’re a lot like Luke, just finding some kind of menial entertainment when we really want a powerful, useful journey to go on. Seeing this flawed farmboy helps us root for him to succeed in becoming something greater, and it sets a stark contrast against his former self when he finally does.

 

  1. He grows up.

Luke with Vader

Episode IV to Episode VI actually involves a huge transformation for Luke. Several facets of his character mature, and it’s impressive in how many ways Luke advances without the audience even recognizing it:

 

Skill:

This is perhaps the most obvious of growths, but Luke used to only be a farmboy who could shoot rats from his T-16—by the time he’s on the second Death Star, he’s destroyed the second largest space station ever constructed, helped bring down one of the greatest crime lords in the galaxy, and become the last Jedi Master to survive the Empire. Shortly after all these accomplishments, Luke single-handedly defeats Darth Vader and manages to convince this same man, the personal servant of Emperor Palpatine, to join his side.

Temperament:

In A New Hope, Luke not only whined about his own struggles—he repeatedly ridiculed Han’s personal ship, and he panicked whenever they were in trouble. By Return of the Jedi, he stops panicking and ridiculing, and actually does the opposite—he’s the one comforting a blinded Han, arguing with Darth Vader, and chuckling when they’re captured by a tribe of weapon-laden Ewoks. Even when he’s traveling in the Tydirium shuttle, just past Darth Vader, he informs the crew that Vader knows he’s on the ship—and while everyone else glances nervously to him and denies his assertion, he just stares calmly back at the approaching Star Destroyer, completely in charge of himself.

Motives:

Luke used to just seek out adventure (and possibly revenge) because of everything that happened on Tatooine. But by the Battle of Endor, he’s made sacrifices and risked himself to confirm other’s safety—he abandons his training to save Han and Leia on Bespin, returns to Tatooine to rescue Han, and even seeks out Vader himself to convince him that he’s redeemable. Luke hardly even has a plan when he turns himself in to the Imperials on Endor—all he means to do is speak to his father and convert him, knowing full well that, if he fails, he’ll undoubtedly be destroyed.

Understanding:

This is arguably the most extensive expansions of Luke’s character. Gone is the farmboy that knew the evil of the Empire and the beauty of the innocent Jedi; throughout Episode VI, we see Luke less and less pacified by broad strokes of good and evil. He’s disillusioned from Kenobi’s minced words, he chokes two Gamorrean guards without warning, and he chops off his father’s hand before regaining control of himself, all the while veering closer to the dark side. Luke’s no longer waltzing around with a clear understanding of good guys and bad guys, but actually showing inner conflict and empathy towards his enemies.

There are even cinematic clues showing this development in understanding. In Return of the Jedi, just as Vader discovers Luke has a sister, the Jedi stands at a point where light strikes half of his face and shadow covers the other half—representing the calls from both sides of the Force. Not only does the lighting in this one scene represent an inner conflict, but Luke’s costumes throughout the trilogy also represent his leaning away from a romanticized hero: in Episode 4, he generally wears white, signifying his innocence and pureness. By Episode 5, it’s darker whites and grays, showing he’s maturing and his morality possibly darkening. By Episode 6, Luke is fully clad in black, the colors of Vader and the dark side—until he’s fully resisted the Emperor and removes Vader’s mask, at which point his outer jacket has opened to reveal a white cloth just over his heart. From costume and lighting to action and dialogue, we can see that Luke grows throughout the Original Trilogy to become a man conflicted with the complex subtleties of what is morally right and wrong.

 

All of these shifts in character reflect a realistic and impressive character growth. Luke goes from an immature boy to a powerful, confident, motivated, and questionable hero. Critics can decry his mistakes or stupid actions, but they can’t deny that, by the end, he becomes an incredibly written, deeply layered character.

 

  1. He just keeps getting better. (SPOILERS to The Force Awakens ahead)

Luke Awesome Stare

Whether examining the “Legends” or the canon stories, it’s clear that Luke’s still expanding into a better character.

In the Expanded Universe, Luke undergoes a number of feats that I won’t detail here, because that would require choosing which of his many glorious moments are the most powerful. But in many of the novels, he’s an even wiser and deeper character, questioning the morality of both his own organization and his enemies with equal veracity. Take a look at the Thrawn Trilogy if you want to see what I mean.

Yet now, in the Force Awakens, the little I’ve seen of Luke is almost superior to the thousands of pages I’ve read before. That one last glimpse, that forlorn expression of his, won’t get out of my head for years. Whenever we see more of him and understand what happened, I’m confident it’ll only add to the many layers of this already incredible character.

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11 thoughts on “Luke Skywalker Is Way More Awesome Than You Thought

  1. Luke is probably the most badass character, he achieves so much more than Anakin does (as a Jedi).
    Han may be the coolest (he is from the start – because he shot first!), Leia is a great female character, albeit sadly the only one of importance in the original trilogy, but Luke is just awesome, and we as an audience take great pleasure seeing him grow throughout the OT.
    Can’t wait to see what he has under his belt for Episode VIII!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great points. I share your disappointment in Leia being the only female of importance in the OT–fortunately Rey is shaping up to be much more important and powerful. Can’t wait for her or Luke in Episode VIII.

      Like

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more. Luke is my favorite character in the Saga by far and I think he’s one of the most important fictional characters we have in popular culture. There is so much to him – his journey, his growth, and the nuanced lessons he teaches us as viewers. I’ve never understood why he gets the flack he does from our culture at large.

    I’m actually very, very nervous about how they will develop Luke in the Disney Canon. I’m a huge fan of the Expanded Universe and have happily followed Luke’s journey in that storyline for years. From what I’ve gathered in the Disney Canon so far (‘Bloodline’ and the ‘Aftermath’ books specifically) Luke seems to have essentially become a “private citizen,” not even having started to reform the Jedi Order up to six years before ‘The Force Awakens.’ What?? Yoda’s literal last instruction was to pass on what he learned! So yes, I am eagerly awaiting how they fill in the gaps in Episode VIII!

    Thank you for your post and for standing up for this farm boy-turned-Jedi! This made me feel all warm and fuzzy to read :). I’m with you. We all can benefit from reflecting on Luke Skywalker and trying to embrace the lessons he models for us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the article and you agree–but I don’t think you should be too worried about the Canon. I read ‘Bloodline,’ and though you don’t get to hear much about him and he’s not involved in the politics, it sounds like Luke’s just focused on learning more about the Jedi and teaching others. I’m sure they’ll have him doing something productive between all the films. They’ll have to, to your point, if they want him to live up to the legacy he once had in the EU. But at the end of the day, what we’ve already been given shows you’re right–there’s plenty of lessons that Luke’s given for us to learn and benefit from, even if he changes by the Sequel Trilogy. I think they’ll continue that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like your optimism…something Luke would share! He didn’t redeem his father by being pessimistic after all. It is interesting to see how the characters evolve (whether similarly or differently) between the EU and the Disney Canon. I know a lot of people like to fight about one being better than the other. As a Star Wars lover, sure there are stories I don’t like in both, but I’m just happy to find all the stories I DO enjoy in both. So may the Force continue to be with Luke in the Disney Canon :). And let the adventures continue. Woo hoo!

        Liked by 1 person

        • You’re right. There are tons of stories, and though I can name a few that are better than others, I’m just glad Star Wars is so wide that you can find incredible tales wherever you look. Hopefully Disney will just be able to produce another great one.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow I thought I was the only person who noticed the red and blue lighting on Luke’s face during the ROTJ duel signifying his struggle against the Darkside. That is a detail of film making and media that most would miss. Another great article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! It definitely is a subtle hint, but I’ve watched these films too many times. They’re packed with these kinds of things, and they really help me appreciate all the different aspects of the movies, from subtleties of lighting to full development of characters.

      Liked by 1 person

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