I am known around these parts as the Luke Skywalker fan. He was my favorite Star Wars character when I first started liking Star Wars, and that distinction has never changed. In anticipation of The Last Jedi, I thought it would be fun to rank the ten greatest Luke Skywalker appearances, from both Canon and Legends. My criteria are threefold: characterization and agency, appropriate use of the Force for the time period, and impact on other characters. Note that I am not including live action appearances, because it’s almost impossible to rank Luke in the Original Trilogy and his cameo in The Force Awakens, while wonderful, isn’t enough to judge his character in the Sequel Trilogy. Without further adieu…
Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor by Matthew Stover
Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor is the first book to which I point every Luke fan. It was released toward the tail end of the Legends era, at a time when Luke’s characterization in the ongoing series wasn’t the greatest. When it came out, in fact, I wasn’t keeping up with Star Wars books but I kept hearing great things about this book, and I was not disappointed. Stover does a wonderful job portraying Luke’s strong connection to the Force coupled with his farmboy optimism. Six months post Endor, Luke has the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders, but it doesn’t make him bitter and cynical. Some of my favorite lines about Luke come from this book. The first, from Kar Vastor, emphasizes Luke’s distinction as a Jedi: “But unlike the Knights of old, Jedi Luke Skywalker, you are not afraid of the dark.” In the novel’s framing story, Luke says, “None of the stories people tell about me can change who I really am.” Considering Luke’s mythical status in the Sequel Trilogy, this line feels more timely than ever. Don’t worry that this novel is considered Legends. If you’re a Luke fan and you haven’t read it yet, run, don’t walk, to your local library or bookstore or ebook retailer and get it.
Battlefront 2 (campaign by Mitch Dyer and Walt Williams)
Battlefront 2 is the newest addition to Luke’s canon storyline. Although the video game’s single player campaign focuses on Iden Versio and Inferno Squad, the player character in the third level is none other than Luke Skywalker. In the mission Luke is on the planet Pillio to explore one of the Emperor’s mysterious observatories. Along the way you rescue Del Meeko, one of the members of Inferno Squad, who was sent to destroy the observatory. The mission is short but packs a punch. Del, once a staunch Imperial, begins to question the Empire’s place in the galaxy along with his place in the Empire, all because of the actions of Luke, a person he was taught to fear above all others. Luke radiates calm, competence, and above all, friendliness–something Del probably doesn’t get much of in the Empire. In the end, Luke challenges Del “to be better,” but it’s not condescending; you can sense that Luke is also teaching himself this lesson. Even though this takes place around the same time as Mindor in a completely different timeline, the two portrayals of Luke are as close to perfect as you get outside of Mark Hamill’s live-action performance. If you haven’t played Battlefront 2, go check out the Pillio mission on YouTube. You will not be disappointed.
The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry
Jason Fry is one of my favorite Star Wars authors, and I was thrilled to hear that he was writing one of the middle grade entries in the Journey to The Force Awakens publishing line. Not only that, he was writing about my favorite character. We start out not just with Luke, but with Wedge Antilles, one of my favorite X-wing pilots ever, and Commander Narra, another Legends import to canon. I was so happy Fry portrayed Luke not only as a student of the Force, but as a competent pilot as well. Once a flyboy, always a flyboy. Luke later investigates the Temple of Eedit, an old Jedi temple, trains in the Force, and has a confrontation with Sarco Plank, a background character in The Force Awakens. Although Luke is still a novice in the Force, his determination shines through in Fry’s writing. The artwork from Phil Noto is top notch as well. I cannot wait to see how Fry writes Luke in The Last Jedi novelization.
The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu
Another new addition to the canon, The Legends of Luke Skywalker takes a page from Mindor in that the reader isn’t certain what parts of the story are true and what are myths and tall tales. Told in six interludes and a framing story, The Legends of Luke Skywalker portrays Luke as a literal mythical figure who is known throughout the galaxy in varying ways. No matter who encounters him, Imperials and Rebels alike, Luke inspires confidence and the desire to, as he challenged Del, be better. It’s a lot different than other stories on this list, which present a more straightforward narrative and use Luke’s point of view, but it’s a wonderful depiction of Luke’s impact on the galaxy. And if you’re looking for hints about what Luke did after Endor, you get a good sense in this book as well as Battlefront.
Shattered Empire by Greg Rucka
Shattered Empire was the first canon appearance of Luke after Return of the Jedi prior to The Force Awakens. He’s only present in the fourth issue of the comic miniseries, but his story, deftly told by Rucka, packs a hell of a punch. Accompanied by Shara Bey, mother of Poe Dameron, Luke rescues two Force trees from an Imperial installation. He gives one to Shara to plant near her new home on Yavin 4, and it’s implied he plants the second tree at the location of his Jedi temple, wherever that may be. Luke is efficient and powerful in the Force, but not ruthless, and he has a wonderful conversation with Shara about the importance of living the life you fought a war to live.
The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn
Five years ago, if someone had asked me where to start with the Expanded Universe, I would have said Heir to the Empire. Now, even after the Legends reboot, I’ll still suggest Heir to the Empire most of the time. It’s one of the most influential Star Wars books of all time, and it was the first out of universe appearance of our heroes after the Battle of Endor. Luke is 28 years old in this series–an experienced soldier, confident Jedi, and reluctant teacher. He spends a lot of these books torn between continuing to serve the New Republic in an official capacity and wanting to be a Jedi. He meets Mara Jade and Talon Karrde, two important allies who continue to show up in the Legends timeline for many years to come. Zahn does a great job extrapolating what Luke might be like five years after Return of the Jedi. While this is not at all similar to what’s become of Luke in canon, it makes a great “what if” scenario, and it still feels completely realistic. The presence of Mara Jade, and knowing about Luke’s future relationship with her, makes this series even more special.
Survivor’s Quest by Timothy Zahn
Here we get Luke and Mara again, but this story takes place about thirteen years after The Thrawn Trilogy, and they are finally married! If you’ve ever wondered what Luke would be like as part of a super awesome Jedi couple, look no further than Survivor’s Quest. Luke has fully dedicated to teaching a new generation of Jedi, but he’s conflicted as he learns more about the old Jedi Order and finds himself disagreeing with them on certain issues. (Attachment rule, anyone?) It’s a great standalone novel with lots of action and great characterization.
Enemy Lines Duology by Aaron Allston
Aaron Allston wrote one of my favorite iterations of Luke, which is kind of sad since so many of his novels took place in longer series I didn’t much care for. The Enemy Lines duology, which consists of Rebel Dream and Rebel Stand occur during the fourth year of the Yuuzhan Vong War, aka the 19-book New Jedi Order series. While there are some parts of this duology I don’t care for, I love the way Allston portrays Luke. He’s serious, a strong Jedi, but he’s not super serious all the time. Luke, Mara, and some other Jedi go on a mission with Wraith Squadron, an intelligence group Allston created for the X-Wing novel series. If you know anything about the Wraiths, you know they’re hilarious, and I love that these books gave Luke some great, funny moments.
The Unifying Force by James Luceno
James Luceno had a hard job in wrapping up the New Jedi Order series, and he more than lived up to the task with The Unifying Force. All the plot lines of this megaseries come to a head, with Luke finally taking action and leading an offensive against the Yuuzhan Vong who have taken over Coruscant. His fight against Supreme Overlord Shimrra is one of my favorite duels of the Expanded Universe, and Jacen Solo’s observation of his uncle while he’s fighting Yuuzhan Vong warriors — “he wasn’t even breathing heavily” — is one of my favorite depictions of Luke’s calm fighting ability. Oh, how I would love to see a moment like this in The Last Jedi.
Balance Point by Kathy Tyers
This book gets a mention for one big reason: Luke and Mara learn they’re going to be parents. Many Expanded Universe fans had been waiting for Luke and Mara to have children, and finally, at the start of the second year of the Yuuzhan Vong war, we got a wonderful moment of hope. Luke’s excitement is adorable and just the kind of reaction you’d expect him to have. Later, he saves his nephew Jacen in an amazing feat of skill.
So there you have it: my top ten Luke Skywalker appearances in both canon and Legends. Hopefully, after the release of The Last Jedi, we’ll get a lot more Luke appearances after Return of the Jedi that might make their way onto my list. And speaking of The Last Jedi — where might it appear on my list? Only time will tell.