Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Sarah K. You can find her on Twitter @theevilsarah.
The Last Jedi spoilers are after the jump.
I went into The Last Jedi fully expecting the movie to set up Kylo Ren’s redemption. This is Star Wars, right? If you live in a universe where the most feared man in the galaxy can be turned to the light, anything feels possible.
When Kylo pulled back from firing on the Resistance ship’s bridge, it read like a sign. His conversations with Rey revealed conflict and doubt. And any way you slice it (heh), taking out Supreme Leader Snoke was a good-guy move. The subsequent fight against Snoke’s guards was one of the most impressive scenes in the movie. Free of Snoke, Kylo had every chance to start again. To join the Resistance, and make amends by taking down the First Order. To come home.
And he refused it.
He was given the chance. First Han and then Rey literally extended a hand to him and both times he rejected them. And without the option of Leia going after him in Episode IX, it’s unlikely that Kylo will get a third chance. Kylo Ren won’t be redeemed—not because he can’t be, but because he doesn’t want to be.
Because redeemability is not inherent: It depends on the choices we make. And it’s not easy to make that choice, to admit fault and work to make amends. It’s so much easier to step into the power vacuum and carry on with the plan.
But now we have a problem because Star Wars, at its heart, is a story about redemption. It’s about Galen Erso realizing the destructive magnitude of his project and building in a weakness. It’s about a stormtrooper realizing that he doesn’t like who he’s becoming, and risking his life to do what’s right. How can you have a Star Wars story that doesn’t end in redemption?
We did, but it wasn’t Kylo’s story.
Episode VIII is the Redemption of Luke Skywalker.
The depth of Luke’s feelings for his friends has always been a source of strength for him, but those same feelings also drove him to leave Dagobah for the trap Vader laid at Bespin. Driven not by love for them but by fear, he lost Han, his hand, and nearly his own life.
That same fear, for his friends and for the galaxy, almost drove him to kill his own nephew in a moment of weakness. Luke knows that he, like Kylo, holds within him all the potential of Darth Vader, and he knows exactly how easy it is to fall prey to that temptation.
He knows that he failed Kylo, and his shame and guilt were so great that he cut himself off from the Force. The last Jedi Master hid himself from the energy that binds the entire galaxy, because he felt that he didn’t deserve it…and because he was afraid. He had been given a chance to restore the Jedi Order and had failed so badly that it seemed like his only option was to hide, and to hide so completely that no one, not even his sister, could find him.
He is Obi-Wan Kenobi in the desert. But with no hope and no one to watch over, he chooses Ahch-To as his place of penance.
On the surface, it’s a strange choice for someone who wants to leave the Jedi behind. The secret heart of the Jedi Order, the home to all of their lore and legends. But it’s fitting, too. The ancient books are full of Jedi mythology, and Luke wants nothing more than to fade into myth himself.
It takes a lot to change his mind. A visit from his old master helped. And perhaps he saw something familiar in Rey’s insistence on running off half-trained, adamant that her enemy can be saved. After all, family is far more than the limits of biology.
Then it comes back to Kylo. “You failed him by believing his choice was made,” Rey tells him, and that was true, once. But Kylo has made his choice, and when Luke makes his stand on Crait, he doesn’t come to extend a hand in peace. He knows Kylo will refuse. When he tells Kylo he’s sorry for failing him, it’s as much for his own absolution as for his former student.
Luke knew what Crait would cost him. When Kylo and Rey first appear to each other, Kylo knows that she cannot be projecting herself to him—“the effort would kill you,” he says. How much more effort must it take, to give that projection a solid form? To maintain the illusion long enough for the Resistance to escape?
Luke’s first concern has always, always been protecting his friends. His last act is to reclaim his mantle as Jedi Master, staying behind to protect the others. The last sacrifice of Luke Skywalker was not made in desperation, but in hope.
And then, having accomplished his redemption, he passes into the Force, becoming one with the essence of the galaxy. Luke came to Ahch-To to die, and die he did–but not in exile, as he had planned. In the end, Luke Skywalker became the legend that the galaxy had always believed he was.
And legends never really die.