There are lots of stories about Luke Skywalker. Some of them might even be true. – Ulina
The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu is one of the few books of the new canon to be about Luke Skywalker, much less feature him as a character. As such, it was pretty much guaranteed that I would enjoy this book on some level. However, I was surprised by how much I loved it. It’s one of my favorite canon novels, right alongside The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry, another middle grade novel about Luke. Weapon and Legends share another similarity, in that they both feature framing stories in which Luke is portrayed as a mythical hero. The difference is that Legends never outright uses Luke’s POV; instead, six crew members of the ship Wayward Current exchange stories about Luke while on the way to Canto Bight. It’s a novel that portrays Luke as a folk hero, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever read another book that does as good a job depicting Luke’s relationship with the Force and the galaxy at large. Which is quite the feat, considering we never get inside Luke’s head.
The framing story follows a set of deckhands who help a stowaway escape detection and get off the Wayward Current into Canto Bight. They exchange stories as a way to distract themselves from the horribleness of jumping into the bilge to hide. (Sound familiar?) What better way to pass the time than discuss one of the most famous and mysterious figures in the galaxy, Luke Skywalker?
Spoilers after the cut:
The six “legends” about Luke vary in tone and subject matter, somewhat reminding me of the anthology From a Certain Point of View on a smaller scale. In the first tale, “The Myth Buster,” the cook Dwoogan shares a story she heard from a cantina patron named Redy about how Luke Skywalker was really Luke Clodplodder, and the Rebellion spread myths about his exploits as a way to fight the Empire. One of the patrons listening to the story is a hooded man, and while we never get confirmation it’s Luke, it’s pretty obvious that it’s him. He’s very amused by the stories told about him, and when Dwoogan later confronts him about why he didn’t defend Luke Skywalker’s honor, Luke says the Rebellion fought for freedom so that people like Redy could tell stories. In his mind, his reputation is not important, but rather his deeds.
The second story, “The Starship Graveyard,” is told by the third mate, Ulina, and was originated by a gunner aboard a Star Destroyer during the Battle of Jakku. Luke saves the gunner, as well as an entire group of scavengers, and his actions cause the gunner to have a change of heart about Luke as an enemy. The story is beautifully told, with Luke’s exploits portrayed with a sense of awe and realism at the same time. The gunner asks Luke if he’s really Luke Skywalker, and Luke replies, “We’re all Luke Skywalker.” Was Luke really at the Battle of Jakku? Possibly, possibly not. But that’s not the point. It’s a beautiful moment and sentiment at the end of the Galactic Civil War.
The third story, “Fishing in the Deluge,” fast forwards to Luke’s travels across the galaxy in search of information about the Jedi and other Force-using sects. The story is told by a stowaway name Flux, and we are led to believe she telling a story about herself. Her real name is Aya, and as a girl she lived on a water-covered planet named Lew’el, whose people follow the Tide. Luke, known only to the people as Seeker, visits Lew’el and asks to be taught the secrets of the Tide. Only after finishing a set of three trials will the Elder agree to teach him. “Deluge” has some of my favorite lines of the novel, and shows Luke’s desire to both learn and teach. In the end, he learns the importance of letting go and listening to the Force, rather than trying to control it. I like to imagine that, after this story, Luke first decided to take on Jedi apprentices.
The fourth story, “I, Droid,” is told by a droid on the ship, G2-X, and is about Zeta, a droid that is stolen and enslaved on a harsh mining planet where no humans can survive. R2-D2 is also part of this group of droids. Luke eventually arrives to rescue Artoo, but in the process he rescues all the droids in the facility, including Zeta and the other enforcer droids. This story demonstrates Luke’s finesse with the Force, shows his continued devotion to Artoo, and his continued respect for other droids.
“The Tale of Lugubrious Mote” is the oddest story of the bunch. It is told by Teal, one of the young deckhands, about a mole-flea who takes credit for being the brains behind Luke Skywalker’s success at Jabba’s Palace. It’s a humorous palate cleanser between two more serious stories, but to me it seemed too much like a rehash of an Original Trilogy sequence and didn’t add much insight to Luke’s character.
The final story, “Big Inside,” is probably my favorite of the novel. It’s told by G’kolu, another of the deckhands, about a scientist from the University of Bar’leth who gets stuck inside an exogorth with Luke. As the two explore the ecosystem inside the enormous space slug, Luke gives the scientist renewed hope even in the face of certain death. The two are eventually saved by a sacrifice by the Mist-Weavers, three individuals from another Force-using tradition, which allows Luke to finally learn the importance of accepting sacrifices. “Only now do I understand that accepting the sacrifice of those who love us and share our ideals is the first step to becoming more powerful than we can possibly imagine.” I could spend another three paragraphs discussing my favorite lines, so I’ll end it here by saying that this story was so beautiful it made me want to cry.
It’s obvious this book moved me, but I’ve seen a lot of other reader complains that this book wasn’t what they expected or it didn’t give them enough information about Luke. Let’s get this straight right off the bat: we don’t know if any of these stories happened as depicted, or even if they happened at all. That’s the conceit of a novel about “legends.” However, it doesn’t matter whether the individual stories are canon or not. What’s important is that these stories exist in universe. They explain how the galaxy thinks and feels about Luke Skywalker. He’s a mythical figure, an inspiration to people all across the galaxy, even those who grew up in the Empire. Considering that he separated himself from the public sphere after the Battle of Endor, it demonstrates how impactful his actions were during the Galactic Civil War. I’ve seen a lot of people worried that Luke won’t get the respect as a character he deserves in The Last Jedi. If this novel is any indication, we have nothing to worry about in that arena. If you’re more worried about this novel being canon rather than how the stories make you feel, you need to reevaluate your priorities. To quote the novel, “Legends about our heroes don’t matter as much as what we choose to make of our own lives when the legends move us.”
Despite that rant about canon, I did find myself trying to figure out when in Luke’s life the various stories might have taken place. All of them, with the exception of the mole-flea story, happen post-Battle of Jakku, which for me was one of the biggest selling points of the novel. I loved seeing Luke traveling across the galaxy in search of Jedi lore. I loved the fact that he seemed to know that normal citizens of the galaxy look upon him with wonder, while he thinks of himself as just another regular guy. I wondered if any of the stories took place after he started training Jedi. There’s not much indication, but I got the impression that “Big Inside” was the latest story in the timeline. There’s just something about the lessons Luke learns during his trip inside the exogorth that would be such an amazing precursor to him training other Jedi, or to his decision to search for the first Jedi Temple.
This book is part of the “Journey to The Last Jedi,” publishing program, so of course I looked for any clues as to what Luke might be doing in that film. There’s a paragraph in “Fishing in the Deluge” that might as well have a big flashing light that says “WHY LUKE WENT TO AHCH-TO.” Luke says,
“And there are more ways to serve good than by fighting and confronting evil. You also serve the good by standing guard and maintaining pools of tranquility and peace; you also rebuke evil by showing that there is another way than death and warfare. We are all connected through the Tide, and there’s a time and a place to rest, as well as a time and a place to act.”
If you ask me, The Last Jedi will mark when Luke realizes it’s time to act again.
The Legends of Luke Skywalker is a wonderful addition to the canon. Ken Liu is a beautiful writer and treats Luke with great care and reverence. I would gladly read more Star Wars novels by him, and cannot recommend this novel highly enough. I was already super excited for The Last Jedi, but after reading this novel my anticipation is almost unbearable. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful illustrations by J. G. Jones, which mark the beginning of each story.
I leave you with my favorite line of the novel, because it’s so simple and it remembers Luke’s humble background: “I was once a moisture farmer. I can get water out of anything.”