This article contains major spoilers for The Last Jedi. Proceed at your own risk.
The Last Jedi did what I feared the most. Luke Skywalker spent the first half of the movie disenchanted and bitter and not wanting to train Rey. We saw flashbacks from his training temple, and learned that he sensed the darkness growing inside Ben Solo and contemplated killing his nephew, if only for a moment. Luke was left with shame and consequences, and blamed himself for everything that went wrong in the galaxy, all because he thought he could live up to his status as a legend . He didn’t travel to the first Jedi Temple to gain any sort of knowledge, but to die. When Rey wanted to leave Ahch-To in an attempt to save Kylo, Luke remained behind on the island, steadfast that Ben Solo was already lost. And after all that, he fulfilled his promise to die on Ahch-To, alone.
Just like The Last Jedi, this article is not going to go the way you think. Because when all was said and done, I loved Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi. It was the finest send-off for that character I could imagine.
“Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, You’re My Only Hope”
Luke’s call to action in A New Hope began with those words from his sister. It’s only fitting that he changes his mind to train Rey after Artoo Detoo plays that message for him again. As Luke says, it’s a cheap move, but it works, for both him and the audience. He’s inspired to give Rey three lessons, but he still isn’t convinced to rejoin the fight. For me, in that moment, it was enough. I sat back in my chair, eager to see his lessons, and eager for the character development that would send Luke back into the galaxy again.
Later in the film, under the Ahch-To moonlight, Luke opens himself to the Force for the first time in years. He reaches out to his sister, who senses his presence while unconscious. He gasps at the sensation, “Leia!” He senses her pain, her desire for him to return to the fight and provide the spark of hope the galaxy needs. Finally, I thought. This is where everything changes!
I was wrong. The next time we see Luke, he’s running into the Jedi village, presumably to tell Rey that he’s changed his mind about leaving the island with her. It does not go the way he thinks. He catches her in an act of Force-bonded intimacy with Kylo, assumes the worst, and orders her to leave the island. Luke and Rey fight, but not in the awesome sparring way I had imagined. Rey leaves Ahch-To after this terrible confrontation. That was my all is lost moment. I tried to hold out hope that Luke would show up on Crait, but I knew the changes were slim. The Yoda scene helped, but I was prepared to hate this movie.
Later on, the Resistance has its own all is lost moment, after the First Order blows a hole in the shield door on the Crait base and no allies respond to Leia’s calls for help. Only then, when Leia reluctantly admits the spark of hope is gone from the galaxy, does Luke show up to rejoin the fight. We soon learn that Luke is not physically on Crait, but rather he is projecting himself from Ahch-To, a Force power we have never seen before on film. Was Luke watching over Leia after his conversation with Yoda? Did he feel her desperation, her hopelessness, and once again decide to answer her call? This moment reflects Luke’s breaking point in Return of the Jedi, when Vader threatened to turn Leia and Luke was tempted by the dark side. Perhaps that is why Luke went into hiding. He will do anything to spare his sister from pain, and he doesn’t believe he’s up to the task of fixing his mistakes. He will even go so far as to confront her son in her stead.
Leia believes that Luke is the hope the galaxy needs. People will be talking about his legendary last stand for ages. But it is Leia who continues to pull Luke into the fight. Luke is the spark. Leia is the fire.
“Let the Past Die”
“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. It’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.” In a way, Kylo Ren is right. Being bogged down by the past is a surefire way to ensure you continue its failures. But Kylo’s desire to kill the past ends up being his biggest downfall. It is also Luke Skywalker’s.
Kylo has killed his father, he has killed Snoke, he has nearly defeated his mother’s Resistance. Only Luke Skywalker remains. When his old master appears on Crait, looking the same as he did the last time Ben Solo saw him, Kylo sees his chance to put his past behind him. He orders every gun to fire on that man. When that doesn’t work, Kylo goes to the surface of the planet to confront Luke himself, despite Hux’s protests. Kylo doesn’t care that the Resistance is nearly defeated. He doesn’t care that if they go into the mines, they will catch what’s left the Resistance and win the war. Of course, Luke is not really there. It’s a trick. Luke is stalling to help the Resistance escape. When Kylo realizes this, his despair and rage are palpable. Luke has defeated him without even lifting a lightsaber. Without even leaving his island.
In the end, Kylo gets what he wants. Luke is gone. But his influence in the galaxy is not. It will be interesting to see how Hux, and the rest of the First Order, view Kylo Ren after this humiliating defeat.
“Failure Is The Greatest Teacher of All”
Luke’s biggest mistake wasn’t raising his lightsaber and contemplating killing Ben Solo. It was running away and assuming he could not fix the consequences. Because, when you think about it, Luke wasn’t wrong about Ben. Ben saw Luke standing over him, assumed Luke was going to kill him, and defended himself. On the surface, this seems completely rational. But Ben’s actions afterwards were certainly not. He didn’t just escape the temple; he killed several of the students and took the rest of them. He joined the First Order, became Kylo Ren, and accepted Snoke as his new master. Would this have happened if Luke hadn’t been tempted to kill him? Impossible to say. But Ben’s actions speak for themselves.
Afterward, Luke should have joined the Resistance and fought the First Order. He should have confronted Snoke, Kylo Ren, or both. He should have stopped the dark side before it had the chance to truly rise again.
But. (Of course there was a but.)
Luke’s instinct to kill Ben was colored by his knowledge that Obi-Wan failed to kill Anakin. Luke didn’t want to repeat Obi-Wan’s mistakes, but he was so concerned with not repeating them that he failed to see the ones he was making. Obi-Wan wasn’t wrong in sparing Anakin on Mustafar. Obi-Wan was wrong in assuming Anakin was gone for good. Luke, unfortunately, never realized this.
And later, on Ahch-To. Luke makes the same mistake as Ben. He barges in on Rey and assumes the worst when he sees her with Kylo. He blows up the hut and demands that she leave the island. Luke is so set on erasing the past, like Kylo, that he doesn’t realize he’s failing all over again.
Yoda told Luke his biggest flaw was always looking to the horizon. We first saw him gaze into the twin sunset in A New Hope. It’s only fitting that his last physical act in the galaxy is to gaze into another twin sunset. He has learned the most important lesson: the here and now is what’s most important. Perhaps if he’d learned that earlier, he would not have gone into hiding on the island. Perhaps he might have left Ahch-To with Rey sooner. At the end, he realizes the most important thing for him to do right at that very moment is to be the spark that will help the Resistance survive. In becoming one with the Force, he is finally able to stop dwelling on the future, and just be.
“The True Burden of All Masters”
Luke Skywalker provides the spark of hope that Leia was waiting for, just not in the way she had expected. Not in the way we, the audience, had expected either.
We want Luke to be perfect, a myth, a legend. His flaw was seeing himself that way, and not as a person who could make mistakes and then fix them. But Luke has always had flaws to go with his strengths. Even after seeing him display arguably the most impressive uses of the Force ever, fans complain it was a cop out because it wasn’t “real.” But it was! Anyone who knows anything about the Force will argue that Luke’s last stand on Crait was as real as it could have been. As awesome as Vader was in Rogue One, that scene doesn’t hold a candle to Luke’s display of true mastery.
Luke Skywalker is dead, but he’s also not. He has become one with the Force, like Obi-Wan and Yoda before him. He slips away with peace and purpose, and his last words to his nephew — “See you around, kid” — come across as a promise. There is no doubt in my mind that we will see him again, just not in the way we expected at the start of the Sequel Trilogy. In his last moments, Luke learns his final lessons from his beloved Master Yoda. Wars not make one great. Pass on what you have learned. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.
Luke’s final feat of strength in the Force is not a cheat, or a weakness, or cowardice. He accomplishes something few Force users have done before, by projecting his spirit across the galaxy. His last stand on Crait is awe-inspiring and will be remembered forever, making him the legend he railed against becoming. If you believe it “didn’t really happen,” you have forgotten the wise words of Master Yoda: Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.
The entire Resistance thinks Rey left to bring back Luke Skywalker. They see Rey with the Millennium Falcon and have no reason to believe Luke didn’t leave the island with her. Leia, Rey, Chewie, and Artoo are the only ones from the Resistance who know Luke didn’t actually die on Crait. The Resistance spreads this story throughout the galaxy, and his last stand on Crait becomes a true myth, just like all the stories about him in The Legends of Luke Skywalker. In becoming one with the Force, Luke finally becomes at peace with his destiny.
Luke Skywalker became a Jedi by throwing away his lightsaber and refusing to fight. He became a true master by not lifting a blade at all.