As the Star Wars series wraps up the Skywalker saga, a look back at its extraordinary hero
“I hate what you’ve done with my character,” actor Mark Hamill told director Rian Johnson when they were making ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ together in 2017. On the publicity tour for that film, the eighth chapter in the epic space franchise, Hamill couldn’t help but voice his dissatisfaction. He had, after all, played Luke Skywalker for over four decades.
Having completed the film, Hamill said he realised that the changes were meant to reflect the fact that Luke was no longer the wet-behind-the-ears whippersnapper he used to be. He was now a dejected, old man, having given up on everything he believed in and retreated into self-imposed exile.
Out for an adventure
“I said to Rian, ‘Jedis don’t give up’,” Hamill recalled in an interview with Mashable, adding that it took him some time to come to terms with the fact that he no longer had any ownership on Star Wars; that the franchise now belonged to fans, both in front of and behind the camera. Regardless of his resentment towards the new Luke, Hamill’s performance was acclaimed.
It was considered his swansong, an emotional sendoff to one of the most enduring heroes in pop culture history.
Originally conceived by Star Wars creator George Lucas as a grizzled war veteran, and even a woman in some drafts of the screenplay, Luke’s epic arc in the saga was modelled on the mythologist Joseph Campbell’s idea of “a young man, called to adventure, the hero going out facing the trials and ordeals, and coming back after his victory with a boon for the community”, which he outlined in his genre-defining 1949 book, ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’.
Luke’s journey is often compared to that of Jesus Christ’s, with his mentor, Yoda, representing a God-like figure, and his father, Anakin, representing the temptation of evil.
Till his final moments in ‘The Last Jedi’, designed to mirror his big introduction in the first Star Wars film, in 1977, Luke has struggled with notions of light and dark, a theme retained in the ongoing sequel trilogy.
When ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ (2015) was released, Hamill had said in an interview, Luke had lost confidence in his ability to make good choices. “It haunts him… But he hasn’t gone to the dark side.” Every protagonist in the saga, and indeed, even most antagonists, are shown to be actively struggling with the seductive Dark Side. The choices they ultimately make define their destinies. There is good and bad in every individual, Lucas has always suggested, but while some choose to let anger and bitterness consume them, others emerge out of difficult situations having developed empathy and understanding.
Luke, despite occasional stumbles, remains a beacon of honour through the saga. His father Anakin, however, is like a Biblical fallen angel, once handpicked as The Chosen One, but destined to succumb to evil –– until he was redeemed; redemption is another running theme in the saga. Because, in the Star Wars universe, no one is a lost cause; everyone has the potential to be shown the Light.
As the Skywalker saga nears its end, with ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’, Luke’s decency remains his most enduring trait. But the greater marvel is that this sweeping adventure set in a galaxy far, far away still feels as vital, political and current as it did nearly half a century ago.
Duel on Cloud City: Luke’s famous fight with Darth Vader in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980) is known as much for its quotable lines as for featuring one of the biggest plot twists in film history. It was during this duel, after rejecting Vader’s offer to join the Dark Side, that Luke is informed of his true parentage.
Duel on Crait: An older, grizzled Luke in ‘The Last Jedi’ fought his former protégé, Kylo Ren, on the desert planet of Crait. After it is revealed that Luke wasn’t physically present on Crait, but was instead a Force projection, the character dies peacefully on the planet of Ahch-To, having poured everything he had into bringing Ren down.
Duel on Death Star II: The final duel between Luke and Darth Vader, which ended with Emperor Palpatine’s death, redeemed Luke’s father, Anakin Skywalker. It earned Luke the title of Jedi Knight, and concluded the final film of the original Star Wars trilogy, ‘Return of the Jedi’, with a moment of catharsis for our hero.