Musing Luke Skywalker and The Last Jedi

I know I’ve written nary a word about The Last Jedi, which is kind of odd considering the inveterate Star Wars fan that I am and my philosophical connections with the films, but it’s not laziness; I’m simply still processing the film after all these many weeks and have been rather tongue tied on the subject. But the other day I ran across the following and found it absolutely amazing and too good not to pass on:

(Warning, spoilers)

Rewatch The Empire Strikes Back and I think it’s apparent that there was no other choice for Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, given the events of The Force Awakens. The entire premise of The Empire Strikes Back is that Luke Skywalker can sense Han and Leia in danger before it happens across the galaxy and drops everything to save them.

Which makes the biggest question in The Force Awakens, to me, “Why didn’t Luke save Han?” Not Snoke, not Rey’s parents, nothing. Why did Luke Skywalker let Han Solo die?

Luke is the central mystery of The Force Awakens. The opening sentence of the crawl is “Luke Skywalker has vanished.” The closing shot is Rey having found him. The film is begging us to ask these questions about Luke. Why are we getting sidetracked by Snoke and Rey’s parents?

Because of Empire and The Force Awakens, I don’t think Rian Johnson COULD have done anything else with Luke Skywalker and have it make sense. There were slight variations that could have been made, sure, but the broad strokes of what Johnson gave us are pretty much inevitable. I expected Luke to toss the saber the first time I saw the film. That’s his thing. I’ve been on the “Luke is turning to non-violence” bandwagon for a while. But I was furious the first time I heard him say, “Where’s Han?” BUT! I realized there had to be a reason for it… My patience paid off in what I find one of the most heartfelt and stunning moments in the film: when Rey realizes that Luke has cut himself off from the Force.

Here we have the single most powerful Force user in the galaxy forced to cut himself off of every instinct he has for fear he’ll do the galaxy more harm than good. From Luke’s perspective, this abstinence of the Force is heroic. Another Jedi purge becomes impossible. The perspective of the audience hasn’t been as sympathetic. But this is also one of the central themes of The Last Jedi: that we can all perceive the exact same thing in a different way.

I’m not just talking about the Rashomon sequence (which I thought was brilliant filmmaking), but the vision Rey and Kylo shared and discussed on the elevator. They saw the same thing and came to different conclusions about what that outcome would be.

“Always in motion is the future,” Master Yoda would say.

But let’s talk about the Rashomon sequence. Because, to me, this is what made Luke the LEAST Luke and the MOST Luke and the more I watch it, the more heartbreaking it is to me in the best ways. In case anyone is unfamiliar, Rashomon is a groundbreaking 1950 samurai film by Akira Kurosawa, who has always been an intense influence on Star Wars. It tells the tale of a murder in a meadow from three different perspectives. The film never offers us an objective truth on what happened, merely lets the narrators be as reliable or unreliable as our point of view allows.

Our first glimpse of the “Rashomon” triptych in The Last Jedi comes when Luke explains that he’d sensed the Dark Side in Ben. He went to confront him about it and it didn’t go well. No sabers were in play. This is how Luke WISHES it would have gone, if at all. The second version is from Ben’s perspective. Naturally, he’s the hero of this version. Luke practically has Sith eyes and his green lightsaber is almost a sickly yellow. From Ben’s POV, Luke arrives to murder him absolutely. There is no question in his mind. And then, the third time, we’re given Luke’s version. A blend of the two with plenty of shades of gray. And, for my money, the version of the story I believe. And it’s the one I think truest to Luke’s character, too.

Luke goes to check on Ben and the darkness growing inside him. This wellness check is already filled with self-doubt. Luke, like every creative or heroic person I’ve ever known, suffers from impostor syndrome. Just like Obi-Wan’s.

And here he sees a darkness greater than anything he could have ever imagined. And a future where all of his loved ones are killed and the Jedi order he cared about burned to the ground. What happened the last time he was confronted with an image of this? The last time this happened, he was in the Death Star Throne Room and Vader taunted him with this vision of the future and he lost control. He ignited his saber out of instinct and fought. With rage and anger. But he pulled himself back from doing the thing he swore he wouldn’t do: kill his own father. Then he tosses his lightsaber and says, essentially, “kill me if you have to, but I’ll die like a Jedi.”

Now, he goes to Ben’s hut and sees that future all over again. And, as before, his saber ignites. And this is startling to him. He’s instantly ashamed of himself and must deal with the consequence of that split-second consideration. We know he’d NEVER kill his nephew. Ben doesn’t. Some have said that Luke wouldn’t consider this again, but facing the Dark side of yourself isn’t a “one time and it’s over thing.” It’s a constant. We learn and we grow and we constantly have to reevaluate that.

And here’s where Luke decided it was ultimately the right thing for the Galaxy to end the Jedi and quit the Force. Because these cycles of violence will happen between good and evil jockeying for power. And the constant in Luke’s view was the Jedi.

Their failure. Hypocrisy. Hubris. If they were off the playing field, there would be no Vader. Or Kylo Ren. So instead of doubling down and training NEW Jedi to take down his nephew, he simply ends the cycle. VIolence begets violence and Luke would no longer participate.

And that’s why I love the end of the movie. Luke finally learned from his mistakes. He could stick to his non-violence, but still set an example that would ignite the galaxy. Which is why his saber never touches Ben’s during the fight. It’s 100% evasion. He had lost the understanding of the value of the Legend of Luke Skywalker, but Rey helped him find it again. And he could once again believe in himself. And the Jedi.

From my perspective, given Luke’s inaction in The Force Awakens, this is the ONLY thing that could have been done with him. And why I’ve embraced the arc so much. I love it. You don’t have to like it, but this is the Luke I saw up there. And when he has his heroic moment on Crait and binary sunset… It’s a perfect capstone to his character, given the turn the universe and canon took.

Building the Death Star

(Maximize in a dark room for full effect.)

Ben and I saw the new film last weekend. I really enjoyed it, although I didn’t get the usual adrenaline rush when the first notes of the theme rang out and the screen crawl started. By the time the end credits rolled, I wanted to see it all again. Ben was not impressed.

As has been written elsewhere, Episode VIII is definitely not your father’s Star Wars. Sacred cows are slaughtered. And as the movie itself drives home, it’s time to let go of the past and move on. I approve of this.

Blast From The Past

Summer 1977: “Star Wars” summer. Seemed like everyone and their brother was attempting to cash in on the phenomenon that was Star Wars, including Burger King.

I bought this set of four posters as they came available at the fast food chain, hoping to one day get them framed. I’d completely forgotten about them until I ran across these images online. As it turns out, forty years later they’re still not framed, languishing in a cardboard shipping tube in the bedroom closet—along with probably a dozen other posters I’d hoped to get framed “someday.”

Considering it costs upward of a hundred dollars to get a simple black frame and mount for art of this size (with a 40% discount coupon!) at Michaels these days, it’s still not going to happen any time soon.

What Might Have Been

From ArsTechnica:

While most Star Wars pieces you’ll see this week are focused on the soon-to-be-revealed adventures of Finn, Rey, Poe, and BB-8, today we’ve got a blast from the past to share with you—sort of. As any self-respecting nerd will tell you, the whole look-and-feel of the Star Wars universe owes a lot to Ralph McQuarrie. In 1975, George Lucas hired the conceptual artist to create the characters and worlds that then only existed on the pages of his scripts. So McQuarrie’s paintbrush created the first images of C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader, stormtroopers, and others, not to mention all those TIE fighters, X-Wings, and Y-Wings.

His paintings and concept art heavily informed Lucas’ filmmaking, and the director reproduced many of McQuarrie’s pieces in Star Wars. But quite a lot changed between the earlier scripts McQuarrie was working from and the film that audiences saw in 1977. Stormtroopers used lightsabers. Luke Skywalker was a girl. And the Millennium Falcon looked very, very different. Now, thanks to the 2017 graduating classes of the DAVE School, we have an idea of what a 1975-era movie—The Star Wars—would have looked like: