There is going to be an awakening, gentle-beings. That’s right. In just a few weeks we are going to be seeing Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens come to a theatre near us. But in all the promotions, teaser-trailers, trailers, TV spots, and promotional material we haven’t seen any sign of the Old Trilogy’s central hero: Luke Skywalker.
As such, there have been a whole slew of online articles and videos focusing on one idea: that Luke Skywalker has gone to the dark side and has become “an agent of evil.” Their arguments are similar, more or less. There are claims that Luke had fallen to the dark side by the end of Return of The Jedi. Yoda gets quoted for stating that, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” It’s also pointed out that Luke didn’t finish his Jedi training before rashly going out to rescue his friends at Cloud City during The Empire Strikes Back. We have the “he is too old to begin the training” sentiment. His actions at Jabba’s Palace and his choice of wardrobe attire are referenced. Luke also apparently fails the test at the Cave on Dagobah. Then there is the fact that Mark Hamill pitched the idea that he could see his character falling to the dark side and that the film-maker and producer of the first two films Gary Kurtz states that the original ending to Star Wars was going to be grim and more nuanced.
The arguments go on. However, I can sum up my baseline opinion of these ideas in one word taken from an essay whose thesis statement we had to pinpoint on an exam back in Grade 11:
First, Luke Skywalker does have a presence in the promotional material. First, we hear his voice in one of the first initial teaser trailers:
However, it can be reasonably argued that these are just edited and remastered versions of his lines to Leia Organa from Return of the Jedi. But then we have this image to consider along with its possible implications:
Who do we know that spends a lot of time with Artoo-Deetoo, has a bionic hand, and wears a cowl? We don’t know the context of this image, or that it’s necessarily Luke with Artoo, but it seems pretty likely. And if we really have to go into colour wardrobe schemes, while this figure is garbed in a dark coloured hood, he also seems to be wearing white underneath. Take from that what you will.
It admittedly isn’t very much, even if the trailer stopped at this image when look states with regards to the Force, “I have it.” But let’s look at the arguments that Luke had already been falling to the dark side from the Old Trilogy.
So first we have Yoda, in The Empire Strikes Back, stating that Luke is “too old” to begin Jedi training. Most Jedi are taken from their parents from infancy or six years of age to be trained in the Temple proper. There was obviously a lot of hesitation to do so with Anakin Skywalker as he was already nine and full of attachment and fear for his mother. But was Anakin the only Jedi that fell to the dark side during the Clone Wars?
Not at all. Barriss Offee was a model Jedi Padawan who embraced the dark side to stop the Jedi Order from being involved in the Wars: planting a bomb at the Temple, killing others, and framing her friend Ahsoka Tano for her crimes. Pong Krell was a Jedi Master and General who decided to defect to the Confederacy and kill his clone troopers so that he could be on “the winning side.”
And Count Dooku? Dooku was once a respected Jedi Master and one of the Order’s Lost Twenty. He was Yoda’s Padawan and Qui-Gon Jinn’s Master until his differences with the Order’s politics and the death of his former apprentice. Then he became the Sith Lord known as Darth Tyranus.
So what do all of these fallen Jedi have in common? Most, if not all of them were presumably raised and trained by the Jedi Order from infancy to early childhood – and all three of them fell despite it.
But all right: at least most of them finished their Jedi training, right? Luke already had much anger in him and could be construed as an “accident waiting to happen.” All right. Well look at the so-called failure at the Cave on Dagobah. It was there that Luke confronted his fear and possible future. Recall that Yoda stated that “Always in motion, the future is.” When Luke cut down the phantom of Vader and saw his own face in his smashed up helmet, he was visibly shaken. This event, this vision, is something that Luke would probably have on his mind for a long time to come.
He didn’t just walk away from this and not learn anything. Even when he ignored Yoda and brought his weapons in with him, he learned something in that Cave. And if Luke did fail in the Cave, failure is an excellent teaching tool. It can be argued that you learn a lot more from failure, and correcting it, or understanding it than you would just by succeeding each time. After all, Luke certainly learned something when he failed and almost gave up on levitating his X-Wing after it sank into the swamp.
As for Yoda’s words to Luke as he had visions of his friends suffering, they were a warning. He was at a delicate stage in his training and mindset: and there were things that neither he nor Obi-Wan revealed to him yet about Vader. Also remember this: Yoda is not infallible. Palpatine hid his true nature under Yoda’s nose for decades. Yoda immediately told a nine year old Anakin Skywalker and Qui-Gon Jinn that he was too dangerous to be trained. Imagine what would have happened if the Order hadn’t taken Anakin in: especially after being told the Sith had returned … and ignoring Qui-Gon’s warning. He most certainly didn’t see Dooku turning to the dark side. And while Yoda has a tremendous sense of farseeing, it is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy: in that by alienating Anakin when he was young and fresh from slavery, he and the Council planted those seeds of mutual distrust. And not to mention the fact that Yoda and the Council exiled Ashoka Tano, Anakin’s apprentice, from the Order and let her go on trial for crimes she did not commit.
Even in the Old Trilogy Yoda believed that once you start down the dark path, it will dominate your destiny. But look at what happened to Vader by the end of Return of the Jedi. Unless all of Yoda’s and Obi-Wan’s warnings to look were the equivalent of martial artist genre psychological tests of will and “benevolent manipulations” in the form of making Luke embrace the philosophy of “a certain point of view,” either way the fate of the galaxy and the future of the Jedi was ultimately up to Luke’s judgement.
But let me just stop here and pose a hypothetical scenario. What if Luke did turn to the dark side? Let’s ignore the now non-canon Dark Empire series (where he wasn’t even fully corrupted), and argue that this did happen in the Old Trilogy. All right. When did this take place?
Was it … when he had telekinetic debris thrown at him and his hand brutally cut off by the Sith Lord who would destroy his dreams and reveal himself to be his own father? Because that would have been a really good time for Luke to turn. He was physically battered and critically injured, he didn’t know if his tormented friends were all right, and he was psychologically damaged by the revelation. Imagine finding out that the father you idolized, that Obi-Wan built up to be some kind of hero, was alive, a mass-murderer, and cut off your freaking hand. Then think about the fury that the dark side would offer you at that point and a horrible temptation to join a being that actually seems to understand you and even offer to change the Empire and save your friends.
So what did Luke do? Did he call on the dark side of the Force? Did he join Vader in hopes of turning on him for the sake of his friends and the Rebellion? No. Luke decided to fall down the shaft of Cloud City and accept death rather than become like his father. Because, you know, that is something a potential Sith Lord would totally do.
But let’s get to the meat of it: namely Return of the Jedi. It’s true that Luke uses Jedi mind tricks and even Force choking to get into Jabba’s Palace. He is definitely skirting on the edge between both sides of the Force though, if you recall, so did Mace Windu against General Grievous in the first Clone Wars cartoons. Even Old Ben Kenobi – the model Jedi himself — in Mos Eisley, despite the fact that he warned them, had no qualms about cutting down and amputating the criminals threatening Luke’s life.
Yet it’s what happened on the Second Death Star that gets cited a lot about Luke’s supposed turning. Before he went to confront Vader and Palpatine, Yoda told Luke that once he confronted his father his Jedi training would be complete. And that is, more or less, what happened.
Did Luke almost give into the dark side on the Second Death Star? Of course he did. At the very least, he gave into his anger and rage. The first time was Palpatine who had, very admittedly, orchestrated an entire massacre of his friends and everything he believed in. There was no other way that Luke could deal with the Sith Lords aside from continuing to run and hoping both of them would find him and he could strike them down separately.
So here is Palpatine gloating and enjoying in the suffering of all these beings fighting in the Battle of Endor. Of course Luke is angry, but in the self-righteous anger that is similar to what his sister Leia feels. If you recall Revenge of the Sith, Yoda said to Obi-Wan, “Destroy the Sith, we must.” Perhaps they didn’t give into anger, though I’m sure they felt it after their Order was murdered, they were quite willing to destroy a life to save many others. And the only difference with Luke is that he is inexperienced and his emotions are affecting him: and it is damn personal.
Just like a certain other Jedi whose mentor and father-figure got cut down in front of him and was none too pleased about the situation.
But when Vader intercepts him, he actually evades Vader for quite some time before the Sith Lord threatens his sister. And now we have the breaking point, right? Here we are. Luke is genuinely furious in a manner similar to Anakin. He defeats his father, leaving him on the ground with one less hand. The dark side is beckoning. So what does Luke do?
Well, naturally he kills Vader right? He cuts him down and then joins Palpatine in despair and rage with the hopes of destroying him later on. Or maybe he kills Palpatine as well: reflecting his own lightning back at him with his lightsaber and cutting that cackling old tyrant down and taking control of the Death Star. It’s perfect right? Luke no longer has to lie to himself about his rage and he has a Sith Master who will teach him how to use it: whether it’s his father who he rejected before and whom he teams up with to destroy Palpatine in the false visions of Mara Jade in the now non-canon Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn, or he takes Palpatine’s side instead. Or just uses the Death Star to destroy all of the Empire’s space fighters.
Except none of these things happened. Instead, we know what happens. Luke looks at his artificial hand, at his father’s cauterized stump, and realizes that if he keeps this up he’s going to become “an agent of evil.” So he stops what he’s doing and throws his lightsaber away. Because that is what a potential Sith Lord does right? A young man in his twenties who just met his father about a year ago after the man chops off his hand then spares his life, throws away the one thing that could protect him against the Sith Master, and hopes that those conflicting feelings in his father will make him throw his Master down into the Death Star shaft.
It’s a brilliant plan made on the spot and worthy of Jar Jar Binks, right?
And there it is. Luke’s grand plan, made in the last couple of minutes, is to manipulate his father into redeeming himself from the dark side and save him. And when Luke burns his armour on Endor, Luke looks totally angry and filled with self-loathing instead of a sad, but calm resignation for the Jedi that he knew his father was in his best moments instead of the monster he had allowed himself to become.
Also, I am pretty sure that Force ghosts – the spirits of at least Jedi – who can only ascend when they eschew greed and embrace love and self-sacrifice will totally watch a future Sith Lord with smiles of acceptance on their faces: including the former Sith Lord who is his father who has now been redeemed. And yes: when the Rebels and the Ewoks are all celebrating along with Luke’s friends you can totally see the false smile of serene happiness on Luke’s face as he sees Anakin Skywalker join his mentors in the afterlife.
I mean, you can totally see Luke rejecting the mysteries and everlasting peace and consciousness in the Force alongside his mentors and family out of a sense of petty vengeance by the end of Jedi, right?
So now that we’ve looked at Luke in the Old Trilogy and seen his “corruption” and all of his opportunities to further it occur, let’s address the structural issues of the Star Wars series itself for clues. George Lucas liked to create mirrors of situations and characters in the series such as it was: Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, Chancellor Palpatine cuffed to the chair on The Invisible Hand and Emperor Palpatine sitting on his throne on the Second Death Star, Dooku and Vader, and Anakin and Luke.
But here’s the thing. The Prequel and Old Trilogies did not tell the same story. While many characters shared the same roles, they were not the same. While the others were mirrors, perhaps it’s more accurate to call them parallels. Luke and Anakin start off in similar, but different places. Anakin was a child slave who lost his mother and Luke begins as an eighteen year old young man who had an early life of family, ethics, morality, and love. When Anakin’s mother dies, he slaughters the entire Tusken Camp that killed her. When Luke finds Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen, he is devastated but looks utterly determined to find justice for this. Anakin never forgives: ever. Luke tries to find the good in Vader even after everything he has done.
The Prequel Trilogy was supposed to be about tragedy: about a good man with power who starts out with good intentions and ends up destroying himself and the Galaxy. The Old Trilogy is about the hero’s journey and the genuine miracle of redemption: about a young man who defends his friends, reaches out to his father, and shows him that it is never too late to do the right thing. Luke Skywalker is not his father.
As for Mark Hamill, he made Lucas a pitch. He said he would have enjoyed playing a Luke that went to the dark side. Hamill, as Luke’s actor, could see this happening. And even though he “pitched” this to J.J. Abrams, Abrams was in no way influencing Star Wars at that time.
As for Gary Kurtz, he actually provides us with a fascinating look at what could have been. Except even here all he says is that the Rebels would have been in tatters, the Princess Leia would have to get used to being a Queen, Han Solo would have died, and Luke would have gone off by himself into the sunset in a Clint Eastwood fashion. Nowhere in that explanation was there any mention of Luke turning to the dark side of the Force. If anything, by that interpretation Luke would be assuming Obi-Wan’s place somewhere along the line as the wise old Master in exile: reluctantly waiting to teach the next generation, find inner meditative peace, and hope not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Of course, I could be wrong. According to what we’ve been told, The Force Awakens takes place thirty years after the Battle of Endor. A lot of things have happened during that time that we don’t know about yet. Perhaps Luke could have changed during that time. Maybe the seeds of it were planted during the Old Trilogy. However, in response to those who felt that the ending of Return of the Jedi was something of a cop-out with celebration instead of tragedy, let me ask you this:
Don’t you think that after everything Luke Skywalker has gone through that it would be even more of a cop-out to just suddenly show him as a dark side adept or Sith Lord with no explanation aside from what we’ve seen in the Old Trilogy? Wouldn’t that feel disingenuous after all those years?
And we know that someone wants to finish what Vader started. It is Kylo Ren whom we know for a fact is not Luke Skywalker. Even Supreme Leader Snoke of the First Order is played by Andy Serkis: though he could, admittedly, only be voicing the character. So perhaps Kylo Ren is working for Luke?
What I do know is that we all have a lot of questions. And unlike the identity of Khan from Star Trek: Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams is keeping these secrets well. We will just have to see what happens, then, on December 18, 2015.
The Force be with you. Always.
ETA: At the time I wrote this, I didn’t realize that Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars mini-series was no longer considered canon by the Lucasfilm Story Group. So, perhaps, Mace Windu’s Force-grip of General Grievous did not happen. However, during the height of the War itself Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Mace Windu did attempt to use the Force to compel Cad Bane’s mind: causing him pain and eventually just getting him to volunteer to bring the children he helped steal for Sidious in “Children of the Force.” While it was, from my understanding, utterly necessary and Bane himself was a ruthless bounty hunter and killer, I would not exactly say that these actions were completely benevolent — or considered in tune with the Light Side — so this in itself can be seen as a precedent for some of Luke’s subsequent actions as well.