Luke Skywalker: A Hero Myth or Human Failure

Typically in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey (monomyth), the hero is called upon to embark on a life-altering quest. After accomplishing each feat of the journey–accepting the call, crossing the threshold, encountering the shadow presence (in Luke Skywalker’s case; his aunt and uncle and the Tusken Raiders). Once the hero passes the point of no return, they enter the world of unfamiliarity, some of which will contain threats (The Empire), some will offer magical aid (Yoda, Ben Kenobi). When the hero finally reaches the mythological belly of the whale, several events can happen, but the one most germane to this discussion is the recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), which Luke does by confronting Vader and helping to redeem Anakin back to the light side by defeating the Emperor. The final step is that of the return. If the powers have consecrated the hero, they now set forth upon returning. When crossing the return threshold, the transcendental powers must be left behind; the hero re-surfaces from darkness; the blessing that they bring restores the world (freedom from the Empire’s oppression and rebuilding the Jedi Order).

Monomyth

However, Luke apparently doesn’t do this. So far as we know from Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, Luke began to train a dozen students in the ways of the Force at a new Jedi Temple. During his training, one of his students, Ben Solo, the son of his sister Leia Organa and Han Solo, became corrupted by Snoke, a powerful dark side user. Once Ben had gone to the dark side, Luke, on his best intentions, thought it was his duty to stop evil before it grew too powerful, and confronted Ben while in his sleep. Luke hesitated, realizing he was wrong in wanting to kill Ben. However, Ben awoke and faced his Master; murdered half of the students and left with the remaining.

Before delving further into this analysis, I think it’s important to know the mindset of writer/director, Rian Johnson and what he thought where Luke’s character should go. According to an interview with Collider.com, Johnson says:

“So, if you think about where Luke is at the beginning of this movie—and by the way, the cracking for me where Luke is at in this movie was the first big thing I had to do coming into it, where his head was at here, and there were fewer options than you would imagine. The thing we know about him from The Force Awakens, the big thing, is he’s taken himself out of the fight. His friends are fighting the good fight, he’s exiled off to an island alone. Knowing that Luke is a hero, knowing Luke from growing up, I know he must think he’s doing the right thing by taking himself out of the equation. And because he’s the last Jedi, by taking the Jedi out of the equation, by saying, ‘I’m taking the Jedi out of this fight,’ he must think that’s the best thing for the galaxy.”

In my research, I was not able to find any mythological figures that failed in teaching the next generation. Luke is nothing if not human, Jedi Master or no. He has faults just like any of us. Despite his heroic stature, one of the underlying Star Wars messages is that any one of us can become a hero if we so choose. It can be challenging to learn that the heroes we admired are not deserved to be on the pedestal any more than ourselves. Perhaps Luke is somewhere between an Odysseus or an Achilles and the average individual. Luke is not a god, but a human with the same cracks as anyone. He takes the blame for all the trouble the galaxy is in by The Force Awakens. Luke tosses the lightsaber away because he’s decided to take himself and Jedi out of the equation because he feels they’ve done enough damage. As per Yoda’s advice, Luke did attempt to pass on his knowledge to his students at the Jedi Temple. And yes, Luke failed.

Luke’s mechanical hand reaching out to his friend, R2-D2 after Kylo’s destruction of the Jedi Temple.

According to Joseph Campbell, “We can have the hero who fails, but he’s usually represented as a kind of clown, someone pretending to more than he can achieve.” Perhaps this statement is more directed to those heroes that failed in their quest. However, Luke is no clown. Luke accomplished his goal of destroying the first Death Star and redeeming his father, Anakin Skywalker.

The point I’m making is that when an individual becomes a legend is it because they’ve gone on a heroic journey and have gone on to attain a level beyond the average person. Not all myths go on to become excellent teachers. A great example of this is athletes. Either an athlete is born with the innate talent or ability to achieve greatness, or they’re not. But just because they are talented athletes and put up extraordinary numbers doesn’t mean they can relay their skills to another. Take Wayne Gretzky for example. He broke most, if not every, existing scoring record with the Edmonton Oilers hockey team in the 1980s that it’s highly unlikely anyone will surpass them. However, in retirement, he coached the Arizona Coyotes who never performed good enough to advance to the playoffs. So in this, perhaps Luke wasn’t able to teach those things that made him a person of exceptional abilities because they came naturally to him, in order to keep his students from turning dark?

It appears that Lucasfilm wants us to realize that everything is a story, and not gospel. Lucasfilm is showing us one version, and we can accept that or we can create our versions, which I believe they are encouraging us to do. Disney Lucasfilm Press publishes books like The Legends of Luke Skywalker that give us more stories to enjoy. We are those children at the end of The Last Jedi, and each one of us has a belief of what happened to Luke and the events surrounding him. Not every story will be what we thought. Not every account will be accurate. In fact, the first entry in the Merriam Dictionary’s definition of a legend is “a story coming down from the past; especially: one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable.”

Temiri Blagg

In the end, it was Luke’s heroic deed and self-sacrifice that gave the Resistance the opportunity to escape The First Order and leave Crait. It is Luke’s humanity that makes him that much more admirable.

Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Novato: New World Library, 2008.

Campbell, Joseph. Interview. The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. 1988, Anchor Books Doubleday

Johnson, Rian. Interview. http://collider.com/the-last-jedi-luke-lightsaber-scene-explained-rian-johnson/ By Adam Chitwood. 19 Dec.

ericonkenhout@coffeewithkenobi.com

@EricOnkenhout

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Coffee With Kenobi, its hosts, respective writers, or its affiliates.

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2 thoughts on “Luke Skywalker: A Hero Myth or Human Failure”

  1. You certainly give a lot about which to ponder, Eric. Thank you. 🙂

    As a staunch Luke Skywalker fan (does anyone not know this about me? 😉 ), I was not particularly thrilled with the path down which Rian Johnson took Luke in TLJ (after my first viewing). To a certain extent, I have not changed my thinking on this matter (after subsequent viewings), but the more I ponder what happened to Luke, why he made the decisions he made and what may have happened to him in the 30 years between ROTJ and TLJ, the more accepting of his choices I have found myself being. There is a line Yoda throws Luke’s way (I apologize that I don’t recall it verbatim) but it is something to the effect that as teachers, it is meant that one’s students will surpass the teacher. Perhaps Luke accomplished more than he thought he did. We may find that out in Episode IX. 😉

    MTFBWY 🙂

  2. Hi MelindaI Thanks for the comment. I saw a tweet the other day that equated Luke in TLJ as to having depression after Ben’s turn. I thought that was a good analogy. I wish I remembered who posted that. I also think Luke’s sacrifice at the end gets overlooked. He did come back and make the ultimate hero move.
    MTFBWY
    Eric

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