The Last Jedi remains the most divisive Star Wars fan in the franchise’s history. In fact, 43% of fans cited fan rage over previous films as the reason Solo: A Star Wars Story (a film I’d personally like to see a sequel to) did so poorly at the Box Office …and TLJ was named over and over again as the film that ignited that rage.
Fans had many complaints about the film. Some were more trivial than others. Some were purely political. Others spoke to things that were more fundamental.
You can blame Rian Johnson or Kathleen Kennedy or Disney or trollishly rabid fanboys for this sorry state of affairs if you want, but you will not be able to blame me for SPOILERS if you read past this point! This post contains SPOILERS for STAR WARS films, including The Last Jedi, the Original Trilogy and Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Seriously, you have been warned. Do not read past this point, if you’re still holding the fan conversations of your friends and family hostage because you haven’t seen the film yet. Seriously, stop being Bantha poodoo and let them off the hook already.
Anyway, if you’re still here…
Darth Vader is Luke’s father!!!!
In all seriousness, that bombshell from The Empire Strikes Back has everything to do with why people don’t like Rian Johnson’s “Jake” Skywalker and why a film that made over $619 million at the box office and received a 91% score from critics on Rotten Tomatoes only merits a 46% fan score on that same site.
In The Last Jedi, Rey finds Luke Skywalker on the planet Achto. Luke is unpleasant from the first lightsaber toss. It turns out that his self-imposed exile has to do with the fact that his nephew and student, that spoiled little brat we’re supposed to believe was raised by a strong female personality like Leia and a man like Han Solo…
Sorry. I must’ve blacked out. Anyway Luke Skywalker tried to train Ben Solo in the ways of the Jedi but failed spectacularly. Instead Ben destroyed his uncle’s Jedi academy and formed a boy band called Kylo and the Knights of Ren. They wear masks like Slipknot, so it’s all about the
We find out later (through flashback scenes that were added to the script at the last minute, suggesting afterthought rather than careful plotting) that Ben Solo turned on his uncle and the rest of the galaxy because Luke Skywalker tried to kill him.
Wookieepedia’s Luke Skywalker article summarizes it like this:
“[Luke] …saw glimpses of darkness within his nephew and, in a moment of pure instinct, nearly killed Solo in his sleep. In retaliation Solo attacked Skywalker, destroyed his training temple, and killed half of his students while some of them sided with him. Plagued by feelings of shame and regret, Skywalker exiled himself to Achto…”
In TLJ, the moment of revelation comes in a conversation between Rey and Luke.
Rey: Did you do it? Did you create Kylo Ren? Tell me the truth.
Luke: I saw darkness. I’d sensed it building in him. I’d see it at moments during his training. But then I looked inside… and it was beyond what I ever imagined. Snoke had already turned his heart. He would bring destruction, and pain,and death… and the end of everything I love because of what he will become. And for the briefest moment of pure instinct… I thought I could stop it. It passed like a fleeting shadow. And I was left with shame… and with consequence. And the last thing I saw… were the eyes of a frightened boy whose master had failed him.
Rey: You failed him by thinking his choice was made It wasn’t There is still conflict in him If he turned from the dark side, that could shift the tide. This could be how we win.
Luke: This is not going to go the way you think.
The problem with this scenario is that the Luke Skywalker from the Original Trilogy would never thrust himself into exile after such a failure.
Among the top fan complaints about TLJ were Luke Skywalker’s characterization, Rey’s parentage, Snoke’s unrealized potential, the perceived leftist politicalization of the franchise, and the long rabbit trail that was Canto Bight.
Of those, Luke Skywalker’s mischaracterization is one that most vocally causes fans to lose their minds, wail that Disney has ruined their childhood and rage-quit the franchise.
Even amongst those who respond less dramatically, there is the feeling that this isn’t the Luke Skywalker we know and love. And even Mark Hamill agrees with that assessment.
In a 2017 interview with SensaCine, Mark Hamill admitted that he had the same problem with Luke’s characterization:
“Well, Luke is so optimistic and hopeful and cheerful. Here, he’s in a very, very dark place, one that I didn’t expect. I said to Rian, I said ‘Jedis don’t give up.’ I mean even if he had a problem, maybe take a year to try and regroup… but if he made a mistake he would try and right that wrong, so right there, we had a fundamental difference, but, it’s not my story anymore. It’s somebody else’s story, and Rian needed me to be a certain way to make the ending effective.
“That’s the crux of my problem. Luke would never say that. [“It’s time for the Jedi to end.”] I’m sorry. Well, in this version, see. I’m talking about the George Lucas Star Wars. This is the next generation of Star Wars, so I almost had to think of Luke as another character. Maybe he’s ‘Jake’ Skywalker, he’s not my Luke Skywalker.”
Hamill has criticized the directors vision and recanted (while admitting he got in trouble for saying he fundamentally disagreed with every decision Rian Johnson made about the character) several times, and while he
contractually ultimately praises Johnson’s vision, his admission that Rian Johnson’s Luke Skywalker us not our Luke Skywalker resonates with long-time fans.
This is literally the guy who carried a torch for Darth Vader, a guy who has no problem wiping out entire planets to get what he wants, because he felt there was still good in him.
Luke risked everything in Return of the Jedi because he sensed conflict in his father, yet he was willing to kill his nephew because he sensed the Dark Side in him. If Luke was only tempted for the briefest of moments, how did that translate to a lightsaber out and ready to do damage?
While Luke tells Leia that there’s no more light left in him at the end of TLJ, pretty much everyone from Snoke on down senses his conflict up until then, meaning that there was still light in him at the moment that Luke chose to try to kill his nephew.
And keep in mind that Luke’s faith in that shred of goodness in his father was justified. He saw Vader turn back to the Light to save his son from the Emperor! Having that faith justified would tend to reinforce the ideal that anyone can be redeemed. The plot would have made more sense if Luke had been attacked by Ben Solo and forced to defend himself despite his hard-won convictions.
A Luke who gives up, whether that be on his nephew’s chances of embracing the Light Side or on pretty much everything else, is #NotMyLukeSkywalker.
Compare this with the fact that far fewer fans (only 4% out of over 3000 fan reactions according to a survey I held across seven social mefia fan groups) had a problem with Han Solo’s portrayal in Solo: A Star Wars Story. This, despite Solo being played by a different actor altogether (#AldenMEH-renreich) who wasn’t completely consistent with Harrison Ford’s iconic portrayal.
I recall getting into shouting matches over whether Solo or Skywalker was cooler. Thank the Maker that Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi settled the question of who got the girl! Both characters are extremely popular.
So why did #NotMyLukeSkywalker become more of a subject of fan rage than #NotMyHanSolo?
I can give you three reasons:
1. Fan rage over TLJ and discussion of Solo’s many filming and production problems before it hit the box office significantly lowered our expectations for Solo. A lot of fans were looking forward to seeing TLJ and especially Luke Skywalker.
2. Skywalker is being played by the same actor. That leads to expectations of how that character will behave. When Harrison Ford reprised his role in The Force Awakens, he was simply an older version of the character we know and love.
Yet when another actor plays the same role, we expect some differences. This isn’t always the case. In fact, I recall being pleasantly shocked at how closely Brandon Roth mimicked Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent in Superman Returns. Yet by and large, we expect a slightly different spin when a different actor is involved. In the Potterverse, there were differences in Richard Harris and Michael Gambon’s portrayal of Dumbledore. Likewise, in the MCU, we see minor differences in the way Ed Norton and Mark Ruffalo play Bruce Banner. We expect those differences with different actors, but no major deviations in established character. Yet as we mentioned previously, Mark Hamill himself was upset with the inconsistency in his character.
3. Solo is a prequel. There’s wiggle room for Ehrenreich to develop Solo’s character into the more familiar Ford characterization.
Meanwhile, TLJ takes an established character and has him do something out of his established character once to explain why he’s now acting completely out-of-character. The inciting event doesn’t seem adequate to justify Luke’s change into a bitter old hermit. Hamill himself admitted it that Luke might’ve taken a year off at best before attempting to right his wrongs. If we’re honest, it also fails as a justification for why Kylo Ren later feels a burning passion to “complete” Vader’s “mission,” whatever that was supposed to be.
In short, we might object that Ehrenreich is #NotMyHanSolo YET, but Rian Johnson’s version of Luke Skywalker may as well be from an alternate dimension. He’s not built to react the way Johnson “needed” him to. Luke is not Yoda and never could be. In fact, Luke doesn’t even fulfill the role of reluctant teacher. Rather than playing a wise, reluctant master, Luke offers Rey literally nothing. And what could this out-of-character Skywalker offer her anyway? The movie’s message seems to be: Anyone can be proficient as a Jedi, no training required. That’s a slap in the face to the premise of the Original Trilogy (and the prequels).
More to the point, unlike Yoda or Obiwan, the idealistic farm boy never witnessed the death of the Republic and the Jedi Order. Rather he saw the redemption of the galaxy’s most irredeemable villain. These are fuel for hope in dark times.
The Luke Skywalker of TLJ is a paradox.
The problem is that Rian Johnson knows this. Regarding why he ultimately didn’t put Lando Calrissian in TLJ, he told The Playlist:
“Of course I’d love to see Lando. In terms of Lando, I briefly considered — would he work in the Benicio [del Toro] part, [DJ].
I don’t think you would ever buy that Lando would just completely betray the characters like that and have that level of moral ambiguity. Cause we love Lando and you’d come into it with that [expectation]. And also, DJ, the character that they met, for the purposes of Finn’s character, had to be a morally ambiguous character that you’re not sure about, that you’re guessing about, and we already know that we love the character of Lando so it just wouldn’t have played in that part story wise.”
So he does get it. Which means that he violated our expectations about Luke Skywalker and the rules of good storytelling quite on purpose.
Now some fans think these changes in Luke Skywalker’s characterization made for good storytelling. For example, Adam Rosenberg wrote:
“..pretty much anyone who watched the movie with both eyes open comprehended Luke’s journey. The guy became a hero in his late teens and then derailed a galactic civil war almost single-handedly.
In the years after Return of the Jedi, this former farmboy-turned-last hope of the Jedi went ahead and tried to rekindle the Jedi Order. He failed, badly, and that failure was largely his fault. He didn’t turn to the Dark Side (thankfully), but he got super-depressed and up in his own head, so he retreated from public life.
It was a very natural, human reaction, and credit to Johnson for taking that direction when he could have easily turned Luke into Hero of the Rebellion 2.0 — which, in turn, would have robbed The Last Jedi of its emotional core.”
I obviously disagree. Getting “super-depressed and up in his own head” is everything Luke Skywalker isn’t as an established character. Thank the Maker that Rian Johnson allowed the Luke Skywalker we know and love to return in the film’s final moments.
Alas! the only way we will see him as he’s meant to be will be as a possible Force ghost!
Anyway that’s why I think #NotMyLukeSkywalker ended up being a bigger deal than #NotMyHanSolo.
Maybe you agree. Maybe you don’t. I’d like to hear your thoughts on it either way. Leave a comment below and tell us what you think.