After the return and failure of the Jedi, what lies ahead for the mystical knights of ‘Star Wars’?

March 27, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 27, 2016

Apropos of very little, I was thinking the other day about possible plot points for the eighth installment of the Star Wars movies, which is due out in December 2017.

According to a recent update of the flick’s Internet Movie Database pageStar Wars — Episode VIII is currently being filmed, and I’m sure director-screenwriter Rian Johnson hammered down most of the script months ago. (If he hasn’t, then a planet of movie-goers could be in for an epic muddle reminiscent of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.) So the following has value — if it possesses any at all — solely as idle speculation.

(Dear reader, please beware: There be spoilers ahead for Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens! There will also be spoilers for movies in the original Star Wars trilogy, which came out more than 30 years ago.)

If you’ve seen The Force Awakens — and if you haven’t, why are you reading this? Click on my recap of critical articles about James Cameron’s brilliant Aliens instead — then you know that the McGuffin in the movie is Luke Skywalker. The missing Jedi knight is being sought both by the evil First Order, which apparently believes him to be an obstacle to (re-)conquering the galaxy, and by the Resistance, which wants his help “restoring peace and justice,” as the movie’s title crawl puts it.

The movie is set three decades after Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi, which ended with Luke (Mark Hamill) and his friends (the Rebellion, a.k.a. the good guys) having triumphed over the evil Emperor Palpatine and a large segment of the Imperial Navy. Since then, Skywalker’s (secret) sister, Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) of the destroyed world Alderaan, has had a child with Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Young Ben later became Skywalker’s pupil in a new school for Jedi knights, warriors who used their mystical Force powers to keep the peace before they were hunted down on Palpatine’s orders.

But Ben Solo was somehow corrupted by a mysterious figure named Snoke (Andy Serkis), which led to him murdering his fellow students. After that happened, Skywalker exiled himself to parts unknown. As The Force Awakens opens, it’s been years since any of his friends (or enemies) have seen him.

For all his importance to The Force Awakens, Skywalker is more discussed than seen or heard. He’s on screen for perhaps 90 seconds of the feature; his face is shown for 30 seconds at most, and he has no dialogue. (Skywalker spoke five sentences in one of the trailers but is silent in the finished cut of the motion picture.)

So here’s what I’ve been pondering: What if Skywalker isn’t the hero in the sequel trilogy that he was in the original trilogy? What if he actually joins the forces of evil?

Although he’s the putative hero of A New HopeThe Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Skywalker is a somewhat passive figure. True, he blows up the Death Star in the first film, but in the end, how much responsibility does he really have for that? As Solo says in celebration, “Great shot, kid, that was one in a million!” Perhaps it was sheer chance that Skywalker’s torpedoes hit their mark.

In the second movie, Skywalker is captured early on by a tampa; a few scenes later, his snow speeder crashes during the Imperial invasion of Hoth. Later, he breaks off his Jedi training with Yoda on Dagobah to attempt to rescue his friends on Bespin. But as Yoda (voiced by legendary puppeteer Frank Oz) and the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) sense, Skywalker is willingly entering a trap, one that has been carefully laid by the evil Darth Vader (played by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones).

Skywalker arrives on Bespin too late to save Solo from being frozen in carbonite and handed off to the bounty hunter Boba Fett (an armored, masked Jeremy Bulloch), who’s bound for a big payoff from Tatooine crime boss Jabba the Hutt. He’s also unable to save Organa, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels); they’re actually freed by the same Cloud City officials who handed them over to Vader in the first place.

In fact, Skywalker’s misguided rescue attempt results in his nearly being captured by Vader. After a spirited fight, the emperor’s intimidating right-hand man cuts off Skywalker’s hand, which was holding his lightsaber. Vader then pushes the younger man to his mental limits by revealing that he is Luke’s father and by urging him to give in to the dark side of the Force. Skywalker escapes Vader’s literal and figurative clutches only by throwing himself into a vast shaft. In an ironic twist, Organa and crew actually end up rescuing Skywalker as he desperately clings to an antenna on the bottom of the levitating Cloud City.

Return of the Jedi opens with the heroes infiltrating Jabba’s palace and rescuing Solo, but only after Organa, Skywalker, Chewbacca and the droids either surrender themselves to or are captured by Jabba and his minions. They need the help of Solo, who is temporarily sightless after having been thawed from carbonite, in order to free themselves from Jabba’s murderous gang.

The rest of Return of the Jedi involves a mission to destroy the empire’s new Death Star, a planet-destroying mobile weapons platform that is being built in orbit over the forest moon of Endor. But it turns out that the entire Rebel fleet has been drawn into another trap, this time set by Vader and Palpatine.

After defeating a small group of imperial scouts, Skywalker turns himself over to Vader. He wants to persuade Vader to turn away from the dark side and thereby save his soul, but he fails. Instead, Palpatine bates Skywalker into giving into his own anger; Skywalker attacks the emperor but ends up battling his father. This time, the son gains the upper hand (so to speak) by slicing off one of Vader’s hands in a rage-fueled flurry of blows.

Palpatine urges Skywalker to murder Vader, which would be another step along the road to surrendering to the dark side and becoming an evil Sith. Skywalker steadfastly refuses to strike a killing blow, whereupon Palpatine shocks him repeatedly and mercilessly with his Force lightning. Vader’s conscience and empathy are pricked by this spectacle; before Palpatine can kill his son, he picks up the emperor and tosses him down to his death in an(other) immense shaft.

Vader, mortally wounded, soon dies; shortly afterward, the second Death Star is destroyed by the combined efforts of Solo, Organa and other members of the Rebel Alliance. This is a seminal defeat for the Galactic Empire.

It is one, however, that Skywalker has contributed shockingly little to. Other than killing some imperial scouts who encounter the rebels’ advance party, he apparently does nothing that aids the alliance.

Viewed through this prism, one imagines Skywalker being nearly crippled by self-doubt. His greatest achievement was hitting the fluke shot that destroyed the Death Star in the battle of Yavin; otherwise, he’s just a guy with a lightsaber whose accomplishments are negligible, perhaps beyond getting himself repeatedly captured. After the war, Skywalker’s attempt to fulfill his promise to Yoda to pass on his Jedi training resulted in his students being killed by his nephew, and (although this is barely alluded to in The Force Awakens) the New Republic has begun to crumble.

Marquette literature professor Gerry Canavan, whom I follow on Twitter, wrote a thoughtful essay in December about the unrelenting darkness that seems to envelop the universes of both The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. In a comment on his own piece, which Salon used as an epilogue when it republished Canavan’s essay, the author predicted that Skywalker would have to restart the Jedi Order whether he wished to or not.

That would be an interesting and natural approach to take, and it’s probably what Johnson and his colleagues at Disney are going to do in the eighth and ninth installments of Star Wars. But it’s actually not in keeping with Canavan’s own observation that “Luke, Leia and Han are punished [horribly] in the EU [Expanded Universe] novels, over and over, as everything they attempt to build turns to ash and the galaxy repeatedly falls into chaos, war and catastrophe.”

If I were a betting man, I’d put money on Skywalker restarting the Jedi Order, just as Canavan predicted. But I dare say that, at least on an artistic level, it would potentially be much more interesting to see Luke self-indulgently pursuing a nihilistic course.

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