I AM A JEDI: LUKE SKYWALKER’S JOURNEY OF THE SOUL
By Ellen Virginia, October 17, 2015
Word Count: 2258
Rating: PG for themes of fantasy drama and violence
Summary: An examination of the spiritual hero’s journey undertaken by Luke Skywalker.
On a remote desert planet overlooked by the rest of the galaxy, the pensive figure of a young farm boy watches the twin suns sink below the horizon. As darkness settles over the barren landscape, a fierce longing to escape his mundane existence wells up in his soul. Gritting his teeth, he reluctantly turns away, once again suppressing his dreams and hopes for the future.
Just a few years later, the same farm boy, now grown into a man, has finally overpowered the masked villain responsible for murdering millions of people, torturing his sister and friend, cutting off his hand, and throwing his life in upheaval – his own father. Emerging from the shadows, the Emperor cackles with satisfaction and urges the young man to seize his opportunity; only a swift slash of the humming green lightsaber separates him from dominion over the entire galaxy.
But the Emperor doesn’t consider the young man’s soul.
Staring transfixed at his black-gloved hand – mechanical, like the hand he just severed from his father’s arm – his eyes widen in horror. Trembling, he shuts down his lightsaber and resolutely turns to face the Emperor. “Never.” He tosses aside the weapon to add further gravity to the word. “I’ll never turn to the dark side. You’ve failed, your highness.” Stepping closer, his breath ragged but his blue eyes unflinching, Luke Skywalker finally declares the achievement of his ultimate goal: “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”
I’ve been an avid Star Wars (original trilogy) fan since I was fifteen years old. I enjoy it for a multitude of reasons – far too many to list here – but chief among them is the compelling character Luke Skywalker (brilliantly played by sadly underrated Mark Hamill). After all, the heart of the story belongs to him, the farm boy who matures into a Jedi Knight as he wages his heroic moral struggle against the forces of evil. His destiny inextricably bound with Darth Vader’s, he eventually comes to realize he is charged with a monumental task that only he can accomplish, and the entire trilogy prepares him for that crucial moment at the climax of Return of the Jedi.
His story has the humblest of origins – in the first Star Wars film, Luke lives with his aunt and uncle on harsh desert Tatooine, where they struggle to eke out a meager existence on a small moisture farm. At first glance, he certainly doesn’t seem to qualify as a likely candidate to liberate the galaxy and defy the Emperor. Restless and impatient, almost like every young adult, he yearns to escape his monotonous life and seek adventure. As the film unfolds, however, he indicates that at least part of his frustration stems from a desire to know more about his mysterious father, whom his uncle refuses to discuss. Furthermore, his impulsiveness conceals a deeply rooted loyalty to his family, despite his tense relationship with his uncle, as well as a longing to dedicate his life to a higher purpose.
His first inkling that he is destined to become more than a moisture farmer comes from an unexpected source, the desert hermit and Jedi-in-exile Obi- Wan “Ben” Kenobi, who reveals that Luke’s father was a Jedi Knight – and informs him that he, too, possesses talent for the Force. Ben urges Luke to accompany him to the planet Alderaan and begin Jedi training, the chance of a lifetime that Luke has been waiting for. Demonstrating his loyalty, however, he cannot be so easily dissuaded to desert his aunt and uncle, his only family, even though he longs to fight the Empire with every fiber of his being. Torn between conflicting desires, he refuses – until the choice is taken away from him. After he returns home to find his aunt and uncle savagely murdered by Imperial stormtroopers, he discerns the path he is called to follow. Declaring his intention to become a Jedi like his father, his ambitions gain a new depth of purpose – and Luke takes his first major step on the path to maturity.
Once he makes that decision, he throws himself wholeheartedly into his new life, starting his Jedi training with Ben aboard Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon. He doesn’t immediately learn to control his impulsive nature, but Providentially, that attribute actually proves valuable when combined with his innate moral integrity. When he discovers that Princess Leia is a prisoner aboard the Death Star and scheduled for execution, neither the myriad dangers nor Han’s selfish reluctance to help discourage him from diving into action. Armed with nothing more than a stormtrooper disguise, a haphazard plan, and valiant determination, he successfully rescues her, thinking nothing of risking his life for a total stranger. Furthermore, although still overwhelmed with shock and grief following Ben’s death, he puts that aside to join the Rebel assault on the Death Star, disregarding the apparent futility of the task and rejecting Han Solo’s invitation to quit. His principles leave no doubt as to what he has to do. Miraculously, he succeeds in destroying the Death Star after immersing himself in the Force, thus saving the entire Rebel Alliance.
At the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke has lost most of his wide-eyed naiveté; now a seasoned Commander in the Rebel forces, he faithfully carries out his responsibilities during the Battle of Hoth. However, he hasn’t forgotten his high ideals, which have presumably been sustaining him throughout the long, weary years of war. Therefore, when Ben appears in a vision, cryptically instructing him to continue his training with Yoda, he immediately obeys, only to discover that the diminutive Jedi Master hardly resembles his vision of a “great warrior.” Furthermore, Yoda, wary of Luke’s impatience and recklessness, is reluctant to train him. Chagrined, Luke shows his characteristic earnestness once more, as he assures Yoda that he intends take his commitment seriously: “I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.”
His intentions may be earnest, yet Luke still struggles with numerous obstacles on his arduous path to Jedi Knighthood. His lack of patience, for instance, leads to discouragement and his subsequent failure to raise his X-wing from the swamp. More troubling, however, is his disastrous experience in the dark side-infested cave. Ignoring Yoda’s veiled warning to curb his anger before entering, he encounters a phantom image of Darth Vader, whom he believes to be his father’s murderer. After a fierce but brief battle, Vader’s mask explodes to reveal Luke’s own face within. The sobering lesson that he could commit the same sins and become another version of his mortal enemy will haunt him throughout the rest of his journey – but also save his soul.
In spite of these setbacks, however, Luke demonstrates that his staunch loyalty and integrity remain intact. During a training session, he sees a chilling vision of the future with Han and Leia in dire peril. As a faithful friend, his immediate decision is to go directly to their aid, heedless of his own safety and Yoda and Ben’s disapproval. They repeatedly admonish him that he is making a grave mistake in ending his training prematurely, warning him that he is not ready to face what awaits him. Luke may not be altogether ready, but as he reminds Yoda in desperation, “They’re my friends – I have to help them!” He needs no other reason; he simply can’t ignore their distress and continue his training on the assumption that he will indeed complete his Jedi skills sometime in the uncertain future. His mind set with determination, he leaves Dagobah. While he promises Yoda that he will return, he focuses on making every effort within his power to do whatever good he can at the present moment. That, after all, is the essence of following a vocation, regardless of the outcome.
Ultimately, instead of helping Han and Leia, Luke falls into a deadly trap. At the climax of a brutal lightsaber duel comes the most decisive turning point in his heroic journey – the revelation that Darth Vader is his father. Already reeling from the loss of his right hand, Luke is shaken to his very core. Without warning, his most cherished dream to follow in a noble father’s footsteps is lost forever. Eagerly pressing his perceived advantage, Vader implores Luke to join him and assume joint control over the entire galaxy. Luke, however, is not so easily corrupted. Even at his nadir, his body ravaged and mind anguished, he nonetheless clings to his well-grounded conscience. In a valiant act of moral courage, he chooses to die in rather than succumb to temptation. Plunging through the abyss beneath Cloud City, he nearly does lose his life – but he passes his greatest test thus far and preserves his soul.
Ben and Yoda had insisted that Luke wasn’t ready to face Vader, but actually, the grim ordeal serves as a catalyst for additional spiritual growth, purging his character of the last vestiges of recklessness and impatience. By the beginning of Return of the Jedi, he has rapidly matured into the man ready to undertake the final stage of his heroic journey. Confidently yet calmly, he singlehandedly rescues Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt and his minions, even offering the gangster the chance to surrender peacefully. Thanks to his increased Jedi prowess, he is also able to discern that Leia is his sister. Yet he is also confused and afraid; the shadow of Vader’s revelation haunts him as he tries to piece together the shattered foundation of his life and determine his next course of action.
Both Ben and Yoda tell him he must confront Vader once again to truly become a Jedi, but Luke, clinging to his morals, refuses to believe that killing his father is the solution to either his personal problems or the fate of the Rebellion. Furthermore, with uncanny intuition that can only come from grace, he senses a tiny scrap of goodness buried beneath the evil in his father. Obi-Wan dismisses his assertion, but Luke, disregarding the apparent futility of the idea, refuses to let it go. Driven by innate mercy and compassion, he boldly decides that his duty is to awaken the humanity within his father and redeem him from the dark side – or perish in the attempt. At last he can clearly see the path he must follow, to whatever end.
His uncertainty replaced with unwavering resolve, he willingly surrenders himself into Vader’s custody, beginning his most desperate internal battle with the dark side that will test his convictions to the limit. Armed with compassion, not a lightsaber, he earnestly implores his father to reject the dark side, but Vader resists his efforts and hands him over to the Emperor. Seizing full advantage of Luke’s vulnerability, the Emperor attempts to overwhelm him with despair and goad him into lashing out in anger. Though overcome with horror as he is forced to witness the Rebel fleet’s destruction, Luke still stands firm, exuding the quiet dignity that has become so characteristic of him by this point. He does launch into another duel with his father during a temporary lapse in control, but he manages to check himself and even reaffirm his belief in Vader’s latent goodness.
Only when Vader threatens to corrupt his twin sister does Luke’s restraint finally dissolve into sheer fury. A violent lightsaber duel ensues, culminating with Luke severing his father’s right hand, the reverse outcome of their Cloud City duel. On the verge of killing him and sealing his own fate to the dark side, Luke hesitates at the sight of Vader’s mechanical arm, so eerily like his own. No doubt his mind flashes back to the Dagobah cave incident. At that critical moment, he realizes that the true battle he is facing is not physical but spiritual. Conquering the temptation, he takes his final heroic step with his staunch declaration of allegiance to the Jedi.
He nearly pays for his courage with his life when the enraged Emperor unleashes a barrage of Force lightning – until Vader, touched and redeemed even after all hope seems lost, intervenes to save his son’s life. Though exhausted and weak following the torture, Luke, takes valuable time to drag his father to the hangar bay before the Death Star explodes, and there he is finally rewarded for his faith when he sees his father’s face for the first and only time. The film ends with Luke, pensive and forever changed, grieving what he has lost – yet also rejoicing in the new friends and family he has found. His long journey has reached completion.
As a young farm boy gazing wistfully at Tatooine’s binary sunset, Luke Skywalker never could have dreamed where his spiritual journey would take him. Even though Star Wars doesn’t contain perfect Catholic parallels, it is still easy to see Divine Providence at work in arranging his destiny. Furthermore, Luke’s response to it is truly inspirational. He discerns his calling, accepts it, and lives it out amid tremendous suffering and sacrifice. Persevering through both triumph and defeat, he surmounts his character flaws while clinging to his God-given ideals of mercy, courage, loyalty, and compassion. Indeed, his steadfast dedication to morality is his driving force, motivating his every action, underlying his every decision, and sustaining him in his darkest moments. With his soul purified in the crucible of his three-film journey, he transforms into the man he was meant to be – the man willing to sacrifice his life to redeem Darth Vader, the man capable of confronting the epitome of evil and asserting with unshakable conviction, “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”