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“Who is Luke Skywalker?”
As Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy told Entertainment Weekly, that’s the question that brought J.J. Abrams onboard Star Wars: The Force Awakens. On first reading, that’s an unexpected development; Skywalker, after all, was the central figure of the original Star Wars trilogy and, it was assumed, a fringe figure of the new movies. Why would the question of the truth behind such a familiar character — and one who wasn’t even the focus of the new movie — be so exciting to Abrams? Especially given that we know the answer: He’s the son of Anakin Skywalker, and the person destined to bring balance to the Force. Obviously.
Taking the question less literally opens it up, however; beyond the circumstances of Luke’s parentage — an early example of the retcon, judging by the evidence of the first movie — the “who” of Luke Skywalker is a question that was not only not answered, but barely addressed by the original trilogy.
Luke, after all, is an impressively passive character who falls prey to whatever his father figure du jour tells him. Uncle Owen tells him that he’s a farmer, so he farms; Ben tells him that he’s a Jedi, so he seeks out Yoda; Yoda tells him that he’s destined to bring balance to the Force, so he confronts the Emperor and Darth Vader. If someone had told him midway through the second movie that he was a farmer again, Return of the Jedi might have gone very differently. Self-reflection isn’t his style — or, really, the style of Star Wars in general. We believe that he’s destined to do all the good stuff because we’re told that he is. It’s as simple as that.
The EW story that reveals the question that convinced Abrams to make the movie throws two interesting spanners into the works of George Lucas‘ original machine. First, it drops the none-more-foreboding fact that Luke’s sister Leia will (finally!) have a lightsaber in The Force Awakens, raising the potential for a nature-versus-nurture story by comparing how Anakin’s two children react to being the offspring of a Dark Lord of the Sith. What if Luke’s inherent goodness doesn’t come down to fate — after all, Anakin himself defied his originally stated destiny, to become Darth Vader — but his own moral character?
Leia’s saber, it’s revealed by EW, is actually the former weapon used by Darth Vader himself — which brings with it the aesthetic of the Dark Side. (As the new movie’s Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, underscores, only bad guys use red lightsabers). If Leia falls under the spell of the Dark Side while Luke didn’t, or vice versa, does that retroactively offer more definition to Luke as a character and the journey he underwent in the first trilogy?
That promise of after-the-fact perspective on Luke’s character is bolstered by the revelation that Rey — Daisy Ridley‘s character — appears to be an analog to Luke as audiences met him in the original Star Wars movie: a bystander brought into the larger conflict when she discovers a droid who is connected to the main action. (If Rey does, as is rumored, turn out to be the daughter of Han Solo and Leia, that bolsters the analog nature even more; she’s a nobody who turns out to be the child of one of the main players in the conflict.) Watching how she reacts to everything that happens in the movie, and to the almost-inevitable discovery that she has a destiny beyond what she might have expected, is as likely to shine a light on the way Luke responded in the first movie.
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