Luke Skywalker was the New Hope of the original trilogy, right? So why does the star of Return of the Jedi suddenly sound so doom and gloom in Star Wars: The Last Jedi? We’ve got some ideas about this and we’d like to invite you into the conversation. Luke learned from Jedi Masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, helped overthrow the evil Empire, saved his father from the Dark Side of the Force and watched the redeemed Anakin toss Darth Sidious into a pit, effectively ending the reign of the Sith. And yet the Luke Skywalker we meet in Episode VIII, the quiet brooding guy we saw at the very end of The Force Awakens, says he only knows one truth. Is he right? This is why it’s time for the Jedi to end.
To be clear, J.J. Abrams made it his mission to return some mystery to the Star Wars saga after the detailed exposition of the prequel trilogy gave us Midi-chlorians and the rise of Galactic Senator Palpatine to Emperor of the first Galactic Empire. Now whether or not the director had any idea what truths lie behind the mysteries of Rey’s parentage, Luke’s disappearance, Snoke’s identity and motivations, how Maz Kanata came into possession of the lightsaber Luke lost in Cloud City, the Knights of Ren, and everything else he introduced in The Force Awakens is unclear.
It’s likely he left these story elements blank so other filmmakers could color them in with subsequent installments in the franchise. If this is true, it will hopefully result in a more satisfying conclusion to this new trilogy than, say, the ending of TV’s Lost.
Though Luke’s attitude toward the Jedi Order he once worked so hard to restore came as a surprise to Mark Hamill himself, we’ve got a theory about what the words spoken by the broken and regretful Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi probably mean. We’re not alone in this theory, either. With increasing volume, more and more acolytes of the events set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away are following some of the breadcrumbs laid down in the prequels, the Clone Wars, and Rebels to this exact destination. You see, the Jedi must end, because the Force demands passion.
Think about it. The Jedi Order were a bunch of monks who swore off personal attachments. Anger, hate, and suffering were deemed the path to the dark side, sure, but these prohibitions extended to romance, childrearing, and even loyalty and love. Remember how Yoda and Obi-Wan tried to convince Luke to stay on Dagobah and train rather than speed off to save his friends? How Anakin had to hide his relationship with Padme, let alone her pregnancy, forget about his mother who lived in slavery on a backwater planet overrun by crime, and suppress his ambitions?
Anakin was believed to be the Chosen One said to bring balance to the Force. Traditionally we figure this was fulfilled when Darth Vader turned against his master, thereby eliminating the only two remaining Sith in the galaxy. But we can only identify this as “balance” if we also remember that Anakin Skywalker was partly responsible for wiping out the Jedi Order in the first place. He slaughtered younglings remember? At the end of Return of the Jedi, there appear to be no more Sith in the galaxy and only one Jedi remaining, Luke Skywalker. Is that balance?
What if the “balance of the Force” isn’t about the mix between the extremists on both sides of the debate, the Jedi with their prohibitions against passion and attachment and the Sith with their overindulgence of selfishness and anger? What if that balance is something more? What if it’s about a balance within each individual?
There have been hints at this, particularly beginning with TV’s the Clone Wars, which masterfully fleshed out the characters introduced in the prequel trilogy. Not only do we get a better sense of how much Anakin cares about his friends, his duty, and his honor, but also how much those things put him in conflict with the Jedi. We even learn that Obi-Wan, whom we first encounter in A New Hope as a reclusive old wizard, once had a love interest of his own, albeit with Victorian era levels of restraint. Ultimately, he couldn’t save her, with his old enemy Darth Maul killing her.
Darth Maul is another great example of what we’re talking about here. The Clone Wars revealed that he’d survived his injuries from The Phantom Menace, surviving on a combination of pure hatred and a thirst for revenge and some kind of dark magic. Eventually, he reunites with his brother, Savage Oppress, and after clashing with his old master, sets out on some kind of quest on his own that certainly leans toward the dark side but isn’t exactly fully “Sith” in the traditional sense, either. With his dying words, he asks Obi-Wan whether Luke is the Chosen One. He sounds almost hopeful that Luke will facilitate Maul’s thirst for revenge against Sidious. Even Maul senses that the Force is way out of balance and that things must change.
Asajj Ventress went on a similar journey. We first meet her as an assassin for the Separatists under the tutelage of Count Dooku. As we know, the Rule of Two means that Sith Lords were constantly conniving to outsmart and replace each other. Darth Tyranus was secretly grooming Ventress to become his apprentice. Darth Sidious sensed this and ordered her murder as a test of Dooku’s loyalty. He was unsuccessful in killing her. Ventress became a bounty hunter after that, even uniting with her longtime rival Obi-Wan Kenobi in battle. Ventress went from Sith-leaning extremist to someone more nuanced with a bit more, shall we say balance.
There is no greater example however than Ahsoka Tano, the much beloved Padawan of Anakin Skywalker introduced in the Clone Wars. One could argue that the character, in fact, has the most impressive arc of any character in Star Wars canon. She went from short-tempered headstrong apprentice, much like her master, to a seasoned leader. A plot that saw her framed for murder caused her expulsion from the Jedi Order. She became so disillusioned that she declined the invitation to return, setting off on her own path. In the 2016 novel by E.K. Johnston, Star Wars Ahsoka, we learn that Ahsoka rejoined the fight to help Captain Rex and the 501st defeat Darth Maul, before Order 66 disrupted all of their lives in swift fashion.
When we meet Ahsoka in Star Wars Rebels, she’s now a part of the burgeoning rebellion. She’s still armed with lightsabers, but they are white, rather than one of the traditional Jedi colors, let alone the red of the Sith. When she meets her old master in battle in Rebels Season 2’s “Twilight of the Apprentice,” she swears to take revenge against Darth Vader for the destruction of Anakin Skywalker. Vader taunts her, reminding her that revenge is not the Jedi way. She reminds him that she’s not a Jedi. This echoes a scene from the Clone Wars, when an evil slaver called “Keeper” tells Obi Wan he knows he won’t kill him because it’s not the Jedi way. Captain Rex nails the dude with a spear and says, “I’m no Jedi.” Obi-Wan doesn’t do the deed himself, but he certainly doesn’t stop it, and we see what could be a smirk on his face.
Yoda certainly learned a lot more about the Force toward the end of the Clone Wars, visiting the scared Sith planet of Korriban after discovering that Qui-Gon Jinn learned how to maintain his consciousness after death. In a sad twist, a mastery over death was something Sidious promised to Vader but ultimately didn’t deliver, while unbeknownst to him, the Jedi were figuring out the secret simultaneously. All of this seems to suggest something bigger about the Force than our current understanding of the light side and the dark side. And what does Luke say in the teaser for the Last Jedi? “It’s so much bigger.”
Now let’s look at the last Padawan, Kanan Jarrus, the fan favorite hero from Rebels voiced by Freddy Prinze Jr. We see him struggle with many of the same issues that have plagued the Jedi for generations, all while doing so without the benefit of tutelage from any Jedi masters, since there are no more around. He takes on a Force sensitive apprentice of his own, Ezra, who we see tempted by the dark side of the Force. Maul wants to make Ezra his apprentice. And on and on it goes…
And yet Ezra seems to sense that things are more complicated than these old binary views of the Force. It takes the combination of a Jedi holocron and a Sith holocron to unlock some greater mysteries, including nothing less than the fate of the galaxy. This has to mean something, right? Why would that merger be so much more powerful than either holocron on its own, doing its own holocron thing for itself?
Finally let’s talk about The Bendu, the wise and ancient Force sensitive creature who Kanan befriends after the Rebels establish a temporary base on the planet Atollon. Here’s how Bendu described himself: “Jedi and Sith wield the Ashla and the Bogan, the light and the dark. I’m the one in the middle. The Bendu.” He has some helpful lessons for Kanan and they are seemingly unlike anything he learned in his own experience as a Jedi. Eventually, Bendu kicks the Rebels and the Empire off of his planet, demanding: “Leave this place. I am the Light, I am the Dark, I am the Bendu.”
It certainly seems like the journey of characters like Ahsoka, Ventress, Maul, Kanan, Ezra and in fact both Anakin and Luke Skywalker themselves have all led to the destruction of not only the Sith as we knew them but of the Jedi Order itself. Trying to reestablish it with Ben Solo as his star pupil very well may have crystalized this revelation for Luke. Perhaps he tried to force the passion out of Ben, which only pushed him toward the Dark Side? Will Force Ghost Anakin bring the Force into true balance, with the rumored appearance of a being that is half Anakin and half Vader?
Whatever happens in The Last Jedi, it’s sure to have lasting effects on all of Star Wars canon. Rian Johnson wowed us with Brick and Looper, so we have faith and confidence in his ability to lead the Force back toward a true balance for us all.