Thursday, July 24, 2014

Characters I Love: Luke Skywalker.

 Luke: "I'll not leave you here. I've got to save you."
Anakin: "You already have."

 I don't know about the rest of you, but my fandom tends to be cyclical. There will be times in the cycle where you cannot get me to shut up about Doctor Who, or other periods where tabletop roleplaying games are the most important thing ever, but eventually the wheel turns and I find something else to obsess over. It's been that way for as long as I can remember, I've always been the Kid With The Book, the kid who'd sit up late watching VHS tapes of movies seen dozens upon dozens of times before. But certain stories, certain characters, they stay with you. They become part of your own internal architecture, foundation stones that help define who you are and--maybe more importantly--who you'd like to be.

 If there are two pillars to the infrastructure of my psyche one would have to be Superman, of course. I've spoken of my admiration for the Man of Tomorrow elsewhere in the blog, and believe me, I can always say more. He was the hero who I encountered first as a child, and I imprinted on him. But standing beside him, like some colossal duo of statues a la the sequence post-Moria in Fellowship of the Ring, would be the figure of Luke Skywalker. Star Wars has been a part of my life so long it's like discussing an essential element or fundamental force, like water or gravity. But of all the characters, I identify with Luke the most. Why is that?

 Part of it's likely due to the fact that, well, we're all supposed to identify with Luke. He's the viewpoint character in Star Wars (A New Hope if you want to be technical but I'm Old School, so I'm calling it by it's original name), the everyman who leaves the world of his humdrum life and gets caught up in the affairs of droids, Jedi, smugglers, and princesses. He's the embodiment of the Hero of Myth, and given that Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces was a major source of inspiration for George Lucas, it's not hard to see just how easily Luke fits in with other heroes of yore. Of late though, George seems to have come around to thinking that the six primary Star Wars films are the story of Anakin Skywalker; his fall from grace and redemption over the course of the saga forming its foundation. And while I can agree that a case can be argued for Anakin as the protagonist of the prequel trilogy, and certainly an important figure as Darth Vader in the original three films, I would argue that the hero of Star Wars remains Luke Skywalker. He is the best of a galaxy far, far away.

 I'm an Arthurian fan through and through. I love the stories of chivalry, and the stories of the Knights of the Round Table are some of my favorites (from Thomas Mallory to T.H. White). But that love got its foundation through the Jedi Knights, the Guardians of Peace and Justice in the Old Republic. Note that phrase, it's going to be important later.  The depiction of the Jedi in the original trilogy; this mixture of warrior and wizard, the lightsabers, the notion of using your power for knowledge and defense, never for attack. . .it was all so wonderful.  And then the prequels happened.

 Take it easy, I'm not going after the prequels and I'm not joining in the haterdom. Indulge me for a moment or two and let me explain.

 The Phantom Menace may have its faults (midichlorians and a Jar-Jar Binks that isn't the funny character I laughed at in the underwater craft being among them) but the thing it does have in abundance is Jedi Knights that are absolutely bad. ASS. C'mon, tell me you didn't love that opening sequence as Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi just lay waste the battle droids, storming the command deck of the Trade Federation ship and only being driven away at the last second by the droid equivalent of a tank. That opening was bananas, and I was on the edge of my seat. I loved it to death. The rescue of Queen Amidala, the journey to Tatooine. . .I was hooked. Then we meet Anakin. . .and find out he's a slave. And that the Jedi are aware of this. And it is tolerated. In a universe with the Jedi. The guardians of peace and justice. And yet there are slaves. Guardians of peace and justice. Slavery. You can begin to see the cognitive disconnect here.

 Over the course of the prequels we come to learn that, yes, the Jedi Knights are protectors all right, but they've become so tied into and bogged down by their dealings with the Republic that they've become little more than the enforcement arm of the Supreme Chancellor. They've gotten so used to being seen as Wise and Enlightened and Strong that they've essentially bought into their own hype, to the point that they cannot see what is happening directly in front of them. Its even mentioned in Attack of the Clones that the Jedi Order's ability to use the Force has diminished. The source of their power has found them unworthy. And yet they continue in their belief that their logic and way of thinking is right, to the point that they go into a galactic conflict with an army whose origins are mysterious at best and outright sketchy at worst and a for the cause of . . .what exactly? People wanting to leave a Republic they feel is corrupt? The guardians of peace and justice become the agents of dogma and the status quo. To the point that even after the Jedi Order is gone, Yoda and Obi-Wan are still so locked into that way of thinking that they don't consider just leveling with Luke and telling him the truth. No, they feed him a mixture of half-truths and point him at Vader and the Emperor like a gun. It's all part of their plan, which is to counter Palpatine's plan. There's just one problem.

 Luke Skywalker is a hero.

 From the beginning, Luke's compassion is prevalent. Yeah, he may be a little whiny and a lot green about the gills, but he's concerned for his friends, be they organic or synthetic, and his first thought upon seeing the fragment of Princess Leia's message (beyond the creepy in hindsight attraction) is his notion that he thinks she's in trouble and immediately wants to help. This desire to help others gets a bit bogged own by his sense of duty to his aunt and uncle, but  even when he's trying to turn old Ben down his responses are half-hearted at best. And upon losing the only family he's ever known to the Empire. .that moment where Luke sees their twisted, burnt corpses, looking away before raising his head as the John Williams score swells. . .that moment right there is when Palpatine lost. 

 Everyone loves Han Solo, but the thing of it is, without Luke Han is kind of a scumbag. Luke's earnestness and his desire to help is the impetus that gets the smuggler to begin his slow slide back up the idealism scale from anti-hero to a full-blown, bonafide heroic figure. And when they manage to get away, Han's first impulse? Take the money and go. He's not in this for a principle. He's in it to get paid. He did the job, it's over, moving on. Luke immediately leaps into the rebellion, and his belief that Han is better than he thinks he is allows for one of the most badass Here Comes The Cavalry moments in movie history.
Luke has a fundamental compassion that he simply cannot ignore. What's the impetus that sets him to his disastrous confrontation with Vader? The fact that his friends are in pain. The smart decision, the Proper Jedi decision, would be to accept their suffering as an inescapable truth of the universe and train to be the best weapon he can be in order to defeat Vader and the Emperor. But Luke is a hero, and he goes off anyway, half-trained at best and woefully outmatched. And then, on top of everything, on top of the merciless beating, on top of the sight of his friend frozen in carbonite, on top of the sheer terror of staring down the man who killed your father. . .you find out that the entire basis of your worldview is built on a foundation of lies.

Vader: "Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father."
Luke: "He told me enough. He told me you killed him."
Vader: "No. I am your father."
Luke: "No... No. That's not true. That's impossible!"
Vader: "Search your feelings. You know it to be true."
Luke: "No! No!" 

Imagine it: you have a vision in your mind of the father you never knew. A brave, confident figure who had adventures alongside Obi-Wan Kenobi and fought in the Clone Wars for the cause of all that is right and true. And then you find out that no actually, your father was a murderer, a butcher and monster beyond the darkest nightmares of any sadist. And he wants you to join him. And the people you trusted to help you, to prepare you for the challenges of life as a Jedi. . .they never told you. Moreover, they lied to you. And they expect you to not only accept this "certain point of view", they want you to move forward, be a Proper Jedi, and kill your own father. This is the plan. This is what will work. But again, the last of the old Jedi Order fail to recognize a fundamental fact about their new hope: Luke Skywalker is a hero.

Vader: "The Emperor has been expecting you."
Luke: "I know…father."
Vader: "So, you have accepted the truth?"
Luke: "I've accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father."
Vader: "That name no longer has any meaning for me!"
Luke: "It is the name of your true self. You've only forgotten."

 Luke's first thought isn't that he must destroy the monster his father has become. It's the fact that even though Vader has belted him around Bespin like a living pinball, he wants Luke to join him. That there is still a flicker, even a trace of humanity left in this husk of a living thing resonates with Luke, to the point where--flying in the face of all logic--he believes he can redeem the most fearsome killer in the galaxy. And he's right.
  Not only that, Luke is the one to take the ultimate stand against the Emperor, to see the trap of the Dark Side for what it is and to have the sheer guts to throw aside his weapon and state proudly that he is a Jedi, like his father before him, and he will. Not. Submit. That stance, his compassion, and his faith in his friends all allow him to accomplish feats the previous Jedi Order could never conceive. The title of the sixth film has a deeper meaning, the Jedi have returned, but returned as they were meant to be, not what they'd fallen into. A guardian for peace and for justice, embodied in the idealism and compassion of Luke Skywalker.
 And that's why he's my hero.



1 comment:

The Jaeger said...

Yeah, no that opening sequence in the Trade Federation ship was actually my fave of the whole flick. When I was a kid, that's what I pictured the Jedi being like. Bad. ASS. Indeed.