Friday, January 5, 2018

Why Was Luke on a Jedi Planet if He Didn't Want to be a Jedi Anymore?

Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been out for a few weeks now, and fans are divided. There are those (like myself) who loved the film. (See my review here.) But a lot of fans have issues with the film, ranging from minor nitpicks to huge disagreements about the tone, the direction the story took, or the motivations of characters. As a result, a multitude of discussions are taking place across social media. The trolls of the internet resort to hyperbole and ad hominem attacks. Fortunately, most of what I've seen has been civil, even when fans have fundamental problems with what they saw on the screen. I will be addressing one of the many topics of discussion I've seen come up: Why was Luke on Ahch-To, the site of the original Jedi Temple, if he didn't even want to be a Jedi anymore?

The way I see it, there are two ways you can follow up on a question like this:

1. "Why did the movie do that? This movie is dumb."
2. "Why did the movie do that? Let's look deeper and find an answer."

I prefer the second approach. Here's an example from a different property that explains why.

Why not fly to Mordor?

You've probably heard this complaint about The Lord of the Rings: "Why didn't they just fly on eagles to Mordor? It would have saved time and lives. Talk about a huge plot hole, right?" Instead of just asking the question and assuming there's no answer, you can look deeper at the books and find a perfectly logical and consistent answer. By the way, I didn't come up with this explanation by myself; I was inspired by Professor Cory Olson, a.k.a. "The Tolkien Professor."

First of all, look at the Council of Elrond. The only way they can succeed at destroying the Ring is if Sauron doesn't expect it. A flock of giant eagles making a bee line right for Mount Doom would probably raise Sauron's giant flaming eyebrow. (And no, Sauron isn't actually a flaming eyeball. But let's not jump down that Hobbit hole.) Mordor is guarded by flying fell beasts, which could easily intercept the eagles.

Even if the eagles - or at least the eagle carrying the Ringbearer - make it past the fell beasts, then what? They fly over Mount Doom and drop the Ring into the fire? Except if we look back at the text, Mount Doom is not an open-top volcano. The only access to the fires within is the Cracks of Doom, a doorway in the side of the mountain. A doorway that would be very easy for Sauron's ground troops to block, if he knew enemies were coming.

And finally, who's to say the eagles would even agree to this plan? They are not a personal taxi service. They sometimes come to the aid of the peoples of Middle Earth, but it is always an unlooked for act of grace (a eucatastrophe, so to speak). The movies muddle this a bit when they show Gandalf summoning the eagles via magical moths. In The Hobbit, they are an independent race, usually about their own business - swooping down on sheep and the like. They don't just wait around for Men, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, and Wizards who need rides. In The Silmarillion, the eagles are representatives of the Valar (angelic powers who dwell in the West, beyond the Great Sea). And if we once again look back to the Council of Elrond, they determine that the task of dealing with the Ring belongs to the peoples of Middle Earth; they can't expect the Valar to do this for them.

So that's why they didn't just summon the eagles and fly the Ring to Mordor. See? Isn't that more satisfying than just dismissing a wonderful story due to a perceived plot hole? I'm not saying you shouldn't ask questions like this; I'm saying that those questions should be the beginning of deeper thought and discussion, as opposed to the end. (Sorry for the tangent, but I found it to be a useful example of the approach I've taken on this Star Wars question, and it addresses a pet peeve I have about Lord of the Rings discussions on the internet. So, you know - two birds, one stone.)

Jedi Clues

Back to our main question. I think the motivation behind this question stems from expectations after seeing The Force Awakens. We knew Luke went looking for the first Jedi Temple, and we saw him at the end of the movie wearing Jedi robes. Many viewers assumed that Luke was in exile searching for answers about the Jedi, and he would be able to return to the galactic conflict (and give Rey the training she needs) with a fresh new perspective. So when Luke reveals that he has no intention of returning, and wants the Jedi to end, our expectations are flipped on their heads.

Let's take a look at the clues we get from the movie. I'm also going to refer to Star Wars: The Last Jedi - The Visual Dictionary. Ordinarily, you shouldn't need to read books or other reference materials in order to understand a movie (because if you do, that's a failing of the movie). In this case, though, I think the Visual Dictionary put me on the right track, and helped me discover more easily what I could have inferred from the film.

After seeing the movie twice, and reading the Visual Dictionary, I had all the clues I needed to put this theory together. But it really came together in my mind when I was listening to Jimmy Mac talk about Luke's robes on Rebel Force Radio. (Thanks Jimmy!)

Here are the clues:
1. Movie: Luke tells Rey he came to Ahch-To to die.
2. Visual Dictionary: Luke has lost track of time on the island, because of a mysterious quality the planet shares with other Force-infused planets like Dagobah.
3. Visual Dictionary: Luke is wearing his Jedi robes "to undertake one final Jedi rite... Luke's donning of ceremonial robes is not an indication of a return to faith; rather, Luke sees it as his last rite to end the Order."
4. Movie: Luke tells Rey that "it's time for the Jedi to end."
5. Movie: After Rey leaves, Luke once again dons his robes and attempts to burn down the Jedi Tree.
6. Movie: Yoda uses the Force to ignite the tree. Luke tries to run in, but a blast of flames prevents him from entering.
7. Movie: Rey has taken the Jedi texts and stowed them in a drawer on the Millennium Falcon.

Here's my theory: Luke wanted to bring about the end of the Jedi. So he, the last Jedi, traveled to the site of the first temple, which contained the original Jedi texts. His plan was to burn the tree down, with himself inside, thus destroying all traces of the Jedi Order. He was wearing his robes, about to go ignite the tree, when Rey arrived. (Was that just tremendous luck, or the will of the Force? I'm inclined towards the latter. Perhaps the Force confused Luke's sense of time to delay his plan just long enough for Rey to show up.) And then, after Rey has left, on what he deems a fool's errand, Luke puts his robes back on, and proceeds once again with his plan. This time, Yoda stops him. Yoda knows that Rey has already removed the texts from the tree, so he doesn't hesitate to burn it down. And he prevents Luke from carrying out the other half of his plan - namely, taking his own life.

Yoda's lesson to Luke is that the Jedi are still needed. They shouldn't continue passing on their teachings despite their failures. They should pass down their teachings, especially their failures. This ties into one of the main themes of The Last Jedi, that failure is a powerful teacher. We should not hide from it in shame; we should learn from it and grow past it.

Geek Pick: The Last Jedi Visual Dictionary and Art of The Last Jedi

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After seeing The Last Jedi, I was hungry for more information. The following two books helped satisfy that hunger, and gave me new insights that helped me appreciate the film even more.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - The Visual Dictionary
This book is chock full of information about practically everything you see in The Last Jedi. You'll learn more about the characters (ranging from main characters - like Rey and Luke - to minor ones - like that random singing casino patron on Canto Bight), ships, planets, and weapons. The factoids presented can be extremely significant (like those mentioned in the main post above), or laughably self-evident (for example, while one caption points to General Hux's coat and reads "Gaberwool expedition greatcoat," another points to his eyes and reads "Remorseless gaze"). You can either read this book straight through, or look up a certain character or planet it in the index and jump to that page. You can find Star Wars: The Last Jedi - The Visual Dictionary on Amazon at this link.

The Art of Star War: The Last Jedi
For more of a behind-the-scenes look at The Last Jedi, this book is perfect. The main focus of the book is how the artists developed different visuals in the film, but you also get an insight into how the story evolved from Lucas's original plans for the sequel trilogy to Rian Johnson's finished product. There are even some tidbits about the themes and the character motivations. For example, I found this quote from Rian Johnson to be fascinating: "Ultimately, Luke's exile and his justifications for it are all covering over his guilt over Kylo. The big gloss that he's putting over the whole thing is: 'The Force does not belong to the Jedi. This ongoing dynamic between the Jedi and the Sith just keeps renewing itself and just keeps feeding the fire... So I'm going to do the hardest thing I've ever done, what I couldn't do in Empire, and not answer the call of my friends so that the Jedi Order dies and something new has to rise and pull the light up."

And I haven't even mentioned the art, which is gorgeous. It's hard to go more than a few pages without finding a print that I wish I had framed (if I had infinite money and wall space, that is). So if you want the behind-the-scenes narrative, you can read the book cover to cover. But you can also admire a lot of beautiful drawings by just opening up to random pages and skimming through. You can find The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi on Amazon at this link.


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  1. Luke hesitates when he goes to burn the tree and stops short of doing it. Yoda causes a bolt of lightening to strike the tree and after it erupts in flames Luke tries to run in to save the Jedi texts but is prevented by a blast of fire which throws him to the ground. He doesn't want to commit suicide! He just wants to live out his life on Ahch To. He was conflicted as to whether he should destroy the texts and when it appears Yoda allows them to burn Luke exclaims "The sacred Jedi texts!" as he believes them to be in the tree.

    1. Your interpretation of the scene is certainly valid. I don't think Luke's hesitating at the entrance necessarily disproves my theory. If he were about to take his own life, of course he would hesitate. That being said, your theory is also consistent with the clues I presented. Burning the tree could be the last Jedi rite, and then he would remain in hiding to die of old age. Either way, the Jedi Order ends. And then, there's a middle ground theory, that he was going to burn the tree around himself, but after Yoda ignited it he wasn't trying to run in there to die. Rather, at that point he had reconsidered his plan, and was going after the texts. Lots of ways to interpret it! And I love the discussions it provokes!

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