Image Courtesy of Lucasfilm
Look at the face of Luke Skywalker at the end of The Force Awakens. As Rey holds out the lightsaber that was once his and his father’s before him, what does his face reveal? It reveals a face that is still in pain, tortured by memories that he cannot escape, no matter how far he runs from his family and the conflicts of the galaxy. That lightsaber is a reminder. It’s a relic of a painful moment where flesh, bone, and lies were carved away and all that was left were dark truths. Obi-Wan had lied to him. Vader was his father. Would Luke want to see that particular lightsaber? Maybe not; maybe he wouldn’t want to see any lightsabers at all. What if Luke, in the maturation of his decision to toss aside his second lightsaber and declare to the Emperor that he “was a Jedi. Like [his] father before [him]”, has forsworn lightsabers and dedicated himself to the pursuit of the non-violent means of the Force? It would certainly be a surprising development for the one character every fan wants to see ignite his lightsaber to refuse to do so. If we, as fans, could accept it, a pacifistic Luke could allow for even more compelling storytelling than a warrior one. It would tie into the revelations about warfare revealed to Yoda during the final arc of The Clone Wars, provide fertile ground for new applications of the Force, and foster conflict between Master Skywalker, his new apprentice, his family, and himself.
“A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”
Despite this famous quote by perhaps the greatest of Jedi masters, we spend an awful lot of time seeing Jedi fighting and very little time seeing them use the Force to do something else. In many ways, the Jedi’s willingness to fight is what dooms them as an order. Palpatine orchestrates the Clone Wars in order to get the Jedi to compromise their beliefs as peace keepers. It’s only after completing a long, spiritual journey to many planets that serve as nexuses of the Force, during the last story-arc of The Clone Wars animated series, that Yoda is able to remember that “wars do not make one great.” Through his visions, he has to confront the terrible cost of the horrifying conflict that began when the Jedi took up their weapons and declared themselves generals in the name of war.
As fans we can serve a very Palpatine-role in the way that we hope that many of our heroes “kick-ass.” The very act of a Jedi fighting brings him or her dangerously close to the dark side of the Force because he or she must be able to pull back from anger, fear, and aggression as they battle any enemy. With the loss of Ben and the Jedi Academy, could Luke have pulled away from his family because he had realized that the Jedi way was to not participate in the drumline leading to war? Surely, if the First Order was already operating during this time, Leia would pursue conflict in order to protect the people of the galaxy and bring back her son. In her quest to find her brother, Leia is surely hoping that Luke will return as a messianic figure, bringing peace to the galaxy, but how will he do that? With the blade of a lightsaber? Yoda counsels Ezra against slavishly fighting in a vision during the Star Wars: Rebels episode “Shroud of Darkness,” when he says, “Win, win. How Jedi choose to win the question is.” If Luke is forced to come out of retirement, as it were, to join the conflict against the First Order, he is putting himself in a position very similar to that of the Jedi during the Clone Wars. He will be asked to use the Force in order to help win the war against a dark foe. Using the Force in violence, to attack Kylo Ren and the First Order, even for a righteous reason, will sorely test Luke. He would have to confront the evil that cost him his academy and resist that ever-present, insidious voice of the dark side that tells him that he could, and should, destroy his enemy. Narratively, this puts Luke in an interesting position. As a character, he will be asked to act against the desire to do the dark deeds we sometimes wish the Jedi would do, in order to find a better solution than violence. He will have to take the war out of the galaxy and somehow find a path that leads to peace.
“Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.”
While Jedi might not crave excitement, fans do. We expect lightsaber duels in a Star Wars film, and we will get them in Episode VIII. There is no doubt in my mind that Rey and Kylo Ren will cross blades again. In regards to Luke, it might actually be more exciting to see him demonstrate the vast expansion of his knowledge of the Force through the application of new, never-before-seen Force powers. In the Expanded Universe, we heard about many different non-violent uses of the Force. Stories were told of Jedi healers who knitted the wounds of those harmed by war. We all assume that he’s never left the island planet we find him on at the end of The Force Awakens, but he could have traveled from planet to planet tending the cuts, bruises, and blaster wounds of those harmed by the war. This would cast him in the image of a lightside Batman: a knight who kept to the shadows but healed using the Force.
We also heard of the Jedi using the Force to create and nurture plants, bringing life to a barren world. If this were the case in Episode VIII, Luke could have used the Force to spur life to flourish on his island. He could educate Rey in this way, and she could in a very real way take this boon and return to Jakku, bringing life to those she left behind in the wastes there. Either of these would be just as interesting as seeing Luke wield his lightsaber in battle, something we’ve already seen multiple times before.
“Decide you must, how to serve them best. If you leave now, help them you could, but you would destroy all for which they have fought, and suffered.”
When Rey arrives in front of Luke, it will be a call to war. She will deliver Leia’s message to come back and join the fight. Rey herself may wish for the same thing; after all, she has just witnessed the defenseless slaying of her father figure and injury of her truest friend. She may hope that Luke will be the King Arthur-figure who returns to right the galaxy during its darkest hour. In many ways, she will be looking for the “great warrior” Luke was looking for when he landed on Dagobah searching for Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. If Luke is not a warrior (much as Yoda was not) this would not only be a nice callback to the classic trilogy, but it would also create conflict between Luke and Rey. Rey has spent all of her life in conflict: conflict against nature, against poverty, and against despair. Some of her first experiences touching the Force in The Force Awakens have all stemmed from violence and a need to fight. In the vision she sees after touching Anakin’s lightsaber, she sees duels, death, and despair. When she is being interrogated by Kylo Ren, she must fight back against the probing hand that he thrusts into her mind, and when Kylo Ren has nearly bested her, she invites the Force in and wields it as a weapon to defeat him. How would she react to the Jedi belief that “wars not make one great”? I can imagine that she may be disappointed that that’s not how the Force works. I can see the filmmakers taking the quick and easy path of making Rey into a Luke 2.0: an impetuous youth who sees the Force as just another method to fight a war and save her friends. I hope that they are brave enough to look beyond that and let her find her own way, just as Luke found his when he tossed his lightsaber down and refused to fight his father.
Power can shape a person. It can take a kind heart and twist it, molding an innocent youth from a desert planet into a dark-garbed killing machine. Luke resisted the temptation to take his father’s place beside Palpatine on board the second Death Star. He chose the path to peace rather than the path of violence. Despite the fans’ desire to see him ignite his lightsaber again, it would go against Yoda’s teachings to do so in the name of war. He must be an exemplar of the belief that “Jedi use the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” The real conflict will be in figuring out how to use the Force to heal a fractured galaxy and grow a new foundation of peace. For the Jedi, that’s how the Force works.