“You failed, your Highness. I’m a Jedi. Like my father before me.”
Those pivotal words were, of course, spoken by Luke Skywalker to Emperor Palpatine at the end of Return of the Jedi.
They are pivotal because it is Luke breaking away from the destiny that inescapably plagued his father. It was the destiny Palpatine wanted for Luke, after manipulating Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side decades before. Luke would ultimately reject Palpatine, help secure the redemption for his father and assist in taking down the Empire. It was the franchise coming full circle after the events of the Prequel Trilogy thirty years before.
Luke Skywalker did not succumb to the dark side in Return of the Jedi and despite what some might have you believe, I do not believe Luke Skywalker succumbs to the Dark Side in The Last Jedi, either.
However, that doesn’t mean he’s not an antagonistic force to our hero characters in the film.
If you look at popular writings on antagonists and protagonists in storytelling analysis’s, they usually describe an antagonist at someone in direct conflict the protagonist and their goals. For example, Writing Explained describes an antagonist as “The antagonist is simply someone who works against the protagonist.” That doesn’t necessarily have to make them the villain.
An example of this might be Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter books. In Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, even though Anthony Hopkins made famous his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter he is not necessarily the villain of that film. Buffalo Bill is the villain in that film, as he is the one Clarice Starling is after. However, Hannibal is an antagonistic force in that story. He ends up coming into direct conflict with Clarice, who wants information out of him to find Buffalo Bill. Hannibal psychologically plays with Clarice, even escaping confinement. In Red Dragon, Hannibal outright assists the main villain of that story, Frances Dolarhyde, in giving him information on the location of FBI agent Will Graham’s house.
In relation to The Last Jedi, from all indications (which, at this point, are the two trailers that have been released so far) Luke Skywalker is probably not the villain of The Last Jedi. For all intents and purposes, the Resistance and our main heroes – Rey, Finn and Poe – want to take down the First Order. The theatrical trailer hinted at a confrontation between Rey and Supreme Leader Snoke in the film, who I believe will be the real villain of the film. I do not believe Luke will be the villain. I don’t even think Kylo Ren will be the villain. However, I do think Luke will come into conflict with Rey as the narrative of The Last Jedi unfolds.
From the trailers, I get the impression that Rey and Luke are going to have a somewhat adversarial relationship in The Last Jedi. After Han Solo talked up Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens, I think Rey is going to be in for a rude awakening in The Last Jedi. No different than Zephram Cochrane disappointing the crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek: First Contact, Luke will probably start the film as disillusioned. Rey’s call to action – by giving him his father’s lightsaber – will likely be enough to attract Luke’s attention, but judging from the newest trailer it won’t be enough to dissuade him from his beliefs.
If you look at the Prequel Trilogy, Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side is well constructed. You may have problems with the films, but you can’t fault George Lucas for putting a good amount of thought into his downfall. From The Phantom Menace, he was taken at a young age and forced into Jedi training years after the cutting off point. He was not taken at a toddler’s age, as is Jedi tradition. He had already formed an emotional attachment to his mother, which was then tested when his mother was killed in Attack of the Clones. As a result of this, he let his feelings cloud his judgment numerous times during the course of the prequels. His relationship with Padmé Amidala springs to mind as one example where he rejected his Jedi teachings and instead opted for what he wanted, verses what he was trained to ignore.
The warning signs were all over Anakin’s characterization in Attack of the Clones. Obi-Wan, who never really wanted to take on Anakin as a pupil, also failed in his mentorship to Anakin at numerous times. He would constantly talk down to him, such as embarrassing him in front of Senator Amidala when he offered ideas, or berate him for making understandable mistakes, like losing his lightsaber. It is possible if Qui-Gon Jinn had not been killed in The Phantom Menace and had been allowed to train Anakin, things might have turned out differently. However, there was a very deliberate set of events that caused Anakin to focus more on his emotions, which led him to fall for Padmé and eventually turn on both his mentor, Obi-Wan, and the entire Jedi Order in Revenge of the Sith.
I bring up Anakin’s transformation because I believe it will set a precedence for not only the way Luke handles Rey, but the way Kylo Ren progresses in the film as well.
Now, making these predictions will come off as somewhat foolhardy since there are big pieces of the narrative puzzle missing. For me, the most interesting piece of the puzzle is Kylo’s alleged turn on Luke and his Jedi Academy between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. From what Han Solo told Rey and Finn – and from what we can ascertain – Kylo (known then as Ben Solo) was a student of Luke’s. For some reason I assume we will discover in The Last Jedi, Ben turns on Luke and his fellow Jedi. This appears to be a big part of the narrative of this new sequel trilogy, as it is briefly seen and mentioned in The Force Awakens. Based on the most recent trailer, we actually see more of that scene in The Last Jedi.
If we are going by the assumption Ben perpetuated this act, then it would explain why Luke went into self-exile before the events of The Force Awakens. It would also explain why Luke is hesitant on training Rey, as he fears she may possibly turn out the same way Ben did years before. This is why I feel like there may be a missing part of the puzzle that is crucial. I have theorized about this before, but I do have a crazy theory that it was Rey – and not Ben – that betrayed Luke and burned down his Jedi Academy. Afterwards, Luke sent her off to Jakku. However, it is very possible it was Ben that turned on Luke, which turned him into a curmudgeon that wants the Jedi to exist no more.
Now, a lot of people that theorized Luke’s line at the end of the first trailer – “It’s time for the Jedi to end” – means that Luke is going to be a villain. Once more, I do not believe that. I think that after the destruction of his Jedi Academy, Luke may want to absolve the Jedi Order completely. If you look at the way the Jedi were portrayed in the Prequel Trilogy, you could argue they contributed to their own demise. They didn’t listen to Anakin when they should have, they repress joyful emotions and experiences that make up of a whole individual, and they were too arrogant to suspect Palpatine until it was too late. As much as I love individual characters like Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Yoda and Ki-Adi-Mundi, many esteemed members of the Jedi Council were complicit in their own downfall.
I’m not sure that The Last Jedi – and to a further extent Episode IX – will follow down this path, but in the Old Republic era there was such a thing as the “Gray Jedi“, or the Gray. The Gray Jedi were Force users that “walked the line between the light and dark sides of the Force”, to quote Wookieepedia. I’ve always been an advocate of the Gray Jedi approach, as I always thought the Jedi and the Sith were two extreme sides of the same coin. I do suspect that Luke may be hinting at absolving the Jedi in favor of this, or more to the point Rey and Kylo may ultimately come together to absolve the Jedi and the Sith practices altogether.
I’m not even entirely sure that ending moment of the trailer – where Rey asks someone to tell her ‘my place in all of this’ and Kylo extends a hand – is cut from the same scene. I do believe the trailer could be intentionally misdirecting the audience, the same way the final theatrical trailer built up Finn as the new Jedi of the trilogy when it was clearly Rey. However, I do believe that Luke will attempt to dissuade Rey from continuing on her journey – perhaps the same way Yoda dissuaded Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. I think Luke and Rey will come into direct conflict, as there is a scene in the trailer where Rey bursts out of a water basin with Luke watching over in an almost sinister fashion.
Then there’s the line…
“This is not going to go the way you think.”
This seems like a significant scene from the film. YouTube user Mike Zeroh did a breakdown of what I expect might happen: a confrontation between Luke and Rey.
The reasons for this confrontation are still unclear to me, besides the basic reason that Luke doesn’t think Rey should confront Snoke (as we see in the trailer). I do think there’s more to what’s going on between them in that scene, if those moments are cut from the same sequence. However, I think Rey will confront Snoke against Luke’s wishes. Luke may think Rey is not ready, or perhaps he thinks her confronting Snoke is exactly what he wants. It is also possible Luke knows that Rey has a bit of the dark side in her as well, which leads me to my speculation regarding Kylo Ren’s place in this overarching story.
As some fans noted in The Last Jedi trailer, the Anakin Skywalker parallels continue with Kylo Ren in the trailer. This visual homage seems the most obvious above all.
The Force Awakens was aiming to set up Kylo Ren as the villain of this series, in the same way Darth Vader was the villain of the Original Trilogy. However, I think that’s what Kylo Ren wants to aspire to be, but I really think he’s the Luke of this series, or even Anakin but in an inverted way. While Luke was tempted to go to the Dark Side, he ultimately rejected Vader and Palpatine. I think Kylo Ren will go down a similar path, eventually leading to redemption. He may not be extending his hand toward Rey, as shown in the trailer, but I do think by the time of Episode IX he and Rey will be working together to forge a new path – perhaps one echoed by the Gray Jedi – to end the series as a whole.
The Anakin parallels are just too much, though. If you look at why Anakin fell in the Prequel Trilogy, Ben suffers a similar trajectory in these films. With Han Solo as the absentee father (perhaps the same way Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan were to Anakin), Luke probably feels guilt over failing Ben – the same way Obi-Wan failed Anakin. The missing pieces of the puzzle – what led Ben to turn on Luke, Han and the Jedi – will probably fall into place come December 15th when The Last Jedi opens. It will undoubtedly involve Snoke manipulating Ben – the same way Palpatine manipulated Anakin in Revenge of the Sith – except I do not believe Kylo will completely submit to the Dark Side by the end of the trilogy, or even the end of The Last Jedi.
For those thinking Kylo Ren will kill General Leia… remember, back in January The Hollywood Reporter claimed Kylo and Leia were meant to have a significant confrontation in Episode IX that had to be re-written due to Carrie Fisher’s untimely passing. For that to happen, Leia will have to survive The Last Jedi. According to John Boyega, The Last Jedi gives Carrie Fisher an “amazing” send-off. Unless Boyega is being misleading, I suspect Leia will exist somewhere in the Star Wars universe and simply be written out of Episode IX.
As for Luke Skywalker’s place in all of this, I think he will springboard a sequence of events that will redefine the Star Wars saga as we know it. I don’t think he’s going to be the villain of this film, which would totally contradict everything Return of the Jedi was building to establish. I do think he’s going to be an antagonistic force in this film, which would explain some of the “surprising” twists and turns Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley have talked about in the press.
As for those surprises, I simply cannot wait. December 15th can’t get here soon enough.