Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Force Resurfaces in Legends of Luke Skywalker

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So, with Ken Liu’s Legends of Luke Skywalker Luke is finally really back to the extended canon of new Star Wars. Of course, it is not his first official appearance. He took part in many adventures in the comics series, for example; but, Legends of Luke Skywalker is the first new canon novel installment to focus on the Jedi and his personal path. The first to give us a close-up on him.

It is quite understandable why Luke stayed on the margins of larger story for so long. Luke is the centerpiece of The Last Jedi, after all. So, when dealing with his character and plot, they have to avoid both spoilers and a chance for out of character actions. Which is great, by the way, as such caution is new for Star Wars.

All that to say, Ken Liu had a very complex mission cut out for him. And oh my, did he succeed! Gretchen wrote a really deep and insightful essay on how the book acts as a manifesto of New Canon’s overarching goals, particularly the emphasis on diverse storytelling. Me, I’m going to take a different route and talk a bit about the world- and character-building aspects of the book and how they relate to the Expanded Universe (EU).

Meeting Luke Skywalker

But did we actually meet him? Ken Liu himself advises us against this assumption:

“Without giving away spoilers, I do want to caution the reader against assuming that any of the Luke-like figures they encounter in the book is in fact Luke Skywalker. Sometimes we retell legends not just by recounting the stories, but by emulating their heroes.”

However, having read the book, I think we can assume that we did in fact, as did the people telling us these stories, meet Luke Skywalker and walk with him for a while. That’s the assumption I’ll be working with in this piece, that this novel gives us actual insight into what the Luke Skywalker of New Canon did, said, and is like.

And this person we met is somewhat of a stranger to us, especially to those of us who are accustomed to the much less closed off, much more outgoing and social-oriented Luke of the EU. It is difficult to imagine the  Luke of Legends changing girlfriends once an issue/novel and being a prototypical Masculine Hero of the whole Galaxy.  It’s hard to imagine Legends Luke in this (perfectly canon; those women are physically attracted to him because he’s a Jedi, you see) situation:

Luke Skywalker
This is not fanart

The Luke we meet in Liu’s book is a dreamer, a hermit,  a pilgrim. We see him interacting with other people and see that despite being friendly and helpful he is very closed person. He seems estranged from the others—all the more as years pass.

What Does Being a Jedi Mean?

This Luke, unlike his EU counterpart, comes with a question: “How does one be a Jedi?”. Which is understandable, given that this Luke, unlike his older counterpart, is created in the post-prequel era.

Before those movies there was no true definition of what a Jedi was, apart from the general idea of being a Force-user. Thus, Luke could both be a Jedi and adventure around the Galaxy with random girls who leave him as soon as a story arc ends. He could even afford to marry the most fanbase-acclaimed of them, Mara Jade.

Even more so, he could afford to create his own Jedi Order with only such vague rules regarding what it meant to be a Jedi as existed among the authors at that time. Those Jedi married each other and lived with their families in a Jedi temple; they kinda practiced some Force technique or another; they served the New Republic. They fought the Dark Side, too—which mostly meant “some weird guys who believe they are new Sith.” The Dark Side as “something bad within a person” was generally just that: something bad, like envy, hatred, or anger. They were spiritual, of course, but again, it was a very vague spiritualism and adapted to the needs of the authors. Nothing was standardized.

The Luke we encounter in Legends of Luke Skywalker exists in the post-prequel universe. This shows not only in a quick mention of Padme Amidala, but also in how the Jedi theme is presented. A Jedi is meant to be an ascetic, selfless person now. With no attachments and no interest in the outside world, apart from serving the Republic they are sworn to protect that is.

And while Luke is not quite free from being interested in worldly matters, he is still much closer to that ideal than he ever was in the EU.

As a side note, I find it interesting that while Luke’s character has changed because the concept of Jedi has changed, Star Wars: Rebels provides us with a very old-fashioned New Jedi Order-like figure in Kanan. But old (and by “old” I mean “pre-prequel”) EU traces in the series are a subject for a different essay, I think.

The Force And Luke

So, as our main hero is a Jedi, he has to deal with the Force, has he not?

And this book is rich in Force worldbuilding. Some of it is fairly traditional; we see people talk about Dark Side and Light Side, using familiar tricks and all that. Some of it is truly revolutionary, and I can’t help thinking if it may be connected to The Last Jedi.

I mean “Fishing in the Deluge,” of course, which included a idea truly new idea for the Star Wars universe: that using the Force in and of itself may be wrong, or at least inherently prone to distortion. If the Force is what it is believed to be, why try bending it to your will? Better devote yourself to it, and let it flow freely and do its job. This is interesting as a religious view, as well; it reminds me of Orthodox prayer “do not what I want, please, but what Thou think would be better.”

Along with “Big Inside,” Legends also provides us with glimpses of non-Jedi Force-using communities. While they are very different from each other—one is primitive fishermen tribe, the other a highly organized society with the ability to weave time itself, one deems using the Force always wrong and other has mastered things nigh impossible with it—they share important elements. They both are post-prequel creations. They both seek freedom from attachments, for example, though not in the same way as each other, or the same way as the Jedi do.

Closing Thoughts

It was a hasty essay, I freely admit it, but I hope you’ll still see some value in it. For the final thought, I want to talk about how this book gives us a glimpse of Luke after Kylo Ren’s fall. I am talking about the first story, that from Dwoogan: “The Myth Buster.”

Given that Luke had already gone missing by the time Dwoogan meets the mysterious man in the teahouse, this event would likely be after the tragedy. And this gives a whole new meaning to his words about the Dark Side…

“The heroes of the New Republic didn’t think of themselves as heroes. They thought of themselves as ordinary men and women who did what had to be done to restore freedom and justice to the galaxy. For me to challenge her would have been giving in to fear, fear that their reputations, rather than their deeds, were what mattered. It would have led to anger, anger that they were not worshipped by everyone who benefited from their sacrifices. It would have led to hate, hate that the truth was not enough by itself. But that would have been giving in to the dark side.” (p. 55)

Makes you think, huh?

Images courtesy Del Rey and Marvel Star Wars

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