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Star Wars: The Force Awakens left fans with more questions than answers, and so many of those questions circled around the mystery of Luke Skywalker. Why had the Jedi Master abandoned the galaxy and headed off to distant Ahch-To even as the shadow of the dark side fell once again? What could transform the wise Luke into a hermit, rather than a hero who would stand against the darkness?
Lucasfilm is preparing the way for the next Star Wars film by releasing a range of tie-in novels. The latest, The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu, offers tantalizing hints as to Luke's journey between the Original and Sequel Trilogies. It's essential reading if you want to understand the man and the myth of Luke Skywalker.
A Fantastic Concept
The concept behind the book is a fascinating one: that Skywalker has become as much a matter of legend in the Star Wars galaxy as he is in our own. Liu skillfully draws together a plot in which a handful of travelers bond over shared stories of Luke Skywalker, and are themselves transformed by his legacy. No Star Wars novel has ever attempted anything quite so bold, but Liu pulls it off with apparent ease.
The vision of Luke presented by this latest novel is perfect. He's larger than life, fallible and flawed, compassionate and determined. This is a Luke who truly symbolizes hope, who has learned the words that will rekindle life within even his enemies, and who will not abandon anyone to death. In one of the tales, he visits the ravaged world of Jakku and takes the time to rescue a doomed Imperial rather than see him die on the graveyard planet.
As a fan himself, Liu truly understands what makes the character of Luke Skywalker tick. Since Lucasfilm rebooted the Star Wars canon back in 2014, they've studiously avoided giving us any Luke-centric novels set after the Original Trilogy. This marks the turning point, and it's a delight to read such an accurate portrayal of the character.
Luke Skywalker's Journey
Of course, half the fun of the novel is drawing together the threads in anticipation of The Last Jedi. But that's no simple matter when you're actually carefully sifting through legends, many of which may have been distorted with the retelling. It makes the book a real joy, and attentive readers will sift through the character arcs with a real sense of discovery and wonder.
It seems that, in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi, Luke considered his Master's words: "Pass on what you have learned." Although he didn't particularly want to be a teacher, Luke felt it was his responsibility to restore the Jedi Order. In order to do so though, he first had to learn what it meant to be a Jedi. So began a quest that took Luke across the galaxy, even as the nascent New Republic and the crumbling Empire continued their war.
The Empire had done its level best to erase every trace of the Jedi Order from the galaxy, and it had done a terrifyingly good job. But Luke soon came to realize that other Force traditions carried truth too, and so he sought these other groups out, asking them to teach him their ways. As he explains in one of the legends, "There are a thousand names for the truth. It doesn't matter what we call it, only that it is true."
Tellingly, Luke's words and teachings seem to have absorbed concepts from the Guardians of the Whills. In one scene, he leads desperate men and women with a quote that fans will recognize from Rogue One, "We are one with the Force, and the Force is with us." Other stories show that Luke became focused on the idea of balance above all things, and believed that his focus as a Jedi should be to seek to bring balance to the galaxy.
That teaching is only one small step away from the concept of the Chosen One, an idea that we know is set to play a major role in The Last Jedi.
The Visit To Lew'el
The centerpiece of The Legends of Luke Skywalker is a story bearing the title "Fishing in the Deluge." It's the one told by the most reliable narrator — the woman who was actually at Luke's side during the events — and it also seems to act as the cornerstone of Luke's own character arc.
Millennia past, before even the time of the Jedi, a group of Force-sensitives fled to the oceanic world of Lew'el for sanctuary. There, they built an isolationist civilization dedicated to peace and submission to what they called "the Tide," and lived their lives untroubled by changes in the galaxy. Luke eventually heard rumors of the magic of this world, and headed to Lew'el in hope of being taught this people's ways.
The crucial difference between the Lew'el and the Jedi is that the Lew'el stress the need to trust the Force. They do not believe that it is necessary to act; rather, it is necessary to trust, and to be carried by the Tide. They reject the idea of light and dark altogether, instead referring to them as the ebb and flow of the Tide, each a part of the Force's nature. Although Luke was resistant to their teaching at first, he eventually learned that they may be right. As he noted, "You're saying that lack of trust that things will work out without my intervention is why I cannot catch the fish."
It's a tantalizing hint as to why Luke would feel comfortable heading out to Ahch-To, even as the First Order launched a devastating attack on the New Republic. In the years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, Luke has learned to trust the Force that things will work out — even without his intervention.
The story closes with a fascinating speech from Luke:
"There are more ways to serve good than by fighting and confronting evil. You also serve the good by standing guard and maintaining pools of tranquility and peace; you also rebuke evil by showing that there is another way than death and violence. We are all connected through [the Force], and there's a time and place to rest, as well as a time and place to act."
The words sound eerily prophetic, speaking of a time when Luke himself will abandon the galaxy and stand guard over the first Jedi Temple. In doing so, he will still be rebuking evil as he shows there is another way. The challenge for Luke will be to remember that, as he rightly says, there is still a time and place to act. Rey's arrival has summoned him back to the galaxy, and it's time for the legend to walk among the people once again.
The Legends of Luke Skywalker is perhaps the most innovative and enjoyable Star Wars novel to date. It's like nothing we've read in the franchise before, and forms a fascinating character study. That's all the more impressive, given the book is clearly a crucial jigsaw piece in the puzzle that is the journey to #TheLastJedi.