Can Luke Skywalker Avoid Character Apocalypse? Follow-up to Luke Skywalker Must Die

In May, my blog post Luke Skywalker Must Die generated a lot of discussion within the fandom, and even caught the attention of the guys on the ForceCast. Remarkably, although there were varying opinions on whether Luke should stay or go, for the most part people agreed with my sentiment that both Luke and the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe novels are stuck in a rut – and that to get out of that rut some things have to change, including how Luke’s character is used.

Since then, the cover of the final book in the Fate of the Jedi series has been revealed, and guess who was on it?  Granted, as I stated before, I don’t take issue with Luke being on the cover of the last book in a series premised around the Luke/Ben odyssey. But I think it’s fair to ask why Luke had to be on four covers (three front, one back) when there are so many other great characters landing on the Dramatis Personae time and again and yet not getting covers.

As a longtime fan, I keep going back to the Fictional Frontiers interview where Shelly Shapiro, Del Rey’s Star Wars editor, noted that she doesn’t do market research and produces books she likes.  It’s obvious she likes Luke, as do most other Star Wars fans, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Nothing highlights this more than the fan reaction to the cover of Apocalypse.  It should be an event to see the hero of Star Wars on a cover – and the goal should be a cover that draws universal cheers, not a truly mixed bag, with some dread-filled, of reactions.

At the time I wrote Luke Skywalker Must Die, I understood that my proposal was going to raise a few eyebrows and cause some readers to bristle, and for that reason it required a more concise post instead of expanding each and every idea.  Too much detail initially would just have diluted the broader message. But now, a few weeks later, I feel it’s worth adding a bit more elaboration on a few topics.

And I’d like to end this post by discussing how staying the course in the storytelling design will result in characterization apocalypse.

Nullifying Universes

Consider asking George Lucas the following question –

Can the GFFA exist without Luke Skywalker?

He can’t give the answer “no.”  It’s simply impossible. Here’s why: if a hero’s death nullifies the universe he lives in, that he suffers to save, then the universe wasn’t worth his sacrifice in the first place.  Think about it.

Then think about what Lucas has set up for the next generation of Star Wars fans with The Clone Wars.  Their hero will fall to the dark side, kill his friends, and preside over two decades of tyranny, then die. But the GFFA goes on. TCW is proving that good storytelling can actually enhance a character – by the time TCW finishes its fifth season, Lucas will have added over 100 episodes to Anakin’s story beyond the fewer than 10 hours in the prequel movies. But I think Lucas also has a pretty good sense of how, and for how long, he can extend Anakin’s tale.

So the GFFA can go on without Luke, too.

The Arrogance of the Gods

Right now, what is Luke’s biggest characterization flaw?

Mythic storytelling often invokes the arrogance of the gods to inflict flaws on characters. This goes beyond the basic notion of ego that’s present in every person, to a heightened sense of self-importance and indispensability that drives heroes to believe that everything depends on them alone. Sometimes it’s taken one step further, to the quest for immortality and what that does to the sense of self.  It’s when heroes begin to believe in the necessity of their immortality that they can experience literally fatal flaws. True, Luke has never overtly expressed a desire for personal immortality in the books, but he is definitely driven by an inflated sense of his own indispensability as the galaxy’s savior.

George Lucas has also shown this arrogance of the gods existing in the Jedi Order, and he makes the quest for immortality a crucial dynamic in Anakin Skywalker’s fall.

You have much wisdom, Anakin. But if I were to die, all the knowledge you seek about the true nature of the Force will be lost with me. Learn the power of the Dark Side, Anakin. The power to save Padmé. ~ Palpatine, Revenge of the Sith

Love won’t save you, Padme. Only my new powers can do that! ~Anakin Skywalker, Revenge of the Sith

It is the arrogance of the gods that creates the circumstances around Anakin’s fall; the Jedi’s blindness to the situation around them and his personal quest to use the Force to prevent death. And what redeems him in the end? His acceptance of the necessity of his own mortality to save Luke and defeat the Emperor.

The question is worth asking, though – would the Luke of the films believe he’s indispensible, or has his portrayal in the EU made people believe that? The peril of writing twenty-plus post-NJO books with Luke as the go-to-guy is that even readers know that every hero has flaws.

The Achilles Heel of the Everyman Hero

To really understand Luke and his role in Star Wars, you have to start by looking at how Lucas molded him as a character. Orphaned, Luke and Leia are sent to two very different situations and thus, even as twins, they become completely different archetypes.  This is a classical mythical storyline that Lucas adapted to serve his universe. Leia is educated on a rich planet in the ways of language, arts, diplomacy, and philosophy. Luke’s life starts on a backwater planet; his education is family values and work ethic, short on philosophy and intellectual reasoning.  This is why we never see Leia struggling with her role in the universe; she simply takes the tools and discipline from her young life and uses them to do what she must.

Luke, on the other hand, is shooting womprats from his T-16 and hanging with his friends, dreaming about places Leia has already seen and experienced, so when his hero’s call comes he is thrust into his adventures as an everyman.  Once he breaches the barrier between youth and his adult heroic life, there will always be an epic struggle for him to contend with. It is impossible for Luke to ever catch up to Leia’s experience and wisdom, and that has had dire consequences for Luke’s own life and for the young Jedi he’s led.

Luke Skywalker’s Legacy – The Rise and Fall of the Next Generation as Embodied in Jacen and Jaina Solo

These contrasting archetypes exist throughout Star Wars. Two of the most similar to Luke and Leia are Obi-Wan and Anakin and Jaina and Jacen.

Much like Leia, Obi-Wan is immersed in classical training; he is groomed from birth to understand his place in the universe. He has been taught Jedi values and philosophy and much more in his education as a youngling, then has a practical apprenticeship as a Padawan to a Jedi Master. This background gives him the tools to determine his own course, to decipher solutions out of situations that pose difficult tests to morality.  He’s been given a means to keep his soul intact, even though he kills and carries out the will of a government that isn’t necessarily free from dubious motivations.  As a Jedi, Obi-Wan is the learned wizard archetype that is played out across myth and legend.

Anakin, on the other hand, is everything that Obi-Wan is not in this regard, and it all comes to a head in the showdown on Mustafar. He grew up a slave boy in an environment of desperate self-preservation for himself and his mother, where pragmatic choices about how to endure and survive trumped concern for higher moral principle. His sense of duty and obligation flowed only to his family and friends, not broader society or the galaxy at large. When he faces the chance to end a terrible war and the threat of losing his wife, Anakin is unable to recognize the arrogance of the gods in himself, and cannot rationalize his own place in the universe in any way except being willing to sacrifice anyone and everything to achieve his desperate goals. Without the moral compass meant to be instilled by a full upbringing in Jedi training, he takes a tragic turn from everyman hero to terrifying villain.

The same dynamic exists with the Solo twins in the EU. The irony is, the superficial aspects of their character arcs might make it look like Jacen would be the learned Jedi wizard and Jaina would be the everyman mechanic and pilot. In actuality, the opposite is true. Prior to becoming Darth Caedus, Jacen went on the sojourn; he had the mad Force skillz!1!  But who fell? And who had to kick his ass into the afterlife?  His sister Jaina.

But wasn’t Jacen the thinker of the two? Wasn’t he the one always seeking more knowledge of the Force and the philosophies of other Force sects? Yes, but that’s not what being a learned Jedi wizard, in the archetypal sense, is all about. As Dex tells Obi-Wan in Episode II, there’s a big difference between knowledge and wisdom. Jacen acquired a lot of knowledge of the Force, but he lacked the discipline and wisdom to know how to use it. Jaina, on the other hand, knew exactly what being a Jedi meant, and that’s why she had the emotional fortitude to do her duty, even when the personal toll was extreme.

Why did Jaina have such a stronger moral compass than her twin? Because she is actually on the path to becoming the Jedi wizard – the one who had accepted the teachings of Jedi training and apprenticeship, and who had internalized an understanding of her role in the galaxy and the duties and obligations of her responsibilities. The team writing the Legacy of the Force series understood this; where they went astray was thinking that setting up Jaina as Kenobi to Jacen’s Vader wasn’t an interesting enough story to develop across the whole series. Instead, they crammed Jaina’s arc into only the last three books and didn’t give it enough page time to give it the emotional power of something like the sibling showdown in the Mortis Trilogy. I guess for some authors writing deranged Sith is much more fun than writing strong-willed Jedi doing the right thing, and they forsook really diving into the meat of Jaina’s arc right when women were starting to clamor aloud about the lack of strong females across scifi and fantasy storytelling. Too bad; it’s my opinion Legacy of the Force would have been much more epic had they focused on the diverging paths of the twins’ lives throughout the entire series.

Jacen – A Jedi Without Discipline

So what went so wrong with Jacen? We have to start by looking at who exactly trained and educated him. The Solo twins had basically the same upbringing prior to the Yuuzhan Vong war. In the early days of the war, though, Luke allows Jacen to flounder in a moral soup, catering to a teenaged boy’s pacifistic fantasies instead of forcing him to train as the Jedi Knight the galaxy needed him to be. After the Myrkr mission, Jacen was heavily influenced by his time in captivity. Upon his return, Luke, still trying to reach his own wizard potential, is mystified by Vergere. And the cunning little bird plays the earnest everyman like a fiddle.

Unable to grasp where all this leaves Jacen by the end of the war, Luke allows his nephew to venture out on his own, to find himself like some college graduate stalling for time before buckling down to find a real job. Then when Jacen returns again, Luke simply accepts him back, handing over his own son to Jacen’s charge without ensuring Jacen’s own moral readiness first. In other words, Jacen’s principal tutors were a Farmboy and a Sith. I’m never been sure why anyone was shocked by the rise of Darth Caedus.

We never even see from Luke that beautifully done scene from Episode III where, pondering Anakin’s readiness with Mace and Obi-Wan, Yoda rubs the palm of his hand across his brow. In other words, as a character Luke hasn’t yet truly questioned his own role in Jacen’s fall.  Instead, as Fate of the Jedi rolls out, he’s off in search of what experiences or encounters made Jacen fall – when in reality the question Luke should be asking is why Jacen didn’t have the mental and emotional skill set he needed to keep himself from falling, regardless of what happened to him.

Jaina discovered she’d inherited from her parents the narrow belief that it was her role, her family’s role, to be saving the galaxy. The fact was that their actions were crucial, but it was the hundreds of thousands of sapient beings that made up the Rebellion that had been able to capitalize on and maintain the victories others had won. Blowing up the Death Star certainly eliminated threats to the galaxy, but it hadn’t liberated a single Imperial planet.

~ Jaina POV, Dark Tide: Ruin by Michael A. Stackpole, page 99

Jaina – A Jedi Warrior

So who taught Jaina? It’s an interesting combination of people.  First Mara, the reformed Emperor’s Hand.  There’s no one better to teach the importance of a strong moral compass than someone who’s struggled so much to build her own. Mara sets Jaina down an uncompromising path.  Mara knew all too well how a person could be twisted into an instrument of evil. After training with Mara, Jaina enlists in Rogue Squadron and serves under a strict command structure. Next is Kyp. His influence was short, but the impression was long-lasting because he taught Jaina by example. Despite having suffered the loss of his brother from his own dark deeds, Kyp persisted and found purpose, even joy, in his life. Another green-eyed Jedi, her mission partner Zekk, had also at one point fallen to the dark side and is portrayed with rigid personal standards and a strict code of ethics that he uses as a barrier against another turn.

But Jaina didn’t learn only from Jedi. Jagged Fel, her on-again off-again love interest, has brought Jaina the furthest along her wizard path. He’s not a Jedi, but he is still highly intelligent, well-educated, and keenly aware of the tragic turns that befall heroes when they stray from the right path.  Like Leia, he simply deals with each obstacle to his life as it appears, but he doesn’t waver from his sense of duty and obligation or his internal moral compass. (His morality might not be the same as a Jedi’s, but it is solid and uncompromising in its own way.) Allston probably showed this best as he mapped out the relationship between Jaina and Jag in Legacy of the Force. He went back to themes he had used in the Enemy Lines duology, where Jag out-reasoned Jaina into thinking further about her use of Force tactics against the Yuuzhan Vong. In Fury, that’s exactly what Jag does to Jaina again; even though he loves her, he puts a physical beatdown on her in the meadow and successfully embarrasses her into realizing she’s at risk of training all the humanity out of herself and becoming a horrible Jedi. When Jaina does take time off from battle in Legacy of the Force, it is to completely immerse herself in her studies with Boba Fett.  Her ability to submit to his training isn’t in avoidance of her Jedi duties, or a goal simply to learn a new Force-trick before dashing off like we see from Luke in Fate of the Jedi.  Her submission to the Mandalorian training required humility and diligence; she had committed to enhancing her skills to fulfill the role she was expected by the Force to play in the upcoming battle.

When Jaina and Jacen fight to the death, what enables her to win is her ability to set aside her arrogance, her personal pain, and everything she wants from life. To the bitter end, Jacen is selfishly trying to save his ambitions for the galaxy or his daughter. Jaina, though, has the strength to let go of herself and do her duty. She prevails because she latches onto the one thing that made Luke Skywalker more than your average run-of-the-mill hero: a belief in something beyond self that makes heroes mythic.

Passing the Torch

So what does all this have to do with Luke? His lack of character growth beyond the everyman archetype we first saw in the movies has dragged the Star Wars EU into a quagmire of boring, repetitive storytelling. Like his father and his nephew, Luke has floundered at acquiring the wisdom and understanding of what it truly means to know and accept his place in the universe and his role in the galaxy. Without that, his character will always be compromised and his personal successes will always be paired with broader failures for his students. For a long time now, the new Jedi Order has needed a wise, learned Jedi wizard at its helm.

So if Yoda was a sage, badass Jedi, why do we see him teaching younglings in the Jedi Temple, posing silly questions about missing planets to children who can’t even wield more than a training blade? Because his role was to teach the next generation everything he knew and to instill physical, moral, and mental discipline that will keep them in the light. With Yoda, there was always a lesson.

So why isn’t Luke Skywalker of the EU Yoda yet?

For the most part, the people writing the recent EU books still look at Luke as the Farmboy or Everyman, so it’s been difficult to transition Luke into the Yoda role. This is probably the biggest reason the novels have struggled with the character. When he should have been becoming a wise tutor, he’s constantly on the front lines. What’s missing is a character bible – probably even going back to Lucas himself for input on how to shift the archetype. I’ve never bought into the notion that Lucas wouldn’t indulge the writers with some time to talk about the hero of the Original Trilogy if he were asked. More likely, it seems to me, the writers and editors in their fannish zeal wanted to seize control and make Luke in the image they wanted for him.  So they just didn’t ask.

No moment in the EU better points toward Luke’s inability to deal with his great responsibilities than the Myrkr mission in the NJO.  The consequences of the mission have shaped the flagship EU storyline more than any other event. The crux of the mission was that the voxyn queen must die or the Jedi are doomed – and with them the galaxy. So if those are the stakes, why doesn’t Luke go? Why does he send mere children in his place?  For a lot of reasons, some of them valid.  In fact, I think it was a good storytelling choice. The interesting dynamic, which has never been explored on the page, is that perhaps it was this very decision, and all the failures surrounding the young Jedi who had been sent on that mission, which left Luke feeling as though he had to take the weight of the galaxy back into his own hands. If Luke’s refusal to pass the torch came from his own self-doubt about the consequences of having tried to do it once before – now that would have been interesting characterization and storytelling.  But we never see this from Luke, or even see him struggle at all internally or externally with the tragic twists that played out in the galaxy at the hands of the Myrkr mission Jedi.

In all his years since the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke has faced one battle after another.  In the films, he never submitted to the discipline of the military – he came and went as he pleased – nor did he listen to the wisdom of his Jedi Masters. And nothing has ever really changed in that portrayal of him; Luke Skywalker is never truly shown accepting discipline like his sister or her daughter.  It also goes without saying that while he’s intelligent, Luke has the education of a farmboy raised on Tatooine, just like his father. Yes, he studied briefly with some Force sects, believing he was broadening his powers and his knowledge.  Without a solid foundation in understanding his duty and his Jedi compass, though, each bit of new knowledge only added more muddle to the moral soup. Luke doesn’t have the tools – a spoon, in this case – to drink from the cup of wisdom, so he takes the bowl and puts it to his lips, and it spills all over the place, making a mess.

Have you ever stopped to think about how many darksiders and Sith that Luke has now trained in the ways of the Force?

Everyman to Wizard – An Opportunity Lost

The great thing about the book storytelling format is that it operates more like a serial television show than a movie. The serialization of Luke’s story would have been a perfect opportunity to transform Luke from the Everyman archetype to the Wizard archetype.  In fact, it would have been epic.  First and foremost Luke would have to recognize his arrogance and ego – most importantly, his failings as the new leader of the Jedi – during a philosophic odyssey.

Fate of the Jedi was a Luke/Ben odyssey born from a premise pitched by Shelly Shapiro. The name of the series suggests a higher level struggle even than Legacy of the Force’s unraveling of Jacen’s soul. Actually, upon first look, one might get the impression that this is a series where the founder of the New Jedi Order might die, and so the fate of his Jedi becomes in doubt.  But the Powers That Be knocked that level of suspense right off the table straight out when they told us no major character would die.  So then perhaps Fate of the Jedi might have suggested an identity crisis for the Jedi Order itself, which has to be played out primarily through Luke’s role. But it hasn’t been that, either.

Let’s step back momentarily and think in broader terms about the flagship EU books. The NJO is an era; it actually has a beginning, middle, and end. Next comes the Legacy era, which, if it wants to succeed as a successful serial era, must too have a beginning, middle, and end.  We know the end of Legacy, at least in part; I think it’s unclear if the comics are the beginning of the end or the end of the end. Given what Lucas gave us this year with the Mortis Trilogy, where he depicted masterfully his vision that the universe and the Force exist in an ever-constant state of flux, the dynamics in the Legacy comics isn’t surprising.

Some fans screamed and shouted about the implications of having the end before the middle from the moment Legacy was first announced, but the irony is we’re fans of a movie series that started at Episode IV.  We knew the end of Episode III in 1977.

Good serial television is the easiest example to explain why knowing the endgame is a good thing for storytelling.  First off, if the storyteller doesn’t know the end, the journey is screwed from the start.  Shows like Lost and How I Met Your Mother highlight one of the biggest problems that can hurt serial stories, even when they have strong fan appeal.  The first seasons of Lost were epic, but then it started to meander, not really having a purpose other than to tell stories. The creators actually had an endgame, but they didn’t know when it would be.  As soon as the creative team signed the deal for a fixed number of seasons, how much time was left to tell the story, Lost returned to its old form.  Currently, How I Met Your Mother has lost many fans, who are simply tired of awaiting more than the barest of hints toward resolution for the title character.

There is no better example of a meandering serial story with no true purpose than Fate of the Jedi. We know a few things – by 130 ABY there will be three distinct Force-using factions: Jedi, Imperial Knights, and Sith. In Fate of the Jedi we have two Force factions: one light, one dark. Where does that other faction come from?  Is it born out of a Ben/Vestara love child? The frightening thing is, with the level of storytelling we’ve been given recently from the flagship series, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched.

Unfortunately Ben and Vestara are the obstacles within the odyssey that will keep Luke from transforming out of the Everyman archetype and into the Wizard.  Revisiting his old Force sect hangouts has been a plot device to introduce more tricks, not more wisdom or self-reflection.  Luke has been watching out for his son, mourning old loves, partnering with Sith – he’s more Erica Kane than Yoda.

Within the text, he hasn’t truly acknowledged that he is in part responsible for Jacen, Alema, Raynar, and a whole host of other disasters that have befallen the galaxy. Instead he still fears his own role and relationship to the Dark Man from his visions during Legacy of the Force. He’s even made the classic deal with the Devil in order to defeat an evil beyond the reader’s imagination.

There is enough evidence in the text to make fans wonder if Luke has succumbed to the arrogance of the gods and is slipping over to the dark side without even realizing it.

Worse yet, by isolating Ben from everyone else during their journey in Fate of the Jedi, Luke has actually set Ben down the same path toward failure. Even with all the tricks he knows, Ben is, like his father, Force-knowledge rich and Jedi-philosophy poor.

Ben’s been trained by a Sith and a Farmboy. Sound familiar to anyone else we know?

Luke to Yoda and Back Again

There is more than one set of fans not happy with Luke’s character development. The Luke fans who hang out in TFN’s Save Our Skywalker discussion thread take issue with his grayer portrayal. Fans of other characters, like Jacen and Jaina fans, take issue with Luke’s role as a failed mentor, or with Luke continuing to dominate the limelight at a grandfatherly age.  For the most part, all of these fans have one thing in common: we’d like Luke to remain that beacon of hope we fell in love with in the movies.

Undoubtedly the more stories that are told, the more opportunities for Luke Skywalker to make a mistake and tarnish his mythic reputation.  I don’t think Star Wars fans expect Luke to be perfect, but more and more he’s done things that rightfully can be construed by some fans as something worse than simply mistakes or humanity-induced blunders.

When the NJO started, it clearly had a goal to develop new heroes’ journeys. With nineteen books, it succeeded in bringing the stories of three heroes to life – Anakin, Jaina, and Jacen.  Whether they did all three equal justice is debatable, but that’s another blog for another day.  At the time the NJO was being written, fans knew the creative team had a story bible and character arcs mapped out.  Luke was definitely beginning his shift to Jedi Grand Master.

In the Dark Nest trilogy Luke declares himself Grand Master, but his elevation was imposed by circumstances introduced by a writer who prefers to explore the grey side of Star Wars.  In all fairness to Denning, Lucas himself believes that light and dark exist in all characters, but I think most fans of Star Wars want and need Luke to lean strongly into the light. The story bible method was abandoned about this time, too, and the flagship series EU became a process of pitches.  It’s evident to many fans that while continuity of facts ruled the day, continuity of characterization started to wane.

Even as Luke performed more and more ruthless, and what some might consider morally questionable, acts during Legacy of the Force – allowing Ben to be captured, reading the future with the Force and manipulating the projection of the future in the Force, tricking Jaina into believing he had died – the storytellers were using other characters’ point-of-view to prop up Luke’s characterization as the galactic hero even as much of the story relied on his superior Jedi skills to outwit, outlast, and outplay Darth Caedus. At the close of Legacy of the Force, the story design had created Sith Lord Jacen Solo powerful enough to kill Mara Jade Skywalker, but Jaina’s converse heroic arc as the Sword of the Jedi still needed the helping hand of the Jedi Grand Master.  Interestingly enough, Luke didn’t act much like a shepherd to his Jedi protégé in Invincible; in fact, he was more a manipulator than a wise counselor throughout the course of the book, going so far as to invade her mind without her knowledge or consent to even the playing field in the battle to defeat his nephew.

Most recently, Fate of the Jedi opened with Luke removed from the role of Jedi Grand Master, a move that by design could have afforded the veteran Everyman hero the opportunity to finally fulfill his rise to the epic Wizard level.  At this point in the series, though, it doesn’t look like that’s what we’re going to get, and if we do, it won’t be consistent with the mishmash the series has delivered in its pages.

The Trevi Fountain (Rome, Italy)

The movies might be Luke’s and Anakin Skywalker’s journeys, but undoubtedly there are hundreds of more heroes’ journeys – and yes, even some falls – that existed under Yoda’s tutelage, and there’s no reason we can’t see the same for Grand Master Luke in the EU. The books and comics of the EU are serial storytelling, not two-hour movies, and that creates a much broader canvas. Imagine being taken to see Trevi Fountain in Rome and the tour guide tells you to stand in one spot and the only thing you could see was the grand statue of Ocean set in the middle, yet you knew there were some spectacular sculptures of male and female characters and horses rising from the water not to mention the fountain itself… Sure, it’d be cool to see that one part, but you’d leave knowing there were a lot of other things you would have liked to have seen.  That’s what the recent flagship EU has been like for many fans.

Luke doesn’t need to pack up the Jade Shadow and live a pauper’s life on a backwater planet. And like Yoda, when the time calls for it he should be ready to pick up his lightsaber and fight. But the time to pass the torch is long past.

Proposing Luke’s death was the easiest and most dramatic – all right, you got me: melodramatic – way to shine a spotlight on the too-narrow focus of the post-NJO EU.  Fate of the Jedi hasn’t yet built a foundation to shift Luke’s role into the shepherd of the next heroes of the galaxy, but I think in the near future it is imperative that change occur.  Too much more of the status quo risks nullifying the fanbase of the Expanded Universe in which Luke Skywalker exists.


The next excerpt for my upcoming space opera novel will be posted on Monday, June 27th. Now that I’m moving further into the process of revealing my book and its story, I’ll keep the focus of FANgirl Blog on my thoughts and commentaries on storytelling, fandom, and fangirls, as I’ve been doing so far. My new author website, triciabarr.com, will focus on my novel – and I’ll post the next excerpt there on Monday.

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Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and the intersection of women within Star Wars fandom. She is co-author of Ultimate Star Wars and Star Wars Visual Encyclopedia from DK Publishing, a featured writer for Star Wars Insider magazine with numerous articles on the Hero's Journey. Her FANgirl opinions can be heard on the podcasts Hyperspace Theories and Fangirls Going Rogue.

Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.
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Fangirl

Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and the intersection of women within Star Wars fandom. She is co-author of Ultimate Star Wars and Star Wars Visual Encyclopedia from DK Publishing, a featured writer for Star Wars Insider magazine with numerous articles on the Hero's Journey. Her FANgirl opinions can be heard on the podcasts Hyperspace Theories and Fangirls Going Rogue. Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.

7 thoughts on “Can Luke Skywalker Avoid Character Apocalypse? Follow-up to Luke Skywalker Must Die

  • June 24, 2011 at 6:33 am
    Permalink

    Hmm. Interesting…

    “Instead, as Fate of the Jedi rolls out, he’s off in search of what experiences or encounters made Jacen fall – when in reality the question Luke should be asking is why Jacen didn’t have the mental and emotional skill set he needed to keep himself from falling, regardless of what happened to him.”
    The thing that confuses me about that plot in FOTJ is why Luke doesn’t catch on that Jacen’s fall is summed up pretty well as:
    Hear me, Jedi! No longer am I the man you knew! I am fire! And THE FORCE INCARNATE! NOW AND FOREVER —
    I AM DARTH CAEDUS!

    (http://images.wikia.com/marveldatabase/images/8/82/Darkphoenixrevealingherself.jpg)
    I mean… Really. Even the ‘deeper reason’ why Jacen fell follows the plot of the Dark Phoenix Saga pretty well – his oneness with the Force at the end of The Unifying Force – and on the surface level, Lumiya was his Jason Wyngarde. (Does this mean his killing of Mara was his star-gobbling event?) What does Luke really need to ask about?

    “To the bitter end, Jacen is selfishly trying to save his ambitions for the galaxy or his daughter. Jaina, though, has the strength to let go of herself and do her duty. She prevails because she latches onto the one thing that made Luke Skywalker more than your average run-of-the-mill hero: a belief in something beyond self that makes heroes mythic.”
    Eeeeeerm… The thing is, I can’t buy that scene as showing Jaina firmly in the Light, and here’s why. From Inferno:
    “Caedus extended his Force-awareness to their fleet- and was consumed by a rush of fiery pain as his body struggled to remain functional.

    He opened himself completely to the Force, drawing it in through the power not of his anger or fear- he was too exhausted and sad to feel either- but through his faith in destiny, through the love that gave him the strength to serve that destiny… through his love not only of Allana but also of Tenel Ka, of Luke and Ben and even Mara, of Jaina and his parents and all the others who had betrayed him, of his allies and enemies and his dead mentors. He drew the Force in through his love of them all, of the entire galaxy he was sacrificing himself to save.

    The pain remained, but with it came the strength Caedus needed to remain conscious.”
    From Invincible:
    “Then Jaina opened herself fully to the Force, drawing it in through the power of her emotions – not through her anger or pain, as a Sith might, but through her love of what her brother had been… {snip description of Jacen}

    The Force came pouring in from all sides, saturating Jaina and devouring her, filling her with a roaring maelstrom of power, carrying away her pain and leaving in its place the strength not only to survive, but to rise and fight.”

    Typically, when a villain does something in a very specific way and then nearly the same wording is applied to another character later, it’s meant to indicate a similarity between that villain and said character – perhaps to imply the character is going down a dark road, perhaps to remind us of the surprising likeness between the villain and the character, etc. So, since Jacen had used the exact same justification to lubricate his path to hell all through the books, I viewed Jaina’s implied claim that her powering herself with ‘love’ was proof that she was better than Jacen as… extremely unconvincing. I suppose that it’s just a staple phrase of Denning’s, now that we get this from Vortex:
    “Luke opened himself more fully to the Force, using his love for Ben and his lost wife and the entire Jedi Order to draw it into him. {snip} But the light side rushed in, flowing in from all sides, pouring through him like fire.”

    If so, I think it was a mistake to write Jacen doing thus when he was firmly in the Dark – perhaps have him drawing on his belief that he was the only one who could save the galaxy, and thus tying his source of Force-strength to narcissism and a not-terribly-veiled need for domination. But it no longer counts as a Light-side technique after a Sith has used it as his pet teddy-bear for nine books straight. (The passage I quoted was only one example, and I didn’t even remember it was there until I saw it on a theForce.net thread – ‘I am putting aside my own needs For The Greater Good’ was Jacen’s excuse from Bloodlines onward, and now we find in FOTJ that he’s even holding onto it in the afterlife. You can’t harp on deconstructing FTGG for a whole series (or even a whole book) and then suddenly decide at the end that you want to apply it to a hero again.)

    Jacen believed in something ‘beyond himself’, if you want to take his word for it; he rambled on about his need to ‘sacrifice’ right up until the end. I agree that “believing in something beyond oneself” is a valid mythic hero quality, but LOTF has irreparably damaged that characteristic as a valid core trait of a mythic hero. I think the difference now is best illustrated by two quotes from Albus Dumbledore at two different points in his life:
    “Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”
    vs.
    “Gellert-

    Your point about Wizard dominance being FOR THE MUGGLES’ OWN GOOD – this, I think, is the crucial point.”

    Right now, people are complaining about the Jedi doing very little of the former and much too much of the latter. In the movies, Luke chooses the former on the second Death Star, but Anakin, as foreshadowing (teasing at the time or not), states a preference for the latter in AOTC, and shouts about how he has brought “peace, justice, freedom, and security” to “[his] new Empire” on Mustafar.
    “PADMÉ: The trouble is that people don’t always agree. In fact, they hardly ever do.
    ANAKIN: Then they should be made to.
    PADMÉ: By whom? Who’s going to make them?
    ANAKIN: I don’t know. Someone.
    PADMÉ: You?
    ANAKIN: Of course not me.
    PADMÉ: But someone.
    ANAKIN: Someone wise.
    PADMÉ: That sounds an awful lot like a dictatorship to me.
    ANAKIN: *mischievous grin* Well, if it works…”

    Now, I agree that Jaina truly values doing what is right over what is easy. This rant is meant as half-disclaimer and half-letting-off-steam over what I see as muddled messages from the authors over the course of late LOTF and the last two books in FOTJ.

    EDIT: After writing the rest of this comment, I came back and looked at this rambling. I think this is another point in favor of small-scale stuff as opposed to galactic crises – it’s far too easy for authors to go the FTGG route in galaxy-shaking conflicts, whereas, in smaller (say, planetary-level) events, the issue of what is right versus what is easy is clearer. There’s less chance of the GA government being overthrown due to a crime-lord’s activities on a single planet, for instance. :P

    “but the irony is we’re fans of a movie series that started at Episode IV. We knew the end of Episode III in 1977.”
    Yes, but the thing is, we hadn’t seen Episode I yet. If we’d first seen Episode I, and then learned that everything went downhill from there… People might not have been very happy. ‘What was everyone fighting for, if it’s going to end up taken over by an Emperor?!’, ‘Oh, back to Tattooine again, with a Skywalker as the hero? Talk about lack of originality.’, etc. ;)

    “Unfortunately Ben and Vestara are the obstacles within the odyssey that will keep Luke from transforming out of the Everyman archetype and into the Wizard. ”
    Not in the slightest. If The Thrawn Trilogy had been written poorly and stretched like taffy over nine books, would we be lamenting that Leia’s pregnancy was an obstacle keeping her from acting as a politician and a negotiator with the Nogiri, or that the development of Luke and Mara’s relationship from hostility to alliance was an obstacle keeping Luke from his climatic confrontation with C’Baoth and Mara from finally getting to the end of her ‘You will kill Luke Skywalker’ plot? In GOOD writing, multiple plots can be juggled simultaneously with all of them advancing – indeed, an above-average author can have them all come together in a climatic ending, finishing all of them up with style. I’ll give Lucas credit and say that he pulled this off in Revenge of the Sith, having all of the plots – Padme, A/P, the Clone Wars, the Trade Federation, Palpatine’s disturbing behavior, the politics, Anakin’s increasingly dark mindset, the Anakin-Obi-Wan friendship, the Sith – culminate in Anakin Skywalker’s corruption, the near-total destruction of the Jedi, and the rise of the Empire. The Anakin-Padme romance wasn’t an obstacle in Palpatine’s plots or Anakin’s downfall – Lucas managed to make it central to both.

    Properly written, Ben’s development into a young man standing on his own, including his relationship with Vestara Khai, could have been a trigger for Luke to step back and seriously reconsider how he had been handling his role as the ‘Grand Master’, and whether he would be better off standing back and dispensing advice to guide people to make the right choices themselves, rather than constantly sticking his hands into things. HOWEVER Ben’s relationship with Vestara turned out, it could have been made into an opportunity for introspection – if it succeeded despite Luke’s complaints, he would have been forced to admit that maybe he should just trust Ben to make his own decisions, even if he disagrees – and, by extension, trust those around him (especially Jaina) to make theirs; if it failed, due to Ben (like a stereotypical rebellious teenager) holding onto Vestara all the harder BECAUSE Luke was so vehement about ending the relationship – or because Luke approved of the relationship -, and failed catastrophically, a despairing Luke would be forced to confront that his behavior only made the situation worse, and that some of the disasters in the galaxy have been not the fault of people not listening to him, but his own sub-par behavior.

    If the fanfiction community has ever truly floored me with anything, it’s the ability of excellent authors to take even mediocre ideas and knock them not just out of the park, but well into another state. Conversely, if it has ever really given my head a Blue Screen of Death, it’s over the ability of truly terrible authors to take brilliant ideas and ruin them, to turn them into such horrible monstrosities that one begins to wonder if the text is a device to summon dread Cthulhu from the antediluvian depths and bring about a new age of mad chaos upon this very Earth.

    DNT, LOTF, and FOTJ haven’t quite hit that level…
    “At this point in the series, though, it doesn’t look like that’s what we’re going to get, and if we do, it won’t be consistent with the mishmash the series has delivered in its pages.”
    But that sentence sums up FOTJ and the chances of any of its plots coming to a satisfying conclusion rather well, I’m afraid.

    —————————————————————————————-

    Why isn’t Luke being moved to the Wizard role in FOTJ? Let’s see.

    Allston seems all right with it, and seems to be happy to let Luke be the one in charge of sitting back and using the advanced Force techniques while Ben comes into his own as a wise-cracking fighter and various other young characters do all the legwork and action scenes. I think he’d gladly convert Luke to a Wizard if it was in the planning.

    Golden took a wrong turn on the way to the YA Romance section, and checks off the templates of Uptight, Cheat-Console-Speed Learner, Concerned Father, and Powerful Force-User on Luke’s character profile tab and calls it a day. I don’t think she gives enough of a darn to convert Luke to a Wizard or resist his conversion to a Wizard.

    Denning… has had Luke acting as the Grand Puppetmaster since at least Invincible, had Aurra Sing hobbling about in Tempest, Leia running about in a sexy outfit at age sixty in Invincible, has consistently had Han and Leia playing major action parts in his novels since DNT, has Luke still pinning a Sith Lords to a chair, having gruesome battles with an eldritch monstrosity, and slicing up Lost Tribe Sith aplenty at age sixty-two, crashed Jaina/Jag in Dark Nest (prolonging the interminable romance plot by… at least one series, I’d say), was the one to pitch the “Jacen Solo goes Dark” idea to Del Rey, has the highest in-novel kill count for members of the YJK-generation, and didn’t treat a good deal of the ones who survived terribly well. Alema became a “bugslut”, Raynar ended up as Unu’Thul for a bit and spent ~12 books waiting to recover afterwards, Tahiri went Sith and groped a 14-year-old boy (who redeemed her, just as he’s redeeming… the other darksider who’s interested in him), and Tenel Ka had to give up her daughter for her own protection, then faded into the scenery for 6 books straight. Ah, yes, and Jaina had to kill her own twin.

    To give Denning his due, he writes the Sith extremely well, is the only author of the three to make Abeloth truly terrifying (I made the mistake of reading Abyss at 2AM… had some trouble getting to sleep that night), and writes good action. I believe that he’s written the strongest novels in FOTJ so far. However, the over-emphasis on movie characters and undercutting of younger-generation characters spikes in his novels. Huh – it just occurred to me – I HOPE that the Force Psychosis was not originally his idea, because it’s an awfully convenient way to knock the Shelter-generation of Jedi out of commission for most of the series.

    Why do I mention this? Because I’m concerned that the baton failing to be passed is not so much the fault of incompetent executive planning and more the result of a certain author “with an agenda”, as he might say. I suppose that, until the end of FOTJ and the start of more standalone trilogies, duologies, and one-shots, no one can say for sure…

    —————————————————————————————-

    Anyway, I must say, this is a very impressive character analysis, and manages to tie the disparate shards of characterization over the years into a consistent package. Well done! :) I do hope TPTB pay attention to the points made in this post…

    Reply
  • June 24, 2011 at 2:13 pm
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    A few thoughts on the Caedus and Jaina aspect.

    First, the fact that something is a lightside power doesn’t mean a darksider can’t ever use it. There’s a very deliberate visual parallel of Sidious healing crispy Vader in ROTS and Obi-Wan healing unconscious Luke in ANH, for example. So the fact that Caedus might have, on occasion, fueled himself with love rather than anger doesn’t mean that drawing on love is darkside.

    Second, it’s not a coincidence that the quotes you gave are all from Denning books. And in Invincible, Denning is quite deliberate in leaving it ambiguous whether Caedus died dark or stepped back briefly into the light. So the fact that Caedus might have drawn on lightside influences on occasion just fits that pattern. The problem is with the way they wrote Caedus – not with the actions of Jaina or Luke in those other scenes.

    Third, we always have to look thematically as well as at the details of the specific scenes. And in Star Wars one of the key thematic elements is that motive is critical. There’s no moral doubt, for example, that Lumiya deserved to die – but Luke still acted darkly to the extent he was motivated by revenge rather than justice when he killed her. Same with Dooku’s killing by Anakin in ROTS. On the other hand, there was nothing darkside about Kenobi killing Maul or Luke blowing up the Death Star. Fury, Revelation, and Invincible establish clearly that Jaina’s motives in stopping Caedus were lightside and consistent with Jedi morality. And in the very moment she killed him, she was not driven by fear or anger or hate – but only justice and love.

    On one level, yes, Caedus and Jaina both went into that fight intending to kill the other. But, in Star Wars, that does not make them morally equivalent. (In some real-world moral views it might, but not in the morality of the Force that’s been long established in the films and the EU.) Vader in ROTS only selfishly wants peace to keep Padme and their child safe, and he selfishly craves power so that he can end the war to end his own suffering (his fear of losing his family and friends). In LOTF, Caedus likewise is motivated by his selfish quest for power to compel peace and order. Even when he supposedly draws on the Force with love, he is using the Force in order to shape it to serve his purposes. By contrast, Jaina in LOTF is portrayed as selflessly fulfilling her duty, especially when it comes to facing her twin. She does not go to face him to stop her own pain, but to stop the harm he is causing to innocents across the galaxy. She doesn’t fight him because she wants him dead, but because justice requires it. And in the final showdown, she does not draw on the Force in order to warp it to her command, but rather to surrender herself to its power and its fate for her – the ultimate selfless relinquishment.

    So although there are a few short passages that are parallel, thematically it’s quite clear that the similarity does not show that Jaina is morally compromised by drawing on love. (And besides, if they did mean to show that then it would be a pretty twisted reading of the message of the films.)

    Reply
  • November 29, 2011 at 11:36 pm
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    I think the most depressing fact about this post and the one before it, is that Timothy Zahn made your point about Luke being too much the action hero and not enough the mentor in the Hand of Thrawn Duology, what, fifteen years ago? In fact, my perception was that until Denning started seriously writing for EU, that was precisely where Luke’s character was headed. A shame, where it is, instead.

    Reply
  • April 8, 2013 at 6:25 pm
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    Interesting.
    Well, I do think it a tad unfair to compare Luke to Yoda. Yoda was 900 years old. Lots more time to get wisdom. You could compare to Obi-Wan or another Jedi though.
    I think the EU is all over the place with him. I liked the way Zahn wrote him: he questions if the ‘old’ jedi would do this or not and such. Other (Black Fleet Crisis, Darksaber, Crystal Star) had me CRINGING at how NOT Luke he was.
    I think it’s ironic, some people dislike the ‘prequel’ trilogy claiming Anakin was a whiny teenager. Then write Luke that way. (Be fair people. He WAS a teenager. And if someone told you to ABANDON your Mom in slavery, would you do it without AT LEAST whining?) Yet many seem to be writing a ‘self pitying jedi master.’
    He’s done darn good overall, considering he had NO early training and NO jedi masters (that might’ve been disastrous come to think of it. How much better would the EU be if Obi-Wan and Yoda had hung out and given advice in spirit form?) He had to reconstruct from almost nothing.
    But that doesn’t mean everyone has written him well.
    In those Swarm books, they debate going after ‘Rayner/Un Thul’ to kill or bring him back. Instead of pointing out that all they really had to do was go after him and Rayner himself would make the choice (either they COULD subdue him or they’d be FORCED to kill him) he just decided FOR everyone.
    And then there was the whole Kyp Durron thing. Geez Luke, don’t you think your first batch of students might be too soon for one whose already got so much baggage? And then the government puts him in the role of JUDGE instead of accepting responsibility themselves.
    Luke has had so much piled on him….more than any other Jedi ever had to endure. I hate to see Disney trash the EU completely, but there are bits I could lose. Keep Mara, Jacen and Jaina. Keep Rogue Squadron.

    Reply
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  • June 11, 2013 at 2:36 pm
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    Just one thing, they could not kill him off by the hands of another as that would
    invalidate anything Lucas have said about Luke Skywalker.He said clearly Luke would become 200% more powerful then both Yoda and Sidious,who could kill him ? no one but a Skywalker right.Also the fact that George said they could not touch the big 3 and the Droids.And i’m happy about this, writers love to kill of characters we love, look at Mara and Cheewbacca,and fans hate them for it.

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