Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a film that continues to spark conversation among both its fans and its detractors. Amidst the back and forth shouting in the fandom there has been a debate about the characterization of Luke Skywalker. Regardless of what side a person may land on in that debate, there are aspects of his story that lurk just under the surface yet provide an incredible insight as to Luke’s mindset during his exile.
We know that Luke is broken, guilt-ridden and full of regret. But what underlies that is Luke’s self-imposed imprisonment on Ahch-To after losing Ben Solo, the son of Han and Leia to the darkness. He can’t come to terms with his failure, he sees himself as a failed man who was a part of a failed institution that is no longer useful and therefore, should no longer exist. When Luke Skywalker told Rey that it was time for “the Jedi to end,” he may have been talking about more than just the Jedi in general. He could have very well been talking about himself, and we think it’s possible that Rey’s arrival had prevented him from taking that final step on that island. That’s right, we posit that Luke may have been ready to kill himself moments before Rey showed up on Ahch-To.
The biggest piece of evidence supporting this idea can be found by looking at Luke’s wardrobe of all things. When Rey first confronts Luke in the scene that bridges The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, Luke is wearing a classic Jedi robe that evokes the tradition of the Jedi Order. That confrontation ends with Luke tossing his old lightsaber over his shoulder and returning to his quarters, where he then changes into an all-terrain outfit more suitable for life on the island.
Observant eyes will also notice the way the camera lingers slightly on those robes, with Luke looking at them longingly just before Chewie busts down his door. Shortly after that initial confrontation with Rey, we find out that Luke has cut himself off from The Force and forsaken the Jedi lifestyle. This begs the question, if Luke is no longer a practicing Jedi, why would he wear the robes?
In the Star Wars: The Last Jedi Visual Dictionary, authored by Pablo Hidalgo, there are pages dedicated to Luke Skywalker and information on the clothing that he wears. As it pertains to the Jedi robes, the Visual Dictionary states: “Luke only wears this robe to undertake one final Jedi rite.” It is also included that, “Luke’s donning of ceremonial robes is not an indication of a return to faith; rather Luke sees it as his last rite to end the Order.”
This means that whenever Luke is wearing those ceremonial robes, he is actively seeking to end the Jedi Order. Therefore, when Rey first approaches Luke on the island, she has interrupted whatever action he is about to take.
This has serious implications considering Luke speaks about being the last of the Jedi religion and reveals that he sought out Ahch-To as a place to die. His very existence is the last remnant of the Jedi. His wearing of those robes indicates that he is on the brink of doing something destructive, perhaps even harmful to himself.
Is Luke thinking about taking his own life? We are not given any more information as to what this “final Jedi rite” is, so we are left to speculate. However, when you consider that the Jedi were inspired by the Japanese Samurai, it evokes thoughts of their practice of seppuku, a ritual suicide performed by the samurai as an alternative to shame or disgrace. If such a ritual does exist in the Star Wars mythos, it would likely be more elegant than that of the samurai. It could be something as simple as the willful giving of one’s self to the Force, an idea rooted in Lucas’ original plan for the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi. But, the ritual itself is not as important as understanding the core idea behind it, which is that Luke is the last of the Jedi, and he wants to end the Jedi.
This idea comes back around later in the film, after Rey has left the island, failing to bring Luke with her. Luke puts the Jedi robes back on when he is about to burning the ancient tree that houses the sacred Jedi texts. He even says to Yoda that he is “putting an end to all of this.” Again, we are not given the details of what that means (though we assume that he at least plans to burn the tree), but we know that Luke is in a bad place. He is riddled with guilt and self-loathing over his perceived failures. He has reached a point of destruction, of the Jedi Order and the legend of Luke Skywalker. Yoda then reminds Luke of his advice to pass on what he has learned, not just the dogma but Luke’s own learnings, successes, and even failures.
This idea of ending it all clad in Jedi robes is furthered in The Last Jedi‘s climactic scene.
In the final act of the film, we see Luke in two different forms: one is his force projection that confronts Kylo Ren on Crait, and the other is his true-self hovering over a rock on the cliffs of Ahch-To. The projection of Luke is designed to appear as Kylo last saw him, in a sort of mind game designed to make Luke appear powerful, clad in black. But the true Luke is still wearing those ceremonial Jedi robes, and while his actions ultimately lead to his death and the end of the old Jedi Order.
Though, while he still does die in the end, and had set out to achieve his initial goal, the motivation behind it makes all the difference. His death is no longer an act of self-destruction that ends the Jedi, but an act of self-sacrifice that then spawns a rebirth of the Jedi.
Understanding what those Jedi robes symbolize provides more weight to all of Luke’s scenes, and makes his character arc even more impactful. It draws out the depths of his despair. His initial confrontation with Rey on the island feels more like an act of fate intervening. It’s as though The Force itself refuses to give up on him, and has presented him with Rey, someone with great power and a background not dissimilar to his own; someone who needs his guidance and through her, he has a path to redemption. His conversation with Yoda helps pick him up when he hits rock bottom.
Luke is a broken man, but he is reassembled through interactions with Chewie, R2, Leia, Yoda, and Rey. Luke Skywalker at the beginning of The Last Jedi is self-destructive but his redemption allows him to soar to incredible heights and in an act of self-sacrifice he saves his friends, inspires a new generation and births a new Jedi Order.
But that’s just my personal take. What do you think of this theory? Do you agree about our thoughts regarding Luke, his motivations, and his Jedi robes? If not, what heories do you have? Let us know in the comments down below!