A few months ago I wrote about the news that Princess Leia had earned a PhD by the time she was 19. That piece of information made it possible to reimagine the original Star Wars trilogy as a story of Leia’s academic trials and tribulations: “The greatest pop culture story of the last century is, in part, about a young academic trying to find herself in a harsh galaxy.”
I also noted that seen in this way, the contrast between Luke and Leia’s arc was particularly interesting:
George Lucas is also correct that Leia’s more mature arc contrasts strongly with that of her twin. Luke’s narrative journey in the original trilogy is about starting off as a cocky kid who thinks he should not be afraid of studying a discipline. Only at the end of “Return of the Jedi” does Luke arrive at where Leia was at the beginning of “A New Hope.”
I bring this up because the latest trailer for “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” is out, and hoo boy, we need to talk about Luke’s academic trajectory:
If Leia’s story in the original trilogy was about her finding her peace as a young academic, then it would appear that the unfolding trilogy is all about Luke trying to be a better mentor. The contrast with Leia’s academic background is important to note. Leia effortlessly earned her PhD by the time she was 19. Luke had only just started his training at that age. Furthermore, Luke, in a typical grad student move, impetuously dropped out of his program early. It was only due to the indulgences of his own mentors that Luke was able to finish his training.
With this unpromising start, it is no wonder that Luke’s subsequent academic career has been a bit dodgy. Despite it being a bull galactic market for Jedi studies profs and despite having little competition, Luke still managed to muck things up considerably. We now know that Luke attempted to train the next generation of Jedi knights. We also know that this did not end well.
Skywalker responded to these setbacks like a typical tenured academic: He took an unscheduled sabbatical and, by being out of touch, made it difficult to recruit any incoming class of promising Jedi. Despite Luke’s erratic behavior, Rey’s promising interview suggests that Luke is ready to mentor again. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll even be able to coax Luke into being her chair.
After watching the latest trailer, however, I’m not so sure. In the first trailer for “The Last Jedi,” we see Luke acting like a true grad school mentor, telling Rey to look past the existing literature about the Force and realize that there was so much more to be researched. Good training for Rey, and even more promising for Luke’s ability to mentor.
With the latest trailer, however, we start to see Luke Skywalker’s downsides as a mentor. He tells Rey, “I’ve seen this raw strength only once before. It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.” That’s a horrible thing to say to a promising young student! No wonder there aren’t many Jedi left. One could almost interpret this as a mentor jealous of a protege’s potential. Any good mentor would dream of being outclassed by their young apprentice.
Later on, Luke says, “This is not going to go the way you think!” I get the need to instill discipline in newly minted Jedi, but this still sounds harsh. The contrast between Luke’s inner turmoil and Leia’s more calm leadership on display in the trailer suggests that the wrong twin picked Jedi studies for a field.
These are just trailers, of course. When “The Last Jedi” is released, maybe the film will tell a different story. But it seems hard to interpret “I only know one truth. … It’s time for the Jedi to end” as anything but Luke Skywalker deciding that mentoring is not for him.
The conventional interpretation of the Star Wars saga is that it is a tale about fathers and sons. I am increasingly of the mind that it is a saga about poor mentoring. Think about it: Obi-Wan fails Anakin, Palpatine fails Anakin, Obi-Wan lies to Luke (don’t give me that “different point of view” crap), Yoda fails to get Luke to stay in Dagobah to complete his training, and Luke fails Kylo Ren. This is an appalling track record, and it bodes ill for Rey. In the seven films that have been released, we only witness one example of competent mentoring: Qui-Gon’s tutoring of Obi-Wan. And even that was cut short.
I can only hope that Luke learns the ways of Jack Donaghy and does not give up on the crucial task of mentoring younger Jedi. Otherwise, I would find Luke’s failure to contribute social capital to his field of Jedi studies to be … disturbing.