The conversation around Star Wars: The Last Jedi continues to be one had by fans who are trying to piece together a story which saw a cynical Luke Skywalker be confronted by Rey, the new force wielder. This new and aged version of Luke was another risky idea of Rian Johnson, as you remember we shared in “Rian Johnson Shares His favorite Star Wars: The Last Jedi Moment” that there were some gambles made with a few of the characters and direction the story would take, much to the surprise of many in the audience. There are fans who defend the movie while some were less accepting.
This tug-of-war going on within the Star Wars fandom extends way beyond the average moviegoer, of course, and has found its way to the hills of Hollywood where other stars have staked their claim. One of those is Joseph Gordon-Levitt who came to the defense of the remodeled Luke Skywalker from a strictly fan opinion. This was not easy as he is close with Rian Johnson, and has worked with him in the past on films like Looper and an uncredited cameo in Brothers Bloom, which likely influences his take on things, but he gives a good explanation of what he appreciated about this shift in character. He tells Medium in an interview reported by Joblo:
“The Luke Skywalker we meet in The Last Jedi is very different than the Luke Skywalker we remember from the original Star Wars movies. In the past, Luke was hopeful, an idealist, deeply driven to venture out into the galaxy, find his destiny, and do the right thing, no matter the cost. Now he’s apathetic, cynical even, hunkered down on an island and seemingly passionate about nothing but his own isolation. He’s wasting his talents on an eccentric day-to-day routine of laughable animal husbandry and death-defying spearfishing. When a young potential Jedi with profound aptitude, Rey, comes to find him seeking a mentor, he literally tosses her lightsaber over his shoulder into the dirt. And later, when facing said youngster in combat, he ends up on his knees, defeated.
And even worse than becoming personally weird and physically weak, he’s become morally questionable. The plot hinges on a moment from the recent past where Luke contemplates killing Ben Solo, his own nephew, in his sleep, sensing the young man’s attraction to the dark side of the Force, and fearful of the damage he might cause. I saw the point made several times that decades earlier, in Return of the Jedi, Luke is so righteous, so forgiving, he even refuses to kill the reprehensibly villainous Darth Vader. Clearly this is an enormous departure.”
This observation is one that an actor or just someone who loves depth in any character could appreciate. The change from a hopeful and blindly optimistic hero to a jaded and more apathetic older hermit is one that was not foreseen by any Star Wars enthusiast and something that could have been a blight in Johnson vision’s. Gordon-Levitt gives his point of view, as an actor, further on how this view of the character changes the hero’s arch:
“Speaking as an actor, when I’m considering whether or not I want to play a certain character, I’m always looking for a healthy balance of virtues and shortcomings. Otherwise, it doesn’t feel real. No one is a perfect hero or a perfect villain, we’re more complicated than that, every one of us. Flawless characters feel thin. And forgive me if I blaspheme, but the young Luke Skywalker always did feel just a little light to me, which is why it was so cool this time around to see him fill out into a more imperfect human being.
A flawed main character is one of the main distinctions between a story with substance and a gratuitous spectacle. It’s often through a character overcoming their flaws that a movie can really say something. Yes, when the movie begins, Luke has grown cynical. He’s lost faith in what it means to be a Jedi. He’s let fear of the Dark Side of the Force corner him into isolation and inaction. But he needs to start there, so that he can overcome this grave deficit.”
Coming to Johnson’s defense first as a fan and then as an actor should help some take it as a genuine opinion from a most unbiased perspective. What do you think of JGL’s take?