Star Wars - Luke's Epic Failure

  By Hugo Estrada, 10 July 2007; Revised
  Category: History and Fiction

"Never. I'll never turn to the dark side. You've failed, your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me. "
-- Luke Skywalker to Emperor Palpatine; shortly after rendering Vader incapable of fighting

The most popular epic work in modern history is Star Wars. The work more or less follows the traits of the epic genre, except at the end: Luke Skywalker fails to live up to the epic tension that the story has built to that point.

Ancient epics often have a tragic tension where the main character is forced to choose between two actions, which require making a value decision.  The poor fate of Orestes, who must avenge his father by killing his mother. He has no choice but to kill his mother, but this will bring the furies to haunt him for committing such a terrible crime. Or even worse was that of Oedipus, who is driven to find the cause of the pest in Thebes, repeatedly warned against doing this, and, ultimately, brings to himself the truth, the curses, and the disgrace that he promised to the culprit.

In the case of Luke Skywalker, his tragic moment was to fight against his father in order to become a Jedi. This element was, obviously, taken from the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna is forced to fight against his uncles, teachers, relatives and friends. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains the universe to Arjuna, and this convinces him that he must fight his teachers and relatives. Arjuna passed this tragic tension and fulfilled his destiny.

It was not so with Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. He is trained as a warrior, fights as a warrior, follows warrior’s codes of honor, and, in the last point, when everything in the story points towards having him kill his father, when his fate pushes him to commit this act because the fate of the universe is in his hands, he decides to take up nonviolence.

In the movie, everything works out fine. Luke’s sacrifice allows Vader to redeem himself, moved by some kind of filial piety which he never truly had before towards what is a person who is a total stranger.

Some would argue that Luke’s killing of his father would send him to the dark side. According to the movie, this wouldn’t be true: all what he had to try to do was to stay calm as he kill his father, the same way Christian soldiers after Constantine were able to prevent a sin if they killed without getting any satisfaction out of it.

And if commercial success prevented Lucas to allow Luke to kill his father, at the very least he should have defeated him in battle. Once defeated and dying, Vader could have redeemed himself, or done whatever he wished.

This ending is fit for an epic coward. George Lucas, obviously, didn’t have the strength to solve it the right way.  That begs the question: why lead the story in this direction? If the resolution to a warrior’s story was that nonviolence was the answer, why not have Luke be consistently nonviolent throughout the story?

The end result is that Star Wars lacks the harrowing emotions that true epics give to their readers or watchers. There is no aesthetic lesson about how life forces us to do things that we don’t like, yet are necessary. There is no lesson to the audience about the world. There is no poetic empathy towards Luke or Vader, whose last scene together feels correctly absurd and out of place.