SPOILERS AHEAD: This article contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you want to read our spoiler-free review, click here. The rest of you, read on… but know that you have been warned.
In the lead up to The Force Awakens, the one question on everybody’s lips was, "What’s the deal with Luke Skywalker?" There was evidence he may have gone full Dark Side on us, though the filmmakers didn’t want anybody to know what was going on. Now that the movie has finally been released, we know the truth. Or at least, we know some of it. We know what happened to Luke, and we know at least part of the "why?" But with what little information we have, it looks like things might be even worse than Luke Skywalker being evil. Luke Skywalker might be an asshole.
Han Solo gives us nearly all of the information that we have about what has taken place in between The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Luke had started training a new generation of Jedi. At some point, one of them, who we know to be Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren, goes bad. In response, Luke disappears.
What in the blue hell? How does that make sense? We completely understand the devastating effect that losing his student, and his nephew, to the Dark Side may have had on him. It had to be painful. The result of this terrible situation on Kylo Ren's parents was to cause them both revert to their basic instincts. Leia fought for the Resistance again, while Han went back to his old life as a smuggler. These reactions make sense.
Luke’s does not. Not initially. He was the one that never gave up on Darth Vader. He believed there was still good in his father, even when "wiser" Jedi like Obi-wan and Yoda did not. We can see in the movie that Kylo Ren is not even as far gone as Vader so why doesn’t Luke fight for his redemption?
By not fighting, isn’t Luke, at least indirectly, responsible for everything bad that happens in the movie? Shouldn’t we blame him for Han Solo’s death? If Luke had been there, if he’d spent the last several years trying to get through to Ben Solo, isn’t it unlikely that the two Solo’s would have ever found themselves standing on that catwalk? The Rebellion may be able to hold their own against the First Order, but only a Jedi is going to be able to fight Kylo Ren, and the only one in the galaxy is in hiding on an unknown planet.
Honestly, we shouldn’t be too surprised. This is exactly what Luke was taught to do. At the end of Revenge of the Sith, after the Emperor takes power, both Yoda and Obi-Wan decide the best thing to do is run and hide. Yoda takes one shot at taking down the Emperor. Yoda isn’t even really defeated, he’s just never able to gain an upper hand, and so he takes off and decides he has to go live on in a swamp where nobody will look for him. This appears to be where Luke got the idea.
Unless there’s more to it than that. There has to be. Let's break down the other possible argument.
Luke Has A Different Mission
The other piece of information we get from Han Solo about Luke is that he went in search of the first Jedi Temple. We have no details as to why this would have been his destination. If we assume it’s not simply because it’ll keep the rain off, then maybe Luke isn’t the terrible person he might appear to be.
As I previously surmised when discussing "Luke Skywalker and Magical Map," the Jedi Temple may be the end game here. The map is not, technically, a map to Luke Skywalker, but rather to the temple itself, a place for which Kylo Ren, like Darth Vader before him, is searching.
If Luke knew what Ren was after, and knew where it was, he would have had little choice but to get there first. While we see that it is possible to resist Kylo Ren’s ability to pull thoughts out of your mind, Luke wouldn’t be willing to bet the fate of the galaxy on his ability to resist. If he was ever captured, his knowledge would be dangerous. Instead, he gets to the temple first, and gets ready. If The First Order ever comes knocking, he’ll be there.
This is certainly a much more noble view of Luke. In this case, he’s the one making a sacrifice. Living alone, without any contact from his friends and family, because if anybody knew where he was, they would be in danger. He had to cut himself off from society entirely. You can tell when he looks at Rey for the first time that he’s more than a little confused. He hasn’t seen a person in a long time.
Just because we don’t know all the details of Luke’s reasoning doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make sense. This may be a case where there were no good options, and so Luke went with the best available bad one.
There are obviously a lot of details that we simply don’t have yet. The truth about what kind of man Luke Skywalker is will still come out in future episodes when we learn the truth. What do you think? Is Luke a coward who wasn’t there when his friend needed him or a noble protector sacrificing himself for the greater good? What will the true legacy of Luke Skywalker be in the Star Wars universe?
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