"Star Wars" fans were taken aback by the appearance of Luke Skywalker, the main character of the beloved original trilogy, in the ravenously awaited follow-up "The Force Awakens" in 2015.
Despite many mentions of him in the film, he appeared moments before the credits rolled, and even then only gave an apprehensive stare instead of uttering a word. Some viewers felt tricked, since Luke's actor, Mark Hamill, still got second billing in the film. Fans cried that after a couple years of speculation about on Luke's status since "Return of the Jedi" — He's evil! He's mostly robotic now! He tried to kick start another generation of Jedi but it failed! He's the father of new character Rey (Daisy Ridley)! — that ignited the moment a new trilogy of films was announced, we were given only minimal answers and a staring contest between Hamill and Ridley.
However, (mostly) holding back Luke until the sequel, "The Last Jedi," out this Friday, was actually a brilliant move by Disney and Lucasfilm, despite complaints of tomfoolery. Years of speculation about what the once-spry, bright-eyed Jedi has been up to after all this time has reached a fever pitch, and the hype around the character and actor has arguably never been higher.
Be honest, who among us would say Luke was their favorite of the three human protagonists of the original films? For years, many would likely point to Han Solo, the modern pop culture rouge a fair chunk of modern characters in culture are modeled after, or Leia, the determined, intelligent rebel fighter with a face you likely saw on a few women's march signs earlier this year. This power couple have dominated pop culture for decades with a perfect mixture of confidence and vulnerability that spawned legions of imitators in pop culture. In a franchise where could you make a compelling argument for a number of characters being the most memorable or leaving the biggest cultural impact, the sandy-haired moisture farmer from Tattoine tends to get somewhat lost in the shuffle among fans.
Despite following his journey the most out of every character, Luke doesn't blaze as brightly in audience's memories, though he's present for iconic moment after iconic moment, including arguably the most spot lightened moment in the film, the "No Luke, I am your father," scene. Despite that, you don't often see Luke's hairstyle (purposefully) imitated or hear film or TV actors describing their dashing, scene-stealing character as a "Luke Skywalker-type" in interviews.
This is because Luke plays the role of the "everyman," the character audiences are meant to see themselves in, like Peter Parker. If Luke seems a tad bland at times, it's because we're meant to see ourselves in his shoes as he goes on his journey.
He gets a little whiny at times, needs guidance and doesn't always know what to do - just like a "regular" person might if they were thrust into such extraordinary circumstances. Luke is just enough of an emotional blank slate to let people identify with him, despite his piloting skills, Force abilities and secret cybernetic enforcer dad. It's the emotional level that counts. This also means, however, that the more cool and confident heroes like Han and Leia are more who audience members want to be. Think of when the first "The Lord of the Rings" film came out, and characters such as Gandalf or Aragorn received more attention from audiences than Frodo. While we may identify with the everyman, it's the confident heroes that truly grab our attention.
Many of the most famous scenes in the trilogy feature Han and Leia taking action into their own hands — Han's cantina scene with Greedo, Leia choking Jabba the Hutt, the scene where Leia saves both Luke and Han, various scenes of Han's daring actions in the Millennium Falcon, etc. Comparatively, Luke is largely shown as a student eager to learn from either Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda in the first two films, as opposed to taking his own path. He's the character that grows throughout the films, so there are many scenes of Luke of being unsure of himself. Audiences seemed to gravitate towards the characters that were outwardly confidently, even when they needed to be rescued.
Despite the franchise containing a smorgasbord of memorable lines, only a handful — like some of the exchange in the aforementioned scene with Darth Vader and "Jabba, this is your last chance. Free us or die!" — are uttered by Luke. A bulk of the soundbites known by people who haven't even seen "Star Wars" — "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're our only hope," "Use the Force, Luke," "These are not the droids you're looking for," "I find your lack of faith disturbing," "Do. Or do not. There is no try," etc., aren't actually said by the main character of the story.
Unlike with Luke, "The Force Awakens" gave audiences a fairly clear picture of Han and Leia's goings-on after "Return"'s big Ewok extravaganza on Endor: They had a disaffected, isolated son named Ben (Adam Driver) who decided to follow in grandpappy Darth Vader's footsteps as Kylo Ren, their relationship didn't work out, and it's implied that a smuggler and (charming) lowlife like Han wasn't a fantastic dad. We spend a decent amount of time with both characters, and Han turns out to be the movie's Obi-Wan, right down to getting killed by a black-clad villain they have a personal connection to.
While fans got healthy doses of Han and Leia, hardly any time was spent on Luke, fueling rampant fan theories about his psyche in the wake of a few decades and apparently becoming a recluse. This has allowed for more focus on a character that was previously overlooked in favor of flashier personalities, cooler designs, or both. Rumors and theories about Luke have been percolating for years, with (at least some) answers appearing to finally be revealed with "Last Jedi."
Plus, it is obvious from Luke's shaggy, robed appearance, stiff jaw and weary eyes, that he has seen some stuff that has taken its toll. That says a lot, considering this is a guy who faced a lightning-slinging dictator, destroyed a giant slug mafia boss' criminal empire, lost his right hand and every parental figure he ever had, lost said hand to his secretly-alive cyborg dad and became a freedom fighter/intergalactic terrorist, all in his teens-to-mid-20s.
The brief glimpse of Luke in "Awakens" teases our everyman becoming a jaded hermit, his positive outlook eroded by time — just as audience members may feel more cynical about the real world world now than when they watched the original films. The idea of seeing our idealistic protagonist becoming more complex and more morally gray is interesting, as is the mystery of how exactly that happened. This is exacerbated by the relatively small amount of Luke we have received in trailers for "The Last Jedi," with only a handful of lines and some scenes with Rey. We don't know much about what exactly Luke will do in the film, but his line "I've seen this raw strength only once before. It didn't scare me enough then. It does now," indicates he sees the same unfettered power in Rey that he did in Kylo. The decision to hold the character back for the second film, when the stakes are a little clearer and we've gotten to know our other main characters a little more, allows the stakes to be raised even higher when arguably the most critical character in the original films appears.
This is a perfect time for not just the character, but for the actor. Hamill's Wookie-free live action output consists largely of under-the-radar projects; arguably his biggest roles were as a version of himself in 2001's "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" and a cameo in 2014's "Kingsmen: The Secret Service." The real treasure is his hundreds of voice acting credits, with the crown jewel probably being his turn as the villain Joker in various "Batman" projects, starting with the critically acclaimed "Batman: The Animated Series."
Hamill's Crown Prince of Crime alternates between hilarious and menacing, often within the same sentence. For many people, that version is the the definitive interpretation of the iconic character, famed big-screen incarnations be damned. If someone knows even one of Hamill's non-"Star Wars" parts, it is likely that role. "Batman: The Animated Series" turned 25 earlier this year, and streaming services like Amazon has given the already beloved series new legs, and has further cemented Hamill as a skilled performer capable of far more than just his famed Jedi warrior.
From the character we learn everything about in the original "Star Wars" films — his backstory, motivation, personality — to a character who is a mystery after 40 years, the lack of information on Skywalker has heightened his mystique in the new films. New wrinkles — both literally and figuratively — have made a once underrated character more of a draw. With the hype around the character and focus on Hamill at a new peak, it is a good time to be Luke Skywalker.