It all started innocently enough with a drunken question meant to jumpstart another dull Saturday night out on the town. What it became however, was an hour long debate on par with other eternal struggles like Lakers vs. Celtics, Capitalism vs. Communism, and Godzilla vs. King Kong. The question posed was innocent enough: Who is the greatest sci-fi/fantasy hero of all time? Names like Superman, Harry Potter, Robert Patrick, and the Original Green Power Ranger were tossed around, but in reality, the real answer to this question isn’t that hard to come by…it’s Luke Skywalker. Bar none, Luke Skywalker is the greatest sci-fi/fantasy hero of all time. In terms of adversity, skill, importance, and the weight of his failure, no other character comes close to matching the last Jedi.
The reason why I could never buy into Harry Potter as being the greatest fantasy hero is that he’s not particularly good at what he does. He’s surrounded by Ron Weasley, Harry’s human Kevlar vest, he has Dumbledore wipe his ass for him throughout the series, and Potter never would have made it past age 13 without Hermione. Truth be told, Harry Potter is basically the wizards equivalent of Paul Pierce…someone who needs hall-of-fame type help to get the job done for him.
Luke Skywalker, on the other hand is actually good at what he’s training to become. In fact, he’s an insanely natural fit at being a Jedi. Consider that Luke started his Jedi training when he was 19, already way too old to start his training. The prequels clearly establish that most individuals begin their training at age four or five. Even Luke’s pussy-whipped, and whiny father Anakin was considered to be to old to start his Jedi training…at age nine. In a mere four years Luke goes from a wimpy farm-boy, someone who gets his ass jumped at a bar, to a Jedi Master who singlehandedly saves everyone from Jabba the Hutt and topples the Empire. Comparatively speaking, it took Anakin Skywalker over 10 years to make the seemingly routine jump from Padawan to Jedi Knight. Also keep in mind that Luke was primarily self-taught as well, since he only knew Obi-Wan for about 36 hours and then spent only a few weeks on Dagobah with Yoda. Unlike Superman, whose own powers are literally as natural to him as breathing, and unlike Harry Potter, who try as he might, still would probably average a 3.3 wizarding WAR, Luke Skywalker had to work to become as powerful as he became, and yet still had limitless potential.
Realistically, Luke is only a Jedi in Return of the Jedi. However, despite being a Padawan in The Empire Strikes Back, he surprisingly holds his own against the Sith Lord, Darth Vader…and he also takes the revelation that the biggest piece of shit in the galaxy is his father like a real trooper. With no real experience in lightsaber combat, Luke manages to escape Vader’s wrath in only two pieces, all the while receiving praise from his demented father. In Return of the Jedi (ahem, the best Stars Wars movie) Luke is all about fucking people’s shit up left and right. He uses his Jedi mind trick on Jabba’s Twi’lek MC, then force chokes two guards (being one of the only few Jedi’s to use dark side powers without being corrupted by the dark side), kills a fucking rancor without using his lightsaber or the force, slaughters Jabba’s vanguard, and most importantly defeats Vader in combat, while at the same time redeeming his father back to the light side of the force. Beyond handing Vader his worst ass-whooping this side of the Mustafar system, he also saved his father, and was in fact the motivating factor towards Anakin fulfilling his destiny to bring balance to the force. For all his power and accomplishment, Luke never became corrupted by it; he had his chance to abuse his power and join the dark side, but unlike Anakin Skywalker, and Count Dooku, Luke resisted the temptation to let his power control him, thus signaling the ultimate power: Self-control, the power over oneself.
Despite Luke’s infinite power, he also faced extreme adversity and impossible duress of a physical and emotional nature. As previously mentioned, Luke is largely self-trained as a Jedi; besides those brief few days with Yoda and Obi-Wan, there’s no implication that Luke ever had a permanent or stable teacher. In the span of four years, sans instructor, Luke becomes a Jedi, when it took other established Jedi like Obi-Wan and Anakin years to become a Jedi even with such lauded Masters to train them. By comparison, Harry Potter is a high school dropout, Mad Max is a bum with PTSD, and Katniss Everdeen is the worst sore winner in the history of competitive sports. Even Fordo Baggins, the whiniest bitch in all of fiction outside of Holden Caufield, overdramatizes his own task. He’s clearly the worst one to be the ring-bearer as Bilbo kept the ring for 50 years and never looked like a meth addict. Sam would have made a much better ring-bearer as he wasn’t even tempted by the ring at all. And yet, Frodo of all people is the one to walk across an entire continent with what’s essentially Volthoom’s power ring in his pocket.
On top of this, no other hero, barring maybe Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, had to deal with the added pressure that not only would they have to vanquish the baddest motherfucker on the block, but also that said motherfucker was their own father. A father, who almost killed his own son on multiple occasions. Here is this farmer, who from almost the minute he gets swept up in galactic affairs, affairs that he didn’t really have any vested interest in the first place, is tasked with saving the galaxy. Not only is he to be the savior of a thankless galaxy, but he’s also tasked with singlehandedly resurrecting a lost religious order. The trials and tribulations that he’s forced to undergo also help to set Luke apart from every other sci-fi/fantasy protagonist out there.
Bar none, Luke Skywalker is the most important person in the entire canonical Star Wars universe. He is the new hope, and brings about the return of the Jedi. It’s up to him, almost singlehandedly, to free the entire galaxy. Without Luke Skywalker, the first Death Star is never destroyed, Han Solo presumably remains stuck in carbonite, the entire main cast most likely gets slaughtered by Jabba the Hutt, and The Empire wins the war against the Rebellion as Vader and the Emperor are never defeated. If there’s no Luke, who else was going to defeat and then redeem Darth Vader, who in turn would go on to murder the Emperor? Leia, maybe, but she was way to preoccupied with politics, and if we’ve learned one thing from the prequels is that the Jedi order and politics get along together as much as Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon like each other. We saw this with Count Dooku, and Anakin Skywalker; for all their wisdom, were Yoda and Obi-Wan really going to put their last smoldering embers of hope in a politician? I’d like to think they’d be smarter then that. Plus, Leia had way too much hate for Darth Vader and The Empire, as she witnessed them commit intergalactic genocide in about 14 seconds when they obliterated Alderaan.
With the exception of Obi-Wan, who introduced Luke to this greater world, if you removed any other character from Star Wars, the plot could pretty much remain more or less the same. If the Rebellion is like the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, then Luke is Roberto Clemente, the centerpiece without which everything else crumbles. Out of everyone else in the galaxy, Yoda and Obi-Wan waited on backwater planets for almost 20 years until Luke was ready to begin his Jedi training. They waited specifically for him because they knew no one else could succeed in defeating Darth Vader and the Emperor. And again, who else was going to redeem Darth Vader? Before Luke joined the rebellion, it seemed like the Rebellion was really struggling to stay afloat in their losing battle against The Empire. It helped them even more once they had their own Jedi on their side, the last Jedi so to speak, who then had to go and carry the torch for an extinct religion.
In other sci-fi/fantasy movies, no other character is so crucial to the plot thank Luke. Neville Longbottom could have just as easily been the chosen one instead of Harry Potter. Neo is the latest in a line of messiahs who are intrinsically part of a complex system; his existence and role are already pre-ordained. John Connor, who also had his mother training him, is fighting to save humanity from extinction, but that’s only on one planet; Luke is fighting for an entire galaxy. If Luke doesn’t exist or chooses not to join the Rebellion, The Empire doesn’t fall, and Darth Vader still remains evil. Not only is Luke tasked with leading a left-wing coup d’état, but also with the Herculean task of personal redemption, probably the most difficult goal one can accomplish. The entire weight of the galaxy and trillions of beings is on his shoulders, and he still manages to save the day.
Which brings me to the last point—The stakes at which Luke is fighting for and the effect of his failure. No single character in sci-fi or fantasy has more pressure on them than Luke Skywalker. If he fails, literally all hope is lost. Whereas with most characters, their failure would mean their death, Luke faces a much more harrowing fate should he fail in his quest to restore peace and freedom to the galaxy. If Luke fails, he literally becomes his father, Darth Vader. Every time he faces off against Vader, Luke is essentially seeing a future version of himself should he be swayed to the dark side. Even before the revelation that Luke is the scion of Darth Vader, this is what the cave scene on Dagobah was implying. Luke wouldn’t simply die, but he would become that which he was tasked to defeat. He would fall as his father fell and would then seek out and destroy his friends. And because of his own feelings, he is even more susceptible to failure.
Every kid has always told themselves that when they have kids, they’ll be better parents to their kids, then their parents were to them. In Luke’s case, failure literally means becoming his father. Not only would he become the evil he seeks to end, but he’s constantly reminded of this in the form of Vader. Should he fall to the sway of the dark side, he would become worse then what Vader has already become. And unlike Vader who had Luke to redeem him, there wouldn’t be anyone left to redeem Luke.
We know that Luke feels anger and hate and impatience, and that’s what makes the final battle scene on the second Death Star all the more riveting. Luke is fighting with anger and is actually on his way to the dark side, but once again he displays the ultimate power: the power of self control and restraint, which is a power that is all too rare to come by. He’s really fighting for the sake of his own soul, his father’s soul, and the freedom of trillions of faceless strangers who could never come to appreciate all he’s done for them.
If someone like Ellen Ripley were to fail in her quest, which is really only to survive, then she dies…that’s it. Her actions have no ramifications on anyone else, and the Xenomorph would have drifted aimlessly across space with no one left to kill and no way to reproduce. The same applies to any superhero; if they fail they die. If Spider-Man fails, there’s still the Avengers, X-Men, and Fantastic Four to pick up the slack. If Batman fails and goes off the deep end, he can go shack up with Talia Al Ghul and live with his in-laws. If Superman fails, Metropolis goes back to being exactly as it was before he arrived. While other protagonists may fight for their own lives, or the safety of others, Luke is fighting a war for the very soul of the galaxy. And if he fails to win that war, he would damn that galaxy as well as himself forever with no hope of redemption.
Luke is such a great character because for all of his power he never loses his humanity. He never becomes an unfeeling Jedi, nor does he ever lose himself in all of his power. He’s simply a guy trying to do the right thing. He feels anger, confusion, and self-doubt; not only are these feelings present but he has to fight against them, something that we all have to do. Unlike Harry Potter, who as The Order of the Phoenix illustrates, doesn’t really feel anger or hate. That’s why he was unable to use the avada kedavra curse. Luke, on the other hand, has that capability within him, but has fought against it to master his control over his feelings, a far tougher and nobler act.
While Luke does grow over the course of the trilogy, he still fundamentally remains the same character. He represents the average person who not only struggles with external forces, but also to struggles to improve himself as a person. We all see the lengths he goes to in order to accomplish these things, and we see the adverse path that he has to walk. Skywalker is also good at what he does, which makes it even easier to root for him, since who would admire someone who’s not good at their job? He faces off against the ultimate evil in the universe, as well as his own inner demons, all the while remaining fully aware of the fate that will befall him should he fall into temptation. He never once relies on luck or faces off against imbecilic foes like Gollum, Voldemort, or the drug addicted Robocop 2. Luke is the paragon of goodness because he puts in the effort to be great at being good. He’s powerful yet selfless, dangerous yet good, and emotional yet possessed of incredibly willpower. Luke starts off representing everything that we are, however, by the time the trilogy ends, he has come to embody the best in each and every one of us.
It’s for these reasons that Luke Skywalker is the greatest hero in all of sci-fi and fantasy. That’s why it’ll be such a shame if JJ Abrams forces Luke down the path of the dark side.