November 22, 2017
‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Primer: Where Was Luke Skywalker Between Episodes VI-VII?
In 1983, audiences across the world witnessed the finale of the original Star Wars Trilogy, seeing Jedi-in-training Luke Skywalker confront his father and the Galactic Emperor in the midst of a massive battle for the future of the galaxy. With his own soul on the line, Luke embraced his destiny and became a Jedi Knight, rejecting Emperor Palpatine’s attempts to turn him to the Dark Side of the Force, while also re-awakening the dormant Anakin Skywalker within Darth Vader. Anakin destroyed his former master, and in his final moments, returned to the Light Side long enough to see his son become the new light of the Jedi in an uncertain time.
In the 34 years since the release of Return of the Jedi, the Star Wars universe has grown exponentially. We absorbed the full story of Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side in the Star Wars prequel trilogy from 1999 – 2005, as well as a re-awakening of the saga itself when Star Wars: The Force Awakens introduced us to a new cast of characters and an entirely new era of stories. In that film, we of course learn that the Jedi were snuffed out once again before they could really re-emerge as a force for good on the galactic stage, and we learned that Luke Skywalker had gone into a self-imposed exile as a direct result.
What about everything else that happened to Luke, though, between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens? Let’s take a look at exactly what the titular Last Jedi has been up to as we prepare to see him in a substantive role for the first time in 34 years, after he sees that Lightsaber in Rey’s hand.
Just a note that most of the events described here are detailed in stories like the comic book series Shattered Empire, the Aftermath series of novels, the Star Wars: The Force Awakens visual dictionary, the official Star Wars databank, as well as some further contextual information fleshed out in the novelization of The Force Awakens film.
The Immediate Aftermath of the Battle of Endor
Luke reported to Rebel Alliance authorities days after the destruction of the Second Death Star that both Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader had been killed. This led the Alliance to a new height of morale, with leaders and soldiers clearly seeing that interplanetary society was at the forefront of a new age, without the Empire determining the direction of the galaxy.
While an Imperial remnant would persist for most of the next year, the loss of their primary leader would ultimately lead to a crippling defeat and the Rebel Alliance began making arrangements for a rise to power under the name of the New Republic. It had been 23 years since the end of the Clone Wars and the rise of the Galactic Empire, but the scattered and chaotic Imperial forces did everything they could to discredit what they called “exaggerated” reports about the Emperor’s death.
In an operation undertaken on the planet Vetine, Skywalker and a Rebel pilot named Shara Bey attempted to retrieve the final remaining fragment of a Force-sensitive tree, the “Great Tree,” that had formerly resided in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant before the Emperor gutted the grounds to serve as both Imperial Center and his own personal residence. Upon the conclusion of their mission, Luke had actually found two fragments of the tree, and gifted one to Bey. Bey soon after left the Alliance to join her husband, Kes Dameron, and their son Poe on Yavin IV. Outside their new home, Kes planted the fragment gifted to her by Luke.
The Death of the Empire and Reconstruction of the Jedi
Roughly a year after the death of Darth Vader and the Emperor, the Imperial Remnant would attempt to make one last, desperate push against the Alliance/New Republic forces in a large-scale conflict at the planet Jakku. Led by Admiral Ackbar and featuring famed pilot Wedge Antilles in the air with Luke providing support for the ground troops, the Battle of Jakku was a devastating defeat for what remained of the Empire, crippling the regime and firmly installing the newly-formed Republic as the dominant power in the galaxy.
This led to a treaty called the Galactic Concordance, which formally marked the end of the Galactic Civil War, sheltering the remains of the Empire into pre-established borders. Not long after the signing of the treaty, Han Solo and Luke’s sister Leia Organa gave birth to a son, Ben. Rumored to have visited his new nephew and his family before disappearing, Luke’s absence was described as “conspicuous” by people that knew him, but he was on a mission to fulfill his promise to Master Yoda and keep the light of ancient Force-wielders alive due to his status as the last Jedi.
Assisted by an old ally named Lor San Tekka, a member of the Church of the Force, Luke spent much of the next few decades seeking out as many artifacts and remnants of the old Jedi Order as he could. In order to fulfill his promise to Yoda, though, he knew that he needed to actually begin training a new generation of Jedi Knights. In that vein, sensing the Force within his young nephew, Luke took in Ben and began training him, along with several new prospects in the ways of the Force, just as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda had done for him.
Unfortunately for Luke and similarly to his own father Anakin Skywalker, it became clear to Han and Leia that Ben felt the pull of the Dark Side of the Force. This was one of the primary reasons that Luke was charged with training Ben, in hopes that Luke’s mastery of the Light Side would help to tame Ben’s impulses and put him on a more fulfilling and peaceful path. Unfortunately for all, though, an unknown entity known only as Snoke would make his presence felt significantly. In a turn of events of which we don’t fully know all the details yet, Snoke corrupted Ben, inducting the young man into the mysterious Knights of Ren where he would adopt a new name, Kylo Ren.
Rise of the First Order, Self-imposed Exile and Legacy
Though most of the Imperial Remnant had been sheltered by the Galactic Concordance, a few of the more devoted members of Palpatine’s regime had escaped Republic justice, and fled into the reaches of the galaxy. When Snoke became involved, he was appointed the Supreme Leader of a new faction called the First Order, rebuilding a war machine on the foundation of the Empire’s remains. Because of his mysterious ties to the Dark Side of the Force and his firm belief that a resurgent Jedi Order would lead to the downfall of the new Imperial-style war machine before it could truly begin, Snoke’s corruption of Kylo Ren led the young Jedi trainee to betray his family and slaughter his fellow Jedi-in-training, destroying the possibility of a new generation of Jedi in its relative infancy.
Believing himself responsible for both his nephew’s corruption as well as the deaths of the young people in his care, Luke disappeared, going into a self-imposed exile. While many who knew him best believed that he went off in search of the original and most ancient Jedi Temple, Luke had effectively sheltered himself off from the larger galactic community for reasons that aren’t totally known to us yet. With the First Order on the offensive, they began to seek out other scattered Jedi Temples across the galaxy in order to silence the remaining possibility of a resurgent Jedi Order.
Eventually, the First Order found a partial map that apparently led to the original Jedi Temple on the planet Ahch-To, where Luke would ultimately settle, but it was incomplete in the Empire’s archives due to apparent theft by old Skywalker ally Lor San Tekka. This is where we pick things up in the opening minutes of The Force Awakens, with Kylo Ren locating Lor San Tekka, who had already successfully handed off his fragment of the map to Resistance ace pilot Poe Dameron. Dameron gave it to his droid BB-8 before being captured by the First Order, and the little droid would soon find himself in the care of a young scavenger named Rey.
Though Luke may have sheltered himself off from galactic affairs pretty effectively, the legend he created through his exploits during and after the Galactic Civil War became the stuff of legend, so much so that people spoke his name in hushed tones of reverence usually reserved only for the most bombastic myths. Pilots for the Republic’s newly burgeoning militaristic arm dedicated to fighting the First Order’s advances, the Resistance, all had to learn the “Skywalker Swoop” based on Luke’s own legendary piloting skills he seemed to have inherited from his father.
Of course, though, it seems clear that Luke Skywalker is a very different man than he used to be, if pre-release materials for the upcoming film are any indication. Perhaps more subdued, we will see Master Skywalker in the next chapter in the so-called “Skywalker Saga” when it unfolds next month: Star Wars: The Last Jedi – named after Luke Skywalker himself – hits theaters on December 15.
Chris Clow is a comic book expert and former retailer, and a writer with work having appeared in the Huffington Post, Fandango and others. He also hosts the podcasts Discovery Debrief: A Star Trek Podcast and Comics on Consoles. You can find his weekly Comics on Film column every week here at Movies.com, and you can follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.