Star Wars Battlefront II is a conflicted game. The multiplayer progression system is a mess, and the story campaign moves way too fast. But if there’s one thing it really nails, it’s everyone’s favorite farmboy from Tatooine.
Luke Skywalker is a hero. The original Star Wars trilogy is remarkable in how it takes him from a simple, impatient farmboy to a mature Jedi Master. To understand the appeal of Star Wars, it’s essential to understand Luke’s journey. That journey culminates in a single moment: faced with the temptation of the dark side and urged on by the evil Emperor Palpatine to kill his father Darth Vader, Luke turns off his lightsaber and tosses down his weapon. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke fights against his own shadow self in a vision on the swamp world of Dagobah. In Return of the Jedi, faced with that inner struggle once more, he does not rage or give into his fear. He integrates that shadow, accepting Darth Vader as his father and believing in the redemptive power of kindness. Star Wars is full of space battles, but the most important battle is the one that Luke chooses not to fight. That decision is Luke Skywalker in microcosm; he is a good person who believes in the goodness within others. Battlefront II understands this.
Battlefront II’s campaign initially focuses on Iden Versio, an Imperial special forces soldier commanding the elite “Inferno Squad” after the Empire’s defeat at the Battle of Endor. The perspective quickly shifts from her to Luke during a mission to the planet Pillio. It is the location of one of the Emperor’s hidden storehouses, and while Iden and her squad are on a destructive mission to keep secret information from falling into the wrong hands, Luke is there to rob it. It’s a sudden perspective change, but it works well enough. Luke’s segment plays like a clumsier but exciting version of Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast. When confronted by stormtroopers, he stands his ground and fights back with a combination of lightsaber slashes and Force powers. It would be tempting to leave it at that, allowing players to indulge in a very simple power fantasy. Battlefront II doesn’t do that. When he hears a cry for help in a dark cave, Luke enters to find Inferno Squad member Del Meeko trapped by alien insects and encased in their slime. He cuts Meeko loose. In utter bewilderment, Meeko asks why Luke would help him.
“Because you asked,” Luke responds immediately.
This is Luke Skywalker. This is the secular hero I’ve come to admire. He helps people because it is a natural impulse; that’s what heroes do, and Luke does it without hesitation. Compassion is at the core of his character. And while he might have to fight some stormtroopers along the way, Luke won’t hesitate to help you out and believe in you. This moment has drastic repercussions for the entire story; it is Meeko’s suggestion that he and Iden defect to the Rebellion. If Luke had not shown kindness, the story might have been much different. He’s not around for long, but Luke makes a lasting impression.
Other authors have twisted Luke into something much harsher in the past. From 2006 to 2013, the Star Wars expanded universe novels saw Luke shift from a reasonable man to someone harsh in his judgements. Through book series like Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi, Luke and the Jedi abandoned a more compassionate and holistic view of the universe for something far more dualistic and contentious. It reached the absolute nadir with the 2013 novel Crucible by Troy Denning. Denning’s Luke is a shadow of his former self; when a Sith surrenders to him and appeals to his sense of compassion, Luke coldly tells the Sith that “compassion is for those who deserve it.”
This isn’t to say all authors in the old canon struggled. Matthew Stover captured the essence of Luke in his 2010 novel Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor. In this tale, trapped in an oppressive darkness created by the dark Jedi warrior Chronal, Luke survives spiritual defeat as he begins to perceive lights within the darkness:
He saw it now, and it made sense to him at last. That same light shone through Leia, and as soon as he understood that, he began to sense other lights, pinprick stars far out in the dark. Some of them he recognized: Han, and Lando… Wedge and Tycho, Hobbie and West and the rest of the Rogues… Nick, and Aeona Cantor, Lieutenant Tumbrimi and Captain Tirossk and so many, many others, sailors and marines, even the impossibly distant spray of vanishingly faint stars that must have been the stormtroopers, for even they were lights in the darkness. All of them were stars. And every star, every life, was a thing of beauty.
This scene, along with Denning’s less flattering writing, has been rendered non-canonical, but it grasps at Luke’s compassion in an essential way. In championing the light and supporting goodness, Luke understands that all beings are beautiful stars in the void and that they should be protected. When Luke rescues Meeko, I see the fulfillment of this vision. Meeko is a star and Luke, hero that he is, saves him.
I don’t know what will happen to Luke in The Last Jedi next month. Perhaps he’ll prove the mentor I hope him to be, or perhaps he’ll fall to the Dark Side. But no matter what happens, I can look at Battlefront II and see the hero who’s dazzled me since I was a child.