Young. Idealistic. Courageous. Strong. I grew up on a steady diet of Star Wars films and novels, and from the day we first met, Luke Skywalker was my kind of hero. And something tells me I wasn’t alone. Just a few decades ago, what boy in their right mind didn’t dream of soaring to unknown galaxies and hopping from one swashbuckling adventure to the next with young Skywalker?
Now, however, times are changing. As the values of our society have evolved, so have our fictional characters. And I’m left asking myself: where have all the Luke Skywalkers gone?
“Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi!” – Why Fictional Characters are Important
“It’s all just fiction,” you might be thinking. “What’s the big deal?”
As acting and drama started to develop in Ancient Greece, the Greek philosophers realized that viewers would tend to imitate the emotions and virtues of dramatic characters. In his Republic, Plato warned against poetry and plays, since they could inspire virtue in young audiences, but could also inspire them to “extremes of emotion.”
Aristotle viewed drama as a positive teaching tool. In his Six Elements of Drama, Aristotle declares that all good dramas must have character, or a moral fabric, which will inspire viewers to lead a more virtuous life. Each personality in the story would represent some virtue, which viewers would be inspired to either imitate or avoid (this is, by the way, why we call the people in our stories characters).
We’re a long way from Ancient Greece, but the fictional characters we create still reflect the virtues that our society values the most, and they still have the ability to either inspire or horrify us.
“The Force is Strong With this One” – The Virtues of Luke Skywalker
So what is it exactly about this nineteen-year old farm boy from Tattooine that inspired generations of fans? Let’s talk about a few of the virtues that made Luke such a model “good guy”:
Respect – Luke listened to the wisdom of older generations, and this greatly helped to guide his path. When “Old Ben” Kenobi tells him to travel to the Dagobah System, he thinks the man is crazy – but he listens. He has extreme doubts about the funny-looking Master Yoda, but ends up learning a great deal from the wisdom and experience of the little green guy. Compare this to modern stories, where the young heroes are those who rebel against authority figures, reject the “old rules,” and stand as independent-minded individuals.
Loyalty – His friend, Han Solo, warns him that joining forces with a rag-tag group of rebels in an effort against a massive Galactic Empire will get him killed. Luke believes in the cause of these Freedom Fighters, however, and sticks with them through thick and thin. This deep sense of loyalty is reminiscent of the World War II generation, who viewed the American nation as a united family, bound by a common purpose, and pledged their lives to fight as one people. With each passing generation, however, it seems that young people are beginning to value innovation more and more, and to value loyalty less and less.
Belief in People – Call him a hopeless idealist all you want, but Luke’s determination to see the good in his father (the infamous Darth Vader), is what eventually led to the salvation of a galaxy far, far away and his father’s redemption. There was a time when the general public looked for the good in people, and saw them for what they could become. Today, however, we are a very suspicious bunch. Perhaps some of the people we encounter could become better people, but we are unwilling to reach out to them and help them get there. Now everyone pretty much sticks to themselves. We’re all pretty much on our own – and that doesn’t seem to bother us.
Self-Sacrifice – Luke, a classic “savior figure,” puts his own life on the line on more than one occasion in an effort to keep his friends out of harm’s way. This concept of self-sacrifice is strongly biblical, since the story of Christ lovingly dying in our place is the common thread which ties the entire biblical account together. Take John 15:13, for example: “Greater love hath no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” We used to be much more willing to sacrifice of ourselves for the good of others, and we used to greatly honor those who sacrificed in inspiring ways (by joining the Armed Forces, for example). Today, however, we aren’t as familiar with the idea of self-sacrifice, and we are starting to lose awareness of the honor and gratitude we owe to those who make great sacrifices for us.
“And Now, Young Skywalker, You Will Die” – A World Without Luke Skywalker and Friends
The fictional characters of today are much more modern and advanced in their thinking than Luke, a good ol’ boy from the Moisture Farm next door. We’ve come a long way from the day when our favorite characters modeled respect for older authority, loyalty to a greater cause, an unyielding belief that no one is past redemption, and an unquestioning willingness to sacrifice of one’s self to benefit another.
And this is not a good thing.
Luke Skywalker is becoming more and more difficult to find these days… and we will miss him greatly.
Photo Credit: FastBak, DeviantArt.com, 2013-2014: http://fastbak.deviantart.com/art/Luke-Skywalker-376605856
 Martin and Jacobus, Humanities Through the Arts, 8th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011 (Chapter 8).