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Things We Saw Today: Luke Skywalker Was Described as “a Col. Kurtz Type” Long Before The Last Jedi

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'

Leave Luke Skywalker alone! No, really. Leave him alone—according to apparent pre-The Last Jedi Lucasfilm intentions, Luke Skywalker was long destined to be a solitary character hiding from the galaxy.

There’s plenty that one can criticize plot and character-wise about Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi: his criminal underuse of intriguing characters like Phasma, the sidelining of Finn, whatever the hell point he was trying to make with Poe and Laura Linney, and the creepy Rey/Kylo Ren push are the first that always spring to my mind. But the angriest voices on the Internet continue to malign Johnson for how Luke Skywalker is portrayed in the film, particularly seeming to take issue with the idea that Luke would have fled from his responsibilities and thus shirked his heroic nature.

I’ve never quite understood the ire focused on Luke’s portrayal in this regard. While he’s in hiding initially and fails to properly mentor Rey when she comes to him for training, Luke is every inch the redeemed hero by the movie’s end, projecting himself across the universe to battle with his evil nephew Kylo Ren and essentially sacrificing himself to save the day. I’m unclear on what these dissatisfied fans would have wanted from Luke in the first place, though our resident Star Wars expert Kate Gardner once explained that it’s probably because Luke didn’t single-handedly pull down a Death Star out of the sky with the Force and smash the entire First Order with it.

Those are the kind of over-the-top heroics people appear to have imagined for Luke—astrally projecting to battle the dark side in a fabulous new outfit isn’t enough for them.

Yet it appears that canonically speaking, Luke-in-hermitage was an idea that far predated Johnson’s vision and even J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens. CinemaBlend points to a recent Instagram post by artist Christian Alzmann, “who drew one of the earliest pieces of concept art of Luke for the new trilogy,” that has an intriguing caption indeed:

Alzmann’s initial concept art of Luke, which apparently received a George Lucas “fabulouso” kudos, shows the older Jedi master with a topknot and a rather dead-eyed stare. “Luke was being described as a Col. Kurtz type hiding from the world in a cave,” Alzmann writes, demonstrating that Luke’s lone wolf solitude in The Last Jedi and retreat from society was indeed part of his long-planned character arc prior to The Force Awakens.

The Last Jedi would seem to have realized a character choice made by the Star Wars powers that be before it was even a glimmer in Johnson’s eye. Yet the ongoing battle over Luke’s soul is inescapable on the Internet—scroll through the comments on Alzmann’s Instagram post to see that the controversy never dies.

Colonel Kurtz is a reference to the antagonist of Apocoplyse Now famously portrayed by Marlon Brando (there’s also the original morally corrupted Kurtz as created by Joseph Conrad in the novel Heart of Darkness). Either way, the Kurtz reference implies that Luke was pictured as having gone rogue, even deranged, and cut all ties to his past. Colonel Kurtz is a broken, unhinged man. Perhaps those disgruntled Luke fans should be relieved that we didn’t have to watch Luke totally lose control Kurtz-like and have to be stopped by his former allies.

As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I personally felt that Luke’s portrayal in The Last Jedi rang true. Luke was never perfect, given over to rage, fear, and internal doubt as much as selfless heroism. That’s what makes him a compelling hero, and a memorable one.

Considering his fraught family history, it’s more than conceivable that Luke could’ve made mistakes with Kylo and retreated in response. Imagine how crushing it would’ve been to him to have been entrusted with Leia and Han’s only child, then been partly responsible for that child’s loss to the dark side. It would have been Luke’s greatest nightmare come true—or, as Kurtz might say, “The horror! The horror!”

(via CinemaBlend, images: Christian Alzmann, Lucasfilm/Disney)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.