Luke Skywalker essentially abandoned the galaxy after his nephew, Ben Solo, turned to the dark side and slaughtered Luke’s Jedi students. The question is: why did he leave?
The first words of the opening crawl for The Force Awakens are, “Luke Skywalker is missing.” The crawl provides no context for his departure, neither does it allude to any explicit reasons. It is not until approaching the middle of the film that we get something resembling a reason, and then it is presented more as a theory than a definite answer.
After seeing the piece of the map to Luke Skywalker BB-8 is carrying, Han Solo tells Rey and Finn about how before he went into exile, Luke founded a new Jedi Order. One of his apprentices turned to the dark side and destroyed everything Luke built. Following this, Luke fled into parts unknown, leaving his friends and family to speculate where and why he went. “People that knew him best,” Han says, “think he went looking for the first Jedi Temple.” That temple, we assume, is where Rey finds Luke at the end of The Force Awakens.
“The people who knew him best” likely refers, at least in part, to Leia, Luke’s twin sister. The bond between them has always been strong, even before Luke told Leia they were siblings. The not only share the same blood and the same connection to the Force, they are also great friends. If Leia speculates Luke left her to find the first Jedi Temple, she is probably right.
But knowing where he went still doesn’t tell us why.
Imagine this: You are the last of the Jedi of the old Order, and you have just founded a new Jedi Order to teach a new generation the ways of the Force. Then, your most powerful apprentice, who also happens to be your nephew, turns to the dark side and wipes out everything you built. Not only that, he slaughters every other pupil under your tutelage.
What is going through your mind at this point? You probably feel horribly guilty. It was your nephew who ruined everything. It was not you he trusted to teach him; rather, he put his faith in a being named Snoke who taught him to give in to his anger and use his powers for evil. You feel that you failed, because you didn’t know how to help your nephew overcome his inner demons. Your failure culminated in your nephew becoming the next Darth Vader.
One would think the wisest course of action following these catastrophes would be to hunt the failed apprentice down and destroy him.
But that’s not what Luke does. He goes looking for the first Jedi Temple instead. Moreover, he doesn’t tell anyone where he is going or how to get in touch with him later on.
By going off on his own without telling anyone where he is going, Luke is essentially abandoning the galaxy to the ever-growing First Order and the wrath of his onetime apprentice. Abandonment may not be his intention, however. He is likely looking for the first Jedi Temple because he needs a new source of wisdom to tell him what he should do. But his real motivations may not be as noble. He may, in fact, be running away from the mess he left the galaxy in, even while he tells himself he is really searching for a solution to it. There is no other explanation for why he would exile himself for so long without telling Leia or Han or someone where he is.
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There is one factor we are leaving out which would provide a different explanation. That factor is the Force. We know Episode VIII is going to contain some “weird” elements, which we can only assume relate to the Force (what is weirder than the mythos of the Force?). We also know the first Jedi Temple signifies a beginning, not just for the Jedi Order but for the way beings connect to the Force and the importance placed on that connection.
Perhaps Luke is trying to learn how and when Jedi first discovered and turned to the dark side and how to prevent it from happening. Perhaps he is searching for the proper way to train Jedi, to prevent events like what happened to his Jedi Order and the Order before it from occurring.
Or – and this is a theory that’s way out there – Luke may be looking for how beings first developed their conscious connection to the Force, in order to sever it.
It’s a horrific idea at first, but return to Luke’s mindset and consider his thought process. All the destruction Darth Vader, and now Kylo Ren, have wrought is due to their powerful connections to the Force. The reasons for their turning to the dark side was out of fear, yes, but they would not have been able to kill so many people if it hadn’t been for their sensitivity to and ability to wield the Force as a weapon.
In a perfect world, the Force would only be used for learning more about the universe and how to connect with and live in it in peace. It’s hard to do that, however, when the temptation to use the Force to get what you want is ever-present. This is how the Sith formed, and how good people like Anakin Skywalker and Ben Solo go bad. If you took that temptation away, however, all of the problems which come with great power in the Force would go away, as well. And in order to take the temptation away, you have to take away the thing for which it exists.
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We don’t know if the deep connection to the Force which allows one to influence it was created, or if it has always been natural biological phenomenon. We don’t know if that connection has always existed, or if it was only developed a few thousand years prior to Luke’s lifetime. But consider again how, in Luke’s mind, all the destruction which took place during the Empire’s reign, and which is taking place again under the First Order’s, is the result of Force-sensitive beings like Palpatine, Vader, Kylo Ren, and Snoke using their powers for evil. Millions of beings who have no connection to the Force suffer because of beings who possess supernatural powers against which the common man cannot hope to stand. Luke, being the moral, empathetic person he is, as well as a powerful Force user, would take personal responsibility for ensuring such widespread death and destruction never happens again. But now that the latter is happening again, he may feel there is only one solution:
Take away beings’ ability to use the Force against other people.
The earth-shattering repercussions of such a mission would explain why Luke left the known galaxy to deal with Kylo Ren, Snoke, and the First Order on their own. His mission may be so important, so vital, that he can’t waste time being a warrior Jedi on the front lines or even taking on Kylo and Snoke. He also can’t tell anyone what he is doing; if he did, the secret would get out and then everyone, especially the First Order, would be after him to stop him.
The reason I like this theory is I can’t believe Luke would go into exile simply because he feels guilty and thinks the galaxy would be better off without him. I don’t believe Luke would shrug off the responsibility he has once again as the last Jedi to uproot the evil running rampant throughout the galaxy. He has a reason for seeking out the first Jedi Temple, and that reason is not to have a hideout where no one will find him.
Luke’s mission may not be one as crazy as nullifying his and every other Force sensitive being’s ability to influence the Force. But he is up to something, and I’m willing to bet money that whatever it is will change the galaxy forever.