Luke Skywalker’s Midlife Crisis

 

antastic building in the desert - photo by leshiy985/Shutterstock

Photo by leshiy985/Shutterstock

 

A New Hope (the first of the original Star Wars trilogy) was first screened in cinemas in 1977. I was a one-year-old at the time. Throughout the eighties in the UK it was pretty much a staple of Christmas TV, so I would’ve been between 8 and 11 years old when I first saw it. So there I was, an impressionable pre-teen, and in love. Luke Skywalker was the first person I became limerent for, and boy was it confusing! I have a very distinct memory of being at home when my parents were throwing a party and walking around in a kind of love-induced swoon. There were lots of adults about, eating and drinking and chatting, and all I could think about was Luke Skywalker, and the burning ache in my chest that the image of his face produced in me. What was this strange, intense sensation, I wondered? It was, of course, limerence.

Another memory. We were in Spain for our summer holiday. Star Wars was being shown on an outdoor screen. The whitewashed walls of the Spanish villas, the dry heat and sand, all made me feel as though I was actually there, in Tatooine. There was something very magical about that screening (although I wouldn’t have been able to articulate exactly what at the time). And there was Luke Skywalker. The hero. Someone to fall in love with, but also… someone I could relate to.

Back home in England, living in suburbia, life an endless round of getting up, going to school, coming home from school, I understood Luke’s dissatisfaction with his dull life of farming. When was something going to happen to me? When would I be starting on my own hero’s journey?

Later, I cursed myself for wanting more of life. For wanting excitement, for wanting to grow up sooner rather than later. Because, in a way, my own hero’s journey began with a death. My father’s death, to be specific. And when that life-changing event happened I very much wished I could unwish my previous wish for something to happen. Remember – be careful what you wish for. It might just come true.

Throughout university, further studies and work, Star Wars was always there. A comforting reminder of a happy childhood. Of dreaming about other worlds. Of a hero battling adversity. Doing the right thing at all costs.

The prequels came and went in my twenties. I watched them, of course, but for me the magic just wasn’t there. Was it because of the actual craft of the films? The sometimes impossible CGI? The new characters? The sometimes dodgy storytelling, the ropey dialogue? Or maybe I couldn’t connect with the films because I was older…? I’d experienced real life, after all. And these films had very little to say to me.

A decade or so passed. I continued on my own heroine’s journey, motherhood the next stage of it

The third trilogy – the films that dealt with the years after The Return of the Jedi – was about to happen. Now this was exciting! We were, at last, going to find out what happened to Luke Skywalker. I’d get to see how my childhood hero was doing. What great things he’d achieved.

The Force Awakens came and went. Okay, no magic there. But it was a fun film, the new characters pretty cool. Having a female lead, Rey, was a breath of fresh air, but I felt her to be ever so… one-dimensional. And incredibly capable. Good for her, but I couldn’t really relate to her.

We only got a glimpse of Luke Skywalker at the end. I wanted to cheer, to whoop, when he appeared on screen. There was so much expectation as he was presented with his old light saber. Here was the hero, the hero of my childhood, and he was going to be marvellous (when things really got going in the next film).

But then, last year, The Last Jedi came out. I suspect that many other midlifers like me, were excited. Expectant. But, for me – for many – the film failed to deliver. Social media was awash with opinions. I read article after article. Interview after interview. Mark Hamill hadn’t been happy with Luke’s new story (no surprise there). I wasn’t happy. Other people weren’t happy, although some were. People argued. As what seems to be the norm in this “age of outrage”, deep reflection and nuance got lost.

So, as usual, I reflected on the film, took some time; came to some conclusions of my own. I thought some of the new characters were endearing, interesting, full of potential. The film visually impressive. But with my writer’s hat on the storyline was, um, problematic, shall we say? But these were asides to the real issue: Luke’s story.

So, on the assumption that approximately 25 (Earth years) have passed since we last saw Luke, what did he actually do during those years? Well, we know that he founded a school for young Jedi. Taught them. That his powerful nephew came to his school (about 15 years into his teaching career) and Luke had concerns… which led to a crucial moment of potential action (coupled with fearful indecision, hesitation) which plunged the whole galaxy, apparently, into turmoil. His school was destroyed, his whole belief system destroyed, and he became a recluse for the next decade.

In short, Luke goes through a midlife crisis and does not deal with it terribly well. In the film, “Luke the recluse” is the worst kind of teenage cliché – he is dismissive, stubborn, angry, uncommunicative.

This is a man who, in the original trilogy, learnt control, patience. When to strike, when to not strike. In The Last Jedi he has unlearnt all his learning. The hero who went on to mentor other Jedi is now a stroppy, sullen teenager. He is stuck in midlife, permanently in crisis. Way to go Luke. (Or rather, way to go screenwriters.) There will be some that argue that at the end of the film, all has come good. Luke, the hero, has returned. I’m open to that idea. But all the stuff before… no. Just no.

As a midlifer who has experienced challenges, crises, whatever you want to call them, and who will no doubt continue to have to ride stormy seas in the future, I do not want to see my childhood hero unable to cope with the hard stuff. I need to see him grow and face new challenges with maturity and wisdom. I still need him to be my mentor. He’s been teaching other Jedi. Where has all that experience gone? What has all his life amounted to?

Of course, it is just a film. Yes, but also no. Star Wars plays into the collective unconscious. It is full of archetypes. The hero’s journey. All things that speak to each one of us at a deep, fundamental level. So when a beloved character acts out of character in a film that means so much to so many people, it jars.

But this is out of my hands. Our hands. Maybe us midlifers need to move on, accept that our hero of the original trilogy has long-vanished; that this latest trilogy means so much more to the younger generations than it does to us; to allow them their own magic (which can maybe only happen in one’s formative years). We have other stories to look to. Other archetypes, other, perhaps older, characters to invest in. To look to for guidance as we move into the next phase of our lives and see our own children grow and mature and take centre stage. Of course those characters are there. Surely, they’ve always been there. Thankfully, the movie industry appears to be more open to other characters. To older characters. But, still, we may need to seek them out. They are there. In our lives. In the books we read. Maybe overlooked, but still there. Patient. Waiting for us to unearth them. Let us discover them. Let us find a new hope.

Prose for Thought
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The Mentor’s Journey (Interlude)

Having just now come to an end of a period of mentorship I am taking a break. I am in an ‘interlude’.

For the past year I’ve been a mentor to a wonderful woman. The year before that I mentored another remarkable woman. Without going into too much detail, I wanted to write about what being a mentor meant to me, and to share my thoughts on what happens now.

For me, being a mentor was a sometimes intense and challenging experience in that it made me think a lot about communication, psychology, societal judgement and what it means to be a mother. Big stuff! It was also incredibly rewarding to see my mentees learning so much, and I learnt a good deal about myself. (It once again confirmed for me my high-sensitivity — I worried a lot about being the best mentor I could be. I worried about getting stuff wrong. I worried about the paperwork details… You get the picture.)

Now that I am no longer a mentor I feel a strange mix of feelings. In some ways I feel relieved (they did it! I did it! Hooray!) and also I feel sad that I won’t be seeing these wonderful women as often as I did before. With many experiences in life there is this same mix of ‘bittersweet’, but try as I might I couldn’t think of any useful examples from film or literature that would give me any insight into the mentor’s journey, and which I could relate to and learn from. What becomes of the mentor? What do they do now?

I could think of many examples of mentor-mentee partnerships (the coupling of Obi-Wan Kenobi and subsequently Yoda, with Luke Skywalker from the original Star Wars trilogy has got to be one of my own personal favourites!) but they tend to focus on the mentee’s journey.

 

A New Hope book

I thought a little longer… and came up with lots more brilliant mentor-mentee relationships: Frodo and Gandalf, Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore, Daniel and Mr Miyagi, Jamal Wallace and William Forrester in the film Finding Forrester and Will Hunting and Dr Sean Maguire from Good Will Hunting. The scene where Sean (superbly played by Robin Williams) says to Will [about the abuse that he suffered when younger] that ‘it’s not your fault’ over and over again until Will breaks down sobbing has got to be one of my all-time favourite cinematic scenes.

Aside from Gandalf (whose own journey past death/into a higher state of consciousness – I haven’t quite figured that one out! – is witnessed) the focus is on the mentee. At the end of the mentee’s journey (which tends to be the length of the whole film or book) we often see that the mentor has had a life-changing experience – maybe this is the best way to explain what happens to Gandalf – although we don’t get to see what’s in store for them in their new life. We get a tantalizing glimpse that there is a new life ahead of them, although we don’t get to see much of what it looks like.

Then there are the mentee-mentor journeys which go either tragically (or simply horribly) wrong. I’m thinking of Dead Poets’ Society here, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Notes On A Scandal, even Emma by Jane Austen.

Then there are the Sith in Star Wars. How anyone embarking on a mentorship with a Sith (which is basically a mentoring of how to be evil) can think it won’t end up biting them on the bum is a fool. But of course we can’t help but be gripped by how it goes so badly wrong…

Again, these partnerships give fascinating insights into the power (and responsibility) held by the mentor, and how a mentee (and mentor) can be deeply affected by the relationship.

Something I learnt early on from my own mentoring experience is that the mentor and mentee have to be a good fit. I just can’t see how much use can come of a mentee-mentor relationship where both people aren’t attune with each other. (I wanted to use a quote here from Clarissa Pinkola Estes book Women Who Run With The Wolves but I can’t find it. If anyone knows the passage I’m talking about here, please do let me know!)

The word mentor comes from the name of a Greek mythological hero Μέντωρ, Méntōr, who mentored Telemachus. When I thought of the many mentor figures in literature, I could think of more examples of male mentors as oppose to female mentors, but of course being a mentor is not sex-specific. I love how it was actually the goddess Athena, disguised as Mentor, who inspired and counseled Telemachus to go in search of his father Odysseus.

Another interesting facet of being a mentor is that the mentor cannot be tied by blood to their mentee. Their relationship has to exist out of the sphere of the family… It has the potential to be broken (unlike blood ties that irrevocably bind us whether we want them to or not), which, I think, actually gives it its strength.

So… what do I do now? Of course I’m busy with family, work and my own creative pursuits, but a part of me still yearns to ‘give back’ by being a mentor.

I’ve noticed that mentoring schemes are also on the increase. I’ve heard great things from people involved with The WoMentoring Project (for women who write) and think the aims behind the following two organizations are fantastic: The Girls Network (“…a charity that matches girls from low socio-economic backgrounds with inspirational female mentors from all walks of life. [Their] mission is to raise aspirations and remove the barriers from our girls’ path to success.”) and The Wise Campaign (which aims to get more women into the sciences).

One day, time allowing (!), l may look into these so that I can continue to ‘give back’ by mentoring. Yet for the time being I am in an ‘interlude’. It feels disquieting and yet freeing too. I will await the next act.

 

p.s. All this referencing to Star Wars reminds me that I’m really looking forward to the next ‘act’ in the Star Wars saga!

p.p.s. Do let me know your own personal mentor-mentee relationships from books and films. I want to know. 🙂

 

Thanks again to Amanda at WriteAlm for the inspiring writing prompts.