Luke’s quest to become a Jedi Knight is the main engine driving the plot of Star Wars Episodes IV–VI. Indeed, all of the epic battles and cosmic events going on around him are in a sense only the backdrop before which Luke’s inner struggles are played out. When we first meet Luke on Tatooine, he is a callow youth, dreaming of adventure and escape from the backwater setting in which he finds himself. The classic image from A New Hope, in which Luke stands looking out at the horizon as the twin suns of his home planet are setting, captures perfectly this romantic, dreaming quality of his character. Early in A New Hope, we also see the reckless, impetuous side of Luke’s character as he races off after R2 without telling his uncle and as he spies on the Sandpeople, almost getting himself killed thanks to his immaturity. However, Luke is also motivated by a strong sense of duty and a desire to be a part of something larger than himself. In the person of Ben Kenobi, Luke finds this desire answered, as Ben offers to help Luke become a Jedi Knight.
Through Ben, Luke gets the opportunity to travel, to help the Rebel Alliance against the evil Empire, to feel closer to the father he never knew (who was also a Jedi), and to grow as a person through contact with the Force. In this way, Ben becomes a surrogate father to Luke, replacing Uncle Owen, who mainly wants to keep Luke safe, close to home, and, in that sense, in a state of immaturity. Ben is soon taken from Luke by Darth Vader, the man Luke believes killed his real father, repeating before Luke’s eyes the act of parricide for which he already hates Vader. The irony, of course, is that Vader actually is Luke’s father, a truth that devastates Luke when he learns it. Disappointed in Ben for hiding the truth from him and horrified at what Anakin Skywalker has become, Luke must learn at last to be his own man, moving out of the shadows of his various father figures and even learning to stand apart from the “grandfather figures” of Yoda and the Emperor, who are also fighting for Luke’s loyalty.
In the end, Luke saves his father’s soul, gains a sister, and sees Yoda, Ben, and Anakin (his whole paternal set, as it were) united in the afterlife. Much of his success is thanks to Yoda, who encourages Luke to examine himself and to judge how much he has been motivated by a desire for glory and how much by a true devotion to others. Through Yoda’s teaching, Luke finally, after many missteps, learns to master his own feelings and gains a deeper insight to the feelings of others. By the end of the trilogy, the eager youth, constantly in over his head, has become the confident Jedi Knight, coolly strolling unarmed into Jabba’s palace and, even more challenging, refusing to take the easy, dark path of hatred and anger. Though actor Mark Hamill aged in the role over the course of the seven years it took to make the trilogy, it is impossible to imagine anyone else as Luke Skywalker—and to the detriment of Hamill’s later career, it became impossible for audiences to imagine him as anyone else.