Writerly Sound Bites, Number 7: Character Progression – How Broken Mentors and Mentors Who Aren’t Broken Deal with the Loss of What They Held Dear

Luke Skywalker - Wikipedia

Last week we established that a broken character can and often does maintain the traits he spent years developing even when he chooses to act contrary to his nature. When a man like Bowen from Dragonheart* becomes a dragonslayer, for example, he is doing so in an effort to atone for an error he made, to make up for his failure. The fact that he will not acknowledge which failure led him to this pass is the problem he is struggling with; the “earth-shattering event” that led him to become a killer is akin to a distraction – something to make the audience think they know what the problem is. Thus, when Bowen has his revelation, the audience shares in it.

But how does this relate to the changes made to the characters listed here? Specifically, how does Luke Skywalker’s transformation into Jake Skywalker (that’s Mark Hamill’s name for him, not mine) in The Last Jedi violate his archetype and the character we spent three movies and many, many books getting to know? We have all seen broken mentors come back to train the next generation after some convincing. Even Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi did that.

Yes…and no. There are several problems with Luke Skywalker’s transformation into Jake: first, he hasn’t actually lost everything. Second, his archetype is directly counter to the one Bowen encapsulates in Dragonheart. Bowen admits that he was naïve in the extreme when he trained Einon. That he saw what he wanted to see, not what was actually there to be seen if he had taken an honest look at his young charge rather than let his dreams obscure his vision.

Luke Skywalker is not naïve in the strict sense of the word. He is not guileless nor artless despite lacking experience. He is the one, after all, who comes up with the spur-of-the-moment plan to rescue Leia from the Death Star despite Obi-Wan specifically telling him to stay put. When he does this, he countermands and out thinks the more experienced Han Solo, a jaded, cynical smuggler who has seen far more of the galaxy than Luke.

Yet it is Skywalker who talks the experienced criminal and con artist into going on a rescue mission by playing on his avarice. Han could have blown him off any time, put his foot down, and absolutely refused to move. Chewie, due to his life debt, would have stuck by Han’s decision no matter how much he agreed with Luke. Instead, due to the farm boy’s sweet-talking, Han goes to the detention center to break out a rebel princess – one who gives him as much grief as he gives most other people. It makes watching sparks fly between them from there on out all the more entertaining.

Yarn | I hope the old man got the tractor beam down ...

Moreover, while Luke’s impromptu rescue operation may be faulty and plagued by difficulties, it is a good plan. One conjured up by an imaginative farm boy with the guts to follow through on his ideals with action. That is not naïveté; that is an idealism that has been so ingrained in someone’s soul that, on being told it’s not possible, he immediately finds a way to make it possible.

Idealism is often confused with – and can be a form of – naïveté. But one of its definitions (per wordnik) is: “One who pursues or dwells upon the ideal; a seeker after the highest beauty or good.” Luke is not naïve like Bowen, thinking that he can change someone else to change the world. Rather, he finds a way to change the world himself; he is an active rather than a passive idealist. This allows him to draw out the best in others by pursuing the best in himself first, despite the harshness of the galaxy.

“A seeker after the highest beauty or good” can’t be passive. He has to be active because that is what seeking means. It requires time, effort, concentration, and the will to fight for whatever goal or item the seeker is chasing. Luke could give up at any time, but since he is determined to acquire the highest good available he will fight dragons to get it. There is no bigger “dragon” in Star Wars than the Galactic Empire.

Luke’s behavior means his character growth is more passive than Bowen’s. Just like Bowen, he endures several “earth-shattering” events in A New Hope.* His aunt and uncle are murdered, the farm he grew up on and called home is burned to the sand, his mentor dies to save him on the Death Star, and most of his squadron mates – whom he barely has time to exchange names with – die in the attack on the Death Star.

None of that is easy to endure, and to pretend otherwise is foolishness. Due to his different, Aspirational temperament however, Luke reacts in a more controlled and mature manner than Bowen. He doesn’t bottle up his losses – we see him take the time to mourn his family and Obi-Wan, after all – nor does he instantly react with aggression until Ben Kenobi is cut down on the Death Star. That doesn’t last long, either, as he hears the ghostly admonition to “Run, Luke, run!

This ties to Luke’s earlier portrayal, where he is shown to obey his elders and respect their wishes as well as their ideals. Although he complains vociferously about being held on the farm by his uncle, Luke doesn’t follow Biggs Darklighter’s example and run away from home to join the Imperial military, to then defect to the Rebellion. He respects and loves his uncle too much to hurt him and his aunt that way, which is why he obeys Ben’s Force ghost and rushes aboard the Falcon after his initial attack on the Stormtroopers between him and Vader in the landing bay.

All of these elements of Luke’s character are built up and expanded on in The Empire Strikes Back* and Return of the Jedi*. Luke has bouts of temper but, for the most part, he controls himself and acts according to his principles. Unlike Bowen, who is more rash and tends to say or do things in the heat of the moment, Skywalker has imbibed enough of the principles he was taught and came to believe in that he instinctively aligns with them even when he is under severe pressure. The lapses in his control, such as when he strikes at the Emperor in Jedi before being drawn into a duel with Vader, are thus more startling than they would be otherwise.

We expect Bowen to blame the dragon when Einon turns, even though we don’t agree with it. But we don’t expect Luke to run off to Bespin after Yoda warns him against it, since he did not run away from his aunt and uncle’s farm. This is the difference between a naïve belief in and adherence to principles and one that is informed by strong idealism and a rightly formed conscience which controls the character’s passions instead of instantly responding to outside stimuli.

Star Wars: Comparing The Looks of Luke Skywalker From A ...

This is most of what makes Jake Skywalker of The Last Jedi incompatible with Luke Skywalker. The other item which makes the two discordant is that, even if one were to keep the new Jedi Order’s destruction as part of the franchise’s canon, that failure does not rob Luke of everything. He still has Leia, Han, Chewie, the droids, the New Republic – and most importantly, the Force. Before he had any of that in A New Hope, he was still determined to act in accordance with his conscience and achieve his dreams the right way.

Losing his family, his mentor, and many of his friends didn’t change that in the first film. Why would losing his resurgent Jedi Order, even at the hands of his own nephew whom he failed to stop, drive Luke to the bottle? It does not fit his earlier characterization or his archetype.

Bowen’s behavior fits a naïve knight determined to create a better world passively; he does not set out to be a ruler, a mover, or a shaker. He sets out to affect the world from a passive position by training up a new ruler to be a good king, ignoring the fact that his charge could be anything but a good king because he “wants to have his way.” That is what Bowen’s admission of naïveté means in Dragonheart: he ignored reality in the hopes that it would conform to his desires.

Luke does not ignore reality. Nor does he fight to make it something it is not; the power of the Dark Side and the rule of the Galactic Empire are unnatural to the galaxy because they are, at their core, chaos made manifest. As Leia says when she meets Moff Tarkin aboard the Death Star, “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” People cannot be controlled by fear for more than a short period of time for the simple reason that it is exhausting. Sooner or later the Empire is going to fall to ruin. Luke and the Rebellion are fighting to restore a natural – if imperfect – order to the galaxy by re-establishing the Republic.

That does not mean evil itself will die, nor does it prevent a resurgence of the Empire in the First Order. What it does mean is that losing the Jedi Order is a devastating but not a crippling blow. The idea that all the new Jedi whom Luke had trained would be killed on the spot is also asinine on its face; even without the Clone Wars, when Order 66 was executed, there would have been Jedi all over the galaxy. Killing them all at once in a coordinated strike would have been and actually was impossible, as there were Jedi or at least Force-users who evaded Order 66 and the Empire well into Luke’s time. Murdering all of the new Jedi under Skywalker’s command and tutelage would likewise be unfeasible.

So as on Tattooine, Bespin, and Endor, Luke would have had resources to fall back on. He would have had support, help to make things right, to atone for his mistake in looking past his nephew’s potential fall to the Dark Side. Although he may have had difficulty facing Leia and Han that does not mean he would have avoided them – or, if he did, that he wouldn’t have done so for a long period of time.

These are the things one has to consider when writing about Broken Mentor archetypes: they are not made equal. Obi-Wan retreated from the galaxy, yes, but he lost infinitely more than Luke did in the sequel trilogy. He lost the only life he had ever known with the destruction of the Jedi Order as well as its political and cultural support in the Old Republic. He had nowhere to go and no one to rely on to keep him safe; his entire support system vanished in the blink of an eye. Add to this the knowledge that his poor mentoring methods were what led to the downfall of all he held dear in the first place, and it’s no wonder why he retreated from the galaxy.

Though even then, it was a controlled retreat. Obi-Wan did not give up hope, did not try to drown his sorrows in bantha milk, or become a crusty, angry curmudgeon. Considering what he lost that is no small feat, and it makes him different from a variety of other mentors in this archetypal demographic.


Jedi General Rahm Kohta

One of these would be General Rahm Kota from Force Unleashed*. Kota survived Order 66 by the simple expedient of avoiding leading a clone battalion; he did not like or trust the clone army, and so led an army of normal humans and other beings in battle against the Separatists. When Order 66 came through he was left alive and in command of some very irate soldiers who would – and did – follow him straight into hell.

That hell was his first confrontation with Galen Marek, a.k.a. Starkiller. In their duel Galen blinded and apparently killed Kota, who managed to survive once again. However, losing his sight as well as his battle drove Kota to mostly cut himself off from the Force and retreat to a bar to drink himself to death. When Galen was tasked with starting a rebellion against the Galactic Empire, he learned Kota was still alive and went after him, convincing him to train him as a Jedi so he could more effectively fool the prospective rebels into believing his cause was genuine.

In The Last Jedi, the writers tried to shove Kota’s history on to Luke, but it didn’t work. The audiobook reviewed here goes into many of the reasons why, but the above compare and contrast exercise should also offer you a good view of why it doesn’t work. Luke’s character is based on an archetype which doesn’t fall to pieces easily and is more resilient than even Obi-Wan. Turning him into Jake Skywalker does not and will never make sense, no matter how anyone tries to justify it.

But then, what about the Broken Mentor archetype? How does that actually work? What are some good examples of mentors who were broken but healed – or didn’t – due to their relationship with their young charges? Kota is one illustration, but he saw through Galen’s ruse from the start. One could argue that makes him a poor sample. Who is a better one?

Haymitch Abernathy of The Hunger Games* is a good picture of the Broken Mentor archetype. Drunk most of the time we see him in the story, Haymitch is coarse, crass, and seemingly careless. Since he won his Quarter Quell (the 50th Hunger Games) he has been forced to mentor other District 12 tributes to survive in the arenas. Up until Katniss and Peeta are Reaped for their Games, all his mentees have died.

In addition to this we learn that Haymitch’s mother, brother, and girlfriend were murdered not long after he won his Games. This is because the method he used to win embarrassed the Capitol, demonstrating that tributes even from poor, backward District 12 weren’t stupid. That they were not cattle but people clever and willing enough to fight and survive an environment specifically meant to murder them in the most humiliating manner possible for the entire nation to see.

Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) | Hunger games ...

Obviously, this means that not only did Haymitch lose everything he held dear, he had no recourse to save any of the young children he was tasked with mentoring. As Katniss observes in the book, District 12 tributes are Reaped before they can work in the coal mines. Using tools in the mines would not only build up their strength, it would teach them how to use improvised weapons. Peeta’s wrestling and knife skills aren’t optimal defensive techniques but he at least has learned to fight, while Katniss’ ability with archery combined with her determination allows her to survive.

None of the prior tributes from District 12 that Haymitch was forced to train had this combination of will and skill. He had to stand by and watch them be murdered, onscreen, while the Capitolites laughed and applauded. That would drive anyone to the bottle, and it seems to be more of a problem for him than his memories of the Games in which he partook.

As a final example, there is also the utterly broken Mentor Archetype to consider. 86 – Eighty-Six’s* Brigadier General Jérôme Karlstahl, Vladilena “Lena” Milize’s adoptive uncle and informal mentor in the army of the Republic of San Magnolia, fits this bill. Like his niece, Karlstahl knows about the abominable treatment of the 86, the non-Alba citizens of the Republic who are forced to fight and die in the war against the mechanical Legion in a genocide by proxy. In contrast to Lena, however, he has completely given up the hope of ever saving them or the Republic, for which he has nothing but contempt.

Karlstahl is, in a word, a coward. He submits that since the Alba population of San Magnolia has acquiesced to this barbaric treatment of the 86, placing these people on the front line is the will of the Republic’s people and cannot be denied. Even if it could, any surviving countries that learn what the Republic has done to the 86 will shun the nation for its abominable behavior.

86 -Eighty Six- Episode #04 | The Anime Rambler - By ...

Lena and Karlstahl

His cynical despair contrasts harshly with Lena’s determination to save as many people as she can. Later, when she decides to fight on despite the Legion overwhelming the Republic’s pitiful defenses, Karlstahl does not relinquish his despondency. He states to Lena’s face that he hopes her dreams and ideals will be crushed so that she will become the same empty shell he is, before he goes out to die in battle. Thus far, Lena’s dreams have remained intact since his passing. In point of fact, they have strengthened significantly with the direct help of her romantic interest.

There are many ways to write a Broken Mentor who comes back to save the hero, is convinced to train him, is waiting patiently for the right time to train him, or who has given up on the world entirely. If you have a character in a mentor position, consider your options carefully, future authors. And for the love of God, do not repeat The Last Jedi’s mistakes. Those were enough for seven lifetimes, and we each have only one.

Let’s not waste it, future writers.

*These are Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase something through them, this author receives a commission from Amazon at no extra charge to you, the buyer.

If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com. Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth, while her poetry appeared in Organic Ink, Vol. 2. She has also had stories published in Planetary Anthologies Luna, Uranus, and Sol. Another story was released in Cirsova Magazine’s Summer Issue in 2020, and she recently had a story published in Storyhack Magazine’s 7th Issue and Cirsova Magazine’s 2021 Summer Issue. Order them today!

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2 thoughts on “Writerly Sound Bites, Number 7: Character Progression – How Broken Mentors and Mentors Who Aren’t Broken Deal with the Loss of What They Held Dear

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