Luke Skywalker and Poe Dameron are two of the most infamous pilots in the galaxy that is far, far away. Their respective heroics proved vital to the victories achieved by the Rebellion in A New Hope and the Resistance in The Force Awakens. While both men have become iconic flyers, their paths to prominence were not mirror images of one another and ultimately formed the basis for their career trajectories following the Battle of Yavin and the Battle of Starkiller Base.
Skywalker and Dameron each had a parent who had been a fighter pilot, but the circumstances surrounding their childhoods differed greatly. Poe’s mother Shara Bey flew for the Rebel Alliance at the Battle of Endor and survived to help Poe’s father Kes raise their child. Though Anakin Skywalker was a fighter ace for the Republic, Luke believed his father had been a freighter pilot who perished during Luke’s infant years. Shara’s mere presence, combined with her exploits in combat, directly influenced Poe’s desire to fly. Luke’s yearning to be closer to his father and the bond they shared through the Force allowed Anakin’s absence itself to be a motivating factor in Luke’s quest to be a pilot. Thus, despite their dissimilar childhoods, the careers of both men were influenced by their parents.
Following his youth on Yavin IV, Poe Dameron received professional training and became a pilot for the New Republic Defense Fleet. Luke’s hope to attend the Imperial Academy with his friends never materialized, and his only flying experience prior to leaving Tatooine was relegated to his escapades as a farm pilot shooting at womp rats in his T-16. By the time Dameron chose to join the Resistance, he was a seasoned veteran who was considered by General Leia Organa to be one of her finest pilots. While Skywalker’s natural connection to the Force somewhat leveled the playing field, his skills were still largely untested when he set off with Obi-Wan Kenobi to join the Rebellion.
A talent for improvisation, which is a necessity in the world of combat pilots, was displayed by Luke and Poe during their respective escapes from the Death Star and the Finalizer. In order to reach freedom, Dameron took control of a class of starfighter he had never flown, whereas Luke was given a crash course in the use of the Millennium Falcon‘s quad laser cannons. Dameron, the more experienced of the two pilots, took on a leadership role in his escape by providing Finn with tips and instructions on how to utilize their TIE fighter’s weaponry and where to target their firepower. Skywalker, still fresh off of the farm, was fittingly consigned to the gunner’s turret as Han Solo’s apprentice during the escape from the Death Star. Nevertheless, Poe and Luke did share a brazen level of confidence throughout their ordeals, exemplified by Poe’s defiant statement, “I can fly anything.”
Experience appeared as a key factor yet again during the Battle of Yavin and the Battle of Starkiller Base. At Yavin, Skywalker was still a low-ranked, rookie pilot who was about to enter into his first major confrontation. At Starkiller Base, Dameron was charged with leading the strike force of fighters and had already participated in many engagements, including the skirmish at Takodana. Both pilots delivered the crippling blows to their respective targets, however Luke’s trench run was a result of attrition in the higher ranks rather than part of the primary plan. Poe’s final attack on the interior of the thermal oscillator was also impromptu, but as the commander of the mission it was his choice to take the lead in those final moments. Of course, another major difference in their tactics was Skywalker’s ability to use the Force to deliver a pinpoint strike on the Death Star’s thermal exhaust port as opposed to Dameron’s free-for-all barrage against the oscillator’s vulnerable inner mechanisms.
As with their escapes from the Death Star and the Finalizer, both men demonstrated confidence and courage in the struggles at Yavin and Starkiller Base. Another trait crucial to a fighter pilot’s success is the ability to rely on the rest of the squadron to work as a team. When each pilot went on their final attack runs during their respective battles, they depended on their fellow squadmates to provide cover for them. As difficult as it was, Luke and Poe remained steadfast and focused on their mission even when those flying cover were mercilessly shot down by TIE fighters. The two pilots also counted heavily on their astromech droids and cherished the bond that they shared with their nonhuman companions. Luke’s concern for R2-D2’s well-being after the trench run was equally matched by Poe’s relief at being reunited with BB-8 after the skirmish at Takodana. Friendship and teamwork seem to be ingrained in the fabric of each man’s character.
Luke Skywalker and Poe Dameron shared many crucial traits and experiences in their pursuits to become pilots, but the differences between them are just as significant. Skywalker’s inexperience was balanced with his developing relationship with the Force, while Dameron’s training and knowledge were the foundation to his skills. The disparities between the two started at a young age, and it seems as if the roots of those contrasts are what guided the two pilots after the fateful battles at Yavin and Starkiller Base. Poe Dameron’s future has yet to be written, but Skywalker’s route after the destruction of the Death Star is well-known. Luke continued to be a member of the Rebel Fleet, participating in the Battle of Hoth. However, Luke’s talent with the Force ultimately led him to focus his life on the quest to become a Jedi Knight. By the time the Rebel Alliance engaged the Death Star II, Luke’s destiny was to confront Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine rather than participate in the space battle. In the end, they’re both great pilots, and show how similar and different two lives can be at the same time.
Jay Stobie is a science fiction writer who admits he has a perfectly normal obsession with Star Wars, Star Trek, and the various starships that inhabit those two universes. He can be found on Twitter at @CaptStobie.