From a Certain Point of View: What Is Luke Skywalker’s Greatest Moment?

In a life including the destruction of the Death Star, heroic rescues, and lightsaber duels, which act is the greatest? Two writers debate!

One of the great things about Star Wars is that it inspires endless debates and opinions on a wide array of topics. Best bounty hunter? Most powerful Jedi? Does Salacious Crumb have the best haircut in the saga? In that spirit, presents From a Certain Point of View: a series of point-counterpoints on some of the biggest — and most fun — Star Wars issues. In this installment, two writers discuss which act was the finest hour for a farm boy turned Jedi.

Return of the Jedi - Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker’s greatest moment is when he tosses away his lightsaber and shows Darth Vader compassion in Return of the Jedi, says Dan.

His hated enemy — his father, a man who spread fear, tyranny, and death — is at his mercy. He seethes with anger, ready to make the killing blow with one lightsaber strike. He could end it all. A devil commands “finish him.” And…he stops. He thinks, he becomes calm, he throws away his weapon. He chooses…compassion? “I am a Jedi, like my father before me,” Luke Skywalker says, confident and defiant in the face of possible, if not probable, death. This, the climax of Return of the Jedi, is Luke’s greatest moment, and here’s why.  

Luke’s decision to show compassion for his father, the evil Darth Vader, as opposed to destroying him, is not great for any singular reason. Rather, it’s a layered moment that is, in reality, a culmination of all his failures, successes, and lessons learned. It’s rich, an act that builds upon heart and history that none of Luke’s other feats — blowing up a space station, throwing himself down a Cloud City chasm — can measure up to in terms of depth or impact.

In The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke enters the cave on Dagobah, Yoda tells him, “Your weapons. You will not need them.” But Luke takes them anyway. It’s a decision borne out of fear and a blatant disregard for his teacher’s advice. Yet, its echoes are there when Luke tosses his lightsaber instead of killing Vader: for some battles, weapons are not the tools you need to win. Finally, Luke — and we — see what Yoda was trying to teach him. And yet this is just one reflection.

During a training session, Luke asks, “But how am I to know the good side from the bad?” 

“You will know when you are calm. At peace,” Yoda replies.

This, too, reverberates in that moment on the Death Star. During the final moments of his duel with Vader, Luke is filled with a rage that, yes, makes him powerful. And as he pummels his opponent, a violent victory is his for the taking. But as he takes just a second to pause — and glimpse his robotic hand, realizing the path down which murder would lead him — he finally becomes calm. He becomes at peace. And he realizes the good side from the bad. He realizes what he should do. What he should do, though, was never made clear to him previously, which is another aspect to this choice that makes it all the more impressive.

Both Yoda and Obi-Wan seemed to imply that without killing Vader, the Empire and the dark side would win. Luke wanted no part of killing his father, however. So he chose to go his own way, respecting his teachers by confronting his father, but showing his individuality by ending it on his own terms. That’s not an easy thing to do and proves that Luke had indeed become his own man. Still, I feel there’s even more to this act. 

This moment also reinforces the ultimate Jedi tenet and, I would argue, main theme of Star Wars: selflessness. Luke is no longer interested in “winning.” He is no longer interested in adventure or excitement. With the act of throwing away his weapon, he throws away all material concerns, including that of his own body and life. To save his father, he is willing to sacrifice himself.

All of this — these lessons learned through an amazing journey — feed into this one moment. As a result, it’s defining. In a life, nothing could be greater.

The Empire Strikes Back - Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker’s greatest moment is when he willingly falls into the Cloud City abyss in The Empire Strikes Back, says Justin.

Below, Luke Skywalker’s certain death. The plunge into Cloud City’s depths will kill him. Or he’ll be expelled into Bespin’s atmosphere and pulverized by the gas giant’s pressure. Either way, he’s dead.

He’s been mutilated. His right hand has just been unceremoniously cut from his body, taking with it his only link to his hero, a father he never knew but now aspires to emulate.

He’s been beaten. By the very monster that robbed him of the chance to ever know that father, who betrayed that father and murdered him. The very monster who now claims to himself be that father. That hero Luke so desperately wants to know.

Yoda: “Why wish you become Jedi?”

Luke: “Because of my father.”

Ahead, all Luke Skywalker wants. All he‘s ever wanted. All he could ever hope to want. A scant six feet stands between him and the fulfillment of his deepest desires.

“Come with me, it is the only way.”

And that’s when Luke Skywalker’s greatest moment happens. Terrified beyond belief, world shattered, confusion flooding his mind, he summons one last vestige of courage. He stares into the eyes of his enemy, his father (he knows it to be true), and defiantly allows himself to fall.

In Luke’s ultimate surrender, he finds his ultimate victory.

Throwing his lightsaber down at Palpatine’s feet and telling the despot that he’s failed is most impressive indeed, but that Luke Skywalker has already grown into his abilities. That Luke Skywalker is accomplished. That Luke Skywalker has already shown that he can resist the siren song of the dark side.

But this Luke Skywalker, the one who finds himself between life and death on Cloud City, is just a 22-year-old former farm boy with only limited (though notable) combat experience along with some basic Jedi lessons from two Masters well past their prime.

And he’s just been told that he’s the tipping point of the entire galaxy.

His father has come back from the dead to throw everything he knows into doubt. If Obi-Wan lied to him, if Yoda held the truth from him, could he be wrong about Vader? Could Vader’s offer to end the destruction engulfing the galaxy be genuine? Could Luke destroy the Emperor? Does the Emperor fear Luke?

He doesn’t have the answers. But he knows one thing, and that’s that he will never allow himself to become corrupted in pursuit of his goals. He’ll never give himself to the cold he felt on Dagobah, to the same Force that has allowed his hero to become the monster in front of him.

Salvation, a reunion with his father, and all the power he could ever want lay ahead in the form of an outstretched hand.

But when it meant slavery to the dark side, Luke Skywalker refused in favor of death.

It laid the foundation for him to proclaim, “I am a Jedi. Like my father before me,” years later when the Force needed to be brought back into balance.

It is the defining moment in Luke Skywalker’s life, his greatest moment.

What do you think? Who got it right? Or is Luke’s greatest moment something else? Let us know in the comments below!

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content writer, and spends his days writing stuff for and around He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.

Justin Bolger is the Star Wars social media strategist and also writes about pop culture at his blog, Follow and talk Star Wars with him on Twitter @TheApexFan.