How did Luke Skywalker “make his bones”?

How did Luke Skywalker “make his bones”? April 7, 2016

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The Star Wars universe is a violent place.

Smugglers, bounty hunters and Jedi Knights are all experienced killers long before we meet them, and even a teenaged princess-senator thinks nothing of shooting a stormtrooper in cold blood right after he declares that he intends to take her alive.

But there is one character who stands out from all these hardened killers, one character who enters the story as a callow young farmboy and only gradually rises up to become an experienced warrior. I refer, of course, to Luke Skywalker.

And here’s a question that has been bugging me for some time: Who, exactly, was Luke’s first kill? In mafia parlance, how did Luke “make his bones”? And how did he feel about the fact that, y’know, he had just killed somebody?

The first Star Wars movie is profoundly uninterested in this question — so much so that it doesn’t even give us a clear idea as to who Luke’s first victim was.

It might have been one of these four people:

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The two guys with the big box take it onboard the Falcon, we hear a thud, and then we hear Han Solo say, “Hey down there, can you give us a hand with this?” And then the two stormtroopers walk onboard and we hear some blaster fire.

The thing is, we have no idea what actually happens aboard the Falcon.

We hear blaster fire, but we don’t know who was shooting at who or what. In fact, the uniforms worn by those stormtroopers are the very same uniforms that Luke and Han will wear for the next big chunk of the movie — and the uniforms won’t have any blaster marks on them. (If they did, they wouldn’t be very good disguises.)

So maybe it was the stormtroopers who were shooting at something, when they realized they were about to be jumped by Han and company.1

In any case, the stormtroopers, like the guys with the big box, were probably not shot, but were incapacitated in some other way. Maybe Chewbacca knocked their heads together. Maybe Obi-Wan Force-pushed them against a wall. Or maybe Luke and Han pulled wires across their throats from behind and choked them to death.

But we have no clear evidence that any of these men died at all. It could be that they were still alive and hidden on the Falcon — in the storage compartments, perhaps — when Han and company fled the Death Star and flew to the Rebel base. Or maybe Grand Moff Tarkin retrieved these men, dead or alive, when he realized that Luke and Han were running around the Death Star. It wouldn’t have taken Tarkin or his men too long to look at the security-camera footage and realize what had happened.

The point is, we simply don’t know what happened to these men. At all.

Anyway. In the very next scene, Han shoots some people in the control room, but Luke isn’t there when it happens — and when he shows up mere seconds later, he isn’t happy about all the shooting (“Between his howling and your blasting everything in sight…”). Until now, the violence has largely been associated with Han Solo.

And then, after that, we have Luke Skywalker’s first confirmed kill.

Luke and Han, posing as stormtroopers, take Chewbacca to Detention Block AA-23 (Luke is the one on the left, the one without the really big blaster rifle):

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Chewbacca strikes one of the Imperial guards, and all hell breaks loose. Blasters start shooting everywhere, but the first few kills are clearly Luke’s. He shoots…

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…and hits the man behind the console:2

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So: that is Luke’s first confirmed onscreen kill. And does Luke ever pause to reflect on this moment? Of course not — from here on it’s all blam blam blam and “I’m Luke Skywalker, I’m here to rescue you” and “Ben Kenobi? Where is he?” and away we go.

The prequels are similarly uninterested in examining how Anakin Skywalker felt the first time he killed somebody — and he is only nine years old when it happens.

Admittedly, he doesn’t exactly intend to kill anyone. In The Phantom Menace, Anakin is “hiding” inside a fighter when it suddenly takes off and flies him, on autopilot, into the middle of a space battle. Once he gets there, he turns the autopilot off and does a lot of flying, but I don’t think he actually shoots at anything until his fighter lands inside the Trade Federation’s control ship and he fires at some battle droids:

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The battle droids, of course, are robots — and robots who lack the humanizing qualities that droids like C-3PO, R2-D2 and BB-8 have, at that — so opinions will vary as to whether they count as “real” victims. But then Anakin presses another button and fires a couple of torpedoes without realizing what he’s doing…

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…and these torpedoes hit the control ship’s reactor…

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…and yes, there are organic beings on board when the ship is about to blow up:

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But again, none of this registers for Anakin, or anyone else. Like the grown-up fighter pilots, Anakin is a-whoopin’ and a-cheerin’ as the control ship blows up.

Why do I bring this all up now?

Because The Force Awakens came out on DVD this week, and one of the interesting things about this film is that it actually takes a moment to notice its own protagonist’s reaction the first time she shoots someone (specifically, a stormtrooper):

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It’s just a moment, and she does go right back to shooting stormtroopers, but still, for all the things The Force Awakens gets wrong, it gets this one thing pretty right.

1. For what it’s worth, in the novelization there is no blaster fire. The technicians walk onboard and there is a “loud crash”, and then the stormtroopers walk onboard and there is another “crashing sound”.

2. The image of the officer being shot in the abdomen is taken from the original 1977 version of Star Wars. In 1997, George Lucas tweaked the editing of this sequence to eliminate the moment when the blaster fire penetrates the man’s uniform — but to keep the pacing of this sequence, he allowed the shot before this one to run a little longer. That means the film now shows Luke shooting and then pointing his gun somewhere else before it cuts to the shot of the wounded man — and that means it is no longer clear that it was Luke, rather than Han, who shot him. But it was very clear in the original version of the film.


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