The prequel trilogy begins in The Phantom Menace with the pronouncement that Anakin Skywalker was the fabled “Chosen One,” foretold by prophecy as one who would bring balance to the Force. Indeed, the prequel trilogy sets up Anakin Skywalker as the ultimate tragic hero of the Star Wars saga with the original trilogy focusing on his redemption in two of its three chapters. However, if one character emerges from the Star Wars franchise as the irreplaceable hero, it’s Luke Skywalker.
In A New Hope, Luke was the hero who answered the call to adventure, shifting from simple farm boy to novice Jedi and hero of the rebellion against the Empire all within the film’s approximate 121 minute long length. With the single exception of Han Solo’s miraculous return to remove the threat posed by a pursuing Darth Vader in the climactic moment of the movie, Luke Skywalker is simply indispensable, if only because of the role he plays in distracting the aforementioned Dark Lord of the Sith.
It’s the Sith which result in Luke’s childhood occurring on Tatooine, but also, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s residence on the planet as his somewhat hands off protector. Were it not for his task of watching Luke, there’s no reason for Kenobi to return to the dusty planet he visited years ago with his deceased master, Qui-Gon Jin. This is significant, as obviously, on Tatooine, he remained free of the Imperial gaze and Vader’s determined eradication of remaining members of the Jedi Order. Had Kenobi gone elsewhere, it’s up in the air whether he would have remained elusive, much less avoided being drawn into a premature conflict that could have resulted in his death. So simply by being a little kid, Luke helped to keep Kenobi away from harm.
Kenobi was the principal factor in assisting Luke in leaving Tatooine and initiating him into the ways of the Jedi (Not to mention, he saved Luke a gruesome fate at the hands of Tusken Raiders and kept him away from home while Imperial Stormtroopers showed up in search of droids and stayed for an aunt and uncle barbecue.) Of course, as noted, Kenobi wouldn’t be there without Luke, but Luke’s most significant contribution in the first film was understandably the destruction of the Death Star. Only Luke Skywalker, guided by the Force, could make the shot to destroy the super weapon. This fact is underlined by the death of Red Leader, Garven Dreis, arguably the Rebellion’s most experienced X-wing pilot, who died following his own failed attempt to perform the feat. Without Luke, the attack on the Death Star would have failed, the rebellion would have been wiped out on their Yavin IV base, and the Emperor would have enjoyed an unending rule reinforced by the terror of a planet destroying battle station. Luke’s usefulness as a distraction for Darth Vader, however, begins in The Empire Strikes Back.
From the beginning of Empire, and by beginning, we mean the opening crawl, we learn that Darth Vader has become obsessed with Luke Skywalker. This obsession leads him to chasing the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field, as well as hiring multiple bounty hunters to find Skywalker when he becomes dissatisfied with the efforts of his own Imperial forces to perform the task. The result of this obsession is the ignoring of the overall rebel threat and failing to follow up the overwhelming victory on Hoth. This ultimately results in disastrous ramifications in Return of the Jedi.
The second half of Jedi places Luke in the company of Vader and nearly everyone else on the forest moon engaged in a mission to take down the energy shield protecting the under construction second Death Star. While Luke ultimately succeeds in saving his father, Anakin, from the Dark Side, his attempted seduction by the Emperor plays no role, nor the Emperor’s death, in the success enjoyed by Han, Leia, and Chewbacca, down on the moon. For that, we can thank innumerable Ewok warriors and Chewie’s capture of an AT-ST, as well Han planning up a ruse to trick the remaining Imperials out of the shield base. None of this, however, would have mattered had Darth Vader been on the moon’s surface. If the Dark Lord of the Sith had been given the task of wiping out the rebels, there’s little room to contest the likelihood of his victory. Thankfully, he was occupied by his son, thousands of miles skyward. The result? The end of the Emperor and Darth Vader, courtesy Luke Skywalker.
It’s in this effort that Luke performed his greatest feat, saving Anakin Skywalker. The prophecy of the Chosen One, as teased throughout the prequel trilogy, lends itself to one interpretation or the other. It could mean the end of the Sith or, potentially, the end of the Jedi. Did Anakin Skywalker become Vader entirely for the purpose of one day killing the man who corrupted him in the first place? It’s unknown, but what we can say with firm conviction is that it would not have happened had it not been for his son. Leia is held out as a potential other hopeful, but there’s little in the original trilogy to indicate she would have even had the chance to begin learning the Force, much less felt able enough to leave the rebellion which she had nurtured and served for so many years to do so. In the facts provided in the films, the individual responsible for truly bringing balance is Luke Skywalker, who’s efforts see the end of the Sith and technically, the end of the Jedi as they existed in the prequel trilogy.
There are smaller moments in the films where Luke played an essential role, be it from saving Han and the other rebels from being eaten by Ewoks by helping C-3PO appear the deity the protocol droid claimed his programming barred him from being to figuring out the successful strategy to take down Imperial Walkers on Hoth, providing the rebels with a little more time to evacuate their base. However, it’s his presence and actions on the grander scale which make him an essential hero of the Star Wars universe. Without Luke, the Dark Times which began with the eradication of the Jedi would have continued for generations onward. Without Luke, there would have been no happy endings.