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The Radicalization of Luke Skywalker: A Jedi’s Path to Jihad


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Wait, what?!

While some have put forth persuasive arguments as to why the Galactic Empire were actually the good guys and the Rebel Alliance bad (an explanation by Jonathan V. Last can be found here, and an excellent follow-up by Sonny Bunch here), the recent online discussion tends to be on a more macro level, discussing galaxy wide events and surrounding the Empire’s struggle to restore safety and order to a star system overrun by space terrorists.

Wait, WHAT?!?!

A more focused study, however, is needed to truly understand that the Star Warsfilms are actually the story of the radicalization of Luke Skywalker. From introducing him to us in A New Hope (as a simple farm boy gazing into the Tatooine sunset), to his eventual transformation into the radicalized insurgent of Return of the Jedi (as one who sets his own father’s corpse on fire and celebrates the successful bombing of the Death Star), each film in the original trilogy is another step in Luke’s descent into terrorism. By carefully looking for the same signs governments and scholars use to detect radicalization, we can witness Luke’s dark journey into religious fundamentalism and extremism happen before our very eyes.

When we first meet Luke Skywalker, he’s an orphaned farm boy with barely any friends, living with his Aunt and Uncle, and wanting to join the Galactic Academy like all the other guys his age. You see, Luke didn’t become a space terrorist overnight, but he did exhibit signs that would make him a prime candidate for terrorist recruiters. The process of radicalization, as described by Anthony Stahelski in the Journal of Homeland Security, notes terrorists tend to:

  • Come from families where the father is absent (check)
  • Have difficulty forming relationships outside the home (check)
  • Be attracted to groups offering acceptance and comradeship (checkmate)

Luke is just the kind of isolated disaffected young man that terror recruiters seek out.

WAIT, WHAT?!?!?

Obi Wan — a religious fanatic with a history of looking for young boys to recruit and teach an extreme interpretation of the Force — is practically salivating when he stumbles upon Luke, knowing he’s found a prime candidate for radicalization. Stahelski notes terror groups place a focus on depluralization, stripping away the recruit’s membership from all groups and isolating them to increase their susceptibility to terrorist messaging. Within moments of meeting Luke, Obi-Wan tells Luke he must abandon his family and join him, going so far as telling a shocking lie that the Empire killed Luke’s father, hoping to inspire Luke to a life of jihad. 

Shocked and confused by this onslaught of terrorist brainwashing, Luke hurries home only to find the charred corpses of his aunt and uncle. The Empire’s accidental harming of Luke’s Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen can be directly compared to the casualties of President Obama’s drone campaign, whose body count terrorists capitalize upon for recruitment. This is precisely what Obi-Wan does, preying upon Luke’s emotional state to take him under his spell and towards a life of extremism.

Obi-Wan whisks Luke off to Mos Eisley using a Jedi mind trick to bypass security, knowing full well he likely appears on numerous terror no fly lists. After contracting a local drug smuggler for transportation, Obi-Wan and his newest Skywalker recruit are off. They are soon captured, however, and attempt an escape which culminates in a battle between Obi-Wan and Vader. During the fight, Obi-Wan notices Luke watching, and seeing an opportunity to fully inspire Luke to radicalize, says a Jedi prayer while committing suicide. Can you think of any other groups who try to inspire terrorism by yelling a prayer before a suicide attack?

Et tu, Yoda?

Yoda accepts Luke into his religious “school,” teaching Luke Jedi fundamentalism and guerilla warfare. Like many extremist mullahs, Yoda demands total adherence to his strict interpretation of the Force and seeks to strip Luke of independent thinking. Yoda’s push to radicalize Luke, rob him of an identity, and instill obedience are apparent when at various points he instructs Luke to “Clear your mind of questions,” “Unlearn what you have learned” and, most grimly, “Do, or do not, there is no try.” The Jedi know it is imperative to force mindless devotion in warriors they recruit for their holy war. Armed with new combat training and cloaked in a hardline religious fervor, Luke leaves Dagobah, impatient to put his terror training to use.

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