The Radicalization of Luke Skywalker

A pseudonymous government relations professional examines "The Radicalization of Luke Skywalker: A Jedi's Path to Jihad."

A pseudonymous government relations professional examinesThe Radicalization of Luke Skywalker: A Jedi’s Path to Jihad.”

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.

A more focused study, however, is needed to truly understand that the Star Wars films 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.

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?

More at the link.

FILED UNDER: Humor, Popular Culture, Terrorism, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark Ivey says:

    The circle is now complete in my opinion.


  2. MarkedMan says:

    Very interesting. One of the things that marches us towards everything from family feuds to world war is the inability to imagine how someone else may view your words or deeds. Being able to understand even your enemies viewpoint doesn’t make you weaker.

  3. grumpy realist says:

    @MarkedMan: One of the books that was generated in WWII by the U.S.’s attempt to understand Japan was Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

    (My only contribution to any theory is that as the world population grows, you are going to have the same percentage but an ever-growing number of nuts who can be led to do very anti-social things. Larger population, more nuts)

    ( In Europe, they used to get rid of them by religious wars and by sending them on Crusades.)

  4. Alex Knapp says:

    Uniformed armies who engage military targets are not terrorists.

  5. That was my thought too Alex.

    The Rebellion was an organized resistance that, based on what we saw in Revenge of the Sith, began on at least the day Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Bail Organa met for what may have been the last time on the day Luke and Leia were born.

  6. stonetools says:

    I think the Rebellion is modeled on the American Revolution- an armed rebellion by organized military forces .
    I do think that the series does show Luke’s radicalization from non-political peasant to leader of armed rebellion. Don’t see how that can be described as anything but radicalization.

  7. @Alex Knapp:

    Uniformed armies who engage military targets are not terrorists.

    There’s two main fights in Return of the Jedi: Jabba the Hutt’s palace and an attack on what they believe is a non-functional, under construction Death Star where they disguise themselves as Imperial military forces to approach.

    The first is clearly a civilian target. And if the later qualifies a military target, then we have to say that the 9/11 attacks on the pentagon and the Fort Hood Shooter were valid military attacks.

  8. Alex Knapp says:

    @Stormy Dragon: They were still part of an organized armed forces. Assaulting Jabba’s Palace was probably best described as espionage, but the Hutts were a proxy government for the Imperials so that makes it a valid target.

    They did disguise themselves as Imperials to get to Endor (which is a war crime) but once on the ground they were uniformed. The shield generator was guarded by an Imperial Legion, which definitely makes it a military target, and I don’t believe the laws of war prohibit destruction of weapons under construction.

  9. Kylopod says:

    You know the first time I heard this argument likening Luke’s attack on the Death Star to a terrorist attack? It came from none other than

    Timothy McVeigh:

    Sure, McVeigh was fully aware that innocent secretaries and receptionists would be killed as a result of the massive truck bomb he detonated on April 19, 1995. But he was a keen Star Wars fan and he compared those innocents to the “space-age clerical workers inside the Death Star. Those people weren’t storm troopers. But they were vital to the operations of the Evil Empire. And when Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star, the movie audiences cheered. The bad guys were beaten. That was all that really mattered.”

    I remember reading this quote years ago and finding it bizarre. Not because he was citing a movie to justify his actions, but because Star Wars’ outlook on warfare is about as conventionally Western as you can get. The rebels never target civilians. Furthermore, the Empire’s defining moment in the first movie is their genocidal destruction of an entire planet.

    I honestly never would have predicted that some pundits’ understanding of these matters would be no less warped than that of the greatest domestic terrorist in US history.