How I Learned to Hate Luke Skywalker

In the summer of 1977 the movie Star Wars changed my life.  I was six and a half years old and I saw that movie at least a dozen times that summer.  I dreamt of X-Wings and light sabers every night.  The hero of the movie is a young farm boy named Luke Skywalker, and over the course of the movie trilogy he evolves from gawky teen-ager to powerful Jedi Knight.

Luke has a powerful pair of mentors throughout the movies: Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda – two masters who teach Luke to harness “The Force.”  In many ways this is a story not unlike any earthbound martial arts movie such as the Karate Kid.  In fact, this story has been told a thousand times.  It’s been well documented that George Lucas had followed a blueprint more than a 1,000 years old  called the Hero’s Journey. At the surface, Luke seems like a fantastic role model for a young boy.  He’s good hearted, honest and through his adventures helps to save the Galaxy!

So, George Lucas created a fantastic movie, based on a well-known set of principals, which had a big impact on me as a child.  Then why did I come to hate Luke Skywalker?  To understand this we need to fast forward in time many years.  A couple of years ago, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book called Outliers: The Story of Success.  In this book, Gladwell makes a fantastic claim: people become great at things through practice, not inherent skill.  He goes on to claim that in order to become world-class at any skill requires one fundamental thing: 10,000 hours of practice.  That’s it!  Whatever your passion, if you want to be great at it then you must practice. You don’t need to be born to it.  Gladwell, and many other researchers have gone on to show this is true for musicians, professional athletes, computer programmers, chess players and almost any other profession.

So, now let’s look back at Luke’s Hero’s Journey.  Here’s the rub, Luke actually does very little practice in order to become a Jedi.  He really only spends a few days with Obi-Wan and maybe a few weeks with Yoda.  What made him a great Jedi?  Hard work didn’t do it!  He became a great Jedi because he father before him had been one.  He was born to it.  It was genetic.

In my opinion, this makes Luke a rotten role model.  It tells kids that you should pick a skill they’re adept at and pursue it.  If they’re not good at it quickly, then they probably never will be.  However, we now know that this “talent” mind set of almost completely false.  You can be great at whatever skill you choose.  You must only practice, practice, practice.  For a martial artist like myself, who started serious training later in life, there is no more important realization.  There are days when training is hard, and I don’t feel skilled.  I have doubts that maybe I can never be good at this.  However, I now know that I can be.  I just have to stick with it.  No one is lucky enough to be born a Jedi.  You have to earn it!

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

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