Do Luke Skywalker and Tony Stark essentially get the same death – the same end-point – in their respective stories…?
Do they share the same story arc…? Are The Last Jedi and Endgame very similar in that key respect?
This was something that occurred to me the last time I watched Avengers: Endgame. And what interested me about this is the curiousness of how very differently the two films and the two story arcs are perceived.
I like both films, by the way – and I like both story-arcs or endings.
The more I’ve watched both films, the more I’ve realised there’s definitely a similarity between the way Luke Skywalker’s story is wrapped up and the way Tony Stark’s is.
Both are iconic, beloved characters in hugely popular and impactful cinematic franchises. And both had their long arcs concluded in these films: but one, Luke’s story in TLJ, was roundly hated or rejected by much of the fanbase, while the other, Tony’s story in Endgame, was widely celebrated.
Let’s look at the similarities.
Both Luke Skywalker and Tony Stark are in a similar place at the starts of the respective films: both are adrift, struggling, broken, even ready for death. Luke has given up his legend and his hero status and it is even implied early in TLJ that he was about to commit some kind of ritual suicide.
Tony, meanwhile, has basically given up at the start of Endgame – adrift in space with Nebula and recording a final message for Pepper Potts.
Both have failed in their efforts to save the galaxy: Luke has failed to protect his Jedi students, failed to prevent his nephew’s turn to the Dark Side and failed to prevent the rise of Snoke and the First Order. Luke has failed as a Jedi. Tony has failed to stop Thanos, failed to save half the universe’s population – he has faied as a hero, as an Avenger and even (in his mind) as Iron Man.
When Rey comes to Luke and tries to enlist him back into the struggle, Luke rejects it – he is so broken and so disillusioned that he won’t even consider being part of the equation again.
When Captain Marvel rescues Tony and takes him back to Cap and the others, Tony likewise has a breakdown, lashing out, overcome by his sense of failure.
“I lost the kid“, he says to Cap, referring to Peter Parker. And where Tony is guilt-ridden over having lost the boy Spiderman, Luke is guilt-ridden over having lost the boy Ben Solo. “You didn’t fail Kylo – Kylo failed you“, Rey tries to convince him – but Luke bears the guilt for the loss of Ben Solo, just as Tony does for the loss of Peter Parker.
In Endgame, while Cap, Natasha and the others resolve to find a way to try to undo Thanos’s snap, Tony has withdrawn entirely from being an Avenger or from being part of the fight. Likewise, Luke has withdrawn away from the galactic turmoil and conflict.
When Cap and the others try to convince Tony they’ve found a way, his initial response is to reject them, to dismiss their plan. Likewise, Luke rejects Rey’s urgings at every turn: when she tries to convince him that Ben Solo can be saved and brought back to the Light, he rejects it.
Soon, however, Tony changes his mind when he sees that something actually can be done.
Luke – although the specific circumstances are very different to Tony’s – also eventually has a change of heart.
The end result of this for Tony Stark is to end up facing down Thanos on the battlefield, along with all of the Marvel heroes. Tony takes it upon himself to be the one to wield the infinity stones to stop Thanos and his army of evil.
Meanwhile, Luke takes it upon himself to use the Force to project a part of himself halfway across the galaxy to Crait, where he comes to the aid of the doomed Resistance and he faces down Kylo Ren.
In both cases, the two heroes know that the action they’re taking is fatal – they know they’re going to die. Tony knows that wielding the infinity stones is something his human body probably can’t handle. Luke knows that such a monumental use of the Force will tax him to the absolute limit and will probably deplete his life force.
For both of them, it’s an act of self-sacrifice in order to save everyone else. Both of them have come from failure and from total demoralisation and trying to move away from their hero lives… to finally embody their own legends one last time and be the hero that everyone needs.
Tony Stark dies, staring wordlessly into Pepper’s face. Luke Skywalker dies staring wordlessly into the twin suns.
Tony lays down his life so that the rest of the heroes can survive. Luke lays down his life so that what’s left of the Resistance can survive and escape.
Pepper tells Tony, “you can rest now; we’re going to be okay“. Rey tells Leia, concerning Luke’s death, that she sensed his “peace and purpose“.
That phrase – ‘peace and purpose’ – can be said to apply to both characters’ final acts.
The question of why people in general are so hostile towards Luke’s ending in TLJ and so positive towards Tony’s in Endgame is complex. A lot of it is do with the overall quality of the respective films and the broader plot contexts that these endings occurred within.
There’s also less aggression in the MCU fanbase towards the films and filmmakers than there is in the modern Star Wars fanbase.
Also, expectation: there was an expectation and hope that Luke would carry on in to the next film after fans had waited decades to see him on-screen again, whereas everyone mostly expected Tony Stark to reach his end in Endgame. It could be argued that Tony Stark’s story ended in exactly the right place, while Luke’s perhaps didn’t.
Even speaking as someone who’s come to terms with The Last Jedi and likes that film much more now than I did in 2017, I have to admit that I was confused and disoriented by Luke’s ending at the time: whereas I was totally at peace with – and ready for – Tony Stark’s ending.
But putting the shock factor aside, I think both are powerful endings for iconic characters: and both are powerfully told stories of broken legends finally coming back to being the reluctant hero.
Luke’s is a bleaker, lonelier ending than Tony’s: but then Star Wars is always going to be more dark and bittersweet than the MCU – the MCU being a comic-book world and Star Wars being more about mythology and mythological tropes.
Which one touches me more? I have to say probably Luke’s – but probably because my sense of connection to Luke Skywalker is deeper and has existed for longer. But Tony’s death is pretty beautifully portrayed, either way. And again, I think the general perception of Luke’s death and his story is tied up in broader issues people have with The Last Jedi and with the Sequel Trilogy.
It’s just curious that one has been so impactful and well received culturally, while the other has left people with a bitter taste or even a sense of outright rejection. I guess context is everything.