27:00 The next morning, we don’t see Luke on the farm. Uncle Owen asks Aunt Beru, “Have you seen Luke?” and she replies something like “He left early” and after some conversation Uncle Owen says that Luke had “better have those units on the south range by midday or there’ll be hell to pay.” He’s still a kid, under his uncle’s thumb, and the stakes are established: he’s in trouble, he’s got to get that robot back, it’s an expensive piece of valuable equipment!
27:40 We see sand people preparing to take a shot at the sandspeeder. Luke is in danger, and he doesn’t even know it! They are following Luke, coming after him! He’s in their territory.... this makes us pity him, hope that he doesn’t get hurt, that the sand people don’t get him.
29:00 The sand people drop an unconscious Luke and loot his landspeeder. There comes a scary noise and the sand people run away as an even more scary figure appears. The scary figure approaches Luke . . . what will it do?!. . . but it removes its hood and it’s just a nice old man! We know he’s nice because he’s nice to R2D2. And we also know Luke will be OK, because he says so: "Oh don’t worry, he’ll be all right.” to Luke: "Rest easy son, you’ve had a busy day.” And Luke, as always quick on the uptake, says "Ben? Ben Kenobi? Am I glad to see you!” All these cognitive jumps that Luke makes add up.
31:45 Before they leave the valley, Luke goes back for C3P0 and the wounded robot says, “Leave me behind, I’m done for.” Luke displays his can-do, never-say-die spirit: “No you’re not, what kind of talk is that?” and carries the robot. He’s helping out his robot friend, encouraging him! And you say he’s unkind?
I could go on and on.
Time and again Luke indicates -- in countless tiny ways that add up -- that he’s ready for an adventure and has the chops to deal with it. For instance, before they go into the cantina, Ben says “Watch your step, this place can get a little rough” and Luke says “I’m ready for anything.” A dozen of these lines, sprinkled throughout the script, are more effective than one big engineered artificial moment in which he demonstrates those personal qualities. Luke is game for this story, he wants to be in this story, he is going to succeed in this story! He’s not moping, not petulant, not whiny, not unkind.
More little things: Even when he’s in the rough cantina, Luke yanks the shirt of the grizzled bartender who has his back to him and orders something. Luke’s no shrinking violet! Even after the monster at the bar threatens him, and Kenobi cuts the monster’s arm off, Luke picks himself off the floor, says “I’m all right” and then there’s not a further word about it. You’d think he’d be traumatized, but he’s tough!
Where we really see Luke's mettle is in the way he constantly stands up to the more experienced and sneering Han Solo. When Han Solo tries to overcharge them for the services of the Millennium Falcon, Luke immediately blurts, in his canny farmboy bargaining way, “Ten thousand? We could almost buy our own ship for that!” To which Han Solo contemptuously replies, “But who’s gonna fly it, kid? You?” At which point Luke stands up for himself -- justifiably, it turns out -- and says, “You bet I could. I’m not such a bad pilot myself. We don’t have to sit here and listen to this...” And he gets up to leave -- but when Kenobi indicates he sit down, Luke acquiesces, and Kenobi finishes the bargaining. Luke is a hothead, but he isn’t a dick, and he’ll follow the advice of the guy who has stuck out his neck for him twice. Another instance of Luke being a canny practical peasant: when he sells his speeder to pay for the Millennium Falcon trip (in itself an irreversible and therefore heroic action) he can’t help but say, “Look at this, ever since the SP-38 came out, these just aren’t in demand.” He knows the value of a space dollar, and we respect that.
And so when Luke says “What a piece of junk!” upon seeing the Millennium Falcon, we’re inclined to believe him, and it sets up another way that he can be less than impressed by the less than trustworthy Han Solo. When they’re trying to leave the Tatooine system, and the star destroyers are coming after them, Luke shouts “Why don't you outrun them? I thought you said this thing was fast!” which is EXACTLY the thing you say to someone who has been boasting about how fast is spaceship is. Luke is never a docile passenger -- when Han Solo tries to bullshit his way about how much trouble they’re in, Luke reasonably snaps back “Are you kidding? At the rate they’re gaining?” He’s invested, he’s knowledgeable, he’s challenging, he has his own ideas about what’s going on, and even when he gets smacked down with Han Solo’s contemptuous “traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy!” he still keeps asking questions and having ideas.
Indeed, when they get to the Death Star, it’s Luke’s idea to spring Leia out of her jail cell; further, it’s Luke’s idea to put Chewbacca in binders and pretend he's a prisoner so they can get access to the detention levels. At almost every turn, it’s Luke who has the great idea and is pushing everyone else along.
So, what’s NOT to like about Luke?
Well, I do in fact have a few things to say about that! Come back tomorrow for my rebuttal, in which I concede some points and hold my ground on others. In the meantime, let me thank James for his not-so-brief brief for the defense! Make sure to check out his novel The Order of Odd Fish and The 90 Second Newbery Festival.