Many would argue that the appeal of the new Star Wars trilogy that began back in 2015 is in large part because it brought back characters from the original trilogy. Characters not seen in theaters since 1983, when The Return of the Jedi was released. The Force Awakens saw the return of Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker, popular characters from the first set of films.
What makes Luke—the hero of the original trilogy—so interesting? He gets more screen time in The Last Jedi then Han Solo got in The Force Awakens. And overall, it is a safe bet to say that he is probably the top character that audiences wanted to see on screen again. Among males especially he is probably the most popular character in the saga. There are reasons for this. In the original trilogy Luke is unabashedly portrayed as a hero; in the new trilogy Luke is still a hero, though admittedly jaded and self-doubting.
This heroism is an element of something more important yet: Luke is masculine. Not jarringly so. But he is a masculine hero, tactfully, unashamedly portrayed as such. And this resonates with male audiences. He is the hero that nearly every young boy (and not so young boys) would like to be in the shoes of. He studies under an old knight. He has a sword passed down from his father. He fights for and rescues a princess. He plays the key part in destroying the main weapon of the enemy (the Empire). And he is recognized and rewarded for this. He acquires a cause to fight for.
Over the course of the trilogy he is mentored, he grows, he becomes skilled, and able to handle situations. He learns to fight and does so. He develops a determination and clarity of vision that eventually serves him well in facing down his own father, and in turn the Emperor.
Then—in the new trilogy—we learn that he eventually became a mentor to others, yet ultimately failed when it came to a key student: Ben Solo. For what seems to be implied as being years, this failure consumes him. It drives him to despair. He has to learn again. This time that failure is a teacher too, and that he can use even his failure—even in discipling someone else.
Most importantly through all of this Luke plays the part of a hero. Not arrogantly so. He plays the part of the knight. He embraces a masculinity that is at times so subtle as to be missed, but there and appealing. He isn’t a sitcom character sitting in front of a television set as good as dead as far as the world is concerned. He is active. He has an effect on his world (or galaxy). He fights. He is proactive. He seizes the day, though it takes some prompting at times, importantly from his mentor Ben Kenobi in the beginning of the first installment of the trilogy.
Luke Skywalker embodies a heroism that isn’t the cocky, exaggerated masculinity of say Batman or James Bond, or even Han Solo. He portrays heroism in a way, that while both stereotypical and archetypal, is real. The garb this heroism is clad in might not be real. There may not be aliens on other planets, or lightsabers, or guns that fire lasers, or X-wings, but there is evil to fight, there are princesses (or as John Eldredge would call them in Wild at Heart, “beauties”) to rescue and there are mistakes to be made and then learned from. There are opportunities to embrace heroism and masculinity, and to take “first steps into a larger world.”