After his extremely brief appearance at the end of The Force Awakens, Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker finally got the spotlight fans were waiting for in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (even if not everyone was pleased by his portrayal).
In the climax of the film, Luke projects himself across the galaxy from Ahch-To to Crait in order to distract Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and allow the surviving Resistance members to escape. Apparently exhausted from the effort, Luke dies(?) disappearing in the same way his masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda did, leaving only a pile of clothes behind.
After much speculation, Hamill has been confirmed to return for Star Wars Episode IX in December 2019. But what role will he play?
Theoretically, Luke could feature in flashbacks in JJ Abrams’ trilogy ender, but Star Wars has rarely featured that device (The Last Jedi being an unusual exception), and as we understand his past with Kylo well enough, that seems unlikely.
No, the assumption is that he will return as a Force ghost (or ‘Force spirit’, according to the canon article on Wookieepedia). There is a long tradition in Star Wars of Jedi vanishing at the time of their apparent deaths, only to reappear later as immaterial beings lit by a blue glow.
In the prequel trilogy, this didn’t happen to dead Jedi, and it was later revealed to be a secret skill learned by Qui-Gon Jinn and later Yoda, who taught it to Obi-Wan (and apparently Anakin, somehow). We most recently saw Yoda pull this trick in The Last Jedi, and his command of lightning implies that he really is “more powerful than [we] can possibly imagine”.
Judging by his own vanishing act, Luke has this power too. The assumption is that Luke will appear as a ghost in Episode IX. But for what purpose…?
Rey’s third lesson
In The Last Jedi, Luke promises to impart three lesson to Rey, but never gets to the third (apart from in a deleted scene which we suppose isn’t necessarily canon). And though he might not return specifically to reveal what that was, there’s certainly much more he can teach his erstwhile pupil.
Luke was, as far as we know, the last living person to have been trained in the ways of the Jedi who had not fallen to the dark side. He knows many secrets – like, presumably, the Force ghost ability – that could die with him if he doesn’t pass them on to the next generation. Sure, Rey has seen the sacred Jedi texts, but Yoda wasn’t very complimentary about their genuine worth. And while Yoda’s message in The Last Jedi is about the young surpassing their masters, there are still some cool tricks (that lightning, for instance) that Rey could afford to learn.
Or perhaps Luke won’t appear to Rey at all. Will he try to return his former pupil Kylo Ren to the light side after failing him so badly before? We get the impression that he’s ready to let his apprentice follow his own dark path by the end of the film, but he did say “See you around, kid,” to Kylo just before his projection vanished from Crait. Could that have been more than just a cheeky sign-off?
The Last Skywalker
As for the practical whys of Luke’s return, with Han Solo’s death on-screen and Carrie Fisher’s passing, Hamill remains the only actor who can easily represent the older generation of the Skywalker family from the original trilogy. Seeing as Episode IX is being billed as the closing chapter of the ‘Skywalker Saga’, such a link to the past seems essential.
Episode IX was originally conceived as ‘Leia’s film’ after the focus on Han in VII and Luke in VIII, so following Carrie Fisher’s death, someone will have to step up instead – and Hamill feels the obvious choice.
We’re wondering whether Luke and Leia will be reunited in Force-ghost form for a final send-off for Fisher and her iconic character, as we know she will feature via unused footage from The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi already revealed that Leia has more command of her Force abilities than we ever realised, and that would be the icing on the cake.
How much will Luke be in Episode IX?
To be honest, Force ghosts have never received much more than brief appearances and cameos in Star Wars, so we might need to manage our expectations.
Still, the aforementioned promise of a conclusion to the Skywalker Saga might mean that Episode IX goes harder on the Force ghosts than it has in the past. But the heavy lifting is likely to fall to the new generation – Rey, Finn, Rose, Poe and their allies – as we leave the old characters behind and embark on a new chapter in the Star Wars saga.
Star Wars Episode IX will be released in the UK on December 19, 2019 and in the US on December 20, 2019.
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