It’s common knowledge now that J.J. Abrams was reluctant to helm the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and even turned the gig down when he was initially asked by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. After working in the Star Trek franchise for two films, Abrams wanted to turn his attention to an original movie, but was eventually convinced to direct the seventh episode in the beloved space saga, instead.
So what exactly made Abrams change his mind? Apparently, all it took was four little words. In the EW cover story on The Force Awakens, Kennedy shared an anecdote from when she was discussing the project with the director. Abrams was convinced to sign on after he was simply asked the question, “Who is Luke Skywalker?”
For any Star Wars fan, particularly one in position to actually tell that story, that inquiry is an intriguing one to consider. After watching Luke evolve from Tatooine farm boy to a confident Jedi Knight over the course of three films, moviegoers may feel like they have a good idea of who the character is, but the wording of Kennedy’s question suggests that something else is afoot by the time we get to The Force Awakens.
Even though we sit four months out from its theatrical premiere (at the time of this writing), the main plot for Episode VII remains heavily under-wraps. The footage shown in the teaser trailers provides clues to supplement the constant barrage of rumors, but all we’ve seen are out of context shots and we have no official synopsis; and Luke’s whereabouts (and his state of wellbeing) are among the film’s most talked about mysteries at this point. No official marketing materials have shown Mark Hamill as his iconic character. The closest fans have gotten to date is a short glimpse of the actor, sporting an Obi-Wan like beard, discussing the series’ return to practical filmmaking in the behind-the-scenes reel that was shown at San Diego Comic-Con 2015.
Hamill himself admitted months ago that The Force Awakens is going to be more about the new characters like Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), but the old veterans are going to have a significant part to play as well. We’ve learned that somehow Princess Leia is in possession of Luke’s old lightsaber from The Empire Strikes Back and Han Solo is going to be one of the main characters. So Abrams clearly isn’t bringing the classics back for a brief trip down nostalgia road. That brings us back to the question: who is Luke Skywalker?
The EW feature is brief in its mentions of Luke, but Kennedy offered up a possible clue for fans to consider. Discussing how the original trilogy informed the development of the sequels, she said “We’re looking, obviously, for aspiration, for characters who are conflicted between good and evil, dark and light.” That the quote is positioned right after a breakdown of how Luke had changed throughout the original trilogy perhaps isn’t a coincidence. After all, that describes the very nature of his character arc, particularly in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
If Abrams and his co-writer Lawrence Kasdan were to have Luke turn evil or repeat the same beats from the first three films, it could come off as detrimental or severely undermine what we saw in the previous films. However, there could be a way to touch on these aspects and hint at the dangers in a way that’s refreshing. Arguably, Luke went through the most emotionally during the classic trilogy, having to confront (and indirectly cause the death of) his own father to ensure the safety of the galaxy. It’s easy to see how he could have developed a fractured psyche in the 30 years since Jedi, and that sets him up in a very interesting manner for Force Awakens.
There have been so many rumors about Luke that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. The prevailing belief is that he is in some kind of isolation, either out of his fear of his inability to control his powers or to protect an ancient Sith tomb from being opened. Either way, there seems to be some truth to this, as a shot in the second trailer showed a cloaked figure (believed by many to be Luke) resting his hand affectionately on R2-D2 as if the little droid is the only friend he has left. This clip was accompanied by voice over of Luke saying, “I have it“ in reference to the Force.
The Episode VII subtitle indicates that Force users have been dormant for some time, and the reasoning for the awakening is currently unknown. One possibility is that it’s caused by the emergence of the Knights of Ren, a group that Adam Driver’s Kylo is a member of. It’s been speculated that he is on a quest to collect artifacts to open the same tomb Luke is supposedly guarding. Luke’s original lightsaber (which allegedly sets the plot in motion) is said to be one of those artifacts, so it’s plausible that once Leia acquires it, Luke is enticed to go to the tomb’s location and keep an eye on it. But why?
Luke has been a witness to the power of the Force, both the good side and the bad. And as awe-inspiring as the magic of Yoda is, the deadly abilities of the Emperor are equally as horrifying. Knowing this all too well, maybe Luke would prefer that the Force stay “asleep” so to speak to prevent the Dark Side from corrupting someone else. One of the rumors about Kylo is that he has a personal connection to Han Solo, which in theory would make him near and dear to Luke’s heart as well. The EW story dealt a lot with Kylo’s back story and even hypothesized he was the “inverse of Luke.” Abrams has said that Kylo is not as fully-formed as a character like Darth Vader was when we first meet him, suggesting that there’s still some molding to be done.
So, taking into account everything we’ve heard about The Force Awakens, that could be the answer to Kennedy’s question. Perhaps Luke Skywalker is a powerful, grizzly Jedi Master who has seen a lot in his time and knows that this power can be too great of a burden to bear. Instead of passing on what he has learned, Luke has instead become deranged and paranoid, fearful that should he teach someone, they could suffer the same fate as his father. That would be an interesting concept to explore in a Star Wars film and set up a solid arc for multiple characters. Time will tell, but with Kennedy discussing at length themes of choosing good or evil, it’s a distinct possibility.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18, 2015, followed by Star Wars: Rogue One on December 16, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars anthology film on May 25, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX has not received an official release date.