NOTE: The following post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Star Wars 7
When the marketing materials and merchandise for Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens all neglected to include Luke Skywalker, fans couldn't help but ask why. It was known all along that the three leads from the original Star Wars trilogy (Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill) would be returning for The Force Awakens alongside many of their companions so the absence of the the most important of the three was suspicious.
Director and co-writer J.J. Abrams would only say that this was "no accident," fueling a wide array of speculation including the idea that Hamill's return could see him playing the villain of the new trilogy - an idea he had himself decades ago. Abrams wanted fans new to the franchise to be able to ask who is Luke Skywalker just like the new characters introduced in Star Wars 7 do. In fact, it was the question of "who is Luke Skywalker" that sold Abrams on directing the film in the first place.
As it turns out, there was a very simple reason as to why there aren't Luke toys and posters for Episode 7 in the wild, and why he didn't appear in any of the TV commercials or teaser trailers. It's because he's barely in the film. Luke is actually the MacGuffin of Star Wars 7, a plot device listed in the first line of Episode VII's opening text crawl. Luke Skywalker has disappeared and everyone's trying to find him. It's very fitting then that the first bit of story of the movie is text revealing his disappearance and that the final bit of story in the film is his actual reappearance. Luke doesn't speak a single word in Star Wars 7... but that wasn't always the case.
Before J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi) took over writing duties on The Force Awakens, Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) was working on its script as soon as Disney acquired Lucasfilm and its intellectual properties with the plan of bringing back the film franchise. And as Arndt tells EW, it was a challenge to fit Luke in any other way:
“Early on I tried to write versions of the story where [Rey] is at home, her home is destroyed, and then she goes on the road and meets Luke. And then she goes and kicks the bad guy’s ass. It just never worked and I struggled with this. This was back in 2012.”
“It just felt like every time Luke came in and entered the movie, he just took it over. Suddenly you didn’t care about your main character anymore because, ‘Oh f–k, Luke Skywalker’s here. I want to see what he’s going to do.’”
It's easy to see why this is the case in how the rest of Star Wars 7 plays out. Just imagine if Luke was part of the battle to take down the First Order's Starkiller base, whether serving as another ace pilot (taking away Poe Dameron's key role) or more likely, on Han Solo's ground team to rescue Rey and take out the shield generators on the surface. If he was there, Finn and Rey couldn't have their characters develop and couldn't face-off with Kylo Ren. Ren may not have been able to have his key scene with his father, Han Solo, who helps serve as the bridge between the new generation of characters and the old. This was Han's movie.
Instead, Luke is a myth of sorts, like the Force and the Jedi. We learn what he attempted to do after Return of the Jedi, forming a new academy to teach new Jedi just like he did in the Star Wars Legends (Expanded Universe) books. He failed and left, believed to have gone to search out the original Jedi temple or to protect something the First Order is seeking out. We'll find out more in May 2017 with Episode VIII.
The film is directed by J.J. Abrams and stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Max Von Sydow. Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk are producing with Tommy Harper and Jason McGatlin serving as executive producers. The screenplay is by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is now in theaters, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.
Old Luke Skywalker Art by Chema Mansilla