The ending to Star Wars: The Force Awakens was changed at the last minute (relatively speaking), in order to avoid introducing a continuity error between director J.J. Abrams' film and its followup, writer/director Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi.
Back in 2015, The Force Awakens ended with Daisy Ridley's Rey heading to the rocky outcrop of Ahch-To with Luke Skywalker's lightsaber in hand. After a whole movie of searching for the MIA Luke, Rey finally found the aging Jedi lurking on his own hermit island. However, just as Mark Hamill was about to open Luke's mouth for the first time in 32 years, that iconic score started playing and the credits rolled. It was a finale that divided fans, but according to Hamill, Abrams originally had other ideas on how to end the movie.
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Speaking to Empire for their special feature in advance of The Last Jedi's release in theaters, the 66-year-old Hamill touched on how Abrams originally wanted to round off Episode VII :
"There was something that happened at the end of The Force Awakens when I'm standing on the cliff. I called Rian in a panic because it was all wrong. He said, 'It's okay, I spoke to J.J. and he's taking that scene out.' It just didn't match up with what Rian had written"
Hamill doesn't go on to reveal what this "something" that happened was, but by the looks of The Last Jedi trailer, there will be plenty of Luke in the movie. Moreover, it seems like whatever the original ending to The Force Awakens was, it wasn't a dramatic departure from the final version.
Arguably, The Force Awakens' cliffhanger wasn't quite as memorable as the ending of an armless Luke and a carbonite Han from The Empire Strikes Back, but the reappearance of Luke Skywalker after all that time was quite the scene-stealer. Hamill's cameo in The Force Awakens was indeed a cameo and nothing more, but as one of the leads of The Last Jedi, his character will be back to swinging his lightsaber in no time.
While some fans lament that Luke didn't have a bigger role akin to Han and Leia, it made sense that Abrams focus on the new crop of actors to lead the latest trilogy instead of the reunion of the old guard. It sadly meant that Han and Luke didn't get their emotional goodbye, but it has made Luke's return all the more mysterious ahead of The Last Jedi. Presumably leaving the sanctuary of his exile, The Last Jedi pits Luke as Rey's unwilling trainer before he attempts to disband the Jedi Order forever. With rumors of Luke's final turn to the Dark Side or some sort of heroic sacrifice, everyone is asking, "What's next for Luke Skywalker?"