This post contains spoilers for the “Journey to the Force Awakens” books and comics.
Regular readers and listeners of Tosche Station already know my feelings about Luke Skywalker. He’s by far my favorite character in the Star Wars universe, and the reason I got invested in the Expanded Universe and read tons of books set after Return of the Jedi, even when I soured on certain events. I needed to know what happened to Luke after he became a Jedi. I wanted to know if he trained other Jedi, got married, and had children. We got answers in the form of books and comics: Luke started a Jedi Academy on Yavin 4, married Mara Jade, and had a son named Ben. He rose to the rank of General, resigned his commission after the Battle of Mindor, and dedicated his life to rebuilding the Jedi Order. His life wasn’t all roses, however. He had a brief dabble with the dark side about six years after the Battle of Endor, and many years later his own nephew/apprentice became a Sith and killed his wife.
But the Expanded Universe is now Legends, and we have a new canon. New films, depicting the events 30 years after Jedi. We never thought this day would come. Now everything we once knew about the Galaxy Far, Far Away has been altered, and we’re left to wonder about the events that happened between Jedi and The Force Awakens. We’re just now getting some answers in the form of Aftermath, Shattered Empire, and other books in the “Journey to The Force Awakens” line. But they’re just drops in the bucket, and only succeed in creating more questions. Then you add in the marketing for TFA, which has been very light on story but high on visuals and Force themes. We’ve seen Han, we’ve seen a tiny bit of Leia, but no Luke whatsoever (at least from the front).
Which leads to the most common question echoed about the internet: “Where is Luke Skywalker?” Or, better yet: “What the hell has Luke been doing in the galaxy?”
I don’t know what Luke’s been doing for the past 30 years, but I’m pretty certain he’s up to something hugely important during the events of TFA. And my favorite theory, the one I’ll cling to until December 17 (and probably even after that, even if I’m proven wrong) is that Luke is off the grid, training a group of secret ninja-like Jedi Knights.
Luke’s absence from The Force Awakens marketing hasn’t gone unnoticed, even by the most casual fan. Even my mother wants to know, “where’s Luke?” He wasn’t present in the first teaser, and we only got a small glimpse of him from the side in the second teaser and final trailer. He’s not present on the poster, even though Han and Leia are. Meanwhile, Han famously appears at the end of the second teaser and has a large role in the trailer, while Leia appears in the Behind the Scenes video and briefly (blink and you miss it) in the trailer.
However, that doesn’t mean Mark Hamill has been absent from the marketing. Luke’s dialogue from Return of the Jedi was used in the second teaser trailer. Mark Hamill is the first voice we hear in the Behind the Scenes video, and we see him on camera talking about how everything’s changed but nothing’s changed. He also made appearances at both Celebration and Comic Con.
The solution to this conundrum is obvious: Luke is hugely important to The Force Awakens, and his appearance would be such a spoiler that J.J. Abrams doesn’t want to show him in any of the marketing. Luke’s not just showing up for a two-second cameo. Now, I don’t think it’s Luke’s actual appearance that’s the big spoiler. We already know what Mark Hamill looks like with a beard, and we know what Jedi robes (or similar attire) looks like. Rather, I think what Luke is doing is what’s important, and they can’t show any of it (besides that one shot of him and Artoo Detoo) without it giving away too much story. Why else would Disney and Lucasfilm resist throwing Jedi Master Luke Skywalker on all the posters and toys? That’s what everyone wants to see, right?
We know Mark Hamill was at Pinewood; whether he filmed scenes there has yet to be determined, but I’m guessing he did. We also know he filmed on Skellig Michael with Daisy Ridley (he also recently filmed some scenes for Episode VIII there). But we haven’t seen any shots of Skellig Michael either, which leads me to believe our new main characters find Luke there. What is he doing? Why is he hiding out when his friends and family are fighting a war?
To answer that question, we have to dive into what we know happened to Luke between ROTJ and TFA. First, Luke throws his lightsaber away at the end of ROTJ and declares himself to be a Jedi. Him throwing away his lightsaber is a sign of him abandoning the ways of the old Jedi Order, as well as an act of defiance in the face of the dark side. He will always be on the side of the light.
So what does he do after ROTJ? Right now, we only know a few things for sure. From the Shattered Empire comic, we know that Luke stays with the New Republic for at least three months. He reclaims two trees from an ISB facility on Vetine, claiming Palpatine stole them from the Jedi Temple (which we know later became the Imperial Palace) and they are strong with the Force. He keeps one tree for himself, and gives the other one to his pilot, Lieutenant Shara Bey (mother to Resistance pilot Poe Dameron). Later, we see Shara and her husband, Kes, planting their tree on their new home planet, which looks suspiciously like Yavin 4. (EDIT: Jordan White has confirmed via Tumblr the planet is indeed Yavin 4).
So what did Luke do with the other tree? I think the answer can be found in The Weapon of a Jedi, the young reader novel by Jason Fry. In that novel, Luke goes to Devaron and finds an old Jedi Temple, where he trains in the ways of the Force. Before he leaves Devaron he vows to return and one day rebuild the Jedi Order. In the novel’s Epilogue, See-Threepio tells Jessika Pava, another Resistance X-Wing pilot, that Luke kept his promise and returned to Devaron. Did Luke plant the tree at the temple there? I think that’s highly likely.
Wherever Luke took the tree, we at least have an vague idea of what Luke did soon after ROTJ — reclaimed Force trees, went to Devaron, and trained people in the ways of the Force. Perhaps he found other temples throughout the galaxy, like we’ve seen in The Clone Wars and Rebels.
But — and this is a big but — if Luke did rebuild the Jedi Order, why are there no other Jedi around during the time of The Force Awakens? And why haven’t we seen any hints of the Jedi in any of the marketing? In the third trailer, Rey says, “There are stories about what happened.” Han replies, “It’s true, all of it. The dark side, a Jedi, they’re real.” Why does it seem like the Jedi are still a myth? And is Han merely saying that the/a Jedi once existed, or that he/they still exist right now?
There’s a few answers to that question, and they don’t necessarily mean that Luke failed in his quest. Yoda tells Luke, “Pass on what you have learned.” That doesn’t necessarily mean rebuilding the Jedi Order, it means teach others the ways of the Force. What if Luke realized the Jedi are fundamentally flawed and shouldn’t be revived? What if Luke trained people in the Force, but they’re not necessarily Jedi? What if he creates a new light side order, similar to how the Knights of Ren is a new dark side cult?
Or, on the contrary, what if Luke does train people as Jedi, but he does so the way he was trained: slowly, one on one? What if he sees the flaws in having a big Jedi Order, and decides it’s best to only have a few Jedi throughout the galaxy, serving the will of the Force instead of government?
Or what if Luke did succeed in rebuilding a large Jedi Order but something bad happened sometime prior to The Force Awakens, causing Luke to go into hiding? We know Kylo Ren is obsessed with Darth Vader. He’s got a similar helmet, he probably has Vader’s smashed helmet, and one of the Kylo Ren toys even says, “That weapon is mine!” Is he referring to Luke’s old lightsaber? Could Kylo have searched for the Force trees from Shattered Empire at one point in time, leading to the destruction of Luke’s new Jedi temple?
Something bad happening to Luke’s new Jedi Order is the most popular theory out there, and I agree it makes the most sense. It lets Luke succeed in rebuilding the Order, but still creates a very different galaxy than we ever saw in Legends.
But there’s one part of this theory that bothers me. It implies that Luke is hiding while bad things are happening in the galaxy. Luke is hiding while his friends are preparing to go to war. I don’t think Luke Skywalker would do that. He’s much too brash, and much too wise to do something like that. I do think Luke is hiding, but not because he’s scared of his power, or apathetic about the galaxy, or even evil. Rather, I think Luke is hiding because he knows it’s the best thing he can do right now. He’s biding his time. He has a plan. And unlike his mentors’, it’s a much more proactive one.
The “Journey to The Force Awakens” young reader novels provide several clues as to what Luke, Han, and Leia are doing during the Sequel Trilogy era. Curiously enough, Luke is absent from The Weapon of a Jedi‘s framing story, but X-Wing pilot Jessika Pava knows Luke defeated the Emperor and destroyed the first Death Star. Obviously Luke’s exploits are still well-known, at least among the Resistance. Also, Threepio isn’t with Artoo in the WOTJ framing story, but we see Artoo with Luke in the second teaser and the final trailer. Therefore, Luke is somewhere outside the Resistance in TFA.
The biggest piece of evidence to Luke having a huge role is the question Kathleen Kennedy asked J.J. Abrams, the one that convinced him to direct The Force Awakens: “Who is Luke Skywalker?” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Luke isn’t absent from the marketing because he’s not important. He’s absent because he’s the most important. Besides, it’s not like Luke’s presence isn’t felt in the marketing. The title of the film, The Force Awakens, leads us to believe the Force has a huge role, and who’s the most well-known and skilled Force user in the galaxy at this time? Luke Skywalker. Who convinced Han Solo, renowned cynic, that the Force was real? Luke Skywalker. Justin Bolger said it best:
All these facts are true, but what exactly makes me think Luke is training Jedi off the grid? It’s not just a pipe dream of mine; it makes sense considering what we know of Luke’s character and the events of the Sequel Trilogy era. Let’s take Han Solo’s appearance in TFA and his young reader novel, Smuggler’s Run. In the Epilogue, he refers to Luke as an old friend who talks about truth being from a certain point of view. Obviously Han and Luke are still friends. Could Han be working with Luke in secret? Could he be smuggling Force sensitives across the galaxy to wherever Luke is in hiding? Could he bring Rey and/or Finn to wherever Luke is stationed during The Force Awakens? Could he be Luke’s liaison with the Resistance?
Why would Luke be training Jedi off the grid, and not with the Resistance? It all comes down to Kylo Ren. This is a man on a mission to finish what Darth Vader started. In one the Kylo Ren toys he says, “Together we will destroy the Resistance, and the last Jedi.” Does he mean Jedi singular, or Jedi plural? I’m thinking it’s the former. But what if Kylo is wrong? What if Luke made it appear like he was the only Jedi left in the galaxy in order to lull Kylo into a false sense of security?
Luke is, after all, the man who marched into Jabba’s Palace to rescue Han Solo and succeeded. This is the man who surrendered to Darth Vader in order to be taken to the Emperor, and succeeded in turning Darth Vader back to the light side. This is the man who marched into an ISB facility with a nebulous plan to rescue some trees, and succeeded. His plans might not be the most thorough, and things might go terribly wrong, but he always succeeds. Luke Skywalker knows what he’s doing, and most of all he trusts in the Force.
Yeah, chills just went down my spine, too.
Imagine this scenario: Finn confronts Kylo Ren and gets in way over his head. Finn barely manages to defend himself, and is close to being overpowered…
When a green blade ignites, blocking Kylo’s broadsaber, and Jedi Master Luke Skywalker throws off his cloak and saves the day.
Or, picture this: Rey and Finn travel to a secret location. They’re going to learn the ways of the Force, and are expecting to find Luke Skywalker. They think he’s just a crazy old hermit.
Instead they find Luke Skywalker, waiting for them, and surrounded by the members of his Jedi Order.
You don’t keep Luke Skywalker hidden for a mere cameo. You don’t keep him hidden unless he’s hugely important. I keep thinking of Old Spock’s appearance in the new Star Trek, but with much huger ramifications. Luke enters the scene, and changes the entire course of the war. The entire course of the film.
And why does he wait? Because it takes a very wise man to know when to fight.
It takes an even wiser man to know when to disappear.