Spoiler alert: do not read any further if you haven't seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi yet. Get your butt to the theater already, and may the Force be with you. All clear? OK, let's do this. Star Wars fans are used to loss. From Obi-Wan, Yoda, and the newly-good Anakin during the original trilogy, to our childhoods during the prequels, we've seen a lot of deaths. Obi-Wan and Yoda each only had hours to grow on fans before checking out, but at least they both returned as Force ghosts. So will Luke Skywalker return in Episode IX under similar circumstances? Fans have grown up with Luke, Han Solo, and Leia Organa over the last 40 years, so their deaths are a lot harder to take. This may be one way to ease us through the transition to the new generation of heroes.
Han has no connection to the Force, so when he died in The Force Awakens, fans knew it was permanent. And although Leia was still alive at the end of The Last Jedi, actress Carrie Fisher tragically died shortly after wrapping the film, and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy told Good Morning America in April that despite rumors to the contrary, Leia will not appear in Episode IX.
At this point, Luke is — forgive me — our only hope to see one of the three original main characters in the final installment of the new trilogy. That is, unless you count C-3P0, R2-D2, and Chewbacca, the three chronically underappreciated characters who were instrumental in the Rebels' success in Episodes IV and VI (yes, I'm still bitter that Chewie didn't get a medal, even if the recent comic books tried to recon one in there).
Those involved with the films aren't spilling anything yet, but there is good reason to think that Luke might be back. Jedi have options when they die, you see, and Luke dropped a couple of hints during The Last Jedi that seem to imply he'll be back in spirit. When Luke faced off against Kylo Ren on Crait, he paraphrased Obi-Wan's last words to Darth Vader, telling his nephew, "If you strike me down in anger, I will always be with you, just like your father." True, he could have meant that metaphorically (especially since Han's ghost was nowhere to be seen), and Kylo didn't actually strike him down in the end, since he wasn't really there. But he also chose his own last words carefully; this time quoting Kylo's father, Han Solo: "See you around, kid." Is that a promise?
The overarching theme of The Last Jedi was that it's time to move on from the past, and Luke was perhaps the biggest proponent of that idea; he chucked his family lightsaber when Rey gave it to him, he refused to train her, and he attempted to destroy the Jedi texts. But like his father before him, he seemed to turn over a new leaf at the end of his life. First, he used the Force to appear on Crait. Then, when he died, he didn't simply collapse from the overexertion of projecting himself across the galaxy; he disappeared. He became one with the Force, an intentional act that means he's absolutely able to appear as a ghost if he chooses. The question is, will he?
The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson told Business Insider that he doesn't know what Episode IX director J.J. Abrams and screenwriter Chris Terrio have in mind for Luke, but he sees the potential for him to follow the same path as Obi-Wan.
And Luke himself, Mark Hamill, is more than willing to reprise the role. In a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, he seemed just as eager for Luke's return as the fans: "I'm just still holding on to the line, 'See you around, kid," he said. "I can be in Episode Nine!" From his lips to Abrams' ears.
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