Just a heads up for the three of you who still haven't seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet: there are SPOILERS beyond this point. There are also potential SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. You've been warned.
During the build up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the returning cast members from the original trilogy were positioned as a big part of the draw. While we had the chance to hang out with Leia (Carrie Fisher), R2-D2, C-3PO, and Chewbacca a bit, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) was the only one who was a major part of the story. Though his presence loomed large over The Force Awakens, Luke Skywalker was absent save for a handful of shots---all told, it's less than ten total shots. That, however, will change in Star Wars: Episode VIII, officially known as Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
He was such a mystery in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which naturally leaves us with the question of what's Luke Skywalker up to in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VIII? We're still pretty far away from it hitting theaters, but, as it's currently filming, we thought we'd comb through all of the information available to us to try and figure out what we know and what we expect to see from Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi when it opens on December 15, 2017.
Where Does Luke Skywalker's Story Begin?
Directed by Looper's Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi does something that no other Star Wars movie has done to date: it picks up right where Star Wars: The Force Awakens leaves off. Though we've seen set photos leak out here and there, the official production announcement for Episode VIII was a video that shows Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley recreating the scene where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) meet at the very end of The Force Awakens on the planet Ahch-To.
The production of Star Wars: Episode VIII got things rolling by returning to the picturesque Irish island Skellig Michael, which is where Luke Skywalker has apparently been hanging out all these years keeping a low profile. Though there has traditionally been a gap in time between Episodes, given all of the lingering questions at the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it makes a lot of sense to revisit this moment. It's not 100% that The Last Jedi picks up with the scene between Luke and Rey; it's possible that we could return to it in a flashback or something of that nature, but we should see what happens immediately after the cameras stopped rolling last time.
What Has Luke Skywalker Been Up To All These Years?
Though he only appears in a few shots, Luke Skywalker's presence is a huge factor in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. After all, the entire movie was full of people looking for him for one reason or another. Now that we've tracked him down, Star Wars: Episode VIII will take some time to fill in the missing years. You didn't think his sister, Leia (Carrie Fisher), was going to let him disappear and not demand answers, did you?
The question remains, what has he been up to all these years? Star Wars: Episode VIII has some big spaces to fill, and while there aren't a ton of specifics to be had, there are some theories and bits of information floating around in the canon that might shed some light on his whereabouts.
After Ben Solo/Kylo Ren and his merry band, the Knights of Ren, slaughtered all of Luke Skywalker's students at his new Jedi academy---we saw a flashback to that in Rey's Force hallucination in Star Wars: The Force Awakens---the older Jedi went into hiding, and we'll hopefully find out why in Star Wars: Episode VIII. One option is that he did this because of guilt or to mourn, to keep people safe---wherever he goes, people seem to get hurt, and so if no one is around him, there's no collateral damage to be done. There have also been rumblings that he left to find the first Jedi Temple---Skellig Michael, a former monastery, certainly has the aesthetic of an ancient religious relic---the home to some powerful artifact, and that he's been protecting it from falling into the wrong hands. I think Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke certainly qualify as "the wrong hands." It's also been rumored that during his time away, Luke came across something that "put into question" everything he knew about the Force, and now he's determined to recover the practices and knowledge of the ancient Jedi so he can properly rebuild the Order.
Another explanation we could find in Star Wars: The Last Jedi has roots in new canon entries outside of the movies. In the comic, Star Wars: Shattered Empire, we learn about Poe Dameron's (Oscar Isaac) parents and how they have ties to Luke Skywalker, Princess-Now-General Leia, and Han Solo. As they relate to Luke, one mission Poe's mother, Shara Bey, accompanies him on is to retrieve the remnants of the tree that grew at the heart of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant that have special powers. While Luke thought there was only one, it turns out there were two. One of these was at Luke's new Jedi academy---in the novelization of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, during Rey's vision scene, there was mention of what is assumed to be this plant lying dead. At the end of Shattered Empire, however, the other was given to Poe's parents for safe keeping---though he may not be a Force user, Poe grew up in the presence of the Force. It's possible Luke Skywalker retrieved this tree and has been protecting it at his new hideout.
Has Luke Skywalker been waiting for some kind of sign to tell him it's time to return to the world? Well, Rey showing up on his isolated little island home flying the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca and R2-D2 in tow is certainly one hell of a signal.
Luke Will Fill In Rey's Backstory
One of the biggest mysteries of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and something we're desperately hoping is addressed in Star Wars: Episode VIII, is Rey's backstory. There is obviously some connection between the young woman and Luke Skywalker, and though there are countless theories bouncing around, there is nothing concrete. Episode VIII needs to fill audiences in on her background---it's even a mystery to her---and the obvious place for that information to come from is Luke Skywalker.
What exactly Rey's link to Luke Skywalker is remains a mystery. One theory is that she is his daughter, who, much like himself, he hid on a remote, out of the way desert planet for safekeeping. This would certainly explain the warm reception Rey receives from Leia in Star Wars: The Force Awakens when she shows up at the Resistance base, as well as the immediate shine Han Solo takes to her. Another prominent theory is that she's Han and Leia's child, who could also have been placed in hiding to keep her safe from Kylo Ren. And yet another is that she was one of Luke's students at his Academy, a survivor, again placed in hiding for her own safety. Additionally, if the idea about Luke retrieving the Jedi tree from Poe's parents has any validity, perhaps she could be Poe's sister. They don't get much screen time together, so we never got to see her react to his presence, which could set her Jedi Spidey Sense tingling.
All of these are equally plausible scenarios, just as it is equally as likely to be something else entirely. However it turns out, we expect Luke Skywalker to shed additional light on Rey's history in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Whatever the true nature of her history is, Luke seems likely to be the one with the most definitive answers.
Luke Will Train Rey
After filling in her history, the obvious next step for Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode VIII is for him to train Rey and become her mentor. She's already shown herself to be incredibly gifted in the ways of the Force, and the potential for greatness is readily apparent to everyone. Next up is for him to take her under his wing and continue to shape her in the ways of the Light Side of the Force. He might be reluctant at first to do this, but eventually he'll put his teaching cap on, as special The Last Jedi footage showed Luke supervising Rey as he practiced with the lightsaber and levitated pebbles around her hand using the Force.
When Luke Skywalker does start training Rey in The Last Jedi, it will be his chance to go full on Obi-Wan. Not only has he adapted a similar style and aesthetic as his former Jedi mentor, they'll follow a similar arc. Each one has had a pupil go rogue, turn to the Dark Side of the Force, and cause widespread destruction, murder, and chaos across this far, far away galaxy. Training Rey could be Luke's opportunity to have a student later on who will perhaps be the one to ultimately save the day, almost balancing out his earlier mistakes.
Luke's Odds Of Survival
Especially following the death of Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens---one of those moments that sucks the air out of a movie theater, even if you know it's coming---there's the question of whether or not Luke Skywalker will survive Star Wars: Episode VIII? Remaining hidden has obviously served as a solid survival strategy for a good long while---if Kylo Ren can't find him, Kylo Ren can't kill him.
But, now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag, Star Wars: The Last Jedi will see Luke Skywalker in a much more direct form of danger and peril. Not only are Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke all hot and bothered to find him, but with the ever expanding conflict between the First Order and the Resistance, not to mention the rest of the galaxy, there will be plenty of places in The Last Jedi where we are sure to see Luke in the middle of hazardous situations that could result in grievous bodily harm. The guy has already lost a hand.
We're not sure if Luke Skywalker will die or not in Star Wars: Episode VIII. It would certainly be a shock and a brutal blow to fans, but it would also probably garner more than a few accusations from many that it was simply aping how Star Wars: The Force Awakens killed a beloved character. It's worth noting that before her passing, Carrie Fisher was supposed to be in scenes where Leia reunited with Luke. Since she had already completed her work on The Last Jedi, that would suggest these scenes would take place in Episode IX, thus boding well for his survival, assuming there aren't any rewrites.
That said, if Luke does kick the bucket in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, that would set the table for the Colin Trevorrow-directed Star Wars: Episode IX, the concluding chapter in this new trilogy, to focus on the new characters battling the forces of evil and saving the day. It's also one way to address the claims many levied at Star Wars: The Force Awakens that J.J. Abrams' film put too much emphasis on the past and not enough on the new and the future. Perhaps Luke could pull a Yoda and train Rey, see her on her way to an adventure, and then die when she comes back for a visit in Episode IX.