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Even though Luke Skywalker appeared in Star Wars: The Force Awakens' final minutes, for all intents and purposes, we haven't spent any quality time with the hero since Return of the Jedi (and no, seeing infant Luke in Revenge of the Sith doesn't count, either). So when we reunite with him next week in The Last Jedi, he'll be a lot different than when we left off with him on Endor. We know that part of the reason for Luke's darker disposition nowadays is the guilt he feels for not being able to stop his nephew, Ben Solo, from being seduced by the dark side and becoming Kylo Ren. However, while working on The Last Jedi, Mark Hamill came up with a depressing backstory involving a dead wife and child so that he could properly get into the mindset of this older and broken Luke. Hamill summarized:
He left the Jedi to raise this young child and marry this woman. And the child got hold of a lightsaber and accidentally killed himself.
To be clear, this backstory is in no way part of the official Star Wars canon. This was merely a tool that Mark Hamill used so that he could effectively portray a darker Luke Skywalker who experienced a lot of tragedy in the decades between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Since the Jedi aren't allowed to have personal relationships, Luke would have left that life behind him so he could spend his life with a widow he fell in love with. Unfortunately, because of their son's tragic death, Luke returned to his Jedi life, which set him on the path that led to his Jedi academy being destroyed and him deciding to go into exile on Ahch-To. As for why Hamill chose this particular backstory, here's what the actor said:
It's nothing to do with the story, but when I think about gun violence and you read these tragic stories of kids getting hold of their parents' guns and killing a sibling or themselves, I mean, I had to go to really dark places to get where Luke needed to be for this story.
Mark Hamill also told EW that he tested out his backstory ideas with The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson to ensure that the emotions he was channeling as the bearded Luke Skywalker didn't conflict with anything that was actually going to be used in the movie. So while this backstory was just a means to an end, audiences will still see a guilt-ridden Luke in The Last Jedi who's haunted by what's happened to him in more recent years, so much so that he's under the impression that it's time for the Jedi to end. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that Luke will linger in the darkness for all of Episode VIII, and depending on what happens in the story, perhaps we'll see him take his first steps back into the light.
Star Wars fans will learn more about what really happened to Luke Skywalker pre-The Force Awakens when The Last Jedi hits theaters on December 15, so don't forget to pre-order your tickets. You can also look through the final portion of our 2017 premiere guide to see when the rest of December's movies will arrive.