Late last week, the cast for the highly anticipated Star Wars: Episode IX was announced. Among the names returning for the conclusion to the sequel trilogy, and the Skywalker Saga as a whole, was Mark Hamill. This means that Luke Skywalker himself will be returning to end the journey that he began in 1977's Star Wars: A New Hope. Although fans have been convinced for some time that Mark Hamill would be back for J.J. Abrams' film, the fact that it was officially announced was particularly notable. This means that Luke Skywalker's presence in the film is not a secret and not part of some J.J. Abrams mystery box.
So although Mark Hamill's return was expected, it is still intriguing considering where we last saw Luke in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In an incredible display of power, force projecting himself across the galaxy, Luke Skywalker became a symbol for hope and the spark to reignite the rebellion. He then disappeared, dying and becoming one with the force like Obi-Wan before him. We assume that Luke will be a Force ghost in the movie, but beyond that, we enter Star Wars: Episode IX with probably as much curiosity about Luke Skywalker's role as we did heading in to Episode VIII.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi gave us a CliffsNotes, Rashomon-esque set of flashbacks that elucidated what happened between Luke and his nephew, Ben Solo (Adam Driver), but there is still a lot we don't know. There are decades of time between Return of the Jedi and the end of The Force Awakens and we only know the broadest of strokes about what went on with Luke during that time. Flashbacks can provide texture and shading to the Luke we met in The Last Jedi that some fans didn't recognize. Flashbacks could also illuminate how he knew about Snoke, his other students, what other adventures he had, if he ever met a girl and any number of questions we still have. Including flashbacks would also give Mark Hamill more to do other than being a Force ghost teacher like we all imagine he will be.
The announcement that Carrie Fisher's Princess/General Leia Organa will appear in Star Wars: Episode IX was a huge relief for fans of the franchise. Coupled with Mark Hamill's return, this raises the possibility of seeing two of the original three leads together again. We saw Leia and Luke say goodbye in The Last Jedi, but I have to wonder if the return of Mark Hamill and the inclusion of unused Carrie Fisher footage from The Force Awakens means that there is some way Leia could have another scene with Luke. Technically this would probably be difficult, but seeing Force ghost Luke communing with Leia or giving her guidance would be a great way to reunite the two siblings and provide a nice bit of closure to this saga. It's really just a matter of if this is even possible given the footage they have.
Assuming that Luke Skywalker returns in Episode IX as a Force ghost, the question becomes what will he do. I think the obvious answer would be that he would help Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the Resistance by potentially forming a new Jedi Order. Luke could teach Rey the way Obi-Wan and Yoda taught him. He never delivered his third lesson in The Last Jedi before Rey left Ahch-To, so there's still that. He could also help her understand the Jedi texts she took and teach her to build a new lightsaber. Rey gave him reason to hope again, and a dead -- but newly optimistic -- Luke would be a great teacher to the young Jedi. Whether he will just be a teacher is another question. We saw Yoda display Force ghost powers we didn't know existed by calling down lightning, so it's possible Luke may be more than just a teacher.
This ties in to a lot of the other questions in that I am just curious how big of a part Luke Skywalker will have in Episode IX. Personally I expected him to have a more active role going in to The Last Jedi and I'm curious how much he will be doing this time around. Will he just be around for a few Force ghost lessons with limited screentime? That seems a little too predictable, and likely would disappoint fans of the character. Giving the hero more to do and more screentime in his final chapter seems like a possibility. I think we all want more than a Yoda-sized cameo from Luke, especially considering that this is the end of the Skywalker saga. I think the focus will still be on Rey, but Luke will probably play a pivotal role in the film, even if he's not onscreen for most of it.
I expect Star Wars: Episode IX to be a bit fan service-y and the usage of Force ghosts opens up a ton of possibilities to that end. We got to see Yoda once again as a Force ghost in The Last Jedi and he is rumored to return. Yet he is just one of the great dead Jedi masters out there. I don't quite think we'll see a Jedi temple with Force Ghosts all teaching classes, but some interaction between Yoda and Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi would be great. I also wouldn't be surprised if, to bring everything home Return of the Jedi style, the end of the film has Force Ghosts Luke, Yoda, Anakin, Obi-Wan and even Qui-Gon Jinn all hanging out and celebrating that balance has finally been achieved.
At the end of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in truly badass fashion, Luke Skywalker concludes his Force projection battle with his nephew by saying "See you around kid" and then disappearing. If we take that literally, we can presume that Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren will cross paths again. Luke told Leia that he couldn't save Ben, so maybe as a Force ghost, he will haunt Kylo Ren and throw off the focus of his already moody nephew. Even attempting to redeem Ben Solo by reminding him of the light will be torturous to the new Supreme Leader. We've seen very little of their dynamic beyond the third act of The Last Jedi but the break in this relationship is the catalyst for the entire arc of the sequel trilogy so I would expect that to continue in some form in Episode IX.
One of the big criticisms of Star Wars: The Last Jedi was that Luke Skywalker was no longer the hopeful force for good that many saw him as in the original trilogy. Jaded, cynical and world weary, Luke had lost his faith and no longer had anything to believe in. He viewed the Jedi as a deeply flawed institution with a legacy of failure. Yet, at the end of the film, he seemingly believes once again, assuring Kylo Ren that he will not be the last Jedi. So did Rey just help him realize that he was wrong and now he's all for restoring the Jedi Order? Or is his view of the Jedi more nuanced? He may realize the need for the Jedi while still wanting it to change so as to prevent future Force imbalances and the regularity with which light side users go dark.
When Luke fades away at the end of the film, Rey mentions to Leia that he had "peace and purpose." Luke's inclusion in this upcoming film means that he will have a role to play and presumably a goal. As a Force ghost he may have gained even greater knowledge about the Force and the universe. The question is what is his goal now? Simply desiring to help his friends and family win isn't big enough. Stopping the First Order doesn't mean anything if there isn't other fundamental change. The Empire gave way to the First Order, and the First Order will give way to something else. Luke's goal should be bigger than defeating a totalitarian regime. If he is indeed still the chosen one, perhaps after death he can find a way to truly and finally bring everlasting balance to the Force.
Okay, this one is firmly planted in wild speculation territory. I don't think anyone really expects J.J. Abrams to undo Luke Skywalker's death in Episode IX, but it is still worth asking. It's not likely and it would have to be done with great care and explanation, but it is doable. Luke Skywalker displayed a level of power we have never seen before. So maybe he isn't truly gone. Rey felt his energy go away, but maybe he just ascended to a power level that cannot be felt (Super Saiyan God!). That's the beauty of the Force, it's basically magic, and his survival could just be another Force power. We've also seen that Force ghosts can now influence the land of the living, so is it really that far of a step to say that he could come back?