Back in July, Lucasfilm announced officially that Mark Hamill would be returning to a galaxy far, far away in Star Wars: Episode IX. That bit of news might have been a bit overshadowed by the fact that the company also announced that Carrie Fisher would be back by utilizing unused scenes and bits of performance from her previous appearances in the saga.
But when Hamill took to Twitter deep in the middle of last night, reconfirming that he was going to be in Episode IX, it rocketed the news back into the front of everyone's minds faster than the Millennium Falcon escaping the Maw.
While we're thinking about it, why don't we do some thought experiments and wonder what it is we might see Luke Skywalker doing in Episode IX.
To my mind, there are really two options and neither of them is mutually exclusive. And there's a third option a small segment of the fanbase is rooting for, though it is patently absurd. We'll talk about all three, though, and see if we can come to some logical guess as of to what we're going to see in the final installment of the Skywalker saga.
The most obvious answer is to have Luke returning as a Force ghost.
When a Jedi gives his life to the greater good, for something beyond themselves, they can achieve immortality through the Force, using the techniques passed down from Qui-Gon Jinn. During the previous films, Luke consulted with Force ghosts versions of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda and it would make perfect sense for him to fulfill the role of the Jedi master as we've seen in each trilogy thus far.
Interestingly enough, Jedi became better at the Force ghost technique with each iteration. In the prequels, Qui-Gon was a barely noticed whisper for many years and wasn't able to manifest himself as a ghost until long after Obi-Wan's hermitage began on Tatooine. Obi-Wan Kenobi was able to appear before Luke Skywalker in an ethereal form intermittently until just before the Battle of Endor. Yoda, on the other hand, advanced in his force power beyond the previous two and was able to influence the weather on Ahch-To as a Force ghost in The Last Jedi.
Does this mean that Luke will be an even more influential and corporeal Force ghost than his predecessors? I think that's a definite possibility.
The next most obvious choice would be for Luke to appear in flashbacks. With the corruption of Ben Solo as it appeared in The Last Jedi, we got a taste of what could be a full course meal in Episode IX.
J.J. Abrams has said Episode IX will be the capstone on the entire nine-film saga and, to me, that sounds like it will need to go into the past. Not just to answer questions about who Ben Solo really is and what exactly made him turn, but about what Luke Skywalker did and learned during his travels through the galaxy. Mark Hamill could very easily be playing an in-the-flesh Luke in these cases.
More than anything, this will be our last chance to learn about all of these events on screen and with so much of Abrams's "mystery box" storytelling on display in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this might be a plausible way to open some of those boxes in a way that Rian Johnson only peeked into.
FORCE GHOSTS AND FLASHBACKS
There's every chance we might see both of these uses for Hamill combined. When you think back to the relationship between Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, it's practically accusatory on Luke's part.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he asks, almost angry, of Obi-Wan not telling him Darth Vader was his father.
With Rey shepherding the next generation of Jedi, she might very well be doing the same thing to Luke. "Why didn't you train me?" she might ask.
But this could be Luke's opportunity, both to give her the training he refused to give her before and to open up about Ben's heart and what he saw. His Force ghost could very easily be narrating the story we get in flashback, learning more about what turned Ben Solo.
Ultimately, a meeting like this between Rey and Force ghost Luke would be very much in line with George Lucas' original intentions: For Luke to pass on the proverbial saber to the next generation. Such a moment would build beautifully off of Johnson's The Last Jedi. Here's Mark Hamill talking about that in the '80s, and his role in IX might very well fit perfectly:
UNDOING THE LAST JEDI
There are some hoping that Luke Skywalker will be back in the flesh and in the present as a way to somehow undo his death from The Last Jedi.
I'd put the odds on that as somewhere much higher than 3,720 to 1. J.J. Abrams is on the record as far back as 2015 stating that he loved Johnson's script for The Last Jedi and even made changes in The Force Awakens to accommodate that storytelling. The biggest loop that Abrams has been thrown was the loss of Fisher, and I think if anything changes in things that were set up from The Last Jedi, it would be for that reason, not because of the minimal fan backlash.
The Last Jedi is writ in the stone of canon. Don't expect it to be undone.
There are, naturally, other possibilities, however remote. Perhaps Luke Skywalker doesn't appear as a ghost and he's abdicated that role the same way he abdicated responsibility for Ben Solo's turn. He could very easily appear in a holocron or a holographic message. His image could be raised up around the galaxy as part of the message of hope he tried to inspire with his last act. Could the new Rebellion use Luke's image to help provoke Kylo Ren and inspire hope across the galaxy?
With people as creative and intelligent as Abrams and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy in charge of this installment of Star Wars, there's no telling what surprises they might throw at us. Hamill is but a tool in their mystery box full of storytelling, and I think they'll come up with a way to use him for the best effect.
Star Wars: Episode IX premieres in theaters on December 20, 2019.