Where the Hell Is Luke Skywalker?

Three theories on the Jedi's conspicuous absence from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens hype.
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Three theories on the Jedi's conspicuous absence from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens hype.
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Where the hell is Luke Skywalker?

That's been the burning question on Star Wars devotees' minds since a week of aggressive marketing for Star Wars: The Force Awakens culminated with the premiere of the film's final trailer before its December release. Conspicuously absent from Disney's marketing blitz is, strangely, Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker, the man at the center of the entire fictional universe. His appearance in the trailer was limited to his black-gloved hand (footage we saw in the first official teaser for the film last year). He wasn't on the movie's official poster. Even the new Force Awakens toy line has an updated Han Solo, but not Luke. 

So what's going on here? Often, omissions prior to the release of a highly anticipated film are deliberately designed to obscure a specific plot twist (case in point: Liam Neeson was officially cast as "Ducard" in 2005's Batman Begins, with Ken Watanabe as Ra's Al Ghul, despite the fact that the latter turns out to be merely a decoy). Since Disney has done a scarily good job of keeping the plot of the new film under wraps, it's likely that there's some sort of storytelling twist tied to Luke that will help set up the new trilogy.

And now, some theories:

Luke Skywalker Has Turned to the Dark Side

Yes, this is somewhat blasphemous and a plot twist right out of Go Set a Watchmen (Atticus Finch is now racist? But...why?), but hear me out. 

Prior to the announcement of the The Force Awakens, there was an entire ecosystem of media dedicated to the Star Wars universe that was considered generally-kind-of-sort-of cannon. Dubbed 'The Expanded Universe' by fans, it encompasses comics, books, video games, and even cartoons like The Clone Wars

Disney ditched this when it announced The Force Awakens, essentially declaring decades of ancillary storytelling, but it's hard to imagine that a filmmaker like J.J. Abrams would entirely jettison an "almost 30-year experiment in collective worldbuilding," as Slate's Jamelle Bouie puts it. And here's where, maybe, we get the roots of Evil Luke, according to Bouie:

There’s Timothy Zahn’s tale of a resurgent Empire led by Grand Admiral Thrawn; the fun and fast-paced adventures of Rogue Squadron; the ancient history of Knights of the Old Republic. And there’s the tragedy of Jacen and Jaina Solo, twin children of Han and Leia. Both become Jedi. Both fight to defend the galaxy against a terrible invader. But Jacen falls to the Dark Side of the Force, to become Darth Caedus, the grandson of Darth Vader.

The story of Skywalker twins who split between darkness and light is potent and painful—and it’s the first thing I thought of when I saw a trailer featuring a mournful Leia and no sign of Luke whatsoever.

This might actually make sense. What other Force-sensitive master could possibly mentor Adam Driver's lightsaber-wielding Kylo Ren, the villain of the new film? Is it possible that, between Darth Vader's Return of the Jedi denouncement of the Sith and the seeming failed state that is the New Republic, that Luke might actually turn to the Dark Side after decades of disappointment? It would also follow the arc of Anakin Skywalker.

Maybe the Force — that universal field that "calls" to people, per the new trailer — is actually more dark than light, a corrupting force for which the Jedi were once a worthy bulwark? It would help explain why Daisy Ridley has no real knowledge of the Jedi or the Force in the new trailer: perhaps Skywalker squirreled himself away before fulfilling the Sith 'Rule of Two' with Ren.

Plausibility: Not very!  It would be a real shot in the gut to fans if this was the case, and I'm not sure J.J. Abrams, despite his Lost and Star Trek bona fides, has the balls to mess with a franchise like this. But who knows! Life is long and we're all hurtling towards death anyway.Luke Is Captive

Luke is missing, but not willingly: Perhaps KyloRen — an old apprentice of the late Vader in line with the Rule of Two, maybe? — snatched his mentor's killer and hid him away to extract more secrets of the Force from the actual Chosen One. It stands to reason that even though Anakin Skywalker picked up a vast knowledge of the Force through his training at the pre-Empire Jedi Temple, Yoda probably knows a few things that even Vader doesn't — and passed them on to Luke. After all, there's a long period between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi where Luke goes to Jedi Knight boot camp. 

Anyway, having Luke go missing isn't just a great marketing tool, but a fantastic plot device. What else would bring an aging Han and Leia together with scrappy upstarts Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) than a search for the only character who really matters worth a damn in this entire galaxy?

Plausibility: Actually kind of plausible, sort of! There are rumors suggesting that Luke's been missing for at least a decade when the film opens. Then again, those rumors suggest a simpler, more elegant explanation...Luke Skywalker Is Yoda

No, not actually Yoda, but a Yoda-like mentor sequestered away from the turbulent politics of the New Republic. It would follow the motif of the last Jedi of the Old Republic: Obi-Wan Kenobi hid out on Tatooine to learn the mysteries of the Force from his old mentor and current Force ghost Qui-Gon Jin, and Yoda went into hiding on Dagobah to avoid Emperor Palpatine until Luke crashed his X-Wing into the bog outside his doorstep. It would certainly jibe with rumors that suggest Luke is in a self-imposed exile when The Force Awakens opens. Here's the leaked footage that got the rumor rolling back in May:

An alleged video from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" was posted to Youtube (and has since been taken down) revealing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) seeking shelter in a cave on a deserted island.

According to Techno Buffalo, the video also included footage of Luke walking on a secluded island. The website grabbed some screenshots of the leaked video which you can see HERE.

"It is shot on a cell phone looking at a computer screen, so the clarity is not the best. What we can tell is it is labeled as 'Luke's Refuge' and is said to be filmed on Skellig Michael, an island located off the south of Ireland. Adding validity to the video, director J.J. Abrams was said to have shot some footage in Ireland earlier this year. Additionally there is a Walt Disney watermark in the middle of the footage, but that could be faked as well as anything else [sic]," the website's report said.

Plausibility: Completely plausible! It doesn't just make for good storytelling in The Force Awakens, but it's a fine set-up for the rest of the trilogy. If J.J. Abrams is setting up a sequel series that can actually stand alone from the original trilogy (and evade the rigid determinism that made the prequel trilogy such a fantastic mess), then he needs to establish Finn and Rey as the rightful heirs to the mantle of 'galaxy's most badass heroes.' Sure, Han and Leia can stay on as ancillary characters, but Luke's shadow would loom too large over the movie to allow for any real development.

I would bet good money that Luke becomes like Yoda: a deus ex machina​ available for exposition and plot consistency, the flesh-and-blood version of Kenobi's Force ghost available to guide and advise the new heros whenever they need. Abrams has done it before with Spock "Prime" (Leonard Nimoy, before his death) in the first two installments of his Star Trek reboot, and while it was awkward at times (WHY can the Enterprise dial up New Vulcan but not Earth? WHY?!), it made for a useful storytelling device to bridge the past and future of a stories franchise. As Anakin did for the prequels, Luke may do forThe Force Awakens

My last theory is that Luke will die in The Force Awakens, but I don't even want to go there. This was already a lot to swallow. Here's the new The Force Awakens trailer to make up for it.