Luke Skywalker has gone from hero to MacGuffin.
Filmmaking aficionados know the term, popularized by Alfred Hitchcock, as being an object or mystery that drives the story – more Maltese Falcon than Millennium Falcon. It’s the thing the heroes are trying to find, or understand. It’s the puzzle they’re trying to unlock.
For any Luke Truthers out there, I can assure you: Mark Hamill is definitely in The Force Awakens. But the absence of his face in the trailers and the poster has vexed fans who are wondering: Where is the man once heralded as the last Jedi?
“No one forgot about him!” director J.J. Abrams promises. “We were hoping people would care, but there are a lot of things that are not on the poster, as busy as the poster is. Certainly Luke is a very important aspect of the story.”
That question, Where is Luke?, is one the movie is going to answer. So it can’t very well tell you up front.
NOT “WHERE,” BUT “WHO”?
A similar question is actually the thing that made Abrams say yes to directing the film. “In the context of talking about story and laying out what we were thinking, I said one thing to him: ‘Who is Luke Skywalker?’” Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy told EW in August.
She said she couldn’t elaborate any further on what that question means, but you can read any number of things into it. And all of them may be true.
Who is Luke Skywalker? Is he really the person we thought we knew? Did crude Jedi training and the emotional and physical scars of battle, not to mention learning that a galactic tyrant was his father, take a toll that warped the pie-eyed farmboy who longed for adventure?
Was Yoda right about him being impulsive and impatient? “If you end your training now – if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did – you will become an agent of evil.” Return of the Jedi seemed to prove Yoda wrong. Vader turned, the Emperor was destroyed, and balance – whatever that means – seemed to have been brought to the Force.
But what if Yoda was the misguided warrior, bent by cynicism from his years of fighting the good fight? What if Luke was more noble than the little green guy gave him credit for? It’s possible Luke is engaged in an act of dedication and self-sacrifice that has estranged him from his friends and loved ones, however much they miss him.
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None of these are things Abrams will discuss now. Again, only the film itself will answer those questions.
But he will talk about another implication of the thing that drew him in: “Who is Luke Skywalker?” Like, who?
In the Oct. 19 trailer, Han Solo tells Rey and Finn: “It’s all true. The Dark Side. The Jedi. All of it.” And they listen like teenagers being told the Tooth Fairy is real. If it seems implausible that a war hero could be forgotten so quickly, try asking the average 20-year-old who Audie Murphy was. Hell, ask a 40-year-old and see what you get.
The filmmakers didn’t forget about Luke, but others in the galaxy may have.
“It was the thing that struck me the hardest, which was the idea that doing a story that took place nearly 40 years after Jedi meant that there would be a generation for whom Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia would be as good as myth,” Abrams says. “They’d be as old and as mythic as the tale of King Arthur. They would be characters who they may have heard of, but maybe not. They’d be characters who they might believe existed, or just sounded like a fairy tale.”
This is especially true of Daisy Ridley’s Rey, a young woman who was abandoned on the desert world of Jakku as a child and forced to eke out a meager existence as a scavenger amid its battlefield junkyards.
“To someone who is living alone and struggling without a formal education or support system, who knows what that person in the literal middle of nowhere would have ever heard about any of these things, or would ever know, and how much that person would have to infer and piece together on their own,” Abrams says. “So the idea that someone like that would begin to learn that the Jedi were real, and that the Force exists, and that there’s a power in the universe that sounds fanciful but is actually possible, was an incredibly intriguing notion.”
John Boyega’s Finn, raised from childhood to be a stormtrooper for The First Order, has actually heard of Luke Skywalker, but he was given a starkly different picture of him. “For Finn, he’s been raised from the ashes of the Empire,” says Boyega. “He’s been taught about Luke Skywalker, he knows about his history. For him it’s like joining the army and then learning about one of the great enemies of your country. It has that effect on him. But in terms of the Force, and the magical stuff that happens, that is the point where Finn kind of questions what is what. What is the Force, what part does Luke Skywalker play in all of this?”
Han Solo, he adds, doesn’t inspire the same fear. For Finn, it really is kind of: “Han who?”
“To a stormtrooper they’ve probably been given a watered down bit about Han Solo or something,” he says. “It doesn’t feel as magical and mythical and historical, so you know. It’s quite fun playing that not really knowing who these people are.”
He ends up in possession of the lightsaber that once belonged to Luke, and to Luke’s father before him. It was last seen tumbling down an air shaft after Darth Vader sliced off his hand and revealed that he, he was Luke’s father. In this film … it’s an important piece of the puzzle that will reveal Luke’s fate and whereabouts.
NEXT PAGE: Abrams on the infamous Dinner For Five video