We all assume that Luke Skywalker joined the Force after stressing himself out too much at the end of The Last Jedi, but a new photo seems to suggest — maybe he didn’t? If one of the new set photos from The Rise of Skywalker is taken literally, it could mean Luke will become flesh-and-blood again in Episode IX. Which, if true, would actually resurrect an unused George Lucas idea from an early version of Return of the Jedi in 1983.
*Speculative spoilers ahead for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.*
On Wednesday, Vanity Fair released a huge cover story written by beloved fantasy novelist and journalist Lev Grossman; previewing everything about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Though there are several fascinating details revealed by the piece, the photo of Luke Skywalker standing next to R2-D2 might be the most arresting, and mysterious.
It’s not shocking that loads of Star Wars fans have already started theorizing Luke Skywalker could come back as something other than a Force ghost, but what few are mentioning is the fact that there’s a precedent to suggest that George Lucas toyed around with the idea of bringing Obi-Wan Kenobi back to life in the flesh for Return of the Jedi. In the book Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays an early story outline for Return of the Jedi would have included this scene.
Luke lies unconscious on a small island on a lava lake, and he wakes up. Behind him is Ben, in the full flesh. Ben explains that he’s here to help Luke. Yoda’s spirit appears to help a well.
In this version of Return of the Jedi, Luke would have confronted Vader and the Emperor in a lava palace, not on a second Death Star. But, the relevant detail is Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi, using the Force to come back to life in the flesh. Eventually, George Lucas abandoned this idea, but the fact that this alternate scene exists in a fully licensed Star Wars book means, at some point, Lucas thought the Force could maybe totally bring you back to life. Consider this, too: Luke’s dad, Anakin, was specifically obsessed with learning how to use the Force to stop people from dying. And…of course, Anakin himself was born directly out of the Force, “conceived by the midichlorians,” as Qui-Gon Jinn says.
In the new Annie Leibowitz photos, Luke doesn’t look like a Force ghost. Then again, Leibowitz is photographing actors, not characters. These photos aren’t meant to represent real things happening in the movie. To put it another way, these aren’t production stills. Back in 2015, Harrison Ford and Daisy Ridley grinned subtly for Leibowitz’s camera, but of course, no one thought a scene like that would exist in the final movie.
So, maybe Luke not looking like a ghost is just because this is a photographer choice and nothing more. And yet…because Lucasfilm and Disney control so much of the output of the images around Star Wars, this feels like it could be a hint. Luke Skywalker has an important role in this movie, and in this photo, he’s standing tall. Which, could mean, the Skywalker rising in the title is the most obvious candidate in all of Star Wars.
After all, there’s no character people love in Star Wars more than Luke Skywalker. Could the secret title of this movie really mean just mean The Rise of LUKE Skywalker? We’ve got six months to find out.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters on December 20, 2019.