It’s official. According to Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill, the beloved farmboy-turned-Jedi Master will appear in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker as a Force ghost. Last week, Hamill confirmed his return as a Force ghost, saying, “The fact that I’m involved in any capacity is only because of that peculiar aspect of the Star Wars mythology where if you’re a Jedi, you get to come back and make a curtain call as a Force ghost.”
So, when Luke returns in The Rise of Skywalker, what will his Force ghost be doing? Turns out, not very much, unless what we know about the rules of Force ghosts have changed.
Here are four things we know about the rules of Force ghosts, plus three things we know Force ghosts 100 percent cannot do.
Mild speculative spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ahead.
So, when a Force ghost does exist in “the real world” of the Star Wars galaxy, there are some basic rules of what they can do. Here are, loosely, the big four rules, as far as we can tell.
1. Force Ghosts Have Limited Time in the Real World
Force ghosts aren’t really haunting the places they died. It’s not like Obi-Wan Kenobi’s ghost just lives on Yavin IV being super spooky about having died on the Death Star. Instead, Force ghosts seem to live in a netherworld, where they are, as you might have guessed, “One with the Force.” So, when they enter “our” world as spirits, it’s like a small window. In Claudia Grey’s in-canon short story “Master and Apprentice,” (in the book From a Certain Point of View), Obi-Wan is visited by the ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn. From the perspective of Qui-Gon, he was “summoned.” This story also reveals, however, that just like Obi-Wan and Yoda visit Luke as spirits after death, these visits can be frequent, but the duration of those visits sort of depend on how seasoned the ghost is at being a ghost.
In the same short story, Qui-Gon’s spirit becomes “nearly corporeal.” He tells Obi-Wan he can do this because “it is a matter of learning to both claim the physical world and detach oneself from it.” Right.
2. Dead Force-Users Can Use the Force on Living Things
Did Obi-Wan’s spirit also help Luke guide those proton torpedoes into the Death Star at the end of A New Hope? It’s not entirely clear, but in The Last Jedi we do see Yoda’s spirit use the Force to cause a bolt of lighting to strike a tree. So, if Yoda can conjure a bolt of lighting (seemingly Force lighting?) from thin air, then it stands to reason that Obi-Wan’s ghost could have nudged some torpedoes with the Force. The extent to which a Force ghost can use the Force in the way we think about it isn’t super clear. And because the Emperor is possibly coming back to life, things could get a lot more complicated very soon.
3. You Have to Learn How to Become a Force Ghost
In Revenge of the Sith, Yoda makes it clear he’s been talking to Qui-Gon Jinn’s ghost. This is relevant because relative to the contemporary Jedi we see in the existing Star Wars films, Qui-Gon is pretty much the only guy who figured out how to do the whole Force ghost thing. In the sixth and final season of The Clone Wars (that is before the new, after-the-fact, seventh season that will be released late in 2019), how Yoda gained this skill was explored in an episode called “Voices.” In the episode, Yoda met the Five Priestesses, who helped him learn the secret to living beyond death.
Presumably, Yoda just taught this skill to Obi-Wan, like, long distance, with Qui-Gon’s help in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. And, we guess Luke learned the trick from Yoda.
4. Then Again, Apparently Some People Can Be Force Ghosts Without Learning
Um. Speaking of learning how to become a Force ghost, none of this explains how or why Anakin Skywalker became a Force ghost at the end of Return of the Jedi. Who taught him? Yoda? Obi-Wan? Or, did these guys, like, pull Anakin’s spirit out of the ether just for Luke’s benefit in that one scene? In The Force Awakens, it’s established that Kylo Ren is talking to the spirit of Anakin Skywalker, though we never see it happen. Is this for real? Or is Kylo Ren lying to himself? Furthermore, do Dark side ghosts work differently? We don’t really know yet.
Now, here’s some stuff Force ghosts can’t do.
1. Hold real lightsabers
Now, Luke’s force projection in The Last Jedi is not a Force ghost, but it’s kinda similar. It’s interesting to point out that a Force projection (or ghost) can make it seem like they have a lightsaber, but they, cannot, in fact, hold a real lightsaber. This is why Luke is holding a broken lightsaber in The Last Jedi. It’s a ghost lightsaber! So, when Luke comes back as a Force ghost in The Rise of Skywalker, there is almost no way he will hold a real lightsaber. That doesn’t mean he won’t appear to be holding a ghost lightsaber, though.
2. Help You Out in Very Specific Circumstances
In The Empire Strikes Back, Obi-Wan tells Luke that “if you choose to face Vader, you’ll do it alone. I cannot interfere.” Basically, this line is in the movie to explain why Obi-Wan’s ghost can’t help Luke in a lightsaber duel despite helping him blow up a space station in the previous movie. But why? Do Force ghosts have a set of “interfere in shit tokens,” and Obi-Wan had used all of his up?
The specific rules of why a ghost can and can’t help out make no sense and seemingly rely upon whether or not said Force ghost is being a dick. (See: Obi-Wan in Empire and Yoda in The Last Jedi for our only examples of Force ghosts who are also massive dicks.)
3. Come Back to Life
Luke is not coming back to life. Obi-Wan is not coming back to life. “No one is ever really gone,” according to Master Skywalker in the trailer, but that doesn’t mean Force ghosts aren’t ghosts. They are, in fact, dead people, communicating with the living through shimmering blue auras.
That said, if Palpatine is flesh-and-blood in The Rise of Skywalker, then maybe ghosts can come back to life. Unless, of course, the movie is mostly about Palpatine’s laugh being immortal, in which case, all rules about Force ghosts remain unaltered, with the small corollary that some Sith ghosts only exist as immortal evil laughter.
The Rise of Skywalker is out everywhere on December 20.