Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Potential plot details for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Is Luke evil in the Star Wars sequel trilogy? New evidence suggests that might just be the case in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

There’s been a lot of crazy fan theories raised since Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012, but none have been quite as hard to shake as the idea of Jedi Master Skywalker succumbing to the Dark Side like his father (and, now, nephew); it was discussed in hushed whispers as The Force Awakens came together and blew up during the “Where’s Luke?” marketing campaign.

Of course, Luke was actually absent from all the trailers and posters because he only had one, brief scene at the very end of the film. And that pretty much shut off the villain talk: the Skywalker that Rey found stood on an Ahch-To cliff looked decidedly un-evil (remember, Star Wars isn’t known for its subtle costume coloring). Instead, all that Dark Luke talk has been transferred into the prevalent theory he’s become “Gray Jedi” – a Force user that taps into both sides of the spectrum – and, as he’s seen training Rey in the trailer, it’s widely presumed he’s on the “good” side of that.

However, it’s now looking like Luke may actually be the villain of The Last Jedi after all: perhaps not an out-and-out Sith Lord or even someone allying himself with trilogy big bad Snoke, but an antagonistic force who will have to show down against an unwitting Rey none the less.

WHAT WE’VE SEEN IN THE LEAKS

In contrast to The Force Awakens, the build-up to The Last Jedi has been dominated by a series of pretty revealing (but not movie-ruining) leaks. The biggest of these was a set of promo photos that gave a proper, full color look at Snoke, glimpses of Rey’s new costume and, most importantly, “Dark Luke”; Skywalker in a darker Jedi robe than what we’d seen in most of the previously-released materials. That alone isn’t enough to build a theory on, of course, but it did highlight the possibility of a more conflicted Luke (again, Star Wars isn’t known for its subtle costume coloring).

But a more recent leak revealed something much more substantial. The typically dependable Making Star Wars shared drawings of two poster designs reportedly being considered for release alongside the next trailer in October. The first appears to be a “main” poster with the majority of the cast featured. The second, however, is a “villain” variant that puts focus on Kylo, Snoke, Phasma et al; and, towering above them in the spot usually reserved for a film’s ultimate foe, is Luke.

Now, these sort of drawings from MSW are usually reliable – they had several accurate sketches of the previous image leaks before they appeared online – so it’s fair to take the posters seriously. And so it appears that the current Lucasfilm marketing plan has Luke lumped in with the villains by October. That’s seismic, not only hinting at Skywalker vs. Rey, but saying that it’s so fundamental to The Last Jedi‘s story they’re going to reveal it before the film comes out.

WHAT OTHER SUGGESTIONS OF DARK LUKE ARE THERE?

Should we be going this way, Dark Luke isn’t the most surprising development. There’s obviously his trailer-capping line where he decrees “it’s time for the Jedi to end“; delivered devoid of any context beyond the fact he trains Rey at some point, this could mean anything, but at the very least indicates an ideological change. Because of that Master/Apprentice relationship, most have assumed it’s not too severe, although we have nothing to really back that up.

Indeed, most word from the cast supports a villain turn. Daisy Ridley said of Rey’s early experiences with Luke that “it is difficult when you meet your heroes because it might not be what you expect” and Hamill infamously said he fundamentally disagreed with what Rian Johnson had planned for his character. There are dozens of things those statements could mean, but a prominent one is making Skywalker an antagonist.

WHAT MAKES LUKE EVIL?

Lucasfilm are still playing very coy about the reasoning for Luke’s departure from the civilized galaxy, but from The Force Awakens and other canon material here’s what we can glean: Luke was exploring the origins of the Force and started training several Jedi at a new Academy, including Ben Solo with whom he was working with to find the first Jedi Temple; the Academy was destroyed and Ben turned to the Dark Side under Snoke’s influence; Luke found the first Temple and went on self-imposed exile to Ahch-To; at some point in this he concludes the Jedi Order needs pacifying.

Given that in Bloodline he was already looking for the temple with a pre-evil Ben, the assumption would be that wanting to end the Jedi – which is likely a byproduct of whatever’s turned him into an antagonist – came from what he discovered at the first Temple after his exile; a look into the Jedi Order’s past that revealed some inherent flaw. Presumably, this is done out of some noble cause, but nevertheless puts him ideologically opposed to the Resistance/Rey.

That said, there is the possibility of a more striking twist. We know from Rey’s vision that Kylo and the Knights of Ren killed Luke’s students, and it’s further suggested this coincided with turning on the Master and burning down the temple. However, there’s nothing to explicitly say Luke hadn’t already lost his way before going on the run and it was actually him who burned the temple down; the only evidence of the event we have is Luke watching it in the vision and The Last Jedi‘s trailer (note: the shot of Phasma amongst flames is from a different, present-set scene), with no trace of Kylo. This could make Ben’s initial flirtations with the Dark Side something likewise altruistic – he worked against his fallen Master, only to be manipulated and broken by Snoke.

Of course, this is all speculation about ambiguous means to a more certain end; theorizing Dark Luke is less about how he got there, but what it means for the future.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE LAST JEDI?

We know straight up that Luke and the First Order are unequivocally on opposite sides. Pretty much all of Snoke’s commands in Episode VII are driven out of a fear of the Resistance finding the map to Luke; in his very first line he states, “If Skywalker returns, the new Jedi will rise.” Add to this that Kylo’s turn is directly at the Supreme Leader’s hands and you have a very clear division that makes Luke suddenly going turncoat unlikely. Yes, his goal has flipped to ending, rather than continuing, the Jedi, but a rogue Force user is still dangerous.

The real shift comes in how we expect his relationship to work with Rey; what we’re really dealing with would seem to be Luke as a narrative antagonist, rather than a straight-up villain. He’s a barrier for our current hero who must be overcome – i.e. accept that the Jedi can do good – although due to our previous affinity with the character and presumably a provided understanding of his new stance we’ll hopefully see the conflict from his side too.

It’d be a complex dual arc no matter how Johnson explores it, and even though it’s certainly muddying Star Wars‘ typical good/evil message totally fits. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke butted heads against his trainers when deciding to go save his friends on Bespin, something they explicitly refute, and then in Return of the Jedi they drift further apart over whether to kill or redeem Darth Vader. It’s not leaned on heavily – although the prequels do expand it somewhat through presenting the old Jedi Order as needlessly dogmatic – but the departure from generational authority is embedded into the franchise’s thematic fabric. What Rian Johnson may be doing is exploring this overlooked thread deeper thanks to having the mentor in this situation more established.

This turn would definitely alter how the film’s story is shaping up. The main plot appears to see the Resistance on the run from the First Order, with internal politics at play while Finn and Rose go undercover, and Rey’s training unfolding alongside. Making Luke a bad guy essentially shifts and expands the dynamic between threads, creating five distinct plot parties – Snoke and Kylo, the First Order, the Resistance, Rey, and Luke – all with different but intertwined goals. It’s the sort of simple choice that could have massive repercussions not just for Star Wars mythology, but the complexity of The Last Jedi as a film – the sort of bold decision that’s needed in the franchise at this point. And, of course, because of the moral ambiguity at play that would surely make Episode VIII a redemption story for Luke and a contrasting point to the seeming never-ending darkness of Kylo Ren.

Whatever the case, due to this coming from marketing materials it feels like the entire discussion is one Lucasfilm wants us to be having – albeit in October rather than August. We’ll have to wait for the next trailer (a good two months away) to be sure, but don’t be surprised if when we next see him Luke’s a little darker than we remember.