It’s been fairly obvious since day one of this marketing campaign that director JJ Abrams wants to keep anything and everything involving Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens under tight wraps. Despite the massive fanfare that surrounded the very public announcement of Mark Hamill’s return to the saga—alongside Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford—His likeness hasn’t appeared on any promotional artwork, there are no Luke Skywalker action figures, and aside from one voiceover (and an image of what may or may not be his robotic hand touching Artoo) in the teaser trailer released back in the Spring, the last hope of the Jedi is a mere Force Ghost when it comes to Episode VII.
So, what is the deal? Where IS Luke Skywalker? Well, I’m here to tell you that question is exactly the one you should be asking, and it’s exactly the question JJ Abrams wants you to be asking. (Well, that, and an even bigger question I’ll get to later.) Luke’s absence from The Force Awakens marketing goes far beyond Abrams’ trademark (and now infamous) mystery box approach — it’s a deliberate, focused message, possibly laying out the central mystery of the film as well as preparing us for life beyond “the big three.”
When the bespectacled director was reluctant to come aboard Episode VII shortly after Disney acquired Star Wars from George Lucas and Kathleen Kennedy was named head of Lucasfilm, Entertainment Weekly revealed Kennedy hooked him in with an intriguing premise:
The director simply said he preferred to turn to some original projects. Undeterred, Kennedy persuaded him to helm Star Wars: The Force Awakens by asking a simple question, one with the potential to upend our core beliefs about the galaxy far, far away. “In the context of talking about story and laying out what we were thinking, I said one thing to him,” Kennedy recalls. “‘Who is Luke Skywalker?’”
And there it is. “Who is Luke Skywalker?” That’s a fascinating concept to wrap your brain around, especially in the context of the time period we’re about to witness in The Force Awakens. It’s also a lot more interesting than where Luke might literally (or metaphorically) be in the narrative, and leads to even more questions: Where did Luke go after the Empire was defeated at the end of Return Of The Jedi? What did he do? Did his attempts to restore the Jedi order fail? Did he ever father a child? What kind of impact did his decisions, as the last of the Jedi, have on the fate of the galaxy? He had the courage to face his father and try to redeem him, but did he lack the experience or the wisdom to restore the glory of the Force? Did Luke’s actions cause The Force to figuratively fall into a dormant state?
Only Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan have the answers to those questions, and it’s likely they intentionally deleted Luke’s presence so we’d all get ourselves wound up into a fervor, frothing at the mouth to know the fate of our favorite Jedi and speculate endlessly about how he fits in the storyline, or how much screen time he will have.
Lucasfilm and Abrams also want to get both longtime and new fans of Star Wars to ready themselves for a passing of the torch. The Force Awakens and whatever follows isn’t Luke Skywalker’s story – it’s the story of a new generation of heroes with names like Finn, Rey, and Poe Dameron. Luke’s omission from the marketing helps reinforce that philosophy by keeping the focus on the new blood and it prevents older fans from building up unrealistic expectations about Luke’s role in the narrative. So, my advice? Stop being angry that Luke’s not sharing poster real estate with Kylo Ren or his old buddy Han Solo, instead, get pumped up; get anxious and be curious about the myriad intriguing possibilities of why he’s not there.