The hero of the very first Star Wars film has gone through many changes. From George Lucas’ early drafts of A New Hope to the Jedi Master’s curmudgeonly portrayal in The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker remains a fascinating character who has inspired many generations of viewers. Along with Han Solo and Princess Leia, Luke was an instantly accessible character for viewers in 1977, whether as the fresh-faced kid in contrast to Han and Leia’s world-weary experience or as a symbol for anyone trying to find their place in the world.
Even after the end of the Original Trilogy, Luke has remained a staple of Star Wars, through the many tie-in novels, games, and comics that have been released since Return of the Jedi as well as his resurgence in the Sequel Trilogy. With his death capping the end of The Last Jedi, many fans are wondering how he might make his return in The Rise of Skywalker.
While we don’t know the answer to that just yet, let’s take a look at what we do know about the character, including some behind-the-scenes facts that show how Lucas came up with one of the greatest heroes in movie history:
1. Luke built his green lightsaber in a deleted scene from Return of the Jedi.
In 2010, a crowd of thousands of people watched as a rare Star Wars scene was revealed. The moment where Luke builds his first lightsaber in Return of the Jedi was shown on the big screen at Celebration V and is currently available on YouTube. The scene answers a big question from the Original Trilogy capper: when did Luke make the green lightsaber that replaced the blue one he lost during his duel with Darth Vader on Cloud City?
This scene provides a key characterization moment in which Luke embraces both the role of a Jedi and the grim affect he bears for much of Return of the Jedi. But the scene isn’t essential viewing, putting a lull between the ominous opening and the heist at Jabba’s palace.
2. The Force Awakens almost opened with Luke’s severed hand floating in space.
According to actor Mark Hamill, at some point during the movie’s productions, The Force Awakens had a very different opening scene: a shot of Luke’s severed hand, clutching his blue-bladed lightsaber and floating in space over Jakku. The scene would have followed the hand and lightsaber as it crash landed on the desert planet, Luke’s hand disintegrating on the way down, leaving only the Jedi weapon in the sand. Before the scene concluded, we would have seen an alien hand retrieving the lightsaber.
Neither director J.J. Abrams nor Hamill have ever confirmed what the scene was supposed to mean, exactly, and Hamill isn’t sure whether the scene was supposed to connect to Maz Kanata, who gives Rey the lightsaber in the final cut of the movie. There’s still a chance Abrams might refer to this idea in The Rise of Skywalker to answer an important question from The Force Awakens that’s been left unanswered…
3. Rey and Luke became better friends in a scene from The Last Jedi novelization.
Luke and Rey’s rather combative relationship was a central part of The Last Jedi. It’s not too surprising, then, that Rey decides to leave as a rebellion toward Luke in the same way Luke left Yoda, prioritizing rescuing another person rather than finishing her Jedi training. But the full story of the movie told in book form shows that the two heroes aren’t always at odds. In the novelization of The Last Jedi, there’s a scene that brought them closer together than we ever saw in the film.
True to his miscevious nature, Luke tells Rey she needs to save a Caretaker village from raiders—only to find that the village is actually throwing a party (you can actually watch this moment in the deleted scenes from the movie). During the party, Luke and Rey dance, and Luke says he wanted to teach her the value of helping people. But his understanding of the Jedi is still not the same as hers, and she leaves with understanding but further determined to resist his bitterness about the Jedi Order.
4. Luke’s death digs deep into Force mythology.
Luke Skywalker’s death in The Last Jedi came as a surprise to many, and left more than a few questions to be answered. How did he project himself onto Crait? What’s with Jedi Masters disappearing after they die? And how does this ending compare to Luke’s fate in Legends?
Force projection is an extension of several Jedi abilities we’ve seen before: influencing others’ minds, communicating across great distances, and creating a doppleganger of oneself. The idea of a Force user duplicating his image was first introduced in the Legends comic Dark Empire, with Luke projecting a copy of himself during one of the comic’s big twists. In The Last Jedi, Luke is able to project himself across the galaxy and the energy required hastens his death. The last we see of Luke, he’s imagining twin suns in the sky as he fades away, leaving behind only his Jedi robe.
Force ghosts have been a central part of Jedi mythology since A New Hope, when Obi-Wan’s body disappeared after his death and his disembodied voice guided Luke during the attack on the Death Star. Legends explained that only Jedi Masters in touch with the Unifying Force, the energy of all living things in all times, could disappear at their time of death and live on as Force ghosts. Qui-Gon Jinn was the first known Jedi to do this. This would remain true in the new canon, with some details changed. As with many things, the Disney canon captures the energy of this idea without hewing to the specifics. It’s possible that Luke might return to speak to Rey in The Rise of Skywalker as Obi-Wan returned to speak to him.
In Legends, Luke’s fate was equally dramatic but more peaceful. The final Legends novel, Crucible, put all three Original Trilogy heroes through the wringer before allowing them to peacefully retire. It ends happily, with Luke, Han, Leia, Lando, other allies, and the heroes’ children celebrating their victories together.
5. Mark Hamill revealed George Lucas’ original plans for the Sequel Trilogy.
While some of Lucas’ ideas for Episodes VII to IX were used for Disney’s Sequel Trilogy, there were other plot points that were abandoned by Abrams, Johnson, and the rest of the new creative team. According to Hamill, at some point in the creative process, Lucas planned for Luke to live through the end of the Sequel Trilogy and train Leia as a Jedi as well as a young apprentice named Kira (who would later become Rey in Abrams, Michael Arndt, and Lawrence Kasdan’s drafts).
Luke would have instead died in Episode IX, according to Hamill, who revealed after the release of The Last Jedi that he would have preferred Lucas’ plan instead of the Jedi Master’s untimely death in Episode VIII.
“My first reaction was, ‘Can’t we push this off until [Episode] IX? Luke eventually does the right thing selflessly for the good of the Rebel Alliance, and [I realized] I should do the selfless thing for the betterment of the movie,” Hamill said at SXSW 2018.
Hamill’s reasoning was that Rian Johnson’s take went against what a Jedi should stand for. The actor didn’t believe Luke would give up after the destruction of his Jedi academy.
“I said to Rian ‘Jedis don’t give up,'” Hamill said in an interview back in 2017. “I mean, even if he had a problem, he would maybe take a year to try and regroup. But if he made a mistake, he would try and right that wrong. So right there we had a fundamental difference, but it’s not my story anymore. It’s somebody else’s story – and Rian needed me to be a certain way to make the ending effective.”
It’s unlikely we’ll ever see what Lucas’ version of the story looked like, but we do know which version of Luke Hamill wanted to see on the big screen.
6. In Legends, Luke had a wife and son.
Before the Sequel Trilogy movies changed the Star Wars landscape, Luke and his friends had an entirely different 40-year history after Return of the Jedi. While it doesn’t appear that Luke married between becoming a Jedi Knight and his self-imposed exile in The Last Jedi, in Legends he tied the knot with Mara Jade, an assassin-turned-Jedi who once served Emperor Palpatine before his death at the Battle of Endor.
Although the Emperor’s final command to Mara was “You will kill Luke Skywalker,” she abandoned her life as an Imperial agent to become a smuggler, which is what led her to meeting Luke during the Thrawn crisis. After the defeat of Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara trained under Luke to become a Jedi Knight, and the two eventually married.
They had one son, Ben (yes, the idea of the Skywalker-Solo family naming a child after Obi-Wan was a satisfying prospect in both continuities). After Mara was killed by newly-christened Sith Lord and her nephew Jacen Solo when Ben was a teen, Luke tried to both raise his son alone and teach him about the moral complexities of being a Jedi.
7. In Legends, Luke turned to the dark side and became the Emperor’s apprentice in Dark Empire.
Released in 1991, the Dark Empire comic series had Luke fall to the dark side and become the Sith apprentice of a cloned Emperor Palpatine. Impressed by Palpatine’s power and wanting to learn more about both sides of the Force, Luke agrees to join the villain’s resurgent Empire. But Luke eventually turns back to the light and is able to destroy the remaining Palpatine clones, putting an end once and for all to the Sith. Well, until the Legacy of the Force series anyway.
The comic is ultimately just a blip in the many dramatic twists and turns of the Legends timeline, but one thing is particularly notable to fans now that the Sequel Trilogy is in full swing: the Emperor has returned.
8. In early drafts of A New Hope, Luke was a 65-year-old general from Aquilae.
A May 1973 treatment contains the name Luke Skywalker, but it’s attached to a different character. The 65-year-old Jedi general, inspired by samurai characters from Akira Kurosawa’s filmography, is one of the guards assigned to protect the princess of Aquilae on a journey across star systems. Skywalker possesses “quiet dignity” (according to a treatment reprinted in The Making of Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler) and succeeds in rescuing the princess.
9. Luke’s original name was Luke Starkiller.
Defining who Luke was in the earliest drafts of Star Wars is difficult, since the movie went through so many iterations, many of which mixed what are now elements of the Sequel and Original Trilogies. The idea for a young hero character resembling Luke Skywalker remained relatively intact across most of Lucas’ drafts, the name Skywalker established from the earliest drafts while the rest of the story of A New Hope solidified around it in later ones.
In the second and third drafts of the script, both completed in 1975, Luke Skywalker was initially Luke Starkiller, the brother of Deak, a Rebel captain (roughly equivalent to the Captain Antilles character who makes a very brief appearance when Darth Vader strangles him in the opening scenes of A New Hope.) The name Starkiller stuck until April 1976, when Lucas changed it during filming because he thought it sounded too violent. “…like Charles Manson,” Lucas said. “It had very unpleasant connotations.”
Lucas actually originally shot the scene inside Leia’s cell on the Death Star with Hamill delivering the line, “I’m Luke Starkiller, I’m here to rescue you!” According the Hamill, they had to re-shoot the scene to accommodate the new name.
10. In another A New Hope draft, the main character was a girl.
Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art of a girl wearing goggles on her forehead is the most commonly cited source for the idea that Luke was a female character in one draft. The Making of Star Wars explains how in March 1975 Lucas suggested the idea because “the original treatment was about a princess and an old man, and then I wrote her out for a while, and the second draft didn’t really have any girls at all. I was very disturbed about that. I didn’t want to make a movie without any women in it.” His solution to this in the next draft was to split the main character into two: Luke and Leia, twin siblings.