Ever since the new, seemingly Luke Skywalker-less trailer for The Force Awakens debuted on Monday night, one fan theory has dominated all the others. The reason we don’t see Luke in the trailer or the official poster, suggest the Guardian, the Hollywood Reporter, Vulture, and many others, is that he has followed his father’s footsteps to the Dark Side and joined the Sith.
As evidence, the Guardian points to the 1991 Dark Empire series of comics that had Luke teaming up with a reincarnated Emperor Palpatine (while noting that such stories were non-canonical). Adding more fuel to the widespread recirculation has been a 2005 episode of IFC’s Dinner for Five, during which you can watch Mark Hamill “basically pitch evil Luke Skywalker to J.J. Abrams,” as the headline at the A.V. Club put it. In the video, Hamill describes to Kevin Smith (while Abrams listens in) how he once suggested Evil Luke to George Lucas for Return of the Jedi:
As an actor that would be more fun to play. I just thought that’s the way it was going from when we finished [Empire]. I figured that’s what will be the pivotal moment. I’ll have to come back, but it will be I have Han Solo in my crosshairs and I’ll be about to kill him or about to kill the Princess or about to kill somebody that we care about. It’s an old cornball movie, like World War II movies.
I think there’s one clear reason that this theory is almost certainly bunk: Luke’s clothes.
Hear me out. In the Star Wars movies, the clothes make the man. If you want to know if someone like Luke is good or evil, you need only look at their clothes. It’s a pretty black-and-white universe, or rather black-and-brown.
The Jedi always wear brown:
While the Sith always wear black:
The great Obi-Wan Kenobi? He always wears brown. The evil Emperor Palpatine? He always wears black. Qui-Gon Jinn, Mace Windu, and Yoda? Brown, brown, and brown. Darth Maul, General Grievous, and Darth Vader? Black, black, and black—except when he’s young Anakin Skywalker, which is when he moves from tan (when he’s just a child) to, in some pretty clear foreshadowing, brown mixed with black. In fact, any character whose status is uncertain, who may be at risk of falling to the Dark Side, always wears brown mixed with black: In Return of the Jedi, when Luke is tempted by Vader and the Emperor to turn to the Dark Side—this is the key source of suspense in the movie’s final battle—he wears brown mixed with black. Count Dooku starts out as an (at least ostensibly) more ambiguous character, and wears brown mixed with black. Meanwhile, no one really needed to tell us that Kylo Ren was evil: We just looked at his black robe and red lightsaber (another dead giveaway) and instinctively we knew it.
Now, it’s true we don’t see Luke’s face in the Force Awakens trailer. But it’s pretty clear that the shot below is Luke. Whoever’s in that robe is giving a loving pat to R2, who Luke keeps by his side throughout just about the entire original trilogy. His right hand has been replaced by a robotic hand, just like Luke’s. And the Force is strong with him, as we can tell from that robe. Of course, all you have to do to figure out whether Robot Hand, aka Luke, is still a Jedi or whether he’s become a Sith is to figure out the color of the robe. This is a little tricky given the dark lighting in the shot—it could be either:
But thankfully—and here’s where I think we move from speculation to spoiler territory—we don’t really need to confirm the color of the robe in that shot, and we don’t even really need to confirm that it’s Luke. That’s because a set photo of Mark Hamill leaked a couple months ago, before quickly getting scrubbed from most of the Web. Check out the beard, but more importantly, check out the robe. Have you ever seen a Star Wars villain wear a robe like that?
This also conforms to a pattern in JJ Abrams’ movies. Abrams likes to talk up the concept of the Mystery Box—unlabeled boxes with unknown contents, with the idea being that the mystery is more enjoyable than the revelation. He’s given whole TED talks about the idea of the Mystery Box, and it’s been at the center of profiles of him, and it’s arguably the unifying concept in his whole filmography. Certainly it’s the unifying feature of the way his movies are marketed!
But the not-so-well–kept secret of Abrams’ mystery boxes is that they tend to contain … pretty much exactly what you expect. In the run up to Star Trek Into Darkness, the marketing team refused to confirm the identity of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, and in fact Abrams and others lied directly to journalists, saying he wasn’t who everyone thought he was: Khan. It turned out he was Khan. In the lead up to the release of Super 8, viral teasers showed a sort of literal mystery box, in this case the car of a freight train, from which something was trying to escape. Everyone assumed it was an alien creature. It turned out to be an alien creature. I’m not going to bat at the hornets’ nest that is the ending of Lost, but arguably the same thing is also true of that show (which Abrams helped create) as well as Cloverfield (which Abrams produced).
So, sure, it could turn out that Luke is now Evil Luke, or that Luke is Kylo Ren, or that Luke has really let himself go and become Jabba the Hutt. And he, like anyone, could once again be tempted by the dark side of the Force. (Given that it’s a new Star Wars trilogy, surely someone will be tempted eventually, and when they are, you can be sure that they’ll start sporting darker hues.) But Star Wars fans who know Abrams, and who know a little bit about the sartorial tastes of Jedi and Sith Lords, should start preparing themselves for the likelihood that on Dec. 18, when Abrams opens up his mystery box, Luke will just be … Luke.