On Friday, July 27, Disney went ahead and made Star Wars fans' dreams come true by announcing so many details about the next movie. Among the most exciting news is that Mark Hamill is returning to the franchise, but how will Luke be in Star Wars: Episode IX? It seemed as if the end of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi involved Jedi Master Luke Skywalker passing away. However, it now seems as if that was left intentionally open-ended by director Rian Johnson.
The semi-traumatic event — first Han Solo, and now Luke? — may have seemed set in stone at the time, but the reality is there's always a chance. Maybe he didn't straight-up die at the end of The Last Jedi. Perhaps the slumped-over Skywalker fans saw at the end was just a Jedi master exhausted by grief and labor. (He went through a lot in that last battle; dude deserves a break.)
However, one increasingly popular theory among Star Wars fans suggests that Luke did technically die, but for a higher purpose: To become a Force Ghost that guides the Resistance to victory.
There's a great explainer of exactly what a Force Spirit is over at Nerdist, but Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars Episode II: The Clone Wars stated it most succinctly:
“I am a manifestation of the Force, a Force that consists of two parts. Living beings generate the living Force, which in turn powers the wellspring that is the cosmic Force.”
AKA, Jedi Knights are so in tune with the ways of the universe, there's no drastic transition between "life" and "death" for them the way there would be for most people. So there's that option for Luke, which is definitely a relief.
As for the inclusion of Luke's twin sister, made famous by the late actor Carrie Fisher? Writer-director Abrams has assured fans that it will be tastefully done. “We desperately loved Carrie Fisher,” he explained in the press release, “[So] finding a truly satisfying conclusion to the Skywalker saga without her eluded us." As a result. Abrams' statement said the Star Wars team was "never going to recast" the role of Leia, or "use a CG character" to replace her. He continued:
"With the support and blessing from her daughter, Billie, we have found a way to honor Carrie’s legacy and role as Leia in Episode IX by using unseen footage we shot together in Episode VII."
Abrams, if you'll recall, directed Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but did not direct Episode VIII. So it's a testament to actor Billie Lourd's faith in Abrams, as well as his professional integrity — i.e., not using footage of Fisher filmed with director Rian Johnson — that unused Force Awakens footage will be recycled for Star Wars Episode IX.
In addition to Hamill and Fisher returning in some capacity, Abrams confirmed one more amazing rumor: Billy Dee Williams, the OG Lando Calrissian, will officially be a part of the next Star Wars film as well. (Whether Lando and Chewbacca will get along remains to be seen.) The trio will be joined by a bevy of returning actors from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, as well as new faces like Richard E. Grant — the tour manager from Spice World, among other notable roles — and the fabulous Keri Russell.
Hold on to your lightsabers, though, as the untitled Star Wars Episode IX won't fly into theaters until December 2019. But in the meantime, there's always Hamill's delightful Twitter account to keep an eye on. Not for updates, mind you, but joy.