One person was conspicuously absent from last week’s final poster and trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Luke Skywalker is becoming perhaps the most central mystery about Episode VII. The only surprise is that it’s taken so long to start asking: Where is Luke?

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Warning: Some spoilers and a lot of speculation ahead...

When Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy was trying to convince J.J. Abrams to direct The Force Awakens, she said it was one question that hooked him. She asked Abrams, “Who is Luke Skywalker?” He got chills, and agreed to do the movie. But that’s also a question that fans have been asking since the end of Return of the Jedi. Luke’s actions have always been the crux of what a post-Jedi Star Wars universe would look like.

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So, there’s your simple, clean, non-spoiler explanation for Luke’s absence on the poster and trailer: Including even a glimpse of him would give away too much about the larger plot. But let’s dig deeper.

Before we knew there was going to actually be an Episode VII, the prevailing theory about Luke’s journey was he would train his Force-sensitive sister, Leia, to be a Jedi and together the two of them would begin to train a new legion of Jedi, led by the kids of Han and Leia. Why did we all think that? Because that’s what happens in the Expanded Universe stories, such as the The Thrawn Trilogy, written by Timothy Zahn.

“Expanded Universe” is a term for books, games, comics and more that took place in the Star Wars universe and were released after Return of the Jedi. George Lucas gave many of these stories his seal of approval. And Zahn’s three book series, published from 1991 to 1993, was pretty much considered the definitive Sequel Trilogy by fans, who believed these were Luke, Leia and Han’s stories after Jedi.

However, when Disney bought Lucasfilm, they reclassified the entire “Expanded Universe” as “Legends,” and said none of it actually “happened” as far as the new films are concerned. In fact, ever since the Episode VII announcement was made in 2012, the people working on the film have been adamant in saying they were not going to make any use of the Expanded Universe stories, whatsoever. How could fans get excited for a movie based on a book that has been in circulation for 20 years? There would be no surprises. So the EU was tossed out.

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That being the case, you almost have to expect things from the Expanded Universe are specifically not going to happen in the new movies. Or, at the very least, they’ll be changed greatly. The latest Force Awakens trailer only reinforces this view. We now know that the young generation—Rey, Finn etc.—have only heard of the Jedi as distant mythology. That surely suggests Luke has not become a prominent figure in the universe.

The prevailing theory among fans is that, in The Force Awakens, Luke Skywalker is in hiding. We’ll explore why in a second, but this makes a ton of sense if you reject the Expanded Universe stories. With Anakin, Obi-Wan and Yoda dead, Luke is likely the last Jedi, and this is the first time he’s never had another Jedi to talk to. (Will Force Ghosts play a role? Maybe.) And we can assume he hasn’t been training other Jedi in the ways of the Force, so he’s simply the sole person in the galaxy with this massive knowledge and power. That’s a responsibility which would scare even the most powerful person. And if you’re a Jedi, being scared isn’t an option, especially when you realize where fear leads (to the dark side, according to Yoda). So Luke being in seclusion would be a way for him to avoid doing harm to himself and others, and allow the galaxy to finally, after eons, exist without Jedi.

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Luke going into seclusion is either the bravest, or most cowardly, thing the last Jedi could do, depending on how you look at it.

The one shot we’ve seen of him in the trailers (at top) backs this seclusion theory up, as we see a cloaked figure all alone with his favorite droid, R2-D2. (However, we’ve seen glimpses of R2-D2 in other scenes, which maybe suggests he does some of Luke’s bidding elsewhere.) Plus, the only time anyone saw actor Mark Hamill filming was on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. This beautiful, secluded location is probably the setting of Luke’s hideout.

So let’s assume Luke is hiding. How, then, does he play into the movie? Well, there are a few trains of thought.

I’ve heard two rumors about Luke’s role in this movie, but I don’t know which is true, if either. Those rumors are that A). Luke doesn’t show up until the very end of the movie, possibly even the last shot or B). He has a big role in the third act of the film and kicks major, major ass.

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No matter if one or neither of those are true, we can pretty definitively say his story is linked to, at the very least, Kylo Ren. Kylo is looking for Luke. The latest trailer shows Kylo saying he wants to finish what “you” started (probably meaning Darth Vader) and one of the official toys has Kylo saying “Together we will destroy the Resistance and the last Jedi.”

If Kylo wants to destroy the last Jedi, that’s Luke. But is he being honest? Does Kylo want to kill Luke so there won’t be anyone to challenge his power with the Force? Or could Kylo looking for Luke because they’re related? Is it he wants to learn the ways of The Force? Or is it because he wants to recruit Luke, like Vader tried to do? We don’t know.

I think we can almost definitively say, though, that Luke Skywalker is not Kylo Ren. That’s a crazy fan theory that’s been going around, which has way more evidence against it than for it.

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That evidence is as follows: 1. The toy says it wants to destroy the last Jedi. If they’re the same person, that doesn’t make sense. 2. Ren has built a shoddy, homemade lightsaber, because he’s not one with the Force. Luke is. 3. We’ve seen photos of Kylo Ren without his helmet on, and it’s Adam Driver. And 4. In September, Hamill was spotted back at Skellig Michael with Star Wars Episode VIII director Rian Johnson, likely doing some early, weather-related filming. The pair were joined by a full crew and one other key cast member. This suggests not only does Luke survive The Force Awakens, but he’ll be doing something important with this cast member in the next movie. Maybe filling that Obi-Wan role.

So, in the end, I think that’s what happening with Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens. For good and bad, he’s scared of the powers he has, and he’s in hiding. No one has seen him for years, but he becomes essential once a new threat begins to rise led by Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke. Whether he deals with that threat in this movie, another one, or via another character, we don’t know. But he will deal with it.

“These are good questions to be asking,” J.J. Abrams said when asked about Luke’s Force Awakens whereabouts. “I can’t wait for you to find out the answer.”


Contact the author at germain@io9.com.