(Note: This post contains major spoilers for the plot of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and particularly its ending.)
Much of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is about Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) coming to terms with his own failures as a Jedi and as a teacher. After Ben Solo (Adam Driver) turned to the Dark Side to become Kylo Ren while Luke was training him, Luke exiled himself to the distant planet of Ahch-To, and obscured the information of where he’d gone from everyone, even Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher).
In “The Last Jedi,” Luke deals with Rey, who wants him to not only train her in the ways of the Force, but to return to the Resistance and help it fight off Kylo Ren and the First Order. At first, Luke is reluctant, worried he’ll do more harm than good as a teacher, like he did with Ren.
But in the final moments of “The Last Jedi,” Luke somehow miraculously shows up in the Resistance’s base in its darkest hour. He goes outside to face down the might of the First Order, and despite them firing everything they have at him, Luke survives. He then faces Kylo Ren alone, keeping him busy while the Resistance escapes the base from a hidden exit.
As Kylo Ren discovers, Luke was never actually on the planet with him — instead, Ren was fighting a projection of Luke, sent from a huge distance through the Force.
Once everyone escapes, Luke lets the projection fade away, but moments later, he dies, disappearing from his robes the way that Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) did in “A New Hope” and Yoda did in “Return of the Jedi.” But if you weren’t listening clearly, it might not be clear just what did Luke in.
The answer lies in an earlier discussion between Kylo Ren and Rey (Daisy Ridley). The pair of them spend a lot of “The Last Jedi” linked by the Force. They can see each other and talk to each other as if they’re in the same place together. The two don’t understand what’s happening between them, and neither of them is initiating the contact.
The key moment comes when Ren first sees Rey. He says to her, “Are you doing this?” when the connection first begins. Then he realizes that would be impossible because of the distance between them. “The effort would kill you,” he continues.
It seems for Luke, the effort did kill him. Even for a Jedi Master, and in a location like Ahch-To, which is powerful in the Force, creating such an elaborate deception over such a huge distance is apparently incredibly difficult. It means that Luke gave his all, and sacrificed himself, one last time to save his friends and family.
That doesn’t mean that Luke is gone for good, of course. As we’ve seen before, Jedi masters have a tendency to come back as ghosts when their students really need them. It’s likely that Luke will get at least one last appearance in “Episode IX,” just when things are at their darkest for Rey — or for Ben Solo.