Although praised by critics, Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi has received plenty of criticism from fans, especially for its depiction of franchise hero Luke Skywalker. Some fans were turned off by what they saw as an uncharacteristic shift from unshakable Jedi to broken hermit, hiding away from a major conflict. However, new concept art from The Force Awakens indicates that Johnson's take on Luke wasn't particularly far away from existing ideas about the character's post-Return of the Jedi fate..
The art itself is a rendition of Luke by Christian Alzmann, a concept artist for The Force Awakens and Rogue One. The image shows Luke with long hair and a graying beard, similar to this appearance in the new trilogy's latest installments. In his caption, Alzmann writes, "My first image I made for Star Wars : The Force Awakens. This was January of 2013. Luke was being described as a Col. Kurtz type hiding from the world in a cave. I couldn’t believe I was getting to make this image and I got a George 'Fabulouso' on it to boot." The Colonel Kurtz to whom Alzmann refers to here is from the film Apocalypse Now, which is based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
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My first image I made for Star Wars : The Force Awakens. This was January of 2013. Luke was being described as a Col. Kurtz type hiding from the world in a cave. I couldn’t believe I was getting to make this image and I got a George “Fabulouso” on it to boot. #starwars #lukeskywalker #conceptart #theforceawakens
Alzmann's caption claims he created the art in 2013, which is two years prior to the release of The Force Awakens, and that the art apparently received high praise from series creator George Lucas, indicating that one of the major driving forces behind the original trilogy liked the take on his character.
Lucasfilm Creative Art Manager Phil Szostak, who worked on The Force Awakens "from pretty much the very beginning," shared the image on Twitter, providing additional context for the idea of Luke as a hermit through early ideas about the character as found in The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. According to Szostak, Luke's depiction in The Last Jedi is consistent with Lucas' vision for the character.
"He ended up secluding himself in this Jedi temple on a new planet, and he's just there meditating, reassessing his whole life. Gradually, over the arc of the movie, he rediscovers his vitality and comes back to himself." - Doug Chiang, May 2013, The Art of TLJ book— Phil Szostak (@PhilSzostak) November 21, 2018
These early quotations about Luke sound shockingly similar to the final version of the character seen in Johnson's The Last Jedi, indicating that the director definitely took some sort of inspiration from ideas about the character that were already in discussion at the time production on the new trilogy started.
Directed and co-written by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: Episode IX stars Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Billie Lourd, Keri Russell, Matt Smith, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams and Carrie Fisher, with Naomi Ackie and Richard E. Grant. The film is scheduled to open on Dec. 20, 2019.