June 9, 2016 – Director Rian Johnson (Star Wars Episode VIII) this week released a single photo of what many surmise to be Luke Skywalker’s cloak. The hangar, the boom mike and the multi-angled shadows tell us that the photo was taken on set in a studio and not on location – reportedly Ireland, where filming for Episode VIII is scheduled to wrap up by now.
So what does this all mean? What is Rian Johnson telling us?
“Hanging up the cloak”, as the teaser photo might suggest, could signal the culmination of principal photography for Episode VIII. In fact, Rian Johnson all but confirmed this when he captioned the above photo “In the home stretch”.
That still leaves a remarkable 18 months for editing and the usual tidying up – musical scoring, sound effects, and the inevitable handful of reshoots – as the newest sequel will not premiere until 15 December 2017. The early end of filming just might allow for the first teaser trailer – just in time for Star Wars Celebration Europe in mid-July (not likely, but one can dream) – or more likely Thanksgiving, to fuel the hype around the release of both Rogue One (Dec. 16th) and Episode VIII (no official title yet).
But something about that forlorn cloak still leaves us curious, unsatisfied, perplexed even. A cloak is more than a long-flowing garment, after all. Sometimes, it’s meant to hide.
Where Is Luke?
The central mystery of The Force Awakens was, “Where is Luke?” Between Kylo Ren’s and the First Order’s murderous campaign to find the map leading to Luke’s hiding place, and the equally determined efforts of the Resistance to find Luke first, a lot of blood was shed.
It is not until the very last minute of The Force Awakens that Rey tracks down and meets her mythical hero, literally in hiding at the First Jedi Temple. But it’s the symbolism of the cloak, again, and Luke’s slow removal of the hood – perhaps in trepidation? – that makes us ponder: Is he ready to come out of hiding? Ready to rejoin the fight and restore balance to the Force? Ready to redeem himself and clean up the mess he left behind in the training and rise of his wayward protege, Kylo Ren?
While this version of the cloak is different in TFA (it’s a basket weave cotton pattern and light coffee colored), Luke’s removal of the hood from his head is meant to echo a scene from three decades earlier.
In one of the opening scenes of Return of the Jedi (1983), a much younger Luke stealthily penetrates Jabba the Hutt’s palace, dressed in a dark-brown cloak. Gone is the naive farm boy from Tatooine. For the first time we see the newly trained Luke in a floor-length brown cloak. The long folds of his garments signify, Here comes someone of power and stature. Here comes a Jedi Master.
Ready to confront Jabba, Luke removes his hood and reveals himself. The effect of the cloak and hood is to suggest that Luke has matured and that his training is complete.
But are we reading too much into a piece of fabric? Sometimes, after all, a cloak is just a cloak. No more, no less.
Other species have worn cloak-like garments in the Star Wars universe, signifying nothing:
The Star Wars Dress Code
Star Wars carries more symbolism than you can shake a lightsaber at. From the eleven colors of a lightsaber to the color of clothing (Light vs. Dark Side), visual clues are planted everywhere in the Star Wars saga. If you can spot the clues, you can begin to connect the dots. That’s just part of the fun and intrigue of Star Wars.
And so for key figures the cloak is more than a piece of cloth. It often symbolizes hierarchy and mastery. See, for example, the cloaks worn by Yoda, Obi-Wan, Senator Palpatine and Count Dooku – all Jedi or Sith Masters.
The cloak can also signify an elevation of status or “arrival” of someone. In Return of the Jedi, for example, we meet up again with Lando Calrissian – this time promoted to the rank of general.
But Luke is different. His on-again-off-again cloak suggests that sometimes he wants nothing to do with the The Force, the bringer of so much pain and suffering. Yet he is inexorably drawn to the conflict.
The story of the Skywalker Family is one of tragedy. The Force has bestowed upon Luke, Leia, and their father, Lord Vader, the title of Creator and Destroyer. More than any other family, they are at the center of the Yin and the Yang of Star Wars.
To “bring balance to the Force”, as the Jedi have long been attempting but not realizing, means that neither the Light Side nor the Dark Side can prevail.
Which brings us full circle back to Rian Johnson’s teaser photo: The empty cloak. Does this mean that Luke is back in the fight? (Hopefully and probably Yes.) Will someone else now don this or a similar cloak? (Rey, perhaps, if her Jedi training is ever fully realized; or Kylo Ren, if he prevails over the Resistance).
We will find out in Episode VIII (Dec. 2017) and IX (date not announced) in this forever franchise.
In the end, the cloak might hide as much as it reveals.