I was thinking about the first chapter of One Piece where Shanks gives his hat to Luffy, and knowing what we do now from the manga, I had a few thoughts.
Shanks says to Luffy “promise that you’ll bring it back to me someday… when you’ve become a great pirate.” ‘The Great Pirate’ was Gol Roger’s title before King of the Pirates, but I think there’s more to it than that. The only time we see Roger wearing the straw hat is in Rayleigh’s flashback, and the next point in the timeline we see him with it is this scene below from chapter 964.
So, Roger wears the straw hat when he recruits Rayleigh (and presumably the rest of his crew), but then doesn’t years later after he’s obtained the title of ‘The Great Pirate’. He’s already given the hat to Shanks.
It’s a similar story with Shanks’ ownership of the hat; he has it during his time with the Roger Pirates, during the years afterwards where he recruits and establishes his crew, gives the hat to Luffy, then goes on to become one of the Yonko.
I think it’s worth noting that Roger and Shanks only have the hat during their ‘early’ years when they were forming their crews, then passed it on to someone else right before they were recognized as ‘great pirates’ (Shanks being a Yonko is the World Government itself admitting he’s a great pirate). If Luffy is meant to parallel Roger and to a lesser extent Shanks, then I think it makes sense for him to give up his straw hat right before or when he’s seen as a great pirate.
I think most people envision a scene near the end of the series where Luffy finally meets up with Shanks and offers him the hat back, only for Shanks to say something like “that hat belongs to the King of the Pirates” and give it back to Luffy. Or some variation of that.
But Shanks also said that this hat means a lot to him, and he wants Luffy to give it back someday.
A popular theory I see is that Blackbeard will be the one to kill Shanks, and I completely agree with this. I think it makes sense storytelling wise, as Shanks is Luffy’s mentor, and the mentor almost always dies in stories so that the student can surpass them.
So I see something like this happening; I think it’s likely that either right before his death, or even with his final breaths, Shanks tells Luffy that he’s become a great pirate. I don’t think it matters if Luffy is actually Yonko level at this point, just that Shanks sees him as such, will probably be enough for Luffy to consider himself a great pirate. Luffy then rests the straw hat on his corpse, fulfilling his promise of returning it to Shanks.
I think this could be a beautiful scene, with Shanks being laid to rest with the very hat his former captain gave to him so long ago.
I suppose it’s possible for Luffy to pass on his straw hat to someone else, and have him become that person’s inspiration, but I think if the hat is meant to symbolize the Will of D. and/or the Dawn of the World or whatever, then maybe by the end of the series Luffy will have already fulfilled its purpose? And there won’t need to be another wearer of the straw hat.
*Theory by Word-of-the-Witness