This post contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
To call Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a controversial movie would be a bit of an understatement. Every Disney-era Star Wars film has come with its own set of criticisms, so it’s no surprise that the final entry in the Skywalker saga has fans arguing online. Some enjoyed the payoff and its answers to longstanding questions, while others had big problems with the fates of certain characters and story arcs. The film was deemed rotten on critic aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, but fared better with general audiences. It seems everything is pretty split on this one.
To make matters even more complicated, screenwriter Chris Terrio—who cowrote The Rise of Skywalker with director J.J. Abrams—keeps giving interviews post-release that make some of the big plot choices feel downright bizarre. Was the production really as rushed and troubled as the rumors say, or were these decisions straight from Terrio and Abrams’ imaginations? No one knows for sure, but we do have several concrete answers about storytelling choices from Terrio’s interviews, and we compiled the biggest ones below.
Why did they bring Palpatine back?
One of The Rise of Skywalker‘s biggest surprises is the return of Emperor Palpatine, who seemingly died back in Return of the Jedi. How he survived that fateful fall all those years back and where he’s been since aren’t explained in the new movie, to the frustration of many fans. So why bring him back at all? In an interview with IndieWire, Terrio said that he and Abrams decided it would be weird if Palpatine wasn’t in the movie in some way.
“When we discover Rey, she’s literally living in the wreck of the old war, the previous war, that literally the landscape of Jakku is scarred with evidence of the war that came before,” he explained. He goes on to say that they thought it was important to show that the original war never really ended, and that this new conflict would be more interesting with the descendants of Anakin Skywalker and Sheev Palpatine facing off to finally put an end to the saga’s conflict.
Why did they make Rey his granddaughter?
Speaking of that, one of the biggest revelations in The Rise of Skywalker is that Rey is actually the granddaughter of Palpatine, which is a big thematic reason for his return. This is one of the most controversial elements of the movie and something that both Terrio and Abrams have had to address a lot. In an interview with GQ, Terrio gave the most complete and explicit reasoning behind the decision yet.
When asked why they chose to change Rey’s parentage after it was seemingly established in The Last Jedi that she was a “nobody,” Terrio said, “We weren’t convinced that it had been cleared up, because there’s still this highly troubling vision that Rey had in Episode VII, which is the shot with her parents leaving the planet.” He went on to explain that they thought it would be “too easy” for Rey to be a nobody because she had been “longing for her parents for so many years.”
It should be noted that Rian Johsnon, director of The Last Jedi, had almost the exact opposite sentiment about what challenges Rey. “The easiest thing for Rey and the audience to hear is, ‘Oh yeah, you’re so-and-so’s daughter,’” he told Entertainment Weekly back in 2017. “That would be wish fulfillment and instantly hand her a place in this story on a silver platter. The hardest thing for her is to hear she’s not going to get that easy answer.”
Terrio continued in the GQ interview, “We think of Star Wars as a fairytale. Two twins: One is sent off to be a farmer and one is sent off to be a princess. Rey is kind of both. She becomes a junk trader on Jakku but she’s also royalty. She’s the descendant of the Emperor, she’s essentially a princess of the Dark Side. This goes back to so many stories. Moses, for example, was a commoner raised as a prince. The whole concept is really mythologically strong to us. She’s inherited this power but ultimately chooses to transform her lineage and decides her ancestors are the Jedi, basically.”
Why is Han Solo in the movie?
In one pivotal moment in The Rise of Skywalker, Han Solo (or, the memory of Han Solo) makes a surprise appearance. He’s there to beckon his son, Ben, back to the light side. In the absence of the late Carrie Fisher, who would probably have filled this role had she not passed away before filming, the writers decided to use Han to give Ben the closure he needed to be redeemed.
“One thing we thought Episode IX needed to do was provide closure and he, essentially, had to seek forgiveness,” Terrio told GQ. “Han isn’t a force ghost, obviously. He’s a memory. He doesn’t have the same ontological status as, say, Luke, who exists in quite a literal way later on, but we needed Ren to ask forgiveness in order to carry on.”
Why was Rose Tico absent?
Another big controversy surrounding The Rise of Skywalker was the reduced role for Rose Tico. The character was a major part of the story in The Last Jedi, and the actress who plays her, Kelly Marie Tran, faced a lot of negative backlash after that movie’s release. In the lead-up to Episode IX, Abrams praised Tran, and she was a staple on the PR tour. But in the final film, she got less than two minutes of screen time. In an interview with Awards Daily, Terrio said the reason for this had to do with Leia and the limited footage they had of Carrie Fisher.
“We wanted Rose to be the anchor at the rebel base who was with Leia,” he said. “We thought we couldn’t leave Leia at the base without any of the principals whom we love, so Leia and Rose were working together. As the process evolved, a few scenes we’d written with Rose and Leia turned out to not meet the standard of photorealism that we’d hoped for. Those scenes unfortunately fell out of the film.”
However, after that interview went to print and riled the fanbase, Terrio issued an apology and clarification. In a statement to Vulture, Terrio said: “I badly misspoke if in an earlier statement I implied that any cut scenes between Rose and Leia were the fault of our VFX team and the wizards at ILM. In that earlier interview, I was referring to a specific scene in which Leia’s emotional state in Episode VII did not seem to match the scene we wrote for use in Episode IX, and so it was cut at the script stage before the VFX work was done.”
Who knows what actually happened, but we’ll forever mourn the Rose and Rey scenes that Kelly Marie Tran teased ahead of the film’s release.
What was the decision behind Finn’s late-in-the-game Force sensitivity?
One of the best things about The Last Jedi was the idea of a democratized Force. That movie ends with the image of a young Force-sensitive boy holding a broom and looking to the stars, showing that anyone was capable of being a hero. That thread was seemingly dropped in The Rise of Skywalker, but Terrio explained to The Hollywood Reporter that Finn’s Force sensitivity in the film was their way of following through on that idea.
“Rey descending from a Palpatine doesn’t negate the idea that kids with brooms, Finn, and any other number of people in the galaxy can be strong with the Force,” he said.
Why did Luke catch the lightsaber this time?
There are several conspiracy theories floating around the web that The Rise of Skywalker was an attempt to reconcile the “wrongs” of The Last Jedi. Was Abrams so disappointed at the direction Johnson chose to take the story in that he spent a big portion of his film “correcting” his perceived problems? Your mileage may vary on the fact of the matter, but there are certainly a lot of things in Episode IX that feel like the films are in combat. One big thing is the appearance of Luke’s Force ghost on Ahch-To. In The Last Jedi, Luke famously discarded the legacy lightsaber with a shrug. In The Rise of Skywalker, he catches the saber when Rey tosses it and tells her that a Jedi’s weapon deserves respect.
Was that Abrams and Terrio taking a swipe at Johnson? Not so, says Terrio. “That moment for us was about Luke having learned something and Rey having grown, and he will not let Rey make the same mistake that he did,” he told IndieWire.
Why does the galaxy finally come to aid the Resistance?
Near the end of The Rise of Skywalker, Lando Calrissian shows up last-minute to aid the Resistance near Exogol, where Rey is facing off against Palpatine. And he’s not alone; he’s brought with him a huge fleet of folks across the galaxy who are finally ready to join the fight against evil. It’s a powerful moment, but it’s also a puzzling one. In The Last Jedi, the Resistance puts out a call for help on Crait… a call that goes unanswered. It’s been a year since the events of that film and since Luke’s noble sacrifice. But at the beginning of The Rise of Skywalker, the Resistance is still dwindling. So why does everyone just suddenly and out of nowhere decide to help this time?
“I don’t want to over-explain our intentions in the film,” Terrio told THR, “and I’d leave it to the audience to draw causal connections between events. But, I will say this: there’s no reason to think that Luke’s sacrifice wasn’t what inspired the galaxy. Lando rounded up the allies, but clearly something has changed in the galaxy since the Battle of Crait. The galaxy answers the call this time.”
That’s not really an explanation, to be honest. Especially since he adds later on that he “won’t presume to decode the film.” But we guess we can accept that it would take a while for everyone to hear what Palpatine has in store (i.e. total galactic destruction) and finally feel motivated to do something about it.
Why are Luke and Leia the only Force ghosts at the end?
The movie ends on a bittersweet note. Rey, having defeated Palpatine, heads off to Tatooine to bury the lightsabers of Luke and Leia, who are both dead. She rejects her family name and decides to call herself Rey Skywalker, after the family who trained her in the Force and finally made her feel like a part of something. She looks off into the distance and sees the Force ghosts of the Skywalker twins and smiles. It’s a nice moment, but it does prompt the question: Where is Ben Solo?
Ben died moments before this, sacrificing his life to save Rey. We even see his body dissipate into thin air, something that always happens in Star Wars when a Force user later becomes a ghost. It feels strange that he isn’t there at the end, especially since he’s also a Skywalker and has an even closer connection to Rey than Luke and Leia do.
Terrio told THR that he and Abrams spent a lot of time discussing who would be in that final shot. Ultimately, they chose to focus on the twins to give Leia “more centrality” and because they were the characters who trained Rey. “It’s her, Luke and Leia standing together because she’s got the two Skywalker sabers in her hands,” he said. He also added that having more Force ghosts there at the end might be too much of a “visual shock” for the audience.
Is Rey going to live on Tatooine?
The final scene created quite a stir online for another reason, too. Many fans wondered if Rey’s appearance on Tatooine implied that she would stay there forever now that the battle was over. That might sound silly to some—surely she was just there to bury the sabers and then go back to her friends—but the music track that accompanies this scene is titled “A New Home.” Is Tatooine really going to be Rey’s new home, especially after we saw how much she hated life on Jakku?
“I don’t think we think of it as she’s going to live there,” Terrio told IndieWire. “We thought of it as just paying her respects and sort of undoing the original sin at the end of the third movie, which is the separation of the twins.” He added that the scene was also meant to have a meta purpose, in that it pays respects to George Lucas and the original trilogy with the imagery of the binary sunset.
Featured Image: Lucasfilm