Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has a lot of weight on its shoulders. The film is not only the culmination of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, but it’s also the closing chapter for the entire Skywalker saga. That’s 40 years of film history that it needs to wrap up and tie together, and how it chooses to do that… well, we have a feeling no matter what director J.J. Abrams has in store, it’ll ruffle some feathers. But in a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, for the magazine’s November issue, he shed some light on the film and how seriously everyone at Lucasfilm is taking the whole “nine saga story” thing. Here’s his full quote:
“While there were many things that were planned for and discussed—George Lucas himself said when he created this he saw it as three, three-act plays—that doesn’t mean there isn’t discovery, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that come up that make you realize, ‘Oh, here’s an opportunity.’ It also doesn’t mean that there’s a list of payoffs that we have to do because of setups. But we also were very much aware this is the end of the trilogy and it needs to satisfy. We went into this thing knowing it has to be an ending. We’re not screwing around.”
So far, the sequel trilogy has been loaded with references to the original trilogy films: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. But if they’re planning to fully reference all nine films, that means the prequels will get some love in The Rise of Skywalker, too. Those divisive films have seen a bit of a reappraisal in the last few years, and the inclusion of Emperor Palpatine—who we’ve heard in the Episode IX trailers and who appears in the official poster—seems to point at an even more encompassing finale. Palpatine was the main villain of both the original and prequel trilogies, and it appears he’s the overarching bad guy in the sequels, too. But aside from just integrating the Emperor back into the story, The Rise of Skywalker needs to do a good deal more if it wants to satisfy fans of the full saga.
With that in mind, here are a few ways the film can reference and call back to all of the episodic Star Wars films without, as Abrams implied, checking off some metaphorical list of “must haves.” Whether it’s musically or thematically, there are a lot of ways to make the ending impactful.
Back in August, we learned that John Williams—who composed the score for every episodic Star Wars film to date, and will return for The Rise of Skywalker— has written 135 minutes worth of music for Episode IX. His brother, Don Williams, revealed this bit of information at an Academy of the Scoring Arts event. “It’s top-to-bottom music,” Don told a small, invested crowd. “I can tell you that every theme you’ve ever heard has been compiled into this last effort. Everyone. Leia, Yoda, the phantom, the darth. All of it’s going to be in there.”
The “phantom” he’s referencing is likely Palpatine, and the “darth” is likely Darth Maul. That means that chances are very good that we’ll revisit one of the most iconic pieces of music from the entire saga: “Duel of the Fates” from The Phantom Menace. Even prequel haters tend to agree that this epic bit of music is some of Williams’ best work. Referencing it in The Rise of Skywalker is a smart way of relating the story back to where it all began, without being too on the nose about it. Imagine Rey and Kylo warding off enemies as that theme kicks into gear. It’s fan service, without resorting to lazy thrills just for the sake of it.
This one seems like a given, and its success will depend on a few factors. While we fully expect to see some Force ghosts in The Rise of Skywalker, we also hope Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio figured out a way to utilize them without making them too important. We know that Mark Hamill will return for the film, meaning Luke’s ghost will factor into the plot somehow. We even hear him in the trailer, and his words heavily hint at the appearance of other Force ghosts:
We’ve passed on all we know. A thousand generations live in you now. But this is your fight.
So where will they turn up in the movie? And which Force ghosts will we see? Apart from Luke, the natural next guess is Anakin. Hayden Christiansen has been fueling rumors all year, appearing at events like Star Wars Celebration and smaller charity gatherings with his prequel co-star Ian McDiarmid, the Emperor himself. If he’s in The Rise of Skywalker, those appearances make a lot of sense. Maybe he’s so excited because he’s got a bit to play in the franchise once more.
It’d be powerful to end the movie with Rey (and possibly Ben Solo) surrounded by Force ghosts, much like the end of Return of the Jedi. Should something happen to Leia in the film—which seems like a strong possibility given Carrie Fisher’s passing—we can’t imagine a more fitting way for the saga to close than with images of everyone that’s passed on their wisdom to our surviving Force users. In addition to Luke, Leia, and Anakin, we could also see Yoda and Obi-Wan. Maybe they’ll throw us for a real loop and put Ahsoka in there, too.
The redemption of Ben Solo
Fans have been debating for years about the fate of Kylo Ren. The man formerly known as Ben Solo fell to the Dark Side under the influence of Supreme Leader Snoke, but he continues to wrestle with the light in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. The final film in the saga is called The Rise of Skywalker, and Leia and Kylo are the only Skywalkers left. Leia has nothing to rise from, as she’s always been good. So what else could that title refer to? It has to mean the redemption of Ben Solo, right?
Ben’s redemption would be a great way to end the saga, especially if he survives. It would effectively break the Skywalker family curse of tragedy, and if he helps defeat Palpatine once and for all, could mean that he truly finished what his grandfather started—something Kylo said to Vader’s mask back in The Force Awakens. Of course, Rey can accomplish this as well; Star Wars is just as much about found families as it is about biological bloodlines. But the impact would be stronger if they did it together, showing a “rise” of both true-born and spiritual Skywalkers.
We’ll find out for certain how it all fits together when Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrives in theaters on December 20.
Featured Image: Disney/Lucasfilm