[Editor’s note: The following post contains extensive spoilers for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”]
After four decades of pop cultural supremacy, the Skywalker Saga has come to a close — well, for now, until the seemingly inevitable relaunch of the series via a splashy Disney+ series or similar — with the release of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” The ninth film in the beloved franchise promises to conclude the adventures of the series’ indelible characters, from newbies like Rey, Finn, and Poe, to original heroes Luke, Leia, and Han.
While early critical appraisals have been mixed (the film currently sits at a “Rotten” 58 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes), there’s no denying that the “final word” on this chapter of Hollywood history will be talked about for years to come. And with a number of big, game-changing decisions kitting out the film’s stuffed running time, there’s plenty to dissect.
Ahead, we unpack the six biggest spoilers, plot twists, and narrative upheavals of “The Rise of Skywalker,” many of which definitively answer long-lingering questions fans have pondered for years. And, while the Skywalker Saga may have ended, the repercussions of its galaxy-shaking choices will surely be felt in the “Star Wars” universe for years to come.
[One more time: The following post contains extensive spoilers for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”]
6. Poe Gets an Unexpected Backstory
For fans eager to see more of Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) and their charming friendship, “The Rise of Skywalker” offers at least more time spent with the dynamic duo. Further, uh, developments between the pair? They’re in short supply, but Abrams and Chris Terrio’s script does build in a fresh backstory for Resistance leader Poe, who apparently enjoyed a swashbuckling life as a smuggler before joining up with the good fight.
Rey, Finn, and Poe’s first-act mission brings the group to the planet of Kijimi, where Poe hopes to seek out an old pal (the quite adorable Anzellan droidsmith Babu Frik) to assist in a technical endeavor. But Poe’s old pal Babu isn’t alone, and is still working alongside Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell), the leader of the so-called Spice Runners of Kijimi, a friend (and possibly more) that Poe left behind when he felt the call to join General Leia’s army.
It’s a slight diversion in an already plot-packed story, but it builds out some holes in Poe’s own backstory (albeit, one that seems to contradict scads of canon comic book plotting that have long played up Poe’s stiff military background).
5. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker Return
Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) own words from “The Last Jedi” ring true this time around, too: “No one’s ever really gone.” And, in a universe in which beloved heroes are able to return via Force Ghosts and extremely vivid memories, why should they? Despite passing on to the next great whatever in “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi,” respectively, both Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Luke make brief appearances in Abrams’ film.
First up, Han returns to visit his conflicted kid Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) via, well, it’s not a Force Ghost and it’s not one of Kylo’s weirdo connections with Rey, but it is a powerful memory in which Han echoes some of what he told the erstwhile Ben Solo right before he killed him in “The Force Awakens,” but with a twist. After a particularly bruising battle with Rey, General Leia (Carrie Fisher) reaches out to her only son (more on that below), psychically pleading with him to return to the Light side of the Force. Afterwards, Kylo-maybe-Ben is visited by his dead dad, again tussling with his fears that he’s not strong enough to do what he needs to do. This time, however, he makes a very different choice.
After that same battle, Rey alights for Ahch-To, the site of Luke’s “The Last Jedi” hermitage and where the pair trained during the early part of her Jedi lessons. Rey’s plan: destroy Kylo’s personal ship (which she’s stolen), which just so happens to contain a key artifact, toss Luke’s lightsaber, and spend the rest of her days on the island (with the porgs, who make off with a brief appearance), all the better to keep herself away from the tantalizing Dark side of the Force.
Force Ghost Luke has other ideas, however, and when he appears to return his saber to his protege, it’s inevitable she’ll be inspired to embrace her true Jedi nature again. Aided by the apparently not-destroyed artifact and Luke’s own X-Wing — once sunk in the island’s sea, now resurrected to fly her to her next mission — Rey gets her mojo back, and Luke gets one last chance to expound on the power of the Light side.
4. General Leia Sacrifices Herself (And So Does C-3PO)
So, about Leia reaching out to Kylo Ren through an apparent psychic connection. Part mother’s plea, part last ditch effort to stave back the Resistance’s primary baddie, the mechanics of it are never quite explained, beyond a weakened Leia using all of her remaining strength to speak to her son after yet another battle with Rey. For Kylo, it works, reminding him of who he can be — Ben Solo, that is — a message hammered even further home when his father appears to him minutes later. Major downside: Leia’s emotional act is also her last, and she passes away at the Resistance’s jungle base. (Not to fear, she — and Luke! — later appear as Force Ghosts.)
Earlier in the film, the gang discovers a hidden message on a chilling Sith dagger, one that promises to lead them to a handy little gizmo that will take them to a hidden planet where a central Star Wars figure (and classic villain) is hiding out. The only problem, of course, is that while droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) can read its message, he’s forbidden from sharing its evil message with his pals.
Enter Babu Frik, who is able to crack open C-3PO’s memory bank to retrieve the message, with one major cost: it will totally wipe his memory. He’s basically back to factory settings (read: Anakin Skywalker settings), a decision that will, in effect, kill the C-3PO we know and love. He goes for it, and the key message is retrieved. (And, yes, C-3PO later gets back some of his memory, care of R2D2, keeping his sacrifice from being too tragic.)
3. Kylo Ren Turns Back to the Light Side of the Force
Aided by visits from both his soon-to-be-dead mother and his already-dead father (plus, probably just like the tremendous psychic pain of being really, really evil for no good reason), Kylo Ren eventually returns to the Light side of the Force. Tossing his own (evil) lightsaber into a churning sea, the newly-saved Ben Solo next turns his attention to aiding Rey in destroying the film’s (and, to be clear, the entire series’) primary big bad on a distant, secret planet.
It’s not an easy ask, and the weakened Ben has to contend with his own former pals The Knights of Ren, a truly evil villain, and Rey’s own conflict to help her eradicate the threat. The duo are ultimately able to prevail, but it comes with a cost: Rey dies, and it’s only Ben’s own ability to Force-heal her (an ability Rey herself has, and one she previously used to save Ben after their big battle) that saves her. The pair close it all with a kiss (Reylo is indeed real), before Ben dies, leaving Rey to carry the torch of their Force-tested bond.
2. Emperor Palpatine Is Back (And Was Maybe Never Gone)
Disney / screencap
As has long been rumored, the primary villain of “The Rise of Skywalker” is a familiar one, at least to fans of the prequels and the original trilogy: Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). While Darth Vader’s evil mentor was presumed dead at the end of 1983’s “Return of the Jedi” — falling into the Death Star’s reactor would do that to anyone! — and the Sith lord has not appeared in either of the previous films that make up this final trilogy, Abrams’ film posits he’s been silently pulling the strings this entire time.
That’s not to say he’s doing so well, because when we’re reunited with ol’ Sheev Palpatine on a secret Sith planet after he’s reemerged and sent out a (presumably very evil) message to the galaxy, he’s a mess of broken body parts that are barely being held together by “unnatural” Force magic. He’s been hiding out all these decades, rebuilding a massive fleet, and preparing for the moment he can pass on his Dark legacy and control of a Sith army that’s just waiting to be resurrected. (He may also have been attempting to clone himself along the way, as hinted at by a quick shot at a giant test tube of what looks to be failed would-be Snokes; that’s the only hint fans will get at Snoke’s own queasy parentage.)
It’s Kylo Ren that finds him first, and while audiences might presume that the new Supreme Leader would be thrilled to join forces with another baddie, Kylo is done playing second fiddle to anyone, and is bent on killing off Palpatine before he can even fully unravel the full thrust of his plans to take back the empire. No bother, because Emperor Palpatine has his eyes fixed on another potential protege…
1. Rey Is Not Nothing From Nowhere
Talk about having it both ways. Since “The Force Awakens,” Rey’s potential parentage has been debated ad nauseum. Is she Leia and Han’s secret daughter, Kylo Ren’s twin? Is she Luke’s kid? Maybe she’s a distant Kenobi relation! Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” appeared to put the debate to rest: she’s nobody, from nowhere, the child of “filthy junk traders” who sold her off for drinking money. It was a powerful message about the potential of the Force, and that anyone could possess it and become a hero in the process (remember, even Anakin Skywalker didn’t have a highfaluting family tree to boost his ambitions).
“The Rise of Skywalker” attempts to split the difference: yes, Rey’s parents were nobodies, but by choice, having fled their evil background in hopes of living a quiet life with their charming baby Rey. But their big dreams of an existence without Dark, literally overlording forces was crushed when Rey’s (still unnamed) father’s own father came to crush them and take their Force-sensitive child. That grandfather? No less than Emperor Palpatine who, despite never having much in the way of a social life, apparently at one point fathered a son who grew up to want nothing more than to be nobody.
For Rey, already struggling with the pull of Kylo Ren and the Dark side, it’s a crushing revelation, and one that pushes her into new corners of anguish and self-questioning. By the film’s end, however, Rey has rejected her shaky family legacy, literally killing the past and forging her own way, complete with a new last name: Rey Skywalker.
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is in theaters now.