What does the “rise of Skywalker” mean in Star Wars Episode IX?

Is it Rey?
Is it Rey?
Image: YouTube/Star Wars
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At a Star Wars event in Chicago today (April 12), director J.J. Abrams and his cast unveiled the name of the ninth and final film in the original Star Wars saga, along with a wonderfully teasing teaser trailer.

The final film will be called Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and will be released in December. But which Skywalker is the title referencing, and how are they rising?

Much like The Last Jedi before it, the film’s name seems to be purposefully obfuscating. There are, after all, a few people who it could be talking about, including:

  • Luke Skywalker: The hero of the original trilogy, as played by Mark Hamill, Luke died at the end of The Last Jedi. Hamill is listed, playing Luke, for this upcoming film, and will almost certainly appear as a “Force ghost,” much like his teacher Yoda did in The Last Jedi. Perhaps Luke will continue to have an influence over the galaxy from beyond the grave.
  • Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader: Although there have been many references to the dark Lord of the Sith in the recent sequels, Vader died and his corpse was burnt on a pyre by Luke at the end of The Return of the Jedi in 1983. But as we hear right at the end of the trailer, it seems that Emperor Palpatine, who also was supposed to have died when Vader threw him off a ledge in that same film, will be in The Rise of Skywalker (more on that below). The actor who plays the emperor, Ian McDiarmid, appeared onstage after the trailer ended, at the event in Chicago.
  • Ben Solo / Kylo Ren: Although not a Skywalker by name, he is by blood, as the grandson of Anakin (and son of Luke’s sister Leia). Perhaps he will renounce his dark-side ways, having taken command of the First Order at the end of The Last Jedi, and join forces with Rey. Speaking of which…
  • Rey: Although Kylo tells Rey during the last film that her parents were nobodies who sold her to slaveowners for drinking money, this may well not be true. Luke has trained her, and his lightsaber called out to her in The Force Awakens. And if he’s anything like his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, he may well leave out key details about her lineage until after he has died, as Kenobi did in Return of the Jedi. In the new trailer we also see that Rey has rebuilt Luke’s lightsaber, rather than build her own, which may suggest a sentimental connection.
  • Someone else: It’s possible, though perhaps unlikely, that the title refers to someone else entirely. Perhaps that child at the end of The Last Jedi who appears to use the force to grab a broom, or some other character we haven’t met yet. Or maybe Luke Skywalker’s name has become synonymous with rebellion (that same child is with a group at the end of the film retelling Luke’s standoff against Kylo Ren and the First Order) and the name is a call to action to stand up to tyranny. Like Spartacus, but on a galactic scale.

Is the Emperor back in Star Wars?

While it’s not entirely clear from the teaser trailer that the cackling laugh at the end is Emperor Palpatine’s, McDiarmid was indeed onstage in Chicago, leading us to believe that he is in the movie.

For extremely committed Star Wars nerds (like yours truly), there may be an explanation as to how Palpatine returns in the wider world of Star Wars content. Much as the last film took some cues from Star Wars lore developed in the TV shows and books written to support the main films, there’s a hint that Palpatine survives in some form after the fall of the Empire in the latest video game, Star Wars: Battlefront II.

In the main story of the game, which starts right after the second Death Star is destroyed and continues up to Kylo Ren and the First Order, we follow Iden Versio, an Empire spy turned Rebel, and her team. As we see briefly in the trailer above, after the Palpatine dies, his final orders are represented in a holographic display that lives in a red robot’s body, which you see in more detail as you move through the game.

It’s possible that the Emperor has continued to operate in this way behind the scenes for decades. Or perhaps like Luke, Vader, Yoda, and Kenobi, he has figured out how to appear as a force ghost—which may or may not be possible according to the universe’s canonical rules.

And with Palpatine potentially back in the picture, perhaps he’s trying to resurrect Vader and recreate the vice grip that the two held over the galaxy for decades.

Or maybe Palpatine isn’t really in the movie that much at all, and this is just another example of Disney pandering to a rabid fan base that has come to love the originally maligned prequel films through memes. In 2019, that’s just the sort of thing that’s possible.