This article contains major Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker spoilers. You can read a spoiler-free review here instead.
As the Emperor says at one point in The Rise of Skywalker, this will be the final word in the story of Skywalker. After eight movies’ worth of adventures across the galaxy far, far away, it all comes down to a final battle on Exegol, the secret planet of the Sith, where a resurgent Emperor Palpatine has waited 30 years to set his master plan into motion. It’s on this planet of lightning and smoke that Rey, Ben Solo, the Resistance, and the Final Order converge, all according to Palpatine’s design.
This explosive third act answers many of our questions about the Sequel Trilogy and the saga as a whole and puts an end to the struggle between the Jedi and the Sith once and for all. If you’re wondering exactly what happened in the epic finale of the Skywalker saga, we’ve broken down the key moments with some analysis of the lore behind it.
Palpatine’s goal isn’t to rule the galaxy once again — at least not at first. He knows he’s too old and too broken (he’s clearly on life support) to do it. Instead, he wants his granddaughter Rey to do it. Yes, Rey’s destiny is finally revealed in The Rise of Skywalker, her origin story finally told. Rey is a Palpatine and the heir to her grandfather’s Sith throne. The galaxy is her birthright if she chooses to take it.
Throughout the movie we’ve seen Rey’s ongoing conflict with Kylo Ren and the First Order tease out the duality within her — on Pasaana, we see her use the Force to both heal a wounded creature and zap a First Order transport with the same lightning ability Palpatine is known for. She feels love for her friends but also hatred towards Palpatine for killing her parents. Like Luke before her, Rey begins to stray towards the dark side as she gets closer to the Emperor, who wants to corrupt her the same way he did Ben.
Now, as the final battle between the Resistance and the Final Order rages on above her, Rey is faced with the same choice Anakin and Luke had to make: join the Emperor or watch all the people you love die. To refuse to strike down her grandfather and take his place as the new Sith Lord means that the Final Order will completely annihilate what remains of the Resistance. To rise to the throne of the Sith means taking control of the Final Order, saving her friends, but ultimately going down a path she likely can’t return from.
With Finn, Poe, and the rest of the Resistance’s lives in her hands, Rey makes a difficult choice: she agrees to perform “the ritual” that will guarantee her place on the throne and the safety of her friends. In her long search for a family, Rey has finally found one but it’s not the one she expected or particularly wants. She’s forced to live up to her true name and join the Palpatine legacy, securing her grandfather’s in the process.
But just as she’s about to strike true and fulfill her destiny as a Sith, an unlikely ally arrives to help Rey defeat the Emperor once and for all.
Kylo’s Dead, But Ben Lives
While Rey is ultimately the “Skywalker” who rises in the culmination of the Sequel Trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker also gives us the return of Ben Solo, who is brought back to life through Leia’s final message of love, Rey’s mercy, and Han’s memory. Finally, the light side gets through to Ben right at the moment of Kylo Ren’s death. Leia tells him to let go of his hatred, Rey saves his life even though she has no reason to (nor does he deserve it), and Han forgives him for his past sins.
With both spiritual and physical wounds healed after his climactic duel with Rey, Ben sheds his Kylo Ren guise — lightsaber, tunic, and cloak — and dons a questionable sweater to go help the young Jedi on Exegol. When he arrives in the Emperor’s temple, Ben discovers that he’s not as welcome on the Sith planet as he once was. The Emperor is aware that Ben has switched sides, leaving behind the First Order, which is now fully at Palpatine’s command.
Now, at the end of all things, it’s the Knights of Ren, Ben’s former dark side allies, who stand between him and helping Rey fight the Emperor. Ben proves he’s still adept at the Force, even without the dark side on his side, but without his lightsaber, which now lies underwater, abandoned on a moon of Endor, he’s no match for these elite warriors.
Here again, Rey saves Ben through their Force connection, sending him Luke’s lightsaber right in the nick of time.
What is the Force Dyad?
“There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it?” Supreme Leader Snoke says in the very first teaser for The Force Awakens. “The light side…and the dark.”
From the very beginning, the Sequel Trilogy has teased a balance between the light and dark sides, a sort of symbiotic relationship where one can’t exist without the other. Every time the Sith, and by extension the dark side, are vanquished, something terrible happens to the Jedi down the line to bring back that balance. When the ancient Sith were defeated before the start of the Skywalker saga, the Republic began to decay and the Jedi were blind to the rise of a new Sith threat, setting off a chain of events that led to the galaxy electing a populist leader that would eventually take over the government and exterminate the Jedi Order.
But as the light of the Jedi diminished, a new hope arose to balance out that darkness. Luke Skywalker, along with the Rebellion, fought back against the Empire and the Sith, defeating the Emperor and bringing peace. Yet, if you believe in this pattern, in this balance in the Force which demands both light and dark sides, then you won’t be surprised by what happened next.
Ben Solo turned on Luke’s new Jedi Order and destroyed it. What proceeded was the destruction of the New Republic at the hands of Supreme Leader Snoke, the First Order, and Kylo Ren. The Jedi and the Republic were all but defeated…except for a new hope.
“Darkness rises and light to meet it,” Snoke says in The Last Jedi as Rey is brought before him. It’s the Force’s need for balance that brings Rey and Kylo together. Even though Snoke says he’s the one who’s facilitated the connection between hero and villain, there’s really a higher power at work here.
The Rise of Skywalker appropriately introduces the concept of a “Force dyad,” a new term in the Star Wars universe that seems to describe this balance between the light and dark sides. The real-world definition of the word “dyad” — “two individuals maintaining a sociologically significant relationship” — offers a clue as to how the Force dyad works. (You should also consider the genetics term “dyad symmetry” which refers to two DNA strands that reverse complement each other.)
As Ben says in the movie, he and Rey are a dyad — two sides of the Force connected as one, and we’ll soon find out exactly what shape their relationship takes. For now, accepting this connection and the balance that comes with it is key to bringing down the Emperor. Just as Rey is about to make the decision to join the dark side and become the Empress, Ben shows up to remind her that the light side, and the power of friendship and love, is her strongest ally.
How the Emperor Returned
The Emperor is the ultimate evil across all three trilogies. We finally learn in The Rise of Skywalker novelization how Palpatine was able to live past his “death” in Return of the Jedi. As he fell through the second Death Star’s reactor shaft, the Emperor harnessed his dark side powers to transfer his consciousness to a clone body that had been created by the Sith cultists on Exegol as a contingency plan.
Unfortunately, this plan wasn’t without its flaws. The clone body was too weak for Palpatine and it began to decay and was unable to move on its own. That said, Palpatine’s death and resurrection more than solidify his place as the saga’s greatest and most powerful villain, manipulating the events of the Prequels, all the way to this final confrontation on Exegol.
He stands between Anakin and Obi-Wan (which you could argue is its own dyad — student and teacher) in the prequels and Luke and Darth Vader (father and son) in the Original Trilogy. Now, the most important dyad of all stands before him, the heirs of the first families of both the Jedi and the Sith: Skywalker and Palpatine. And as he’s done in the past, the Emperor uses this dyad for his own gains.
“Long have I waited. And now your coming together is your undoing,” the Emperor says, as Rey and Ben prepare to attack. Little do they know that they’ve actually given Palpatine a way to rise to power once again, giving him the life force he needs to sit on the throne and defeat the Resistance and the Jedi once and for all.
During the Pasaana sequence, The Rise of Skywalker teases the ability to transfer life energy from one being to another. Rey uses it as a way to heal a creature in need, but the Emperor shows us that someone can also use the Force to steal life energy from another.
The concept of “Force draining” is nothing new in Star Wars. It’s a Force ability that was first introduced in the old Legends timeline and appeared fairly often in the video games. You can even see a canon example of this power in The Clone Wars episode “Altar of Mortis,” in which Anakin uses this ability to save his apprentice Ahsoka Tano.
The Emperor has no interest in using this power to save a life, though, using both Rey and Ben’s energy to restore himself completely. Free of life support, the Emperor once again ascends his throne, no longer in need of either Rey or Ben.
“Be with Me” and Jedi Voices Explained
With Ben seemingly dead after the Emperor launches him into a chasm, all hope seems lost for a weakened Rey, who is left with no other choice but to watch as the Sith lord zaps what remains of the Resistance with his Force lightning. Faced with the end of everything, Rey looks past the battle and to the space beyond, and begins reciting a familiar mantra, “Be with me. Be with me.”
Earlier in the film, we see Rey floating in the air, meditating and calling out to someone: “Be with me. Be with me.” She becomes discouraged when no one answers her call. The meaning of the scene is unclear until the finale.
“A thousand generations live in you now,” Luke tells Rey on Ahch-To. We take this to mean that the legacy of the Jedi now rests on Rey’s shoulders but there’s something more literal at work here. When faced with insurmountable odds, Rey calls out to the spirits of the Jedi who have come before to give her the strength to defeat the dark side.
Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, Yoda, Anakin Skywalker, Ezra Bridger, Kanan Jarrus, Ahsoka Tano, Aayla Secura, Luminara Unduli, and Adi Gallia! Yes, they got Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Jennifer Hale, Ashley Eckstein, Olivia D’Abo, Taylor Gray, Angelique Perrin, and…HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN to reprise their roles for the brief, Jedi-filled cameo. Alec Guinness’ voice is also used in the scene.
Because Star Wars movies so often rhyme, the Emperor’s demise comes in the same manner through which he was “born” in Revenge of the Sith, with Rey using Luke and Leia’s lightsabers to deflect his Force lightning back at him. The Emperor disintegrates, the throne of the Sith crumbling in his absence.
The “Reylo” Kiss
Rey and Ben share one final moment before the end, and it’s undoubtedly the movie’s most controversial scene. In order to defeat the Emperor, Rey is forced to use all of the energy she has left, dying in the process. Fortunately for her, Ben survived his fall and can save her. To do so, he must, you guessed it, give her what life energy he has left to revive her (they really milked this plot device, didn’t they?).
The implications of Ben reviving Rey can’t be ignored here. Not only does it confirm his love for her but it also connects to one of the saga’s biggest mysteries: “The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise,” the story Palpatine tells Anakin in Revenge of the Sith in order to manipulate the young Jedi into becoming his Sith apprentice. Darth Plagueis, of course, was Palpatine’s (aka Darth Sidious) master before student murdered teacher, and the legend goes that Plagueis could use the Force to stop people from dying. When Palpatine reveals his Sith identity to Anakin, the villain implores the Jedi to join him, telling him that Plagueis taught him everything he knew, implying that he can prevent Padme’s death (Palpatine’s story changes real quick after Anakin signs on the dotted line).
Ben bringing Rey back to life confirms that the ability — if not necessarily that story — is true. But, like Luke’s Force projection in The Last Jedi, this power comes at a price. As Rey wakes up in Ben’s arms, he is slowly dying.
But before he goes, Rey and Ben share a tender moment that will send waves through Star Wars fandom for years to come. They kiss, confirming what some fans believe the Sequel Trilogy has been teasing all along: Rey and Ben’s dyad is a romantic one. To some, including this writer, this development comes as a shock, considering that Ben has spent most of the trilogy committing awful acts of mass murder but ends the saga with a kiss from the story’s greatest hero. Such is redemption in the Star Wars saga, it seems.
One possible story that could spin out of The Rise of Skywalker is the very one teased by Lando Calrissian in the second to last scene of the movie. As the rest of the Resistance is celebrating its victory, newcomer Jannah sits with Lando, getting to know each other a bit. Jannah asks Lando where he’s from (the planet Socorro). He asks her the same question, to which she replies that she doesn’t know, having been kidnapped by the First Order at a young age and forced to become a stormtrooper.
Lando, as if moonlighting as a spokesman for Disney itself, tells Jannah, “Let’s go find out,” likely signalling a new adventure coming to the Star Wars universe. There’s no other reason this scene would so purposefully be in the movie, right? What form this adventure might take is another question.
Jannah’s origin story could be the subject of a new movie or, more likely, a new Disney+ series, likely the first that will take place after the Sequel Trilogy. There’s also the possibility that this will be a story explored in the pages of a new Star Wars novel. After all, the franchise has a long tradition of releasing tie-in books that expand the stories of characters in the movies. Whatever the case may be, we’re excited to learn more about her.
Rey Skywalker and the Yellow Lightsaber
As the saga comes to an end, The Rise of Skywalker takes us back to familiar places. The First Order falls over Bespin, while the Ewoks celebrate on Endor and the Resistance hugs and kisses on Ajan Kloss. Meanwhile, Rey and BB-8 go back to where it all started, the most frequented backwater planet in the galaxy: Tatooine. It’s only fitting that Luke and Leia’s lightsabers should rest on the Lars homestead, where Luke one day dreamed of adventure in the stars.
After Rey buries the legendary Skywalker weapons at the farm, the Jedi admires her new (amazing) yellow lightsaber, confirming that her training is now complete. Rey is the last Jedi. But is she a new Jedi in the Skywalker family or will she be the first Palpatine to fight for the light side?
A woman wandering through the desert asks Rey her name. As the Force ghosts of Luke and Leia watch her from afar, Rey responds that her name is “Rey Skywalker.” There it is: Rey is the Skywalker who rises.
What does this mean for the story of Star Wars going forward? While it’s clear how Rey’s victory will affect the galaxy — it will likely mark the formation of a new government (the Newer Republic?) — how it’ll affect the Force is a bit more of a mystery. On the surface, it seems that the balance between light and dark has been broken again because of the Emperor’s defeat, meaning a new evil will rise again, one Rey may be forced to meet in a later story (or trilogy). But something more interesting might be at play here.
Since Rey is technically a Palpatine who chooses the light side, what if she herself is that balance? Two sides of the same coin, born from darkness but raised by the light. It would be a fitting end to the saga, giving this conflict between the light and the dark the finality it deserves. But perhaps that answer is for another day. For now, we leave Rey at peace, in the light of twin suns.