This article contains major The Rise of Skywalker spoilers. You can read a spoiler free review here instead.
The Rise of Skywalker asks as many questions about the Star Wars universe as it answers. Emperor Palpatine’s return turned out to be not an end-of-movie surprise but the driving force of the story, as Palpatine rallied his forces on Exegol. Rey and Kylo Ren’s Force bond became even stronger than in The Last Jedi, with objects from two different locations transferring back and forth. It’s also a saga film seemingly disinterested in world building, with details of the Final Order’s preparation and the survival and reappearance of characters glossed over for the sake of speed.
You might even call some of these seemingly missing pieces of the movie “plot holes” at times, although not always the case. Star Wars has never been entirely interested in the hows and whys—the Expanded Universe has been doing the work to explain how Imperials founded the First Order, or how the Rebellion military works in the Original Trilogy for a long time.
We left The Rise of Skywalker with a lot of questions…and some ideas on how to find the answers. Here are 11 things that weren’t entirely explained in the movie:
1. “The dead speak!”
The dramatic opening to The Rise of Skywalker reveals that Palpatine has sent a message across the galaxy, pushing General Organa’s Resistance into a frenzy of preparation while Kylo Ren seeks out the possible threat to his reign. But you never actually hear the message in the movie.
That’s because it was broadcast as part of a Fortnite event. You had to be present in the game to hear it, a strange bit of cross-marketing that doesn’t totally ruin the movie—knowing the message is a declaration of war by the Emperor to the Resistance is technically all you need to understand the plot and stakes from the very begnning of the movie. But it is an odd choice that feels more like marketing than storytelling.
2. How did Palpatine survive?
Emperor Palpatine was already an elderly man in the Original Trilogy, and when Darth Vader threw him down a reactor shaft shortly before the second Death Star was destroyed, it seemed reasonable to believe he wouldn’t survive the fall or the explosion. But no one is ever really gone in Star Warsthese days.
Like Darth Vader, General Grievous, and Darth Maul before him, Sidious is kept alive through ominous high-tech medical devices and perhaps some Sith magic. The cultists he’s working with in the ruins of the Death Star, called the Sith Eternal, helped Palpatine stay alive and create Snoke bodies for his will to puppet. You wouldn’t know this unless you read The Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary, which explains who the Sith Eternal are. It’s one of many instances of having to look at ancillary material for the movie to make sense.
3. Who is the Emperor’s son?
Director J.J. Abrams has said that he wrote Rey as Palpatine’s granddaughter because it was the worst possible outcome he could think of for her story. That’s common writing advice: know what your character most fears and make it happen. For Rey, who wanted to be part of the Original Trilogy heroes’ stories, making her the descendant of the villain was the monkey’s paw option. It had to be the case for Rey’s story to go where Abrams thought it should go. But the details just aren’t present.
What did the Emperor’s son think of his situation? What was his role in the Empire? Who was his wife? Maybe, one day, a novel about them will explain this backstory more fully.
4. Why did Luke, who was hesitant to train anyone with potential dark side tendencies, train Rey if he already knew she was a Palpatine?
According to The Rise of Skywalker, both Luke and Leia knew Rey was a Palpatine but were willing to train her anyway. This adds a new layer—some explanations and some questions—to their behavior in Episode IX as well as in The Last Jedi. Leia knew Rey would be better off training under someone who used the light side.
Luke’s reasons for training Rey are a bit less clear, though. In The Last Jedi, he was concerned about Rey’s tendency to go toward the dark, but ended up training her anyway, despite the fact that she’s the heir to Palpatine’s dark lineage. Perhaps it was another expression of his deeply held belief that there really is good in everyone, even if he can’t see it in people like Kylo Ren.
Or maybe this an example of disconnect between the two movies. Perhaps The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson and Abrams simply needed Luke to act differently to propel the specific stories they wanted to tell.
5. How is Ben able to talk to Han?
Han Solo isn’t Force sensitive, so he couldn’t come back as a Force ghost. Instead, he’s just a memory. Essentially, Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is talking to himself in the moment he sees Han. Han isn’t glowing blue, so he isn’t the same kind of phenomena. But in a galaxy full of Force ghosts and magic, portraying Han as a physical specter is potentially very confusing.
It’s possible that this scene was originally written as Leia talking to Ben, who could have projected herself through the Force as Luke once had. But Carrie Fisher’s unfortunate passing meant Han had to fill that role and help guide Ben to his redemption.
6. What does Finn want to tell Rey?
Several times over the course of the movie, Finn hints that he has something he wants to confess to Rey. Many fans initially speculated that it was meant to be a declaration of love, but Abrams and John Boyega say otherwise.
Abrams revealed in a Q&A after a screening of the film that Finn was going to tell Rey that he is Force sensitive. This makes sense, considering Finn at one point can feel Rey’s death through the Force. Finn feeling the Force is a fun idea that has been hinted at throughout the Sequel Trilogy, but the lack of resolution to Finn’s confession is strange.
7. What is the meaning of the Lando-Jannah scene?
During the final celebration, Jannah, the former First Order stormtrooper and leader of a squad of deserters, asks Lando where he’s from. When he returns the question, she says she doesn’t know her origins, since the First Order kidnapped her at a young age. Lando says they should try to find out her history. It’s a bit of an awkward conversation without context.
Once again, the Visual Dictionary might have the answer the movie didn’t. The book hints that this conversation might be connected to Lando’s history: he had a daughter who was kidnapped by the First Order when she was very small. It’s possible Jannah is actually Lando’s daughter. But without reading this particular passage in the Visual Dictionary, the context of the conversation is very unclear.
8. How does hyperspace skipping work?
Poe Dameron jumping the Millennium Falcon through hyperspace, skipping from the surface of one planet to the next, shouldn’t work, not even in the very tenuous grasp of physics the Star Wars series has always had. (There’s always going to be sound in space.) In the Expanded Universe, ships can’t jump inside gravity wells, leading to exciting in-atmosphere chases where people race to get to hyperdrive range before they’re caught.
The Rise of Skywalker does away with this completely for mostly the same reason these exciting passages exist: it’s operating on the rule of doing whatever would be most dramatic at the moment. Finn does express amazement that Poe knows how to do this, and the Falcon sustains heavy damage and lands in flames because of it. Clearly, this isn’t a maneuver the average pilot can perform on any given day, in any ship. It’s also supposed to be impossible.
9. Why does Rey bury Leia’s lightsaber on Tatooine?
In the movie’s final scene, Rey takes some time to pay homage to the Skywalker family by burying Luke and Leia’s lightsabers on the Lars homestead on Tatooine. This is, after all, the Skywalker family plot: Shmi, Anakin’s mother and only parent, is buried there.
But should Leia’s lightsaber be there, too? Perhaps, this way, she is finally at rest with her brother. And it wouldn’t be possible for her lightsaber to be returned to Alderaan anyway, so Tatooine is the next best thing.
10. Who are Palpatine’s Sith followers?
We’re back to the Sith Eternal cult here. The audience in front of Palpatine’s throne looked smoky and ghostly, their faces covered in cloth masks, but their chanting and their role in Palpatine’s return was quite real. This is another detail mentioned in the Visual Dictionary, but not in the movie, where they’re a clear symbol of evil but also seem to come out of nowhere.
In the Expanded Universe, cults like the Acolytes of the Beyond and the Knights of Ren kept the philosophy of the dark side alive after Palpatine’s death. The Sith Eternal are another one of these Sith-worshipping groups.
11. Who are the Knights of Ren?
Since their first appearance in The Force Awakens, Star Wars fans have wondered about the Knights of Ren, Kylo’s group of warriors only seen in a vision until now. Despite seeing them in the flesh in The Rise of Skywalker, we’re not really much closer to knowing more about them by the time Ben kills them all on Exegol. Perhaps, like the Visual Dictionary, Marvel’s The Rise of Kylo Ren comic might shed some more light on this mysterious group of hunters.
12. What was the first planet Kylo visited to find the wayfinder device?
You wouldn’t know by looking at it, but the first planet Kylo visits in The Rise of Skywalker is actually Mustafar, the lava planet where Darth Vader was truly born. Kylo battles his way to the ruins of Darth Vader’s castle to recover the wayfinder device that will lead him to Exegol, where the Emperor is waiting with his massive fleet.
This is another detail only revealed in the Visual Dictionary. It makes sense that Vader would have a wayfinder, since he was the Emperor’s apprentice. Kylo has to fight through the Alazmec to get to it; they are a cult who came to Mustafar to try to tap into Vader’s power. They’re also the reason the planet doesn’t look like a lava-covered Mustafar anymore. They’ve planted a forest for…reasons.
This version of Mustafar is one of many cases where the movie looks like, but is not exactly like, other parts of canon. Other examples includes the wayfinder, which looks like the Sith holocron introduced in Rebels, and the Sith dagger that looks like the Dagger of Mortis introduced in an episode of The Clone Wars.
Overall, the Visual Dictionary does a lot of the heavy lifting in regards to explaining things that should probably have been more obvious in the movie. Armed with this information, The Rise of Skywalker is a little more clear.