The Rise of Skywalker heralds Emperor Palpatine‘s return. While Star Wars fans have seen Palpatine reborn before (notably in the Legends story Dark Empire), the Sequel Trilogy’s new characters will deal with the threat in their own way. What does Palpatine’s presence mean for the young Jedi Rey? Let’s discuss:
Facing the ultimate evil in the galaxy builds upon Rey’s prior characterization in the films. It means her Jedi journey will lead her to face not only Kylo Ren, who wants to be like Darth Vader, but Palpatine, who controlled Vader. Fighting Palpatine shows how Rey is the pinnacle of all nine saga movies.
“It’s about this new generation and what they’ve inherited,” Abrams said at the Star Wars Celebration Chicago panel where The Rise of Skywalkerwas revealed. One of The Force Awakens’ strengths was in the way it showed how the new characters were influenced by the old: Poe was mentored by Leia, Rey admired Luke, and Kylo Ren idolized Vader. As the keeper of Jedi knowledge, Rey has a lot of inheritance to manage.
Rey knew about Luke Skywalker as a Jedi hero when she lived on Jakku, and was eager to meet him before their difficult training on a rocky island. She must therefore know something about Palpatine as well. Since Rey was in awe of Luke, she might equally be terrified of Palpatine. But her fight against Snoke and his guards, and her reunion with the Resistance, may have helped her gain strength and belief in herself.
For what it’s worth, I don’t actually think Palpatine will appear as a lightsaber-wielding clone in Episode IX, and he is more likely to appear as some kind of Force ghost. One shot in the teaser shows the Resistance heroes standing at the edge of an ocean overlooking a tattered half-moon structure the size of a city. Fans speculate that this is a fragment of the second Death Star, which might have fallen onto the surface of Endor’s moon. Star Wars canon includes Force-cursed objects and remnants of Sith past, so it follows that Palpatine’s spirit may have lived on, pinned to the part of the Death Star where he fell. I find it likely that Palpatine will be a spiritual adversary rather than one Rey has to fight with a lightsaber (the latter role goes to Kylo Ren).
A Skywalker Versus An Emperor
The title The Rise of Skywalker has lead many fans to speculate that Rey will take “Skywalker” not as a name but as a rank: Skywalker Rey instead of Rey Skywalker. In the novel Thrawn: Alliances author Timothy Zahn added a group of Force-sensitive Chiss pilots called skywalkers to the Star Wars canon. Episode IX almost certainly has no direct connection to them, but it is an example of the iconic name being used as a title.
The new trilogy’s two directors do seem to have some tension between the stories they want to tell, with Abrams teasing Rey’s parentage as a major secret and Rian Johnson establishing that Rey’s parents were indeed spice smugglers who left her on Jakku and never looked back. They were never even named, which came as either a letdown to some fans who wanted concrete answers or an inspiring message to others that one’s family does not determine one’s fate. But Abrams and Johnson are both part of a large project, and have the responsibility to make the parts fit together. They also have been assigned different parts in a three act structure, with established differences. The Last Jedi is the darker installment, with an ending that leaves our heroes in uncertainty like The Empire Strikes Back did. As a third act and an end of an era, The Rise of Skywalker will most likely be more upbeat.
The title The Rise of Skywalker could be seen as an opportunity to have the best of both worlds: give Rey the Skywalker name while preserving the backstory that her parents will remain anonymous.
Following The Twins
Rey may not be a Skywalker by blood, but she does have a connection to both Luke and Leia. More than the other members of the Original Trilogy trio, Leia is still fighting the kind of fight she has been in since she was a teenager: stopping Palpatine’s influence wherever she can, whether it comes in the guise of the Empire or the First Order. Rey’s relationship with Leia is intense, and she probably knew of Leia’s adventures as she did Luke’s. She then embraced Leia at a difficult time for both of them, when Han Solo had recently died at his son’s hands and Rey was on her way to find Luke and put a stop to the First Order. From the leader of the Resistance and a key figure in the Rebellion, Rey learns to set out on her own.
Rey’s relationship with Luke Skywalker was more thorny, but in learning from him, taking the Jedi texts, and eventually convincing Luke to face Kylo Ren, she continues the legacy of the Jedi.
Justice for the Old Republic
Rey is not only completing the work Luke Skywalker started, she is also finishing the entire story which started in The Phantom Menace. J.J. Abrams has emphasized that The Rise of Skywalker is the end of the entire saga. Bringing Palpatine back reinforces the Old Republic as well as the new: his manipulations during the Clone Wars showed a different, more subtle, but equally rotten side of him than the tyrant sitting on a throne in a war machine in Return of the Jedi. He manipulated Yoda and the Jedi council, the same Jedi Order that Luke became disillusioned with. Rey will be fulfilling the hopes of the Rebellion, but also the hopes of the Jedi who knew something was wrong in the Old Republic, but not how to fix it. Another generation needed to pass before she could finally put an end to the evil that had been present all along: Palpatine.
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