Bringing arguably the single most influential pop culture phenomenon of a generation, a nine-film, four-decade-long cycle, to a satisfactory conclusion is an epic undertaking. Especially one with such a fervent – sometimes, sadly, intolerantly so – fanbase, whose anticipation and expectations are off the charts. No surprise, then, that fan theories on just how J.J. Abrams and his team will pull off The Rise of Skywalker are pretty much an industry in themselves by now.
Unlike the ancient days of Return of the Jedi, or even 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, the previous two final parts of their respective trilogies, there’s an intensity to current speculation that, even by Star Wars’s heady standards, is unprecedented. 24/7 internet scuttlebutt and the now omnipresent social media, means that Jedi disciples and Sith-heads alike have been poring over every interview, analysing every frame of every trailer, trying to predict how it will all end.
Here, then, is a round-up of some of the most persistent fan theories around; along with input from a Star Wars expert from Fandom’s Star Wars community, Wookieepedia, discussing the likelihood of their coming true. May the Force be with us all this December, as the Skywalker saga comes to a close.
REY OF DARKNESS
“Something inside me has always been there. And now it’s awake… and I’m afraid.” So said our heroine Rey when tested by visions during her curtailed apprenticeship with Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi. Luke, too, noted that, when exercising her considerable powers, Rey “went straight to the dark… And you didn’t even try to stop yourself.”
So, hints that the big twist might be a descent into evil by our supposed Rey of light, haven’t exactly been subtle. Add in the Rise of Skywalker trailer image of a shrouded Rey wielding a double-ended red – always the Sith/First Order/bad-guy colour in Star Wars – lightsaber, and you can see why some have speculated that her journey might just mirror Anakin’s: turned to the dark side by Palpatine in the climactic final instalment of her story arc.
It would be a ballsy move to subvert your main protagonist’s journey, and, though Star Wars does have other major characters around (Finn, Poe, Rose) to assume the central hero mantle, Rey’s temptation feels more like a misstep along her path, rather than her ultimate destination.
Community Verdict: Wookieepedia’s Robert Mitchell says, “Temptation is part and parcel of the Star Wars saga. Anakin was lured to the Dark Side by the false promise of power to save the woman he loved. Luke, too, nearly succumbed to his fear and anger at his father for the pain he had caused. Rey, however, seems particularly inoculated against the lure of the Dark Side. Even after diving headfirst into the Dark Side mirror cave on Ahch-To, Rey remains stalwart and committed to walking the light side path.
“Rey is motivated, above anything else, by a desire to belong to something. If she is tempted by the Dark Side, it would be because of the sense of community or belonging it offers her. But the Dark Side doesn’t offer community, only isolation. She’s already faced Kylo Ren’s invitation, and turned it down. When he met with the crew of The Clone Wars to discuss the nature of the force, George Lucas pointed out that the nature of the Dark Side is ultimately nothing but selfishness — it’s about achieving personal pleasure at the expense of others. I find it difficult to believe that Rey will be coaxed away from her course by individuals who seek only personal gain.”
REN DEAD REDEMPTION
And if Rey can break bad, her antagonist can surely go the other way. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren has consistently been the most fascinatingly conflicted (and best acted) figure in the new films, looking tortured even when doing the torturing and killing. Remember that, at heart, he’s Ben Solo, only son of Han and Leia. The Force Connection he and Rey share gives her a link to his deepest self and as she grows stronger, perhaps she can influence him back to the light. Note too, that Ben/Ren was being groomed as the “new Vader”; how fitting, then, if he were to fully follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, and ultimately redeem/sacrifice himself?
Community Verdict: Kylo Ren’s redemption could well be forthcoming — but at a price.
“Fans have been clamoring for a ‘Bendemption’ since the beginning of the sequel trilogy,” says Star Wars expert, Mitchell. “Kylo Ren himself admitted to feeling ‘a call to the Light’ in The Force Awakens. Luke remembers his nephew as a frightened young boy, and rightly regrets his role in pushing Ben down the path to darkness. The rising Supreme Leader of the First Order hasn’t grown much beyond that. We also don’t know what his ultimate goal or motivation is. We can make some assumptions based on his hero worship of Darth Vader, but when Ben says, ‘I will finish what you started,’ what does he mean? Domination of the galaxy? The total destruction of the Sith and the Jedi?
“He’s already surpassed Darth Vader’s ambition by slaying his own master, Supreme Leader Snoke. But does Ben really want to rule the galaxy, or is it a means to an end? I expect Ben will reveal a lot more of who he is in this final film, and there is still a seed of good in him. Despite what appear to be multiple clashes between Rey and Ben, sequences in the trailer hint at collaboration, and, possibly, redemption for the young Supreme Leader. Their joint destruction of Darth Vader’s helmet could be a turning point. If Luke or Anakin show up as Force ghosts to nudge Ben back into the light, I rate this outcome as even more likely. If some degree of redemption is in the cards, the real question, then, is whether or not he will survive to the end.”
The mystery of Rey’s parentage has taken some dramatic turns so far. At first, it looked as if she were being set up as part of Star Wars’ ruling bloodline, a long-lost Skywalker ready to take on the family business of saving the galaxy.
Then, in The Last Jedi, she was brusquely informed that her parents were “nobodies… filthy junk traders [who] sold you off for drinking money.” There’s actually a way that both of these statements can be true, and it’s a much-repeated fan favourite: that Rey is a clone (hence, no birth parents), formed from the hand of Luke Skywalker, severed in his Empire Strikes Back duel with Darth Vader.
It’s a plan pre-emptively hatched by Emperor Palpatine (who we know is returning in some form [see below]), to give him further options to harness powerful individuals for his own nefarious purposes. It could also explain Rey’s unbelievably rapid grasp of lightsaber combat and the Force in general. And if the films embrace plot from The Aftermath Trilogy novel series, you get Palpatine’s secret lab on Jakku – under a plateau known as the Plaintive Hand, no less…
You can see the appeal of this idea, as it plays fair with the clues laid thus far – in The Last Jedi’s Mirror Cave, when Rey asks to see her parents, she’s only shown herself – while also genuinely shaking up the Star Wars mythology. That said, there’s something pretty terrible, and out of touch in the modern #MeToo era, with undermining a new heroine’s journey by making her a replica of an older, male hero. You don’t have to be woke to hope this twist is just a bad dream.
Community Verdict: Robert Mitchell says, “This theory is copped from the old Legends material and one of the final story beats of The Last Command, Timothy Zahn’s final book in the Thrawn Trilogy. In that book, the mad Dark Jedi Joruus C’baoth, himself a clone of another famous Jedi, creates a clone of Luke Skywalker from the hand Luke lost on Cloud City.
“There are some subtle nods to this possibility in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi [in addition to those mentioned above]. Rey admits that her parents were ‘nobody,’ which technically would indeed be true if she were grown in a cloning vat. It may also explain why the Skywalker lightsaber “calls” to her. Jedi: Fallen Order explored the story of a character with psychometric abilities which allow him to see the echoes in the Force left by strong emotions associated with objects or places.
“Rey likely has a bit of that ability as well, which would explain the flashback sequence in The Force Awakens. Goodness knows that, between being taken by Obi-Wan after a brutal fight on Mustafar, and being associated with Luke’s duel with Darth Vader, that lightsaber practically reverberates with emotional Force echoes. Of course, those echoes might be particularly strong if Rey shares some DNA, in some capacity, with Luke Skywalker.
“I’d rate this theory as plausible, and if it’s true, I’d be satisfied, but I’d be just as delighted by another surprise exploration of Rey’s origin. As for what happened to Luke’s severed hand, in The Force Awakens, Maz Kanata says that the means by which she acquired the Skywalker family lightsaber was a story worth telling. We might get that tale in this movie, or we might have to wait for the tie-in novel.”
THE FORCE GHOSTS OF EPISODES PAST
Long established since the dead Jedi jamboree – Obi-Wan! Yoda! Anakin! – at the end of Return of the Jedi, it’s not so much whether we’ll get Force Ghosts in The Rise of Skywalker, but how many, and who exactly?
“See you around, kid” were Astral Projection Luke’s final words to Kylo Ren last time out, and Mark Hamill is confirmed to appear in this film; so, Luke seems a safe bet to offer spectral advice, as Yoda did to him in The Last Jedi. Strong rumours abound that Hayden Christiansen might appear as Anakin again.
The bigger question, given that actor Ian McDiarmid is also confirmed to return, is whether Palpatine too is merely a ghostly Sith presence – and since we last saw the character take a one-way trip down a doomed Death Star’s reactor shaft, you’d assume he died – or something else. Which leads us to one closely related, more out-there, fan theory…
Community Verdict: “Sith spirits have a long and storied history in the old Legends timeline,” says Mitchell. “The spirit of Exar Kun, a long-dead Sith Lord, haunts the Massassi Temples of Yavin IV where Luke built his original Jedi Praxeum. That spirit proves a challenging hurdle for Luke’s students to overcome.
“In the new canon, Yoda encounters the ‘spirit’ of Darth Bane, the creator of the Rule of Two, during his visit to Moraband, though that spirit is little more than a menacing illusion. In Rebels, Palpatine betrays his fascination with the World-Between-Worlds, likely as a side project in his quest for omnipotence and immortality. In Revenge of the Sith, Yoda revealed that Qui-Gon Jinn was the first Jedi to discover the secret of becoming one with the Force and preserving his essence after death. After Obi-Wan achieved the same feat, Palpatine may have bet on being able to do the same thing himself, only with a plan to return to this plane of existence so he could reclaim the Empire he created.
“I suspect we’ll see Palpatine in many different forms in this film. Much like the Mummy or Voldemort, he may need a host for his spirit to inhabit or otherwise feed on to return to his true power. While he is likely to take on corporeal form, we will probably see a terrifying Sheev Palpatine spirit at some point during the film.”
A PLAGUEIS ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES
This theory suggests that ‘Palpatine’ will be resurrected through the consciousness of his former mentor, the powerful Sith Lord that he himself killed, Darth Plagueis.
The theory is as follows: Plagueis foresaw Palpatine’s power move, and pre-emptively projected his consciousness into his student’s younger body; this in turn was passed on into Snoke (quite how is still a little fuzzy), and on his death, into Kylo Ren, who then unsurprisingly assumed immediate control of the First Order.
It would allow a neat continuity to the series’ ‘Big Bad’, especially since Snoke was so casually dispatched in The Last Jedi. And also give more great internal conflict to Ren/Ben, if he figures out this is what’s happening to him… But given that Darth Plagueis himself has barely featured in the films thus far, there’s also a slight sense of cheating to pull him in now. Though, of course, if embodied by McDiarmid/Palpatine, a terrific villain over several films already, it makes more sense.
Community Verdict: “Beyond being a great parable to tell to the young man you’re trying to corrupt at the opera, Darth Plagueis’s story doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things for this particular Star Wars saga,” says Mitchell. “While we shouldn’t write off a reexamination of Darth Plagueis in a book, comic, or other spinoff, as far as this Skywalker Saga is concerned, he’s nothing but a schmuck who trusted the wrong apprentice and serves as an example of how treacherous the Sith can be. The tragedy of Darth Plagueis the wise has already been told.”
WE ARE ALL SKYWALKER…
Give a film a title like The Rise of Skywalker and, inevitably, the identity of the Skywalker referenced becomes a major question. Unless they pull the disappointing Rey-was-family-all-along gambit, then the only Skywalker bloodline remaining is Ren/Ben, through his mother. Which also feels a little too on-the-nose for flagging up a villain’s redemption. Of course, you could question whether the title was already in place before Carrie Fisher’s tragically premature death, thus potentially signifying her purported Episode IX starring role. Again, it sounds dubious now, given the time that Abrams and co have had to change both Leia’s storyline, and the film’s name.
More interesting, and promising, is the fan theory that ‘Skywalker’ doesn’t refer to a single individual, but instead becomes the nomenclature for the new collective that emerges from the final conflict between Jedi and Sith, Resistance and First Order. It would be a fitting way to honour Star Wars’s first family, yet still open up the storyline so we’re not continually tied to a single dynasty and their misadventures ruling the galaxy. It also hints at a balance to the Force, perhaps through Rey and Ren/Ben. Which brings us to the final intriguing idea…
Community Verdict: “I think this is the most poetic possible interpretation,” says Mitchell. “What better legacy for the last Jedi than if the next generation of adoptive sons and daughters takes on the family name? I doubt that this will be an order of Gray Jedi, however. George Lucas has been clear that the Light and the Dark sides are in opposition to one another and not particularly able to intermingle, only balance. Another possibility remains, though: if Bendemption is the ultimate plan for Kylo Ren’s arc, the title could just as easily refer to him, the grandson of Anakin Skywalker.”
NIFTY SHADES OF GRAY aka PURPLE REIGN
Colour coding! Sharp-eyed viewers noticed that the Star Wars in the Rise of Skywalker logo was had a purple hue – actually lavender, according to sources in the know – and this immediately led to the idea of the ultimate balancing of the Force: blue for the Jedi (lightsabers), red for the Sith.
It also hinted at another colour scheme. The Star Wars Legacy features the Gray Jedi; Force-Users who walk the line between the light and dark sides of the Force, avoiding both tendencies of rigid Jedi dogmatism and wanton Sith destruction. Again, it would feed into the concept of Rey and Ben finally being the necessary Yin and Yang to restore equilibrium to the entire saga.
So, finally, Star Peace? Fanciful perhaps, but all we are saying is, give it a chance.
Community Verdict: Mitchell says, “I can’t really say that this is a theory, but it’s an absolutely beautiful interpretation of the color scheme for this film. Whether it reflects any deeper theme, I can’t say for sure. I’ll wait for the Blu-Ray commentary.”
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits screens in the UK on December 19 and the US on December 20.