Movies

The Casual Star Wars Fan’s Guide to The Rise of Skywalker

All your questions from the new movie, answered.

Daisy Ridley as Rey stands in a grassy field. In the background, Chewbacca, BB-8, and C-3PO stand together with a small droid resembling a hairdryer on a wheel. Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron stands to her right. The sky and grass are dotted with crudely drawn question marks.
Wait, what?
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

This post contains spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker.

Let’s start with the most pressing question after seeing the movie: What’s a spice runner? Is it just a guy who runs around with oregano?

Well, a spice runner in the Star Wars is someone who smuggles drugs, referred to as spice

Obviously that’s not really the most pressing question! I want to know more about Palpatine.

OK, OK. In the original trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi), Palpatine was known as “the Emperor.” He’s the main villain, the Big Bad, Darth Vader’s boss, who rules over the galaxy and can shoot lightning out of his hands.

In the prequel trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith) we learn more about him and his rise to power: He was a politician named Palpatine from the planet Naboo who was secretly also a Sith lord. Palpatine manipulated his way into becoming the head of the Galactic Senate, started a civil war, and then played both sides to amass more and more power for himself. He eventually corrupted Anakin Skywalker, turned Anakin into Darth Vader, and declared himself emperor.

Also, his first name is Sheev.

I remember him now, though I didn’t know that about “Sheev.” Didn’t Darth Vader kill him? How is he alive in The Rise of Skywalker?

Yes, Darth Vader threw Palpatine down a reactor shaft at the end of Return of the Jedi, in the process saving his son and redeeming himself. Dominic Monaghan’s character (he’s the guy you might recognize from the Lord of the Rings movies or J.J. Abrams’ own Lost) suggests in The Rise of Skywalker that Palpatine’s return might have something to do with cloning, but the Palpatine we see is old and his body is decaying. It’s really him.

Throwing someone off a ledge has never been a guarantee that they’re dead in the Star Wars universe. In The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul was knocked into a similar abyss—after being been cut in half by a lightsaber, no less—only to reappear, alive and pretty steamed about the whole thing, years later in the animated TV series The Clone Wars and then in Solo. Luke Skywalker jumped down a reactor shaft in The Empire Strikes Back, but he managed to find his way into a chute and slip-slide his way to survival. And in this movie, the Emperor throws Kylo Ren into an abyss, only for him to crawl his way out. The lesson here is: If you want to kill your enemy in the Star Wars galaxy, don’t rely on gravity to do it for you.

How exactly Palpatine survived his own tumble is never explained in The Rise of Skywalker, but he was long obsessed with cheating death—and with dangling the promise of cheating death to tempt underlings to work for him, including Anakin. He says in The Rise of Skywalker that he died at least once before, so apparently his research paid off.

What does Palpatine mean when he says “I made Snoke”? Does he mean metaphorically, like he helped Snoke rise to power?

Here’s where cloning does seem to come into play. When Palpatine says he made Snoke, the villain of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, it would appear he means it, because there’s a vat full of Snoke parts on the Sith planet that Palpatine uses as a home base.

Right, the Sith planet. Can you explain more about Exogall … Exicle … ?

It’s spelled Exegol, according to a song from John Williams’ score. C-3PO says that according to legend, it’s “the hidden planet of the Sith,” but it should not be confused with Moraband, another important planet in Sith history. As far as I can tell, The Rise of Skywalker marks Exegol’s first appearance or even mention in Star Wars.

What’s the deal with the Sith again? Is everyone who’s into the dark side of the Force a Sith?

More or less. In the Expanded Universe (the books and video games and other material that have not been considered part of the canon since 2012, when Disney bought Lucasfilm), the Sith began as a specific species, but now they’re essentially just followers of a specific belief system. Think of them as the anti-Jedi. They use lightsabers and the Force, but they draw on the dark side, using emotions like passion, anger, and a desire for power, as opposed to Jedi, who tap into the light side by practicing tranquility and selfless unattachment. The Sith were originally part of the Jedi order but broke away and established their own religion.

Eventually the Sith order fell apart because it turns out that people whose entire identities revolve around rage and megalomania don’t exactly play well with others. This led the surviving Sith, Darth Bane—another trademark of the Sith is that they choose evil-sounding names for themselves—to create a rule that there can only be two Sith at any time, a master and an apprentice. The last true Sith lord was Palpatine, who went by the name Darth Sidious. (Emperor Sheev has a lot of names.)

What exactly was Palpatine’s plan here? He wanted to kill Rey? Or he wanted Rey to kill him so she could take the throne? Or he wanted to use Rey and Kylo to restore his power somehow? I’m confused.

At the beginning of The Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine specifically tells Kylo Ren to kill Rey, but that was apparently just a misdirection. I guess Palpatine, with his knack for manipulation, trusted that Kylo would disobey him and that Rey would eventually come to him? Sneaky stuff.

When Rey confronts Palpatine on Exegol, he says what he really wants is for Rey to kill him, Palpatine, and assume the throne of the Sith, as is her “birthright,” because he’s her grandfather. If Rey kills him, he says, then his spirit will pass into her, as all the Sith live in him.

Is that who all those cloaked figures are?

That’s the implication. The movie suggests that Palpatine is once again speaking literally—he’s not just carrying on the legacy of the Sith, he is literally hauling their souls or spirits or life force around inside of him—and then they show off their chanting skills. (Maybe they use the Force to synchronize?)

How can Rey be Palpatine’s granddaughter? Weren’t her parents supposed to be nobodies?

This is the result of a bit of a tug of war between J.J. Abrams, who co-wrote and directed The Force Awakens, and Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed its sequel, The Last Jedi.

The Force Awakens set up the mystery of Rey’s parents, suggesting we were in for a classic Star Wars reveal down the line that Rey is related to some preexisting character. The Last Jedi subverted those expectations, with Kylo telling Rey her parents were unimportant junk traders who sold her for drinking money, something Rey accepted as fact. This was a radical reveal because Rey is a powerful Force user: The idea that her parents were ordinary people reinforced the idea that heroes can come from anywhere, not just dynasties like the Skywalker family, and that Force sensitivity is more than just genetics.

However, The Rise of Skywalker does a bit of retconning: It turns out Rey’s parents “chose to be” nobodies to protect her from her grandfather, leaving her on Jakku to hide her from him. They died protecting her. So what Kylo told her was true … from a certain point of view …

Does this mean the Emperor … fucks?

I am afraid it does.

If Palpatine is Rey’s grandfather, who is her grandmother?

Unclear. Until now, we didn’t even know Palpatine had any children. This will presumably be explained in some novelization or in the comics, because otherwise it’s a pretty big loose end to leave dangling.

What is a “dyad in the Force,” and how are Kylo and Rey one?

This appears to be another new term created for The Rise of Skywalker. Basically, they share a special bond. Kylo Ren says they’re “two that are one” and wants to use their combined abilities to take the throne of the Sith. Palpatine calls a Force dyad “a power like life itself,” and the strength of their connection somehow allows him to restore his strength. This presumably also explains Kylo and Rey’s ability to physically make contact with each other through the Force across long distances, which was until now unheard of, although in The Last Jedi, Snoke claimed that it was really him who kept connecting them with each other at awkward moments, so it’s a little muddled.

Is that also how Kylo brings Rey back from the dead at the very end?

Maybe, but that could also just be an extreme instance of Force healing, which we see Rey perform earlier in the film on an injured serpent creature. This was a relatively common ability in the Expanded Universe, but in the current canon, the most notable Force healer only came on the scene quite recently: The Child (aka Baby Yoda) from The Mandalorian.

Is that really Carrie Fisher in the movie, by the way, or is it some CGI trickery?

For the most part, it’s really her. Fisher died in December 2016, before The Rise of Skywalker had begun shooting, and for a long time it was unclear whether she’d even be in the movie at all, since the studio ruled out re-creating her digitally as they did with Peter Cushing (and a younger version of Fisher) in Rogue One. Ultimately, Abrams decided to include her in the film by repurposing unused footage of Fisher from The Force Awakens, with a few tweaks to alter her appearance between the two films.

Abrams told Yahoo Entertainment that he approached the scenes with Fisher the way he would if an actor was unavailable for reshoots, composing them so they matched the footage he already had.

When did Leia get a lightsaber?

A flashback scene shows a young Luke training a young Leia in a battle, so presumably she constructed it sometime between the end of Return of the Jedi and then. (It seems safe to assume that, in that particular scene, they are both CGI.)

Who are those voices Rey hears?

Those are the “voices of Jedi past” coming to Rey’s aid when she calls on them. Some of the voices stand out—Yoda’s, for example—but others are harder to recognize. Several of them never appear in the live-action movies at all and are instead from the animated series. Here are the ones we either heard or saw listed in the credits, plus some of the movies or TV series they were in:

• Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), from the original trilogy
• Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), from the prequels
• Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), from the prequels
• Yoda (Frank Oz), from too many movies to list
• Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), from The Phantom Menace
Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), from the prequels
• Aayla Secura (Jennifer Hale), from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith
Luminara Unduli (Olivia d’Abo), from The Clone Wars
Adi Gallia (Angelique Perrin), from The Clone Wars
Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), from The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels
Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.), from Star Wars Rebels

Any other cameos I might’ve missed?

Denis Lawson reprises his role as Luke’s buddy Wedge Antilles as part of the team of allies that help the Resistance fight the First Order ships.

Composer John Williams appears on Kijimi in the unforgettable role of (as the credits put it) “Man.”

Update, Dec. 23, 2019: John Williams’ character’s name has been confirmed as Oma Tres.

Meanwhile director J.J. Abrams lends his voice to the droid D-0, the one that looks like a hairdryer on a wheel.

Was I supposed to know who Richard E. Grant was supposed to be? I love him.

His character’s name is Allegiant General Pryde, and though he says meaningfully that he served Palpatine during the old wars, he’s a new character for the movie.

What was that medal Maz Kanata gave Chewbacca at the end of the movie?

It is a running joke among Star Wars fans that Leia awards medals to Han and Luke for their roles in destroying the Death Star, but poor Chewbacca doesn’t get one. The Rise of Skywalker rights this 42-year-old wrong.

Update, Dec. 23, 2019: Maz doesn’t just give Chewie any old medalit’s Han Solo’s medal, which Leia also has with her when she goes into the tent to communicate with Kylo Ren.

After Rey buries Luke and Leia’s lightsaber in the sand, she activates a lightsaber of her own, and it’s white. Do we know where she got it? And does it mean anything that it’s white?

She presumably just made it, but it might be meaningful that it’s white.

White lightsabers are new for the Star Wars movies, where the Sith typically have red lightsabers and Jedi have blue or green (or purple, if you’re Mace Windu). But white lightsabers are not unheard of in the wider Star Wars universe. Ahsoka Tano, who was once Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan before he turned to the dark side, carried white lightsabers after she left the Jedi order. They were also symbolic of her status as a Force user who was neither a Jedi or a Sith—symbolism that doesn’t really fit Rey, who has explicitly aligned herself with the Jedi.

It also happens to be possible to purify the crystal from a red, corrupted lightsaber, at which point it turns white. Kylo Ren—or perhaps I should say Ben Solo—hurled his lightsaber into the ocean after turning back to the light side, but it’d be a nice touch if Rey recovered his crystal. Hey, he did bring her back from the dead.

Update, Dec. 20, 2019: Other early The Rise of Skywalker viewers have suggested the lightsaber’s blade is actually yellow, a color associated with the Jedi Temple guards and with Clone Wars character Asajj Ventress, who lost her red blades after she turned away from the dark side. Those viewers also noticed the new lightsaber is made from Rey’s trusty staff.

Why does Rey say her name is Skywalker at the end of the movie?

To reflect her chosen family. For the entire trilogy, she has had no family name, no sense of belonging. By choosing Skywalker as her name, she is rejecting her Palpatine lineage and instead identifying with her two mentors, Luke and Leia, who we see as Force ghosts in the film’s final moments.

But she’s not, like, genetically a Skywalker?

No. At least not until the eventual reveal in Episode XXI: The Return of the Revenge of Skywalker.

Read more in Slate about The Rise of Skywalker.