With six months to go until the release of the final installment in Disney’s first Star Wars trilogy, we’ve finally gotten our first good look at the film. In case you missed it, the first teaser for Star Wars Episode IX is here, and it throws us some interesting and unexpected twists. Let’s dig in.
The teaser begins with the above shot of Rey standing on a desert planet. Is it her homeworld, Jakku? Or the Star Wars mainstay Tatooine? Or some new planet altogether? There has been much talk from director JJ Abrams of how this film will bring the saga full circle, so Tatooine seems a strong bet, but it’s impossible to say.
As Rey stands with the desert wind billowing her clothing, she draws a deep breath as if in nervous preparation, and we hear a voice-over from Luke Skywalker: “We’ve passed on all we know. A thousand generations live in you now. But this is your fight.” This seems to be confirmation that Luke will be returning as a Force ghost, which was always a near certainty, and the dialogue itself seems to suggest this will not be an idle role — Luke will continue to impart his wisdom to Rey from his spiritual plane, much as Obi-Wan did with Luke himself.
The camera pans down and Rey draws her lightsaber, and it’s one we’re all familiar with. Luke’s lightsaber. When last we saw this blade, it had been broken in half, destroyed in a Force tug-of-war between Rey and Kylo Ren. Many fans speculated that this would offer Rey the opportunity to build her own lightsaber. After all, this is the blade Luke lost at the end of Empire Strikes Back.
Luke had not yet completed his training when he lost that weapon, yet when we meet him again in the opening moments of Return of the Jedi, we can immediately tell that something is different about him. This was a calmer Luke, whose confidence grew from self-assurance rather than arrogance. In the year that passed since he faced Vader and lost his hand, Luke had completed his training and built a new lightsaber, and this became symbolic. This was a ritual we saw added to the canon across the expanded universe — a Jedi must build his or her own lightsaber, as a rite of passage.
And so many had assumed that Rey would build her own lightsaber. Some had speculated that her proficiency with the battle-staff might suggest she would go for a double-bladed lightsaber as wielded by Darth Maul.
But it seems that Rey has chosen to repair Luke’s blade instead. And this makes sense to me. Not only is there a sentimental attachment, but Rey is, after all, a scavenger. Her childhood was all about scavenging broken things and making them work again. The decision to repair this lightsaber instead of building a new one fits perfectly with her character.
A ship comes screaming out of the distance, and Rey ignites her lightsaber’s blade. This strikes me as a very meaningful shot. We see not just the lightsaber in her hand, but the blaster she wears on her hip. The blaster given to her by Han Solo. Rey is going into battle wielding the two weapons given to her by the two men who, though she knew them only briefly, served as father figures to her.
We hold our breath in anticipation. Is this Kylo Ren charging toward her?
In a thrilling show of heroism, Rey catapults herself into the air and meets the ship head-on. This moment allows us a closer look at the ship, which reveals that this is not Kylo Ren’s unique TIE Silencer, but a new model of TIE Interceptor bearing the red markings of the First Order. So perhaps this is not Kylo. This strikes me as a scene that will likely take place early in the film — I wouldn’t imagine they’d want to spoil this moment with the teaser if it was a climactic scene — and I’m not expecting to see another Kylo/Rey confrontation right at the beginning of the movie. But who knows?
This ship could be piloted by a generic First Order stormtrooper. But there’s also a more exciting possibility.
The Force Awakens introduced us to the mysterious Knights of Ren, in a single scene in which Rey has a Force vision of Kylo Ren surrounded by his knights. The scene was never elaborated on beyond that film, and these characters made no appearance or were even referenced in the sequel. In interviews, director Rian Johnson has lamented that he simply did not have room for for the Knights in The Last Jedi.
I very much like the idea of Rey being hunted down by Kylo’s knights. They offer a credible threat that Rey could face before her ultimate showdown with Kylo Ren (if that is, in fact, how things turn out.) Disney’s sequel trilogy has so far kept the lightsaber combat to a minimum, and that is a decision that makes sense for the first two films. But I’d like to see a lot more of it in Episode IX.
Next we have a shot of Kylo Ren, without mask, attacking someone in the forest. We don’t get a good enough look at his victim to get a sense of who he is, but he appears to be wielding an axe.
This is followed by a shot of someone repairing Kylo Ren’s shattered mask. If you recall, Kylo himself destroyed the helmet in The Last Jedi, when his master Snoke sneeringly said to him, “Alas, you’re no Vader. Just a child in a mask.” I did not expect to see the mask again — Kylo seemed to have outgrown it — and for this reason I am not entirely sure that he’s the one repairing it.
Next we get a few establishing shots which tell us little beyond that our favorite heroes Finn, Poe, BB-8, and C-3P0 are returning. No surprises there. Oh, and here’s Lando. He finally got his ship back.
A shot of Rey tearfully embracing Leia. The Last Jedi has its share of outspoken critics online, and many of them have said that Admiral Holdo’s sacrifice would have been more impactful if it had been Leia in the pilot’s seat. But I’m glad we get to see Carrie Fisher again. Abrams has said that there will be no CGI Leia in this film, only composites of existing footage that was never used. That does seem like the way to go. As impressive as Rogue One’s CGI Tarkin and Leia creations were, it would seem disrespectful to go that route with Leia’s final appearance.
Another revelatory shot. This appears to be the wreckage of the (presumably second) Death Star, which means this is likely to be the forest moon of Endor, or perhaps the planet it orbits. (Legacy canon states that the planet is a gas giant, which would seem to rule it out, but this could be retconned.)
Concept art from The Force Awakens shows Rey diving into the underwater ruins of the Death Star wreckage. That never made the final cut of Episode VII — it was art drawn for an early version of the screenplay written by Michael Arndt, before Arndt was fired and the story rewritten — but Abrams seems to have liked the idea enough to bring the location back for Episode IX.
Reportedly, the sunken ruins are where Rey originally found the map that would lead her to Luke, but their reason for visiting these ruins must be different now. So why are they visiting the Death Star remains? Perhaps the answer lies in the moments that follow this shot…
As we look on, we again hear Luke’s voice, this time echoing his last line to Leia: “We’ll always be with you. No one’s ever really gone.”
Cut to black.
And then the biggest surprise of the teaser. That laugh. Palpatine.
There are number of possible explanations. Is he really back? It could be something as simple as a hologram. But of course that wouldn’t be very satisfying.
Swing the pendulum back the other direction and you have the possibility that Palpatine is alive and that he’s the mastermind behind the First Order. Snoke was killed off unceremoniously because Snoke wasn’t important — he was merely a pawn in Palpatine’s game.
The idea of Palpatine rising from the grave isn’t unprecedented. The old Legacy canon, before it was retconned by the new films, saw Palpatine return from the dead through cloned bodies inhabited by his Force spirit.
But this seems problematic, too. If Palpatine is alive, what reason would he have for hanging around the Death Star’s crash site?
A likely possibilty — likely to me, anyway — is that Palpatine was such a powerful Force user that the site of his death has become corrupted by dark Force energy, much like the cave Luke entered on Dagobah in Empire Strikes Back. In short, the idea is that the Death Star’s wreckage is haunted by Palpatine’s lingering ghost.
Of course, just because the laugh is juxtaposed against the image of the Death Star does not mean that Palpatine is there. Perhaps he’s not hanging around the crash site. Perhaps he’s off somewhere else in the galaxy, in hiding, pulling everyone’s strings.
The final image in the teaser reveals the film’s title, THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, and this leaves us with just as many questions as hearing the familiar sound of Palpatine’s laugh.
What does it mean? The rise of Skywalker? Luke was the last Skywalker, and he’s dead. Dead does not mean gone in Star Wars, and we have every reason to believe that Luke will be back as a Force ghost, but that hardly explains the concept of the rise of Skywalker.
We have a host of possible explanations to choose from.
Some still believe that Kylo Ren was lying to Rey when he revealed that her parents were no one important. He certainly had every reason to lie — he was at the time encouraging her to cast off her past and join him together in a new future, and she couldn’t let go of her past without a reason, and he gave her one. But by this point, the issue of Rey’s parentage seems settled, and I don’t really want them to dive back into that. Even when her heritage was an open question, I wasn’t fond of her being Luke’s daughter. (My own pet theory two years ago was that she was Han and Leia’s daughter, and Ben’s sister, thought long dead by them.)
An idea being put forth on reddit is that Rey will indeed be the last Jedi — that she will usher in a new order of light-side Force users, but the theory is, they will not call themselves Jedi. They will be called Skywalkers.
The idea does have its merits. As Luke pointed out in the last film, the Jedi’s teachings were flawed, and though Luke was in a cynical place emotionally when he gave this rant, I think he was right about that. Luke’s new ideas on balance make much more sense than the ideas of the old Jedi order.
Still, I don’t know that I like abandoning the term Jedi. I think future generations should grow and evolve beyond what the Jedi used to be, but the name is just so iconic to Star Wars, I can’t see them moving away from it, even if this is to be the last film in the Skywalker saga.
For now, the title remains a mystery, and I’m not overly fond of any of the possible explanations I’ve heard for it.