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One possible meaning behind Star Wars Episode IX’s The Rise of Skywalker title

A sturdy theory to consider before pointing a finger at J.J. Abrams

star wars episode 9 the rise of skywalker - rey and leia Lucasfilm
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Earlier this month, Rian Johnson expressed a level Zen over the possibility that writer-director-producer J.J. Abrams could return to the Star Wars franchise and retcon his work in The Last Jedi, specifically with regard to Rey’s origins. In the middle installment of Lucasfilm’s sequel trilogy, Kylo Ren reveals to our Force-wielding heroine that she’s not a “chosen one” or of the Skywalker lineage — she’s just some kid dumped on Jakku. Knowing Abrams to be a master of the longtail mystery, the revelation came as a surprise, be it polarizing. Many wondered if, in returning to Episode IX, Abrams could possibly undo Johnson’s poignant explanation in favor of something more lore heavy.

Johnson, speaking to MTV, said he wouldn’t mind either way.

“I want to let go of all my expectations,” he said. “I want to sit back. I want to be entertained. I want to be surprised. I want to be thrilled. I want him to do stuff I wasn’t expecting him to do and just go along for the ride.”

With the reveal of Episode IX’s title, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the potential for retconning Rey’s origin is back on the table. Who else could possibly be the Skywalker in question? As Luke whispers from the great beyond, over footage of Rey preparing for a massive Force-enabled jump, “We’ve passed on all we know. A thousand generations live in you now. This is your fight.”

And yet, this image from The Last Jedi...

star wars the last jedi final shot broom boy Lucasfilm

The end of The Last Jedi finds the Resistance in shambles, with only a few surviving members speeding away from the First Order’s violent campaign. But the group persists, and its message of freedom has trickled down to a younger generation. Johnson returns one last time to Canto Bight to find “Broom Boy,” left with a Resistance ring after Finn and Rose’s daring escape. Pushed out to do some sweeping, we see the kid employ some subtle Force to grab his broom, before staring up to the sky and dreaming big. This is the future. It’s alive and empowered.

Abrams retconning Rey’s origins would have larger implications. The Last Jedi tees up The Rise of Skywalker to become something of a Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse for the Star Wars universe. Miles Morales and the multidimensional web-slinging reminded us that anyone can wear the mask. Broom Boy suggests a new generation of non-Chosen Ones can pick up a saber and go to righteous battle. The end of the Skywalker Saga runs deeper than just Rey. If she were to become something bigger than that, Abrams would rejigger the entire message of the sequel trilogy.

At Episode IX’s Celebration panel, Abrams explained the thematic thrust of The Rise of Skywalker (without spoiling anything). Even as the trailer centers on Rey and the end of the Skywalker saga, the writer-director’s messaging seems to continue Johnson’s notion that the galaxy is bigger than just one or two saviors. This is a world robust with characters, and when the credits role on the sequel trilogy, it’ll become the beginning of something new.

“This movie is about the new generation,” the director said. “What they’ve inherited, the light and the dark, and ask the question about facing the greatest evil: are they ready?”

Rey and Luke’s journey in The Last Jedi found the old guard and a fresh-faced warrior training, wrestling with the Force, and wondering if the traditional duality of this invisible power was blurrier than just light and dark. Yoda and Luke watch the legendary teachings of the Jedi burn up in flames, accepting that philosophical evolution is inevitable (“We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”) But Rey doesn’t totally reject her master; in the end, she sneaks the sacred texts aboard the Millennium Falcon, words of wisdom that will surely inform future Jedi.

Daisy Ridley as Rey, holding a lightsaber in the desert Image: Lucasfilm

Or maybe they won’t be Jedi. Just as George Lucas wrote the prequel movies to “rhyme” with his original three films like poetry, so too have Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy’s new films. The Force Awakens played like a sequel and a remake to Star Wars (1977). The Last Jedi splintered the group in a similar way to Empire Strikes Back. The trailer for The Rise of Skywalker teases a return to the original Death Star, the return of the Emperor, and concept art even suggests a moon-of-Endor-like forest planet — but the connections could run even deeper.

The trilogy-capping films follow an interesting trend: the Sith get “revenge,” the Jedi “return,” and now Skywalker “rise.” But what if Skywalker isn’t a person, but whatever legion of Jedi-like warriors Rey trains under her balanced light-dark philosophy? What if Broom Boy is a “Skywalker?”

“I haven’t really thought about [Episode IX] because there’s such a sense of closure, Luke’s story is told,” Mark Hamill said last year, while celebrating the inclusion of “Broom boy” at the end of The Last Jedi. “It’s so subtle ... implying that yeah, [Rey’s] the last Jedi... until the next Jedi. It’ll go on forever, believe me. Long after both of us are gone they’ll be making these films from here into eternity.”

Whoever was “the last Jedi,” everyone involved seems to agree the order is in transition. There’s something new on the horizon. And The Rise of the Skywalker, instead of retconning what came before it, looks ahead.

This week, Bob Iger announced that Star Wars movies would go on “hiatus” after The Rise of Skywalker. The universe needs to cool down after the end of the Skywalker saga — but they’ll be back. Johnson is working on another trilogy, and so are Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. One assumes those movies will still deal in the Force, deal with Force-wielders, and delve into the melding philosophies of the light and dark. From our first glimpse at Episode IX, all signs point to a future full of Skywalkers. A rise of them, if you will.