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All the open questions Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker leaves behind

From Finn’s big secret to the film’s confusing ending

Finn (John Boyega) with Poe (Oscar Isaac) on a ridge behind him in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
“Hey Poe, that other ship over there probably isn’t important, right?”
Image: Lucasfilm/Disney

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker never had a chance of wrapping up absolutely every thread from the eight films that came before it in the Star Wars series. But the Polygon staff wasn’t expecting it to leave so many strange questions open, either. We don’t want to head into CinemaSins territory with nitpicks, but we were fairly surprised at all the elements of Episode IX that seemed rushed, incomplete, confusingly handled, or just plain missing. It’s is always a bad sign when people walk out of a movie baffled by parts of what they just saw, trying to confirm with each other that they didn’t fall asleep in the theater and miss a key moment. Here are the biggest questions Rise of Skywalker left us pondering.

[Ed. note: Extremely massive spoilers ahead for The Rise of Skywalker.]

What was Finn’s big secret from Rey?

When Finn thinks he’s going to die, he urgently tries to tell Rey something he’d been keeping from her, but he’s cut off. Later, when it seems like he and Poe and Chewbacca are all going to die, Poe brings it up again, and Finn puts him off. So what was he going to say? Standard narrative clichés would suggest that he wants to confess his love for Rey, or that he wants to tell her he’s Force-sensitive too and has been sensing her emotions from across the galaxy. (Wishful thinking from certain ’shippers suggests he wanted to confess his love for Poe instead.) But why would any of this be useful for him to convey just before being consumed by space-quicksand?

Plot importance: On some level, if it isn’t important enough to Finn to finish the thought, it probably isn’t important to the audience either. And yet it’s a weird story beat to keep bringing up something unresolved and then never resolve it, especially when it comes from a beloved character whose story arc never fully develops or pays off.

Kylo Ren and his lightsaber tackling an enemy in a forest in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Farewell, whoever you were.
Image: Lucasfilm Ltd.

Who did Kylo Ren murder in his opening scene?

Kylo is reintroduced in The Rise of Skywalker in the middle of a battle where he’s slaughtering a small army of warriors in order to get his hands on one of the film’s many MacGuffins, a Sith wayfinder that will lead him to Exegol. Who’s guarding the wayfinder and why do they have it? Are these Sith guardians or Resistance warriors or neutral parties who worship the wayfinder or use it as a cookfire or what? And why didn’t Luke turn up any hint of this wayfinder, which was apparently much easier to reach? And if it’s in Sith or First Order hands, why not hide it on Exegol, where it would be safest?

These questions are actually answered briefly in the newly released book Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — The Visual Dictionary. That book says Kylo is on Mustafar, the lava planet where Anakin Skywalker lost his limbs in a duel and effectively became Darth Vader. And it says Kylo is fighting his way to Vader’s old fortress, where he finds the wayfinder. Why is none of this background mentioned in the film? Because the fight is only really there to remind us that Kylo is a powerful warrior, which is necessary to establish him as a threat, given that he spends most of the movie being stymied by Rey, then switches sides. Still, since this film portrays his redemption and rejection of his Sith beliefs, it’s worth wondering about the morality of him opening this film by killing off dozens of conveniently faceless people in order to steal something from them.

Plot importance: Star Wars has repeatedly held that villains can redeem themselves for absolutely anything as long as they die immediately afterward, so in theory, we can’t hold this latest massacre against Kylo’s morality. Still, it’s a little insulting to realize that we aren’t expected to know or care anything about the people he kills, and that they’re only there because J.J. Abrams wants the movie to start with as much mindless, revved-up action as possible. Speaking of which ...

How did those TIE fighters follow the Millennium Falcon through hyperspace?

We’ve spent 40 years seeing the Star Wars jump to hyperspace not just as an iconic, symbolic on-screen image, but as an image of freedom — the one way all these smugglers and rebels and people on the margins can escape a much bigger and stronger enemy. Then The Last Jedi gave the First Order a “hyperspace tracker,” a device that rendered all previous hyperspace escapes moot. Suddenly the bad guys could follow the good guys anywhere, even through hyperspace. Still, it was a resource-intensive process requiring one specific device on one specific Star Destroyer, which the Rebels blew up. And now suddenly every TIE fighter in the fleet can easily and seamlessly follow ships on hyperspace jump after hyperspace jump, no matter how quickly they happen?

Plot importance: Even if you assume this new technology is just a streamlining and miniaturizing of the existing hyperspace tracker technology, it radically changes the Star Wars universe. Suddenly, there’s no way to escape a firefight against a superior enemy anymore. Space battles are going to mean something entirely different now — assuming the writers don’t decide to just ignore this in the future because it’s too limiting.

Where exactly was Chewbacca’s ‘second transport’ hiding?

Most of these questions come from rushed storytelling, or from Abrams prioritizing a badass action sequence over creating any sort of context that would explain what that sequence is doing, or what it means. This one, on the other hand, comes from unmitigated apathy and contempt for the audience.

Finn sees a group of stormtroopers capture Chewbacca and load him onto a transport, in the middle of a flat, open desert with nowhere to hide. He runs to point the ship out to Rey and tell her Chewbacca’s on it, as it launches into the sky — again, a wide-open expanse with maximum distance visibility. Then Rey and Kylo fight over the transport ship, until Rey accidentally blasts it with Force lightning. It goes down, supposedly killing Chewbacca. But everything’s fine! Mere minutes later, the First Order reveals there were two transport ships, and Chewbacca was on the other one. Apparently, the second one was invisible. And hidden behind the first one. Or maybe the furry guy Finn saw getting loaded onto the first ship was a different bandolier-wearing Wookiee with a Sith artifact knife.

Plot importance: Chewbacca’s survival is hugely important both to the fandom (he’s a longtime favorite) and to the story, given that half the remaining plot, Hux’s death, and Rey’s discovery by Kylo all come from the rescue that follows. The “your Wookiee is in another castle” gimmick, though, is mostly important for revealing how little the filmmaking team here cared about making the story hold together. They don’t even make the slightest attempt to make this plot beat make any sense.

the Millennium Falcon jumping to hyperspace in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Too bad this gets us nowhere now.
Image: Lucasfilm/Disney

Are the Sith gone for good?

With Kylo converted and dead, and Snoke bisected and dead, and Emperor Palpatine disintegrated and dead again, is anyone actually left to carry on the Sith line? Various other Sith apprentices and offshoots from the extended Star Wars franchise have been killed off as well, to the point where it’s unclear whether anyone’s still around to keep the line going.

Plot importance: Theoretically extremely significant for the future of the franchise, given how large the Sith loom in the mythos. On the other hand, Star Wars franchise writers have repeatedly proved that they can bend their own rules in order to keep ancient enmities alive. The Rule of Two in The Phantom Menace declared that there were only ever two Sith at a time, a master and an apprentice, but subsequent stories fudged that line significantly to bring in more Sith-affiliated antagonists. With both the Emperor and Darth Maul canonically surviving seemingly fatal attacks, and with the evidence that Supreme Leader Snoke was just one of a number of clones, it’s always possible that later books or games or movies will find a dodge to either bring one of the core villains back yet again, or reveal yet another secret apprentice out there somewhere. Maybe there’s a whole planet full of those stored Snoke clones. You never know when you’re going to need some spare Snokes.

Wait, did the Emperor have a plan for the spare Snokes?

The vat full of extra Snokes is really bothering some Polygon staffers. It probably shouldn’t. Those are probably unfinished or flawed clones, or even backups. Abrams almost certainly included a bunch of them in that shot, rather than just one, so no one would mistakenly believe Snoke had been resurrected alongside the Emperor. The vat-Snokes are likely the discards. No need to worry about them until the franchise tells us to.

Plot importance: Probably just a spooky visual with no significance except proving that Snoke was a puppet all along. Of course, that does mean the one we saw die could have just been one of many, effectively serving as his own body double to prevent assassination. A mix of canonical and expired lore may offer a little more explanation.

Why did the Emperor change plans mid-climax?

It’s odd how the Emperor proclaims that Rey’s going to kill him and then he’ll inhabit her body and take over the galaxy, and then absolutely none of that happens. For just a brief second, the idea that she can’t solve her problems with a quick and simple murder seems like a fascinating conundrum. It’s a parallel to the bind in which Obi-Wan Kenobi puts Darth Vader back in A New Hope, when he says, “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” Vader doesn’t listen, and by killing Obi-Wan, Vader makes him one with the Force. Rey is more cautious about moving forward, which briefly gives their conflict a thrill, because it seems like she can’t just solve it in the most obvious way. And then ... he siphons off most of her life force, and she winds up just killing him anyway, with no evident negative consequences.

Plot importance: It’d be nice if there was some explanation of this. Usually, when an antagonist’s plan fails, there’s some sense of reason about it — something he did dramatically wrong or didn’t anticipate. But reading between the lines (and looking at all of The Rise of Skywalker’s overt parallels to Return of the Jedi), we can guess that the reason this plan failed isn’t because something-something-Force-dyad-magic, but because Rey was supposed to give in to her anger and dark side to murder him, which would give the Emperor a way into her. Instead, she channeled the Jedi and destroyed him with his own power. This is why you don’t tell the good guys all your evil plans in advance.

Rey and Kylo Ren fighting with lightsabers and destroying the stand for Darth Vader’s destroyed mask in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
“I was ready to redecorate this place anyway.”
Image: Lucasfilm/Disney

What exactly happened with Rey and Kylo Ren at the end?

The characters’ final moments together play out like the end of Romeo and Juliet, with one of the pair waking up just in time to share a kiss and then watch the other die. Except ... what actually happened there? It certainly looked like Rey exhausted herself channeling the Jedi and ending the Emperor, and then died, and that Kylo gave her all his life energy to bring her back, and then he died. Except ... since Light-Side Force users evaporate when they die, why didn’t Rey’s body disappear when she was dead, like Kylo’s does?

Plot importance: There’s probably some wishy-washy explanation for this, like Rey wasn’t fully ready to pass on yet, but Kylo was. It’s just confusing, because there don’t seem to be any rules for how and when Light-Side users evaporate after death. Speaking of which ...

Why didn’t Leia’s body disappear until Kylo’s did?

That “wasn’t fully ready to pass on” explanation is looking better and better now, but it’s still baffling how director J.J. Abrams makes a point of showing the audience that Leia’s body was still hanging out in the cave at the Rebel base, when all the other disappearing Light-Side-user corpses we’ve seen have evaporated within a minute or so of their death. (Within a nanosecond, in the case of Obi-Wan Kenobi.) And then Leia and Kylo disappear at the same time.

Plot importance: Probably nil. It’s probably just meant as a little bit of parallel closure for the family. Unless you ascribe to the wild-but-not-actually-disproved theory that Leia’s self-sacrifice to reach Kylo was more than it appeared, and that she somehow sent her spirit to inhabit his body. There are already theories floating around that Leia didn’t actually die when she lay down in that cave — she just projected her life force into Kylo to help Rey, so she wasn’t fully dead until he was. Or that Kylo did die when the Emperor threw him into the pit, and that the Kylo that emerged to save Rey was just a projection of consciousness, like Luke at the end of The Last Jedi, showing up to pass his remaining energy onto Rey. This is the kind of speculation that inconsistent and unclear storytelling gets you.

Who was crewing the Emperor’s massive fleet?

There are a lot of unanswered questions around the abrupt resurrection of the Emperor, and the revelation that he had a massive fleet hidden on an unknown planet, with planet-destroying weapons that previously took an entire Death Star to support. Who retrieved Palpatine’s body from the crashed Death Star II and got him to Exegol, and built and crewed all these ships? When were ship-based planet destroyers developed? Was that massive audience for the Emperor’s intended victory composed of real, living creatures of some kind, or were they phantoms? Again, the Visual Dictionary has a brief answer: These are “Sith cultists” that “continue to venerate the efforts of the late Darth Sidious to bring about a New Empire.” It’s just unclear how they all got to Exegol, a secret hidden planet that’s almost impossible to find, navigate, or leave without extremely specialized instructions.

Plot importance: Clearly the writers of The Rise of Skywalker don’t care about any of this stuff, but it’s hard not to be a little confused about seeing tens of thousands of Sith loyalists conjured out of nowhere, then destroyed, without a word of explanation. Also, it’s worth wondering how many more of these questions have already been answered in ancillary material somewhere. And speaking of that ...

Is Jannah related to Lando?

Some people have interpreted Lando Calrissian’s brief conversation with Jannah, the First Order deserter played by Naomi Ackie, as a flirtation. When she says she doesn’t know who she is or where she came from, he says, “Wanna go find out?” in the same tone other men would use for a smarmy pickup line like “did it hurt when you fell from heaven?” But let’s face it — that’s just how Lando sounds all the time. It’s more likely that this is a tease for a future story. Our new best friend the Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary says Lando “attempted to start a family” after Return of the Jedi, but “tragedy struck and his infant daughter vanished.” Guess who is the right age and the right skin color, has the right lack of background, and conveniently ran into him at the end of the movie? There’s no confirmation here, obviously, but given how much the Star Wars series loves to link up generations through unexpected blood ties, yes, she’s probably his missing daughter.

Plot importance: None, though it may set up a future story in some medium or another, and it helps explain why a newly introduced character who contributes nothing to the story except the one moment of human connection for Finn gets so much screen time.

What exactly is a dyad, and how are Kylo and Rey linked?

The biggest mystery of the final Star Wars trilogy has been the link between Kylo Ren and Rey, which allowed them to do things the Force has never been used for before. Fans took this as evidence of a blood kinship between them, proof that Rey was Luke’s daughter or some other Skywalker offshoot. But no — the Emperor just casually mentions during the action climax that the two of them are a “Force dyad.” What does that mean?

Plot importance: It isn’t just important to the plot of The Rise of Skywalker; it reaches back to define the past two films as well. Why is this such an apathetically tossed-off plot point? Are there other dyads? What causes two people to be linked through the Force in unprecedented ways, and what can we expect from them going forward?

Who were the Knights of Ren, and are they gone now?

The Knights of Ren, the faction that birthed Kylo Ren, were introduced in The Force Awakens with the idea that they’d get fleshed out eventually. But then no one writing the films was particularly interested in them, and they became one of the trilogy’s half-baked afterthoughts. J.J. Abrams brings them back in The Rise of Skywalker just long enough for Kylo to kill a bunch of them, but the final trilogy really only offers up a few sentences, total, about who they are and what they want. They get a bit more background in the Star Wars spinoff comics, but not enough to make it clear whether there are more of them out there, or what they might want in a post-First Order galaxy.

Plot importance: It largely feels like they’re only important for recycling some early Kylo Ren costume designs, and for selling a few more toys.

Babu Frik doing surgery on the back of C-3PO’s opened head as Rey looks on in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Image: Lucasfilm/Disney

Why is C-3PO programmed to understand Sith runes?

Okay, this one’s just petty, but c’mon: Someone went to the trouble of programming C-3PO to understand a forbidden language that he wasn’t allowed to communicate to anyone? Why’d they bother?

Plot importance: Surprisingly central to the story, and surprisingly destructive to C-3PO! Good thing no one in this movie is allowed to stay “dead” for long.

What exactly is the Han Solo who appears to Kylo?

Harrison Ford’s abrupt reappearance in a series he was loudly glad to leave was a welcome shock, but it does raise a lot of questions. Han was never a Force user, and he doesn’t appear to be a Force ghost in The Rise of Skywalker. He could just be a memory or delusion of Kylo’s, showing up to warmly validate Kylo’s choices. But that’s a pretty unsatisfying answer that essentially paves over the ways Kylo is haunted by murdering Han — supposedly, his entire conversion back to the Light comes because he regrets what he did, so having his father show up to approve of his choices is a form of self-congratulation that feels shallow and delusional.

Making Han just a memory would also be an odd choice in a universe where people clearly do both live on after, and frequently come back from, death. Maybe he’s a vision, which in this series essentially means “a magical projection that doesn’t have to follow any rules, ever.” But if Han Solo is actually evidence of non-Force-users not just joining the Force after death, but also being able to manifest afterward, he’s something new and unprecedented — basically yet another case of the writers breaking established narrative rules for a cool moment, with no concern about how this abruptly changes an entire galaxy.

Plot importance: Who knows? Chances are that nothing like this will ever come up again in Star Wars, unless of course Harrison Ford agrees to keep coming back for more cameos.

Are there any rules for Force ghosts at all?

Why did dead Darth Vader turn up as a Force ghost as young Anakin Skywalker, but dead Luke and Leia still look like Old Luke and Leia?

Plot importance: Zero. It’s just one of those frustrated questions that lingers from George Lucas’ digital tinkering with past Star Wars films. If he hadn’t felt a need to retroactively wedge Hayden Christensen into Return of the Jedi for the Special Edition release, this wouldn’t keep coming up. The only reason it’s important is because of a lingering hope that Force ghosts get to choose their own appearance from whatever era of their past they want. Which means maybe someday we’ll see Force ghost Yoda as a baby, and he and The Mandalorian’s Baby Yoda can hang out and be kids together.