clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Star Wars sequels’ big twist kept changing until the last minute

Daisy Ridley talked about the big secret of Rise of Skywalker

Rey learns she’s a Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker Image: Lucasfilm Ltd.
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

True to J.J. Abrams’ mystery box obsession, 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens introduced a fleet of new characters and a burning question: Where did our budding hero Rey come from? Who were her parents?

Fans spent years speculating what parts of the Star Wars universe Abrams might connect with his answer — even after The Last Jedi squashed the theories. Rey, on the path chosen by writer-director Rian Johnson, was just another somebody who happened to cross paths with the Skywalker Saga at the right time. Except maybe not? In the end, Abrams swung back around to his grand mystery, and turned Rey into the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine. The twist didn’t add much to the character, but hey, it was a twist! The end.

Months after the release of The Rise of Skywalker, and deep into the life-altering chaos of the pandemic, the thunderous thud of Abrams’ trilogy-capping reveal still reverberates through pop culture. In a way, it was the last big thing the world witnessed — and thinking-emoji-ed over — before movie theaters and life itself shut down. If Avengers: Endgame was the triumph of collective entertainment, Rise of Skywalker was the worst case scenario, but it still sticks in the memory.

Which is why, even when given the chance to host Jimmy Kimmel Live! nine months after the release of the film, guest host Josh Gad used his time with pal Daisy Ridley to ask what the hell happened with that twist. Gad is us. We are Gad. Despite being Disney’s go-to talent, the actor picked at the scab while commanding the prime ABC timeslot. Thank Gad.

In the segment, Ridley says what many have assumed and teased in leaked behind-the-scene story form. She had no concrete clue about Rey’s origins in The Force Awakens, and barely knew about the reveal while shooting Rise of Skywalker.

“At the beginning they were toying with an Obi-Wan connection,” she tells Gad. “There were different versions. Then it really went that she was no one. Then it came to Episode 9, and JJ pitched me the film: ‘Palpatine’s grandaddy.’ And I was like, ‘Awesome.’

Ridley says, two weeks after hearing the news, Abrams backtracked. Maybe that wasn’t the direction they’d go.

“So it kept changing. Even when we were filming I wasn’t sure what the answer would be.”

Much as been reported on how The Rise of Skywalker morphed over time, both in its transition from being Colin Trevorrow’s Duel of the Fates to Abrams’ Rise of Skywalker, but even the design and plot tweaks made through production. The movie was high stakes and adhered to many masters who needed the franchise to be viable well after Episode 9. There was no George Lucas leading the creative charge (we know, because his sequel trilogy would have looked wild). Things were bound to get messy. But like Star Trek Into Darkness’ controversial John Harrison/Khan reveal, the connection between Rey and Palpatine was a step too far into fan service, and a moment that will live on forever in Star Wars history for all the wrong reasons.

In his short time on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Josh Gad tried to bring the confusion over The Rise of Skywalker to a close. But here’s the real twist: With every new detail about the making of Abrams’ film, the choices only become more baffling and more curious. The Skywalker Saga is over, but the “Rey’s parents” saga may never end.