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Breaking Down the Biggest Theories About Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

7 minute read

Will Rey (Daisy Ridley) turn to the Dark Side? What’s the deal with Emperor Palpatine’s (Ian McDiarmid) return? How are we supposed to cope with Princess Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) final scenes?

As fans wait for The Rise of Skywalker, the third and final chapter in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, to hit theaters on Dec. 20, there’s been ample time to discuss these questions and conjure up theories about what’s to come in Episode IX.

The J.J. Abrams-helmed Rise of Skywalker will bring closure to the saga’s new generation of heroes. But don’t worry—from Disney+ Star Wars series The Mandalorian to Last Jedi director Rian Johnson’s upcoming film trilogy, there are plenty more Star Wars projects in the works.

Here are five of the most compelling theories about what we can expect from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Rey will turn to the Dark Side


Thanks to the shot of Jedi-in-training Rey rocking a Sith-style hooded cloak and wielding a red double-sided lightsaber that was featured in the Rise of Skywalker trailer from Disney’s annual D23 Conference, some fans are more convinced than ever that Rey is fated to turn to the Dark Side.

When we last saw Rey in The Last Jedi (2017), she rejected Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) proposal to rule together without allegiance to either the Dark Side or the Light before rescuing the Resistance’s severely depleted forces from Crait. But that doesn’t mean she can’t still be swayed.

Whether or not it’s actually true, Rey was clearly disturbed by Kylo Ren’s revelation that her parents were nobodies who sold her for drinking money on Jakku and are buried in a desert grave there. Now she’s in a vulnerable place.

And with the return of Emperor Palpatine confirmed by Abrams, Rey could be a prime target for an Anakin-esque fall from grace.

There will be more Force ghosts


In the wake of Yoda reappearing to offer Luke some cheeky guidance in The Last Jedi, some fans are convinced that Emperor Palpatine and Luke’s roles in The Rise of Skywalker — both Ian McDiarmid and Mark Hamill are confirmed players in Episode IX — will be that of Force ghosts. When we last saw Palpatine in Return of the Jedi, he was hurtling down the Death Star’s reactor shaft (seemingly to his death) after a timely change of heart by Darth Vader.

As for Luke, he became one with the Force in Last Jedi after projecting a manifestation of himself to the site of the Resistance’s stand-off with the First Order on Crait. This manner of death in the Star Wars universe usually signals that the character has the ability to reappear in the world of the living as a Force ghost. Not to mention that Hamill himself has basically already confirmed that Force ghost Luke is a go.

“I had closure in the last one, you know?” he told the Associated Press when asked if Rise of Skywalker would be his last Star Wars movie. “The fact that I’m involved in any capacity is only because of that peculiar aspect of the Star Wars mythology where if you’re a Jedi you get to come back [and] make a curtain call as a Force ghost.”

However, since Palpatine was a Sith Lord not a Jedi and we also didn’t see the exact moment that he met his end (or didn’t), his inclusion as a Force ghost remains a little more ambiguous.

Rey is a clone


Kylo Ren straight up told Rey that her parents were nobodies, deadbeats who traded her for drinking money, in The Last Jedi. But some fans have since grown convinced that Rey’s parents may quite literally be nobody — because she’s a clone. Clones have played an integral part in the Star Wars universe since the prequel trilogy revealed that the original Stormtroopers were all clones. The Rey-is-a-clone theory, however, rests on the idea that Emperor Palpatine recovered the hand that Darth Vader cut off Luke Skywalker in Empire Strikes Back and used his DNA to make Rey in a secret lab on Jakku.

“Rey is a clone of Luke made from his hand that got cut off in Empire Strikes Back,” Reddit user vadrr21 posited earlier this year. “The clone was made by Palpatine in one of his labs in Jakku. Two Junk traders found Palpatine’s lab and were scavenging for goods they could have sold off for ‘drinking money.’ They found Rey and sold her off to Unkar Plutt.”

That all might seem far-fetched if it weren’t for the fact that in Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: The Aftermath Trilogy, a novel series that’s considered canon in the Star Wars universe, Palpatine does in fact have a secret lab on Jakku. And it’s located under a plateau known as the Plaintive Hand. J.J. Abrams has also said “there’s more to the story” of Rey’s parents and confirmed that Palpatine is returning, in some capacity, in Episode IX.

Rey being a product of Luke’s DNA would also explain the connection she has with both him and the Force as well as, potentially, the title The Rise of Skywalker.

The Skywalker in question isn’t one person


When Lucasfilm announced that Episode IX would be called The Rise of Skywalker, fans immediately started theorizing about the identity of the titular Skywalker. But while some think that Rey will somehow still turn out to be a member of the Skywalker family, others believe that the name Skywalker will come to signify a new order of Force-users who walk the line between light and dark — a.k.a. the so-called Gray Jedi.

Since famous Skywalkers have led both the Dark (Anakin) and Light Sides (Luke and Leia) at different points in time, it would make sense for the family name to be chosen to represent those who occupy the middle ground between Jedi and Sith. However, since the true mark of a Gray Jedi is possessing both light and dark abilities without surrendering to the stronger pull of the dark, it remains to be seen which of our heroes will be able to be counted among their ranks.

Balance will finally be brought to the Force


Before the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, Jedi prophecy foretold that a Chosen One, “born of no father,” would be the one to bring ultimate balance to the Force. When Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) discovered Anakin, a young slave boy who both possessed extraordinary Force abilities and was a child of immaculate conception, he came to believe that Anakin was the Chosen One and presented him as such to the Jedi High Council.

As we all know, Anakin was later seduced by the Dark Side and became Darth Vader before redeeming himself in his final moments by tossing Palpatine down the Death Star’s reactor shaft to save Luke, an act that some viewed as fulfilling the prophecy.

However, thanks to the first two movies in the sequel trilogy, we know that the Light and Dark Sides of the Force have yet to reach an ultimate equilibrium. And as actor Freddie Prinze Jr., who voiced the Jedi character Kanan Jarrus in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels, aptly explained during an appearance on Jeff Dye’s Friendship Podcast earlier this year, it’s not people who bring balance to the Force, it’s the Force itself.

“Luke’s skill doesn’t dictate whether he wins or loses. The Emperor doesn’t dictate whether he wins or loses. The Force dictates who wins and loses based on balance,” Prinze Jr. said.

Now, how exactly the Force will go about instilling balance in itself with the remaining players on the board is still up in the air, but considering Episode IX is slated to be the final installment in the Skywalker saga, balance finally being achieved pretty much seems like a foregone conclusion.

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Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com