By Eliana Dockterman
November 22, 2019

Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker promises to close the Skywalker Saga and answer many of our lingering questions from the decades-long series when it hits theaters on Dec. 20. That’s a lot for one movie to take on: the most recent Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, introduced more questions than it answered. And even the answers it offered — about Rey’s parentage, for instance — may not turn out to be what they seem.

There are also plenty of plot threads from the earlier Star Wars movies still dangling: Did Palpatine really die, and did any characters clone themselves? And if this entire series has centered on the idea of bringing balance to the Force, doesn’t that mean that this story never, really, can end? For every Jedi that rises, won’t an equally powerful Sith rise to meet them? Or will this movie end with Rey and Kylo destroying both the Jedi and the Sith forever?

Here are all our lingering questions headed into the ninth and final film in the Star Wars saga.

Who are Rey’s parents?

Rey (Daisy Ridley) in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Lucasfilm Ltd

This question was allegedly answered in director Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi: Kylo Ren told Rey that her parents were “filthy junk traders” who traded her for drinking money. Rey’s response implies that she knows this to be true, deep down. Concluding that mystery halfway through the series was a bold move by Johnson. It severed Rey from the key family of the Star Wars series. The message was that Rey didn’t have to be a Skywalker (or a Kenobi) to be a Jedi. Anyone can become a hero. Johnson underlined this sentiment in the last shot of the movie in which an enslaved kid summons a broom using force powers and casts a shadow that looks an awful lot like a Jedi with a lightsaber.

But J.J. Abrams may be course-correcting. It seems that the Skywalkers are still important to the saga: The last film has their name in the title, after all. And early press around the movie has suggested that Kylo — mimicking the behavior of a toxic boyfriend — may have been lying to Rey in order to manipulate her. “The parents thing is not satisfied — for her and for the audience,” Daisy Ridley told Entertainment Weekly. “That’s something she’s still trying to figure out — where does she come from?…It’s not that she doesn’t believe it, but she feels there’s more to the story. And she needs to figure out what’s come before so she can figure out what to do next.”

And so the speculation about Rey’s origins has begun again. Could she be a Skywalker after all? Could she be related to Jyn Erso from Rogue One? Or perhaps she’s a descendent or even a clone of Emperor Palpatine: That might explain the Dark Rey shot in the trailer.

Does Rey really turn to the dark side?

Lucasfilm

Let’s talk about the shot that nearly broke the internet. We see Rey in what look to be Sith robes, wielding a double-bladed red lightsaber akin to the kind carried by villain Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. It looks as if Rey is breaking bad.

“Looks” is, of course, the key word. Abrams has played these games before in trailers. Remember when the first teaser for The Force Awakens opened with Finn in his Stormtrooper uniform? Finn did turn out to be a Stormtrooper, but one who abandoned the First Order to fight with Rey and Leia. This could be a dream or a vision. Rey could also be dressing up as a baddie in order to trick someone (maybe Palpatine?) or infiltrate some location.

But let’s say that Rey does, at least for a time, turn to the Dark Side. It’s possible that Palpatine could tempt her with answers about her parentage or that something terrible happens that drives her to embrace her emotions, a la Anakin Skywalker, and the power that they bring her. It’s unclear where she might get this particular lightsaber, though the prequel Solo: A Star Wars Story did reveal that Darth Maul survived being cut in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Phantom Menace and was running a crime syndicate before the events of A New Hope. He could still be alive — or at least his lightsaber could still be kicking around the universe.

Is there something romantic going on between Rey and Kylo Ren?

Rey and Kylo’s Force Skype calls got pretty hot and heavy — at least for a Disney movie — in The Last Jedi. Rey saw a surprisingly ripped Kylo without his shirt on. Kylo killed Snoke to save Rey. Together, they battled a bunch of First Order soldiers, and for a second it looked as if Rey had convinced Kylo to join the side of the light. Kylo was more interested in power than in repenting for his sins (killing his father, Han Solo, key among them). But the chemistry between these two remains. It was so strong, in fact, that Luke seemed terrified of the two communicating at all.

There are a lot of theories floating around the internet about whether Kylo and Rey might have a romantic past — or whether they might be related, since the Star Wars movies proved with Luke and Leia that they are not afraid of incestuous flirting. What is clear is that these two are opposing, equal forces who do bring some sort of balance to the Force. The series could end with them reconciling and finding some new path forward for the galaxy or one killing the other and thus perpetuating the continuous battle between dark and light.

Will there be some sort of love quadrangle between Rey, Kylo, Finn and Rose?

Jonathan Olley—Lucasfilm Ltd

It does not seem as if the movie is going to pursue a complicated love tangle between these characters. Yes, Finn kept trying to hold Rey’s hand in The Force Awakens as they ran away from various explosions and Rey kept shaking him off. The Finn-Rey love connection has always felt a little one-sided. Rey, in fairness, has other things to worry about, like the fate of the galaxy. Finn got another potential love interest in The Last Jedi when Rose risked her life to save Finn and kissed him before passing out.

At the end of that movie, Rey sees Finn caring for Rose and gives a knowing smile. It seems that any potential sparks between Finn and Rey may be over. But there is one interesting shot in the trailer for The Rise of the Skywalker that may suggest otherwise: Rey and Kylo are fighting in a storm on the remains of the Death Star when Finn comes running towards Rey, shouting her name. He looks angry and worried. Is it because Rey has strayed from their mission? Is the temptation to fight Kylo stronger than the temptation to protect her friends? Or is there something else going on among these characters?

What was the point of Snoke?

LucasFilm

Remember when Snoke was introduced as a key villain in The Force Awakens and then Kylo Ren chopped him in half in The Last Jedi? That was surprising!

It’s still unclear whether Snoke had some role to play in the story other than to provide that shocking story beat. Some version of Palpatine (whether it be a resurrected emperor or a force ghost) seems to be taking Snoke’s place as the big bad of The Rise of Skywalker. It seems unlikely that this movie would waste time on diving into Snoke’s backstory or even acknowledging him at all when there are so many other questions to answer. But it certainly would satiate some fans who are still curious about the gigantic villain.

How did Maz Kanata get Luke’s lightsaber?

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Lucasfilm Ltd

The blue lightsaber has been passed down for generations. Anakin Skywalker originally carried it throughout the Clone Wars. Obi-Wan Kenobi took the saber from Anakin after the two battled on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith, just before Anakin becomes Darth Vader. Obi Wan kept the saber for years before eventually giving it to Luke Skywalker in A New Hope when Luke begins his Jedi training. Darth Vader strikes the lightsaber from Luke’s hand when father and son battle on the Death Star in Empire Strikes Back, and it falls away.

Eventually, Maz Kanata (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o) gets her hands on it and keeps it in her collection. It’s never clear how she acquired it, though Mark Hamill has said that the original conceit for the opening scene of The Force Awakens was following Luke’s severed hand and lightsaber through space until it landed on Jakku, the desert planet where Rey lives. That idea was, thankfully, scrapped.

Regardless of how Maz acquired the weapon, we do know that the light saber calls to Rey in The Force Awakens, and Rey wields it throughout that movie. Rey offers it back to Luke in The Last Jedi, and he rejects it. She then wields the weapon in that movie until it’s torn apart during her fight with Kylo Ren on the First Order’s ship. Luke’s hologram uses the blue weapon once again when he creates a Force projection to distract Kylo so that Leia and the rest of the rebels can escape the First Order. Rey takes the remaining pieces of the real lightsaber with her, presumably to repair.

What’s up with the Knights of Ren?

LucasFilm

Back in The Force Awakens, Rey has a vision when she first touches Luke’s lightsaber. Part of that vision includes six cloaked figures standing behind Kylo Ren in the rain, surrounded by dead bodies. No, this is not the world’s worst album cover. We later find out in The Last Jedi that Luke Skywalker was training his nephew Ben Solo and several other young men and women to become Jedi when Luke began to fear Ben’s power. He considered killing Ben in his sleep but then thought better of it. Unfortunately, at that moment Ben woke up and brought the entire house down on both of them.

Luke tells Rey that when he awoke, he realized that Ben had “vanished with a handful of my students…and slaughtered the rest.” Ben went on to become Kylo Ren and those vanished students presumably became his disciples, the Knights of Ren.

The filmmakers have confirmed to Vanity Fair that the Knights of Ren will finally return The Rise of Skywalker, likely as Kylo’s own personal army. One of them apparently has a gun for an arm. Otherwise, we know little about these students, why they follow Kylo and what their role will be in the movie.

Will clones come up again?

Boba Fett.
Lucasfilm Ltd.

You would be forgiven for not having revisited Attack of the Clones since it debuted in 2002. But in that movie, we learn that a man named Jango Fett became the basis for an entire clone army built from his DNA and modified to become obedient soldiers. We also learn that fan-favorite character Boba Fett is in fact a clone of Jango Fett that is completely unaltered.

The new trilogy has not yet touched the idea of clones. But a lot of fans have theorized that an old character could have cloned him- or herself to create one of the new characters in the franchise. In The Last Jedi, Rey entered a Force Cave and asked to see her parents. She only saw herself reflected back. Could that mean that she’s a clone? And could original Rey actually be Dark Rey from the trailer?

What the heck happened in that cave?

Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, appears in the 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' trailer

Speaking of that cave, what the heck was that entire scene? We know that the cave is the dark counterpoint to the Jedi Temple on the island. The scene had several parallels to Luke entering the cave on Dagobah in Empire Strikes Back. On Dagobah, Yoda tells Luke that the only thing that exists in the cave is whatever Luke takes with him and that he will face what he fears most. Luke faces a fake Darth Vader and kills him, only to see his own face under Vader’s helmet. Clearly he is carrying a fear that he will turn to the Dark Side (or even senses that Darth Vader is, indeed, a Skywalker).

Rey’s expedition into the Cave on Ahch-To similarly forces her to confront her worst fear. She hopes to find out who her parents are in the cave but instead is confronted with a mirror image of herself. Rey fears loneliness but also the idea that she has no family or lineage. Kylo tries to exploit this fear later after they kill Snoke and his henchmen by telling Rey that her parents were nobodies and that she “has no place in this story.” Rey, however, has learned from the Cave both that she is alone, but also that she is enough on her own.

Whether the Cave has a greater meaning remains to be seen.

Where has Lando been?

We get the welcome return of a familiar face in the trailers for The Rise of Skywalker: Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian. Even better, he’s reunited with his ship, the Millennium Falcon, which we found out in Solo: A Star Wars Story also contains the memory of his beloved droid L3-37. But where has Lando been throughout this trilogy? Last we saw him, he was allied with Han, Leia and Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi. Did he and Han have a falling out? Is he still gambling for ships?

Could a certain character from The Mandalorian show up?

Disney/Lucasfilm

Spoiler alert for the Disney+ series, The Mandalorian.

Mere weeks before the release of The Rise of Skywalker, Disney dropped the first-ever Star Wars live-action series, The Mandalorian, on its new streaming service. Creator Jon Favreau has emphasized that the story has little or nothing to do with the Skywalker Saga: it centers on an unnamed Mandalorian bounty hunter and is set after the fall of the Empire (i.e. after the events of Return of the Jedi) on the edge of the galaxy. But a twist at the end of the first episode suggested the story could possibly tie into the events of the films.

The Mandalorian takes a job from sketchy Empire sympathizers to capture or kill a mysterious asset. But when the Mandalorian eventually reaches his target, he discovers that it’s a baby alien of Yoda’s race. We know very little about Yoda’s race, but we do know they tend to be Force sensitive. And, indeed, in the second episode, the baby reveals that it can use the Force as well.

We don’t yet know the fate of this child, but there is a very small chance he or she could show up in Rise of Skywalker as an adult.

Is Emperor Palpatine still alive, and if so, how?

Emperor Palpatine.
Lucasfilm Ltd.

The first trailer for The Rise of Skywalker ended with a surprise: The sound of Emperor Palpatine laughing maliciously. Last we saw Palpatine, Darth Vader had thrown him down the Death Star’s reactor core in order to save Luke. Technically, we don’t see Palpatine die, and people who get thrown down shafts in Star Wars have a surprisingly high survival rate (see: Darth Maul in Phantom Menace and Luke in Empire Strikes Back). However, if Palpatine had survived, why would he wait so long to reappear?

In another trailer for The Rise of Skywalker, we see Rey looking up at a figure that seems to be strapped to a throne. This is presumably either a very old Palpatine, a resurrected Palpatine, a clone of Palpatine or a Force Ghost.

Who is the titular Skywalker?

General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) in STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
Lucasfilm Ltd.—Lucasfilm Ltd.

The title is still confounding Star Wars fans everywhere. There are two remaining, living Skywalkers: Leia and Kylo Ren. Is it possible that Leia “levels up” in some way and therefore fulfills the promise of the movie’s title? Or perhaps Kylo Ren returns to the Light Side and his Skywalker roots.

It’s also possible that a dead Skywalker is “resurrected” in some way, hence the title of the movie. Mark Hamill has confirmed that Luke will appear in this film as a Force Ghost. Could the title refer to him? Perhaps even Anakin Skywalker will return in ghost form?

Or is Rey a Skywalker after all? It seems in some ways the simplest explanation, even if it contradicts the message of The Last Jedi, is that you don’t need to be a Skywalker to be the hero of a Star Wars movie.

Will balance be brought to the Force?

Lucasfilm

LucasFilm head Kathleen Kennedy has said over and over again that The Rise of Skywalker will be the final entry in the Skywalker saga. So if we’re trying to figure out what is going to happen in this movie, we have to consider: what has the Skywalker saga been about? In The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker gave Rey a tutorial on the Force — it’s not a power Jedis and Sith use to lift rocks (though Rey does actually lift a bunch of rocks to save her friends at the end of that movie). The Force facilitates the balance in the universe, particularly a balance between dark and light. Every Force-sensitive character we’ve met in this series has had some sort of counterpart on the other side.

Freddie Prinze Jr., who loaned his voice to a Star Wars animated series, actually explained the themes extremely clearly and succinctly in a rant on a podcast:

As Prinze Jr. points out, Palpatine seduced Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side instead of killing him because he knew that it would bring greater strength to the Dark Side. But the Force always finds a balance. “How?” Prinze Jr. asks. “It gives us twins. Luke and Leia. Two and f—ing two. Balance. And if you look at the movie through just that simple perspective, you will not only know why every single bad guy loses and every single good guy loses, you’ll know who’s going to win and lose in the next f—ing movies. I can tell you, I just don’t want to wreck it.”

This concept was echoed in The Last Jedi when Snoke said that Rey’s powers grew as a response to Kylo turning to the dark side: “Darkness rises. And light, to meet it.”

So what is the state of that balance headed into The Rise of Skywalker? Luke died in the last movie, but so did Snoke. Rey and Kylo are clearly counterparts. And then there’s Leia, tipping the scales in favor of the Light. Perhaps that is what brings about the resurrection of Palpatine on the Dark Side.

If Rey is, indeed, tempted to the Dark Side, it would follow that the Light Side would get some boost: Perhaps she and Kylo Ren essentially swap sides. Or perhaps the two will both learn to walk the line between the Dark Side and the Light, as the movies have long been hinting at with predictions about “balancing the Force.”

Can The Rise of Skywalker “let the past die”?

Lucasfilm

The biggest criticism of J.J. Abrams’ last Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, was that the plot followed the story of A New Hope too closely. In fairness, the first entry in each Star Wars trilogy (Phantom Menace, A New Hope and Force Awakens) has begun with a force-sensitive kid longing to leave their dusty planet behind and become the hero they were always meant to be.

But Abrams’ characters were also consciously or unconsciously paralleling their predecessors. Rey, Finn and Poe formed a trifecta that mirrored Luke, Leia and Han. Kylo Ren literally worshipped at the alter of Darth Vader and crafted himself an unnecessary mask to mirror the one his grandfather wore.

Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi broke from the traditional Star Wars mold. It’s notable that both Luke and Kylo — two people who by this point have irreconcilable world views — agree on one thing: They beg Rey to forget the past and create something new. When Rey first finds Luke on his planet, he insists that the Jedi must end. (Rewatching the prequel trilogy it’s hard to disagree with Luke’s sentiment. The Jedi Council makes a series of truly horrible decisions in those movies that lead to the rise of the Empire. Why do we want these people in a position of power again?)

Meanwhile, Kylo implores Rey to “let the past die, kill it if you have to,” so that they can create something new that balances the force together. As part of that speech, Kylo reveals that Rey’s parents were (supposedly) nobodies, essentially severing a key connection that many fans believed connected the original trilogy and this one. Rey, of course, cannot agree to Kylo’s plan. But it’s hard to ignore the meta-context: The original trio — Luke, Leia and Han — have slowly ceded the franchise to the next generation, with Han dying in the first movie, Luke dying in the last movie and Leia mentoring Poe to take over for her some day. Maybe, finally, the last movie will fully belong to the younger actors.

It’s unclear whether Abrams plans to fulfill the promise made by The Last Jedi, especially considering how reverent his previous films (both The Force Awakens and the Star Trek movies) have been to their predecessors in their respective franchises. It seems, for instance, that the line about Rey’s parents was either a feint or will be retconned in the second film. Plus, the trailer is littered with images pulled from the original trilogy. Kylo and Rey literally fight in the ruins of the second Death Star. At one point, it looks like they destroy Darth Vader’s helmet together. And, of course, there is the fact that Abrams is resurrecting the original trilogy’s O.G. big bad, Emperor Palpatine, rather than letting Kylo assume that role in the new movies.

It seems that fans are divided on whether they want the movie to defy their expectations or adhere to the traditional Star Wars model. While Abrams received flack from some fans for The Force Awakens‘ lack of originality, an even louder contingent criticized Johnson for the risks he took with his film (though a lot of those criticisms cannot be separated from the racist and sexist trolling that the female cast members in particular experienced).

Whatever Abrams chooses to do, it will define how Star Wars fans remember the Skywalker saga forever.

Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com.

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