Every generation has a legend.
That’s how the Star Wars franchise is touting the much-anticipated ninth film in the primary timeline, The Rise of Skywalker. It’s a bold statement that promises something special. The first trailer certainly appears impressive. With a swelling musical score accompanying teasing glimpses of Rey squaring off against a TIE Interceptor, Rey and Leia hugging, Kylo Ren symbolically piecing together his shattered helmet, and Lando Calrissian laughing boisterously as he pilots the Millennium Falcon once again, it all looks good. There’s narration from Luke Skywalker too, and it’s all capped off by Emperor Palpatine’s notable cackle. It’s enough to please most fans on an emotional level, and the title’s reveal is enough to make fans quiver with anticipation.
Yes, every generation has a legend. Because… well… actually, wait a minute. What does that even mean? What does any of it mean?!
That slogan is pretty vague, a one-size-fits-all statement that each person can interpret in their own way but which doesn’t actually mean anything. It sounds impressive, and it’s a great piece of marketing, but what are they even talking about? Is Rey the legend? She should be, but who knows anymore? Is it the Resistance? Lando Calrissian? The battle they’re about to fight? The kid who uses the Force to mop the floor? The grandson of Jar Jar Binks?
For that matter, what does the title The Rise of Skywalker mean too? It’s about as cryptic a title as they could possibly hope for, and presumably that’s intentional. Why not? After all, this is a JJ Abrams film we’re talking about; if Abrams has proven anything over his career, it’s that he has a snake oil salesman-like knack for understanding that a hardcore audience can be played like a fiddle; the tiniest clue will get them discussing things online, hyping speculation. Remember those damn numbers in the TV show Lost, the glyphs in Fringe, or the cryptic viral marketing and every mention of Tagruato in everything from Cloverfield to Star Trek? They meant nothing! But they sure did get the fans going. Abrams knows just what buttons to push with an audience, and there are few fan bases as obsessive as the one Star Wars has.
The reveal of Emperor Palpatine actor Ian McDiarmid at the Star Wars Celebration event in Chicago, along with that cackle in the trailer, has sent fans and the internet into a frenzy already. One of the biggest discussions has been the ramifications of the Emperor’s possible return. Will the original overarching villain from the original and prequel trilogy be revealed to be Supreme Leader Snoke, or the big boss pulling Snoke’s strings? Will Palpatine be a Sith-ghost to rival Yoda, Obi-Wan and now presumably Luke Skywalker’s Force-ghosts? A holocron message from the past, revealing plans for a new weapon to crush the Resistance? Or could his ominous laugh simply be Kylo Ren’s new ringtone on his phone? It could be something, it could be nothing, but it gets the fans speculating. As long as it isn’t a case of the Emperor’s new clothes, that’s fine.
Bigger speculation obviously surrounds the film’s title. Some are seeing it as a potential course correction from The Last Jedi territory back to The Force Awakens, in going back on the concept of Rey’s hazy lineage. Fan speculation with The Force Awakens led to many being of the opinion that Rey is a Skywalker, most likely the sister of Kylo Ren. It wasn’t the most original concept, but it had symmetry with Luke Skywalker’s own childhood even if it wasn’t confirmed. However, The Last Jedi pushed back with a more original concept that Rey isn’t related to the Skywalkers at all, and that she’s a Force-sensitive “nobody” – which gives her symmetry to Anakin, in that she’s a relatively ordinary person who goes on to achieve extraordinary things that will make her a legend.
If The Rise of Skywalker’s title means the film will be returning Rey’s potential family tree to that of some fan expectations from The Force Awakens, it cheapens The Last Jedi’s overall theme and the film itself. If it doesn’t, it may alienate those who despised The Last Jedi for even daring to suggest that somebody whose surname wasn’t Skywalker could still be a hero. But, of course, nothing is ever that simple because there are other options. We don’t even know which Skywalker the title is referring to. Could it be Kylo Ren – real name Ben Solo, grandson of Anakin Skywalker – who finally redeems himself (or not)? Could it be Luke Skywalker’s Force-ghost? Could it be that the Jedis of the future will be renamed “Skywalkers”, since the strangely closed-minded and rigid Jedi Order has finally ended?
Or could Snoke be revealed as one of many clones of Darth Vader, something that would return the character to the screen after his unceremonious death in TLJ… while also explaining Kylo Ren’s bizarre obsession with trying to emulate and impress a grandfather he never even knew? Well, every generation has a legend. Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca and even Wedge were legends, but the most recognisable from the original trilogy was always Darth Vader so it could just be. Probably not, but you never know. Darth Vader coming back would be as cheap a tactic as bringing back the Emperor, but at this stage who knows?
Even with the savvy cryptic marketing of the film’s title, The Rise of Skywalker, the reveal of Palpatine and the speculative slogan of generations having a legend, maybe there’s still something to be learned though. In particular, from The Force Awakens, when Rey and Finn first met Han Solo. To them, he was a legend. Yet Rey and Finn had different beliefs as to who Solo was: to one he was a rebel hero, to the other a smuggler. Both were right and both were wrong, because while it may be true there’s also a whole lot more to any story. To each person, a legend is never the complete truth and time makes for unreliable witnesses. Rey even got it wrong about the Millennium Falcon making the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, believing it took fourteen. Legends are arguably more about our perception than a full understanding of the truth.
Anything is possible, and like any good trailer, the idea is that fans will be excited about it, debate their opinions and build up the hype. There’s a lot revealed in this particular trailer, but also very little. It packs an emotional punch, but it tells us nothing about the plot, the characters or anything else about The Rise of Skywalker. It’s a teaser in the truest sense of the term, even if it is legendary in its own way too. What the title and the trailer all really mean will be a mystery until the film arrives properly, but expect the hype to keep building in proportion to the cryptic marketing.
Regardless of which Skywalker the film’s title is referring to, the real thing that will be rising is the fan speculation.