First, Disney announces the new Star Wars title months before the film actually comes out. Then, the internet dissects and mocks the title.
This has been the way of things for the new Star Wars trilogy during the Disney era. From Force Awakens to The Rise of Skywalker, we’ve laughed, theorized, shrugged, and then theorized some more:
The Force Awakens? What, did it forget to set its alarm?
The Last Jedi? Does that refer to Luke, Rey, or Kylo Ren?
The Rise of Skywalker? Sounds like a caveman or Frankenstein struggling to say “Rise of the Skywalkers.” (Or maybe sounds like the way Palpatine would say it.)
Eventually, the title settles into our lexicon and stops seeming so meme-able. We’ll get there with Rise of Skywalker but not for many more months. Until we’ve actually seen the movie, we are left to wonder: what the hell does Rise of Skywalker even mean?
The options seem fairly obvious.
1. It refers to Rey
As a storyteller, J.J. Abrams is ultimately a traditionalist; Rian Johnson is not.
That divide is what has led us to this point in the Skywalker saga. The writer-directors behind the first two films in the new trilogy came at it from entirely different philosophical points of view. As a result, the general criticism argues Force Awakens is too nostalgic and Last Jedi too radical. Following the Goldilocks rule of three, does that mean Rise of Skywalker will be just right?
Time will tell, obviously, but calling this thing Rise of Skywalker might just be a giant dog whistle for all Last Jedi critics. Y’all disappointed Rey didn’t turn out to be a secret Skywalker or Kenobi kid? Just you wait because J.J.’s back in charge, baby. You’ll finally get your “Rey Skywalker” reveal!
Like an anti-”Luke, I am your father!” Empire Strikes Back moment, Last Jedi memorably builds to Kylo telling Rey she’s actually descended from nobodies who abandoned her. Only by partnering with him and burning down the past in pursuit of a revolutionary new future can she become someone. Why worry about being the latest so and so when you can be the first you? Rey, of course, rejects his offer but does accept the truth of what he’s saying.
What if he’s lying, though? Darth Vader told Luke the truth at the end of Empire, but not even James Earl Jones – Darth Vader’s own voice – believed it when he read the script. He assumed Darth was lying. Abrams and Johnson are surely familiar with that oft-told Star Wars anecdote. Maybe – either intentionally or far more likely inadvertently – they’ve now baked it into the lore, inverting the Empire model by including a giant reveal which turns out to be a lie.
In that case, Rise of Skywalker could directly refer to Rey, presumably Leia and Han’s secret daughter. That would make Kylo her brother, which does cast their Last Jedi flirtations in a more incestuous light…
…but since when has a little light incest stopped Star Wars?
It would certainly lend additional meaning to why Luke seemed so horrified when he walked in on Rey and Kylo’s
metaphorical make-out session game of Force telephone.
More importantly, it would also restore to the Star Wars story much of the monastic, your-power-is-tied-to-your-heredity monomyth subtext which Rian Johnson worked so hard to burn to the ground. Depending on you how you feel about Last Jedi, that’s either a welcome mulligan or an example of extreme fan culture gone too far, with something new proving so objectionable to a vocal minority that the franchise radically course-corrected.
Both Abrams and Johnson have indicated in interviews that no such course-correction is actually coming, yet not everyone totally believes them, even after Johnson whole-heartedly endorsed this new trailer:
We could still end up with a situation where every single one of the new trilogy installments includes its own Empire reveal of someone’s true parentage – Ben Solo in Force Awakens, Rey in Last Jedi, and then Rey Again in Rise of Skywalker. Overkill, much?
Rey isn’t our last hope for the Skywalkers, though.
2. It refers to Kylo Ren
J.J. Abrams M.O. is to puzzle box us to death in marketing and hype before revealing a final product which is usually just a slight inversion on the familiar. It’s his way of bridging the divide between new and old fans, offering solid entertainment to the newbies and familiar, but just different enough content to the old. That’s why in his glorified Wrath of Khan remake Kirk dies at the end, not Spock. That’s also why in his version of A New Hope his Darth Vader his tempted by the light side of the force, not the dark side.
The Rise of Skywalker title might be another puzzle box, sending us into a big wall of crazy before revealing the most obvious outcome: it simply refers to Ben Solo, the last living Skywalker other than Leia, whose long-term outlook isn’t great for obvious reasons.
If you think back to the prequel trilogy – and I know you probably don’t really want to – remember George Lucas re-framed the entire saga around a “Chosen One” prophecy. Qui Gon believed little Anakin was the prophesized Jedi who would bring balance to the force. Big swing and miss there, Qui Gon. Here’s your punishment:
However, as anyone who watched Angel knows ancient prophecies can be such a pain in the ass. Unpredictable, they are. Double meanings, they often have.
What Qui Gon sensed in Anakin might have been correct, just a couple of generations too early. Anakin didn’t balance the force, but his similarly corrupted grandson might. Ben Solo might emerge from Kylo Ren’s ashes and tip the scale in the battle against the First Order…even though he basically is the First Order now.
Small problem: Last Jedi already explored that potential character arc and effectively shut the door on it. Emo Kylo is so emo because Luke was a terrible mentor to him. Plus, like a rebellious teenager, he was drawn to whatever his parents told him he shouldn’t do. In this case, that meant becoming a murderous Darth Vader cosplayer hanging out with the Hugh Hefner of Sith Lords; in normal cases, it means no drinking or staying out past curfew. Same diff, right?
In his interactions with Rey, Kylo showed he was only willing to go so far in defying the state of things. His goals are still rooted in anger and hate, which leads to sufffferrrrring. Rey’s rejection of him and Luke’s refusal to grant him true closure on their own tortured relationship simply sent him further inward. All that’s left for him is a tragic end.
Basically, Rian Johnson wrote them into that corner. (I say that as a huge Last Jedi fan.) Now they might be writing themselves out of it. You can already see that in Abrams bringing Palpatine back for Rise of Skywalker. Johnson left them with no obvious big bad for the third film. So, Abrams went and got the biggest of the big bads in franchise history.
Anecdotally, one of the loudest cheers I’ve ever heard in a movie theater in my entire life was opening night of Last Jedi when Kylo betrays Snoke and joins Rey in battle. For a brief moment, so many fans got exactly what they wanted – Rey and Kylo, back-to-back, mowing down baddies like the galaxy’s greatest power couple or buddy cop duo. Based on that, I imagine the passionate thirst to see Kylo redeemed still exists. Come this Christmas, the cheers might be even louder.
3. It refers to something else
Maybe Skywalker will become, like, a state of mind, man.
Maybe Skywalker will become synonymous with “The Force” or even a replacement word for “The Force.” Henceforth, we shall now no longer say: “I am one with the force.” Instead, we shall say: “I am one with Skywalker.”
Maybe it refers to both Rey and Kylo, brother and sister saving the universe together even though they’ve only known each other for a short time. Why not? Worked for Luke and Leia.
Maybe you have a better suggestion? Or joke? Let me know in the comments. And how do you feel about the title referring to either Rey, Kylo or both or possibly neither of them?