From the very first atmospheric swell of John Williams’ score, the trailer for Star Wars Episode IX beckoned us straight back into the eternal struggle between the light and the dark. Unveiled at last weekend’s Star Wars Celebration, our first taste of what to expect from The Rise of Skywalker may have been cryptic on the surface but has a lot of insight if you’re willing to burrow a little bit deeper into what’s unfolding before our eyes. As JJ Abrams reobtains the reigns of the franchise after Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, speculation builds over whether he’ll continue down the path that the previous director laid out or whether he’ll be retconning much of it and reverting back to his vision from The Force Awakens. Set to be the final instalment in the “classic” saga as we know it, we’ve taken a look at all of the major talking points that have arisen from its release and the plausible theories about what direction its concluding chapter could take.

The Opening Scene

Just like the initial trailer to Abrams’ The Force Awakens, our first glimpse at what’s to come from The Rise Of Skywalker comes complete with an emphasis on breathing. Yet where runaway stormtrooper Finn’s panting came from a place of fear and uncertainty, the exhalations of Rey-- the heir apparent to the Jedi throne-- appear more meditative in nature. Due to her steely composure, it’s entirely possible that what she sees before her is a force-induced vision the likes of which she’d endured in both TFA and TLJ as opposed to real events. Steeped in a landscape of vast sand dunes, the prevailing thought is that Rey is either physically or mentally inhabiting one of two familiar locations. Known as a barren wasteland for outcasts, scavengers and misfits, the young Jedi-in-training may have returned to her point of origin on Jakku. Alternatively, she may have gone beyond her own formative years and ventured back to the place where it all started-- Tatooine. The homeland of both Anakin Skywalker and his estranged son Luke, no location is more pivotal to the battle between the light and dark sides than the moisture farm-filled planet with two orbiting suns.

As a previously unseen form of First Order TIE Fighter barrels towards our new protagonist, the narration is provided by none other than Jedi master and Rey’s reluctant trainer Luke Skywalker. “We’ve passed on all we know,” he ensures her, “a thousand generations live in you now. But this is your fight.” As we know from The Last Jedi, Luke is speaking from beyond the grave but it’s believed that he will play a substantial role nevertheless. Much like Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi in The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, Luke’s assertion that “no one’s ever really gone” may allude to the hazy apparitions known as “force ghosts” acting as an expositional device and a way to progress the plot forward. From there, we see a shot of a pair of matte black gloves poised around the controls of the TIE Fighter and as Rey launches herself into the air, it’s immediately assumed that the pilot can be none other than Kylo Ren A.K.A Ben Solo. Teamed with a coy reprise of Williams’ iconic “Han Solo and The Princess” love theme, this nods to not only Kylo’s parentage but to the strong yet ambiguous connection that he and Rey had formed during The Last Jedi. By the time we see Kylo’s mask being soldered back together, JJ Abrams and co. have us hook, line and sinker.

The Characters

As was made clear during the Star Wars Celebration panel, The Rise Of Skywalker doesn’t pick up exactly after the events of The Last Jedi and has been the subject of a “time jump.” As such, this has provided the chance for a whole host of characters both old and new to find their way into the power struggle between The Resistance and the sinister First Order. In what’s been a warmly received return, Billy Dee Williams is back and behind the controls of The Millennium Falcon with Chewie as Lando Calrissian and his new costume is a nod to Donald Glover’s interpretation of the role in Solo: A Star Wars Story. After assurances from Disney, the late Carrie Fisher will also be making one last-- and likely heartrending-- appearance as General Leia Organa. Clad in the same outfit as she’s seen in during The Force Awakens, her tearful hug with Rey and any other scene is not the product of CGI but of repurposed footage from previous films that Abrams wrote scenes for. For his reasoning behind the decision, Abrams was beautifully blunt in his description of why digitization was not an option:

“A CG character was off the table. She was glorious. “You don’t recast that part, and you don’t suddenly have her disappear.”

In addition to these returning stars, we’ll also be getting a new droid companion for BB-8 in the form of D-O, conceived of as a nod to the iconic Pixar lamp mascot Luxo Jr. Aside from cybernetic characters, we’ll also be introduced to a new “comedic” relief in alien resistance fighter Klaud but we can only hope that he has more of the wry wit of a Han Solo than the buffoonery of Jar Jar Binks. In terms of new human additions, the Star Wars celebration panel introduced audiences to Naomi Ackie (Lady Macbeth, Yardie) as Jannah. Set to join forces with Rey, Finn and Poe in what JJ is calling an “adventure movie,” Ackie responded to queries about whether or not she was Lando’s daughter in classically inconclusive fashion by stating "Lando is a very charming man, he could have children all over the universe."

As for returning characters that are absent from the trailer, both Domnhall Gleeson’s General Hux and Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico-- who was last seen in a coma after saving Finn-- are slated to return. On the other end of the spectrum, Jon Boyega was insistent that the border invincible if easily disposable Captain Phasma is “dead.” Yet for all that these developments quickened pulses, none have been more enticing than the return of a blood-curdling laugh and the site of his foulest deeds.


Emperor Palpatine and the second Death Star

Over 35 years since he was launched into a chasm aboard the death star by Darth Vader, Emperor Sheev Palpatine-- or Darth Sidious as he’s known by the Sith, is back to wreak havoc upon the galaxy once more. Revealed at A Star Wars Celebration, British actor Ian McDiarmid is back to reprise the role of his lifetime as the maniacal leader of the empire. Yet when we heard that devious cackle, many Star Wars fans were perplexed as to how and why this was the case. In the canon, it is largely accepted that the Sith cannot re-emerge as force ghosts in the same way that their Jedi counterparts can and thus rules out the possibility of Palpatine’s return as a spectral entity. Condemned to what seemed to be certain death, the return of not only his voice but a fragment of the Death Star could hold the key to his return. Gazed at from afar by Rey, Finn and Poe, the remains of the second death star appear to be partially submerged in water amid a leafy green planet. Due to the landscape, it can only be assumed that this is the second death star and this fragment that we’re seeing is situated on Endor, the Ewok-populated planet from which the rebel alliance was based for much of Return Of The Jedi.

By enlisting aspects from the largely overlooked expanded universe, the answer to how Palpatine has reared his head once more begin to emerge. While Disney delegitimized much of the comic books and novelizations that came after the original trilogy, the return of characters such as Boba Fett, Darth Maul and Tag & Bink are prime examples of their willingness to explore it. With that in mind, the enlistment of such plot devices as the Sith’s ability to transfer their essence into an item or host and Palpatine’s secret cloning facility that he’d devised in the event of his death could provide the answer. As seen in early The Force Awakens concept art, there were plans for a scene where Rey must scuba-dive to the tattered remains of the Death Star and retrieve a lost relic. If this plot point were to be repurposed, it could lead her directly into Palpatine’s clutches. Beyond the expanded world, let’s not forget Palpatine’s words to Anakin Skywalker in Revenge Of The Sith as he regaled him with The Tragedy Of Darth Plagieus. In a multi-layered remark, the nefarious emperor proclaimed that “the dark side of the force Is a pathway to many abilities that some consider to be unnatural.”

The Title

When it comes to titles, no addition to the Star Wars saga has sparked as much rampant speculation about its potential meaning than The Rise Of Skywalker. A concerted effort by Abrams, a recent interview with Entertainment Tonight explained that we’ll have clarity when the film emerges: “I know that it’s provocative and asks a bunch of questions, but I think when you see the movie, you’ll see how it’s intended and what it means.”

As a notoriously inquisitive bunch, Star Wars fans have been quick to try and tide themselves over by connecting the dots. Although there is all manner of hairbrained concepts, five main ideas ring with more plausibility than others. Arguably the most simplistic hypothesis, some have decoded the title as a way to let us know that Luke Skywalker’s supposed death was an elaborate ruse and he remains alive and well. Elsewhere, fans have expressed a mixture of concern and excitement over the prospect of this “rise” referring to the first on-screen appearance of an as yet unrevealed Skywalker descendent. For those not content with this concept, some believe Kylo Ren’s claims that Rey’s parents were simply “filthy junk traders” to be erroneous and that she is, in fact, part of the Skywalker bloodline while others believe it signifies Kylo, who is half Skywalker, returning from the depths of the dark side.

Putting these straightforward interpretations aside, there is one alternative view that is undoubtedly the most profound and immersive of all. Espoused by everyone from Twitter users to seasoned director Kevin Smith himself, it is possible that Skywalker doesn’t refer to one individual but a new collective that’s entrusted with peacekeeping in the galaxy: “If Rise Of Skywalker meant that they were the next order of Jedi were called “The Skywalkers,” how beautiful. That saga is about a little boy they find in the desert. Not only is it an honour for Luke and it says that he truly is the master, it redeems the name of his father. The little boy who fell to the dark side.” Considering that the trailer proclaims that “every generation has a legend,” this could tie into the concept of “The Skywalkers” usurping the Jedi to take on a similarly mythical status in the galaxy. Whatever the conclusive answer proves to be, what we do know for certain is that this is the epic conclusion of a saga that was first brought into reality by George Lucas back in 1977 and promises to be one of the biggest cinematic events of all time.

What do you expect from The Rise Of Skywalker? Sound off in the comments below.