Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker theories – speculating about everything from Rey's parents to Palpatine's return

(Image credit: Disney/LucasFilm)

As Yoda once said, “Always in motion is the future.” In other words, until we finally see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in just a few days time, we’re in Schrödinger’s cat territory, where Star Wars theories can be both true and false. 

With Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi having shaken up the ground J.J. Abrams neatly formed in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we’re in fertile land for Star Wars theories. Will we get our first canonical glimpse of the mythical Gray Force? How has Emperor Palpatine returned? Are Rey’s parents really nobodies? Does she turn to the Dark Side? Is Lando still a hero? And will the Millennium Falcon make it out of the movie in one piece?

We can’t promise you solid intelligence below – even a crack unit of Bothan spies couldn’t get past Abrams' deflective spoiler shields – but we have found some of the most interesting Star Wars theories floating around cyberspace. Some may be way off the mark – but there’s a reasonable chance that others will be bang on the money...

Rey turns to the Dark Side – and Ben to the Light

(Image credit: LucasFilm)

Has the saviour of a galaxy far, far away turned to the Dark Side? That's the question we were all asking when the D23 trailer came to a show-stopping end with Rey, our beloved hero, powering up a double-ended red lightsaber. She certainly looks evil, wearing all that black garb. But has she really turned?

Some fans are speculating that: yes, Rey has broken bad. We've seen hints that she may actually be evil, the most obvious being when – while training under Luke Skywalker – Rey's energy immediately drew her towards the dark. Luke notes that Rey does not resist, and attempts to withdraw from teaching her anything further.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker could potentially see her turn, with Rey perhaps being influenced by the returning Palpatine. That character arc would mirror Anakin Skywalker's in the prequels, in which the feisty young warrior succumbed to Palpatine's villainous ways during the final part of the trilogy. Maybe we're about to hear another telling of the tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise?

Who, then, would rise to stop Rey if she did turn? There's only one answer that makes sense: Ben Solo. We've seen Kylo Ren struggling with the light side through both Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, the villain having killed Han Solo in an attempt to smudge out any remaining goodness. Could seeing Rey turn to the dark make Ben realise his mistakes? Having the duo switch sides would be perfectly in-keeping with a saga that has seen seemingly good characters become the worst villains in the galaxy. Plus, it would make for one final surprising twist in this epic tale – and Star Wars movies are renown for their gargantuan twists.

Of course, Anakin's becoming Darth Vader was not all neatly rounded off in the sequel trilogy, as we had another three movies to wrap up the character's story. The Rise of Skywalker, meanwhile, will end the saga. Will one movie give Rey and Ben enough time to switch sides? And then for someone to come out victorious? Perhaps not. Another theory suggests only Ben will turn, while Rey will remain on the side of good. whatever the case, there's been so much talk of being pulled to either side of the Force in the sequel trilogy, we can expect at least one of them to swap sides.

Rey's visions

Star Wars

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

If Rey does not turn to the Dark Side, then why exactly is she holding the weapon of the Sith? The most obvious answer would be that Rey is having a Palpatine-induced vision of the power she could wield should she swap sides. This would make a lot of sense, and easily explains away the haunting image of Darth Rey.

This would also align with another theory. In the final Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer, we see Rey and Kylo breaking a very Darth Vader-looking statue. There are two explanations. Either Kylo has built a statue of Vader to house the villain's melted helmet, or we're witnessing another vision. Many fans are speculating that the latter is true. And if we have already seen two of Rey's visions, what more could be in store?

Force Ghosts

(Image credit: Disney/Lucasfilm)

Palpatine and Lando are back, so why not a few more original trilogy characters? If Rey – who we're hopeful has not fully turned to the Dark Side – is going to defeat the former Emperor, then she could probably use a hand from some former Force users.  With Yoda having appeared in The Last Jedi to help Luke, it wouldn't be a leap to for the small green machine to re-appear again to help Rey, and perhaps he'll have some friends with him this time around.

So, who are the most likely candidates to appear as Force Ghosts? The most likely would be Luke Skywalker. Mark Hamill has already been announced as a cast member on The Rise of Skywalker, and the character's voice has been heard numerous times in the trailers for Episode IX. Also, Luke told Kylo Ren: "See you around, kid." Surely, there's unfinished business to resolve?

Another likely candidate is Obi-Wan Kenobi. Ewan McGregor has already been booked to return as the Jedi Knight in an upcoming Disney Plus series, and Rey has already heard Obi-Wan's voice (during a vision in The Force Awakens). Surely, we're due an appearance from old Obi-Wan?

Fans have also speculated that Anakin Skywalker could make an appearance. Hayden Christensen, who played the character in the prequels, made an appearance at this year's Star Wars Celebration and received a rapturous reception. Considering how important Anakin's story has been in this saga, a minor appearance – perhaps he comes to Ben to convince him to turn to the light? – would not come from completely out of left field.

A few more: some people are hopeful Mace Windu could return. While unlikely, Sam Jackson has always seemed up for returning, and seeing that purple lightsaber again would certainly be an exciting blast from the past. If Windu reappears, then perhaps some other prequel trilogy Force ghosts could, too, although this all seems unlikely. What we're really holding out hope for is every Jedi and every Sith to return for an all out Force Ghost battle. Darth Maul verses Luke Skywalker, anyone?

We say goodbye to C-3PO

Star Wars

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

"What are you doing 3PO?" asks Poe Dameron in the final Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer. The droid responds: "Taking one last look, Sir, at my friends." Are we, as the scene hints, about to say goodbye for good to one of the galaxy's most beloved droids? 

Probably. We also see a small alien named Babu Frik toying with C-3PO's head. Many fans believe the diminutive Anzellan is accessing C-3PO's core memories to find something. Seeing as C-3PO has featured in every Star Wars movie (minus Solo), chances are there's something stored in that golden head that our heroes need. There's also a huge possibility that, in order to get to those hidden memories, the robot will lose his current memory and end up with red eyes, as seen in the D23 teaser. Whatever the case, it may be worth taking the tissues with you to the cinema.

Palpatine returns as a clone or Sentinel

Star Wars

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

So, we're theorised a lot about how our heroes could defeat Palpatine, but how exactly will the villain return? Last we saw, the Sith Lord was falling into the second Death Star's reactor, having been thrown down there by Darth Vader.

Fans have been theorising that the Palpatine we see and hear in the trailer may actually be a clone of the Emperor. Clones have played a huge part in the Star Wars universe – The Clone Wars – and there's a chance Palps may have created an army of lookalikes. Then, after dying, perhaps his Force Ghost passed from his former body into a clone. (We'll come back to the clone idea in a minute.)

There's also another solution to the Palpatine problem: what if we're seeing a Palpatine Sentinel. First appearing in the comic series Star Wars: Shattered Empire, Sentinels are droids that are modelled after the Emperor. Upon his death, they were sent out to generals within the Empire with a message: initiate Operation: Cinder. 

This, in short, was a contingency plan, set up by the Emperor, which commanded officers to destroy certain planets using satellites and attack the last remaining members of the Rebellion. Palpatine, it turns out, was prepared for the worst, and even had a plan to rebuild the Empire after destroying everything. 

Not only have we seen Sentinels in the comics, but also in the video-game Battlefront II. Have LucasFilm been soft-introducing Sentinels for them to have a major part in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? Perhaps one of them has been taken over by the Emperor's spirit in the upcoming film? Whatever the case, things are surely not as simple as they seem with Palpatine. 

Snoke and Palpatine were connected from the start

Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

When Kylo killed Snoke in The Last Jedi, the world gasped. How could the seeming big-bad of the sequel trilogy already be dead? Well, what if Snoke was not actually Snoke at all – but Palpatine’s long-thought-dead master, Darth Plagueis, who stepped in to pick up the remains of his apprentice’s Empire at the dawn of the First Order. 

This seems hugely unlikely, as Plagueis was a Muun, and Palpatine would have guaranteed Plagueis was dead when he assassinated him. However, Snoke may have been the spirit of Darth Plagueis – as suggested by some fans. 

In Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine told the story of how Plagueis discovered a way to cheat death. Maybe he does exactly that by passing his spirit from body to body? This particular Star Wars theory suggests that, when Plagueis died, his essence passed into Palpatine. When the Emperor died on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi, Plagueis’s spirit remained there until its remains were discovered by Snoke – not a ridiculous suggestion, seeing as we’ve seen Death Star wreckage in the trailer and Snoke's origins have deliberately been kept under wraps. And then, when Kylo Ren slaughtered his master in The Last Jedi, Plagueis passed into a clone of Palpatine – one that's been in hibernation/deep-freeze/carbonite all this time.

This could all seem a little far-fetched, but having Plagueis pulling all the strings through the saga would be a hugely fun and unexpected twist – although also very unlikely. 

Hux may be a force for good

Star Wars 9

(Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney)

Hux has been messed around a lot. The Nazi-inspired villain worked hard to get into Snoke's good (bad?) books, only for Kylo to kill the Supreme Leader and take over that mantle. You wouldn't blame Hux for being more than a little annoyed. 

How about, then, as a cool subversion of Star Wars’ traditional themes of evil Empires and heroic Rebellions, the next big insurrection comes from within the First Order, with Hux rallying his loyalists to overthrow Kylo? That would surely be very effective dramatically, given that Hux was treated as an inept clown throughout the majority of The Last Jedi. Also, after eight movies where the fate of the galaxy has been decided by Force-wielders, it would be fun new ground for the saga to see an “ordinary” character truly seizing the day.

Rey’s parents aren’t really “nobody”

Rey in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

(Image credit: Disney/Lucasfilm)

One of the most controversial revelations in The Last Jedi came when Kylo Ren told Rey that her parents were “nobody” – subverting the old Star Wars theme of bloodlines and destiny being among the most powerful forces in the galaxy. 

It sounds like there’s more to their story than that, however, and J.J. Abrams has hinted it’ll be addressed in The Rise of Skywalker. “We were well aware that that’s one of the things that’s been out there,” he told ABC News. “I don’t want to say that what happens in Episode VIII [didn’t happen]. We have honored that. But I will say that there’s more to the story than you’ve seen.”

Who could Rey's parents be? Having our hero be related to Luke or Leia seems like an easy option. Before The Last Jedi, many predicted she would link somehow to Obi-Wan, but, knowing Palpatine's back, perhaps Rey and the Sith Lord are related? One fan theory posits that she may be the result of Empire/First Order experiments to create the ultimate Force-wielder. Seeing as her powers seem equal to Kylo Ren’s in a short amount of time, it’s not implausible that she could have been made from his DNA...

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is going to do the Gray Force properly 

Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi spent a long time convincing everyone to "let the past die". Luke, after all, attempts to destroy all the Jedi texts, hoping the galaxy will forever forget the Sith and the Jedi. Plus, both Rey and Kylo struggle with feelings for both the Light and Dark sides of the Force. Perhaps we're therefore building to something new: the Gray side.

Gray Jedi are mentioned throughout Star Wars Legacy material numerous times, with the name referencing Force wielders who walk a close line between the Light and Dark sides of the Force. This sounds like the path both Rey and Kylo tread. However, chances are, we won't be referring to these people as Gray Jedi, but as Skywalkers in the Future.

Perhaps the most popular theory regarding Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker's title is that a new wave of Force users, named after Luke Skywalker, will rise up following Palpatine's defeat. Therefore, Kylo and Rey, who have often acted as Yin and Yang to each other, will no longer be on the Light or Dark Side, but will be Skywalkers and the Force will belatedly be balanced.

Lando might be in need of redemption once again

Lando Calrissian in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

(Image credit: Disney/Lucasfilm)

Lucasfilm have confirmed that Lando Calrissian is been brought back into the fold for the first time since Return of the Jedi. However, there's no reason to suspect he's still the redeemed former scoundrel who led the assault on the Death Star. If there's one consistent factor in the rebooted trilogy, it's that the intervening three decades haven't been kind to returning characters, with Han, Luke and Leia all having been put through the wringer in various ways. We'd be surprised if things hadn't been the same for Lando when we catch up with him in The Rise of Skywalker – ever the opportunist, perhaps he's been forced back into his old pirating ways. Could him uniting the Resistance be his redemption arc?

There are also a couple of plot beats from Solo: A Star Wars Story that some Star Wars theories suggest might be picked up again. We'd love to see a reunion with his old droid sidekick L3-37, who we now know is joined with the Millennium Falcon. And also a return to the Calrissian Chronicles, the diaries we hear him recording in Solo – maybe it'll turn out the whole Star Wars saga was based on Lando's memoirs... 

Then there’s the question of whether Naomi Ackie’s new character Jannah is Lando’s daughter. “Lando is a very charming man, so he could have children all over the universe, that’s all I’m saying," the actress said at Star Wars Celebration.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker could spell the end for the Millennium Falcon

The Millennium Falcon in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This one is perhaps the saddest of all the Star Wars theories – yet also has so much potential for emotional resonance. Han Solo’s ship has been as much of a part of the saga as any organic character. If this really is the end of the Skywalker saga, what better – or tearjerking – way to sign things off than with the destruction of Star Wars’ most iconic ship? We're not sure we could handle it.

Richard is a freelancer journalist and editor, and was once a physicist. Rich is the former editor of SFX Magazine, but has since gone freelance, writing for websites and publications including GamesRadar+, SFX, Total Film, and more. He also co-hosts the podcast, Robby the Robot's Waiting, which is focused on sci-fi and fantasy.