The Rise of Skywalker closes out the Star Wars Skywalker saga with buckets of fan service, which has not necessarily been seen as a good thing in the eyes of critics.
Regardless of how you feel about its execution, however, the finale is packed with delightful Easter eggs, references, and cameos, including some names we've not heard in a long time. There are echoes of iconic lines, nostalgic musical cues aplenty, and character appearances that will please devoted fans of the franchise. These references and callbacks help satisfyingly, and at times heartbreakingly, tie together not just all three trilogies but the TV shows too.
1. Mysterious broadcast — Believe it or not, one of the first references in The Rise of Skywalker is to ... Fortnite? Yes, when the opening crawl mentions a "mysterious broadcast, a threat of revenge in the sinister voice of the late Emperor Palpatine," this ties into a recent Star Wars event on Fortnite, in which players could hear the actual message that has no presence in the film itself.
2. Is it possible to learn this power? — We don't get much information about how Emperor Palpatine has returned in The Rise of Skywalker, but he does tell Kylo Ren, "the Dark Side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural." Palpatine said this same line to Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith while discussing the Sith Lord Darth Plagueis' ability to cheat death.
3. Every 42 years — A festival taking place on Pasaana is said to happen once every 42 years, a meta reference to the Star Wars franchise having turned 42 in 2019.
4. The Unknown Regions — The Rise of Skywalker satisfies fans of the tie-in books and comics by making frequent mention of Palpatine being in the galaxy's Unknown Regions. Supplementary material like the Aftermath books already established Palpatine's interest in this area of the galaxy, where Imperial remnants fled to later re-emerge as the First Order, making his return just slightly less out of nowhere for book readers.
5. What is this, a crossover episode? — The sudden ability of Rey to use the Force to heal others in The Rise of Skywalker is less jarring for those who watched this week's episode of The Mandalorian, in which Baby Yoda does the same. Now, Disney's decision to drop the episode two days early so it was out before The Rise of Skywalker makes more sense.
6. Best conductor — Keep an eye out on Kijimi for a blink-and-you'll-miss it cameo from John Williams, who composed his final Star Wars score with The Rise of Skywalker and gets an appropriate send-off on screen.
7. Telling the odds — After C-3PO spent years telling the improbable odds to people who don't care to know them, for once, that information is actually useful in The Rise of Skywalker, with Rey noting he knows the odds better than anyone.
8. Roger roger — During the scene in which Threepio takes one last look at his friends, take a look behind him and you'll see a battle droid from the prequel trilogy.
9. What he has to do — The emotional conversation between Kylo Ren and Han Solo just before he turns back from the Dark Side pulls out several iconic lines to punch us right in the gut. First, Kylo Ren tells Han that "I know what I have to do, but I don't know if I have the strength to do it," the same thing he told Han before murdering him. This time, he works up the strength not to kill his father, but to kill Kylo Ren, finally emerging once and for all as Ben Solo.
Even more heartbreaking, after Ben begins to say "dad..." to Han, he responds, “I know," the famous line he uttered in The Empire Strikes Back in response to Leia saying, “I love you." Here, the "I love you" between father and son is implied.
10. That is why you succeed — After speaking with Rey on Ahch-To, Luke Skywalker dramatically lifts his X-Wing out of the water, the same action he was incapable of in The Empire Strikes Back — and John Williams even pulls out a rendition of Yoda's theme like in that original sequence.
11. The Holdo maneuver — Dominic Monaghan's character recommends making use of the Holdo maneuver, a reference to Vice Admiral Holdo in The Last Jedi jumping to lightspeed to cut a ship in half. At the time, some questioned why exactly this maneuver isn't being used constantly, and The Rise of Skywalker attempts an explanation, as it's dismissed as a one-in-a-million move.
12. The return of Wedge — The final battle briefly features the triumphant return of Denis Lawson as Wedge Antilles, the original trilogy pilot who recently popped up in the novel Resistance Reborn.
13. Son of Ackbar — Also showing up in The Rise of Skywalker is Aftab Ackbar, the son of the late Admiral Ackbar; his presence in the film was previously teased by the Allegiance comics.
14. The Ghost — Keep an eye out in the final battle for tons of familiar ships, including what appears to be the Ghost, the ship at the center of the animated series Star Wars Rebels.
15. All of the Jedi — A powerful sequence sees Rey being inspired by the legions of Jedi who came before her. It's difficult to catch all the cameos the first time, but according to the credits, we hear Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, Luminara Unduli, Ahsoka Tano, Aayla Secura, Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Adi Gallia, Kanan Jarrus, and Qui-Gon Jinn.
16. The chosen one — The most important line of this sequence is Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker saying, "bring back the balance, Rey, as I did," a much-needed reference to Anakin having, as established by the prequel trilogy, restored balance to the Force by killing Palpatine in Return of the Jedi. This suggests Anakin truly did bring balance with his sacrifice, even if that balance didn't last forever.
17. Finishing what he started — After Anakin Skywalker in the prequel trilogy failed to cheat death in order to save the woman he loved, Ben Solo accomplishes exactly that in The Rise of Skywalker by sacrificing himself, meaning he did finish what his grandfather started in more ways than one.
18. Victory celebration — As Palpatine is finally defeated, we see Return of the Jedi-style glimpses across the galaxy, checking in on Bespin from The Empire Strikes Back. We also, of course, see the Ewoks, and specifically Warwick Davis' Wicket.
19. Long has he waited — After fans spent decades complaining about the fact that Chewbacca doesn't receive a medal at the end of the original Star Wars, one of the film's last acts is to have Chewie finally get one. So was the entire sequel trilogy launched as an excuse to eventually right that wrong and give Chewie his due? From a certain point of view.
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