We are perhaps only 10 days away from the title reveal and a teaser-trailer! High time to engage in some fun speculation about what Episode IX might contain.
Upon embarking on his Prequel Trilogy George Lucas remarked that Star Wars is really the story of Anakin Skywalker. Although an Original Trilogy fan could have been forgiven for believing that actually Luke Skywalker was the Chosen One, and although even Obi Wan seems to have believed that, it is even clear in the Original Trilogy that this is about Anakin.
In order to understand whether Anakin Skywalker could, or perhaps should, return in Episode IX it is important to discuss whether Anakin’s centrality to the Star Wars story is genuine or whether this is just the reinterpretation that the Prequel Trilogy gave us?
Now every Star Wars fan that was unaware of Anakin while seeing The Empire Strikes Back for the first time recalls the shock of finding out that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. But the crux of that moment is not our surprise at this unexpected plot twist. The reason why that moment resonates so much is because it is precisely that moment where Star Wars pivots away from being about Luke towards being about Anakin. That … is the shocking reveal.
In the last sequence of The Empire Strikes Back Anakin Skywalker looms large over Luke, Leia and the whole saga. It is during those moments that you begin to understand that whatever the next episode might bring, it can no longer just be about Luke’s heroic completion of his journey. Return of the Jedi indeed revolves around this fact. The film, that was considered to be the closing act of a single trilogy, starts off as an adventure about Luke saving his friends. But as soon as that has been completed Luke returns to Yoda and there Luke’s parentage returns to the centre of the story. Return of the Jedi then becomes a story not so much about how the Rebellion liberates the Galaxy from Imperial oppression, which is basically delegated to a background story whose key victory (destroying the Death Star) is completed by a background character (Lando). The foreground story is the family matter between Luke ,Leia and Anakin.
Now for all its ‘closing chapter’ symbolism, Return of the Jedi does something remarkable. By having Anakin return as a Force Ghost in the final shots there can be no doubt: Anakin’s presence is still felt even after the Empire is defeated and the Jedi have returned. The reason why this is important is because it raises the question how Luke and Leia, and any of their future off-spring are going to deal with the legacy of Anakin who is spiritually present!
If people ask me how to watch Star Wars I usually mention the episodical order, that George Lucas had in mind, first but second I recommend my favourite order:
VII-(1st fl.b.) IV-V-(2nd fl.b.) I-II-III (2nd fl.b. end)-VI (1st fl.b. end)-VIII-IX.
In this order the Star Wars narrative starts with Rey, who encounters the legendary Luke Skywalker at the end of The Force Awakens who is an enigma for her. We as viewers then get Luke’s backstory as a flashback, as the second layer around the heart of the story. But in that story comes that great reveal in Empire Strikes Back that leads us to the core of the Star Wars narrative: Anakin’s fall in a flashback within the flashback.
Immediately in The Phantom Menace however we receive confirmation that this is where the layers stop, when Shmi Skywalker tells Qui Gon: “There was no father …”. Anakin’s ‘virgin birth’ is a powerful symbol reminding us that we need not dig deeper as we have reached the core of our narrative. Another symbol of this is Shmi’s name “Shmi” which in Hebrew means “I am” or “my name is …”. She is Skywalker, Anakin starts with her and only with her.
That flashback-in-flashback ends with Revenge of the Sith and brings us back to Luke, of whom we now know what the true meaning is of the reveal he had to digest just before we left his time-line. Return of the Jedi then closes the initial flash-back by showing us what this Luke is made of, but also that Anakin remained a spiritual presence in his and his sister’s life at the end of Episode VI. That brings us then back to that moment at the end of The Force Awakens, where our initial flashback began and thus it fits beautifully that The Last Jedi picks up Rey’s thread at exactly that moment.
So when we continue Rey’s and Luke’s story we now know which burdens are on Luke’s shoulders, we see him throw away a lightsabre for the second time in VIII directly following the same action in VI. We then know that Luke was and is the last Jedi as we have just heard Yoda say so on his death bed in VI and it makes Yoda’s appearance in VIII perfectly natural. It sets up all the right questions for Episode VIII, which Rian Johnson’s film then goes on to answer. We see the damage Anakin’s legacy and burden has done and we begin to understand that Kylo’s throw away remark about his “grand father” in The Force Awakens, Rey’s discovery that Kylo fears not being another Vader, are all at the heart of the story. The Sequel Trilogy is about how the generations of children and grand-children deal with Anakin’s legacy.
When viewed and interpreted in this order, Kylo’s comment in The Force Awakens about his grand father ‘showing him’ the power of the dark side takes on a whole new urgency. It also means that we return to Rey and Kylo’s story with Anakin’s story looming large over the entire 9 films. It gives a definite interpretative direction to the Sequel Trilogy. With VIII following VI (rather than VII) Luke’s anguish over the renewed fall of a Skywalker becomes more urgent and his lack of confidence that Rey might pull off a similar redemption of Kylo becomes more understandable. “Read” in this way the absence of Anakin Skywalker in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi becomes filled with the dread that perhaps there is something troublesome about Anakin’s continued spiritual presence that we have not realized yet.
The Sequels’ end
So here we stand at the eve of Episode IX, which is to be the closing chapter of a story about four generations: from Shmi, where it all starts, to Kylo and Rey, where it all ends. Towering over this story is the legacy of Anakin, the fatherless son, whose life has echoed itself in Luke’s and in Kylo’s albeit in three very distinct ways. Anakin has no father and loses his mother. Luke lost his mother and thinks he lost his father until he finds him, only to be told by his mentors he must kill his father, which he doesn’t. Kylo who does kill his father, feels compelled to kill his mother to but doesn’t.
Rey is the new beginning, “Rey of nowhere” is an echo of Anakin’s singular origin. The end of the Sequel Trilogy does not need to be the end of Rey’s story, even when it is the end of the Skywalker story. But it seems to me almost inconceivable, when reading Star Wars this way, that Anakin Skywalker does not have a part in that closing chapter. Hayden Christensen’s presence at Celebration Chicago 2019 might be a pointer that he has a, perhaps brief but crucial, moment in Episode IX. That would not be something you would keep as a secret reveal till the end, like Maul’s appearance in Solo: a Star Wars Story. Instead the reveal that Anakin returns, even for just a few brief moments, in Episode IX would be a huge way to kick-start a long promotional campaign. It would set the Star Wars rumours circuit on fire. All it would take would be a one second frame in a teaser trailer and a smiling Hayden Christensen joining the cast at the Episode IX panel … who knows, perhaps it would also explain why we have had nothing like a title yet: because perhaps that title refers directly to Anakin.