Could flashbacks in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker could revisit the Empire's defeat at the Battle of Jakku? J.J. Abrams has returned to the galaxy far, far away in order to bring an end to the sequel trilogy. Abrams has always been fond of "Mystery Box" marketing, with trailers leaving a lot more questions than answers, and the first trailer for Star Wars 9 was probably one of his best yet.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker faces a unique challenge. It has to wrap up the entire Skywalker Saga, justifying the sequel trilogy's very existence and proving that these three films are just as much a part of the core Star Wars story as the prequels or the original trilogy. Fortunately, it seems Lucasfilm wasn't being entirely honest when they claimed not to have planned out the sequels; the trailer ended with a very familiar laugh, revealing the return of Emperor Palpatine. It seems the greatest Sith Lord of all time has risen from the grave, or perhaps was never truly killed in Return of the Jedi at all.
While all attention is understandably focused on the Emperor's unexpected resurrection, the general plot of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker remains a mystery. Looking at evidence in the trailer beyond that black-screened laugh, it's possible the story will go full circle, returning to Rey's homeworld of Jakku in a flashback that explores the Empire's final defeat.
The Battle of Jakku Was The Empire's Final Defeat
The planet Jakku was introduced in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and although Han Solo referred to it as a junkyard world, it was immediately clear the arid planet had been the site of a major battle. The surface of Jakku was littered with the hulks of fallen spacecraft - from starfighters to the wreckage of an actual Imperial Star Destroyer. The debris was clearly from the old Imperial era, suggesting the Rebel Alliance/New Republic and the Empire had fought a ferocious battle in this system.
Chuck Wendig's Aftermath novels fleshed out the history of Jakku, revealing it as the final battleground in the Galactic Civil War. Palpatine didn't see why Darth Vader should inherit his Empire, and as a result he'd set in motion a plan to tear the Empire apart should his apprentice ever attempt to supplant him. A group of Imperial loyalists had been given one final mission, to ravage Imperial worlds and escalate the galactic conflict until the galaxy's armies amassed over Jakku. The Emperor had secretly constructed an installation on Jakku, one which was primed to turn the entire planet into a giant bomb. The loyalists were to head off into a new power-base the Emperor had prepared in the Unknown Regions, with all other military forces destroyed when Jakku exploded.
Palpatine's plan half-worked. His agents managed to pull together the fragmenting Empire and launched a last stand at Jakku, with the nascent New Republic dispatching all its military might to take them on. But Republic operatives reached the surface of Jakku, discovered the Emperor's installation, and deactivated the bomb. The Empire was defeated, with just a small number of Imperial forces following the Emperor's command to go to the Unknown Regions, and the New Republic seemed to have won peace at last. It wouldn't last; the Imperial agents who traveled to the Unknown Regions became the First Order.
Evidence the Battle of Jakku Could Be in Star Wars 9
The Jakku scenes in Star Wars: The Force Awakens were shot in Abu Dhabi, and back in August 2017 Mark Pickup - an actor who played a Jakku scavenger - claimed Star Wars 9 was going to return there. There's never been any official confirmation, but Pickup is part of the wider Star Wars family, and it's not out of the question for Lucasfilm to use the same actor for multiple roles; the studio could potentially have reached out to him. Based on Pickup's comments, though, any scenes shot in Abu Dhabi would probably be quite brief.
The first trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker adds more evidence to this. Partway through the trailer, there's a shot of starfighters flying through the atmosphere of an orange-skied world, passing the hulk of an old capital ship. It was initially thought to be a Jedi Cruiser from the Clone Wars, but on closer examination looks as though it could be an Imperial Star Destroyer. This shot could just imply the Resistance has been forced to resort to old, out-of-date vessels and weapons; alternatively, it could also be taken from a flashback to the Galactic Civil War.
Supporting this, Lucasfilm has imposed a story block on the period following the original trilogy, with specific mention to the Battle of Jakku. That mirrors the approach George Lucas took during the early years of the Expanded Universe, where he stopped anybody telling stories set in the Clone Wars or the prequel era because he knew he'd eventually tackle that himself. Lucasfilm has gradually opened up the period between Return of the Jedi and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but almost all the stories have been set nearer to the sequel trilogy. They clearly want to maintain a sense of mystery around the creation of the First Order - possibly because it ties in somehow to Star Wars 9, and with it the Emperor's resurrection.
The Battle of Jakku is Important to Palpatine's Resurrection
All this raises one simple question: why would Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker need to revisit Jakku? There's obviously great story potential in seeing the Empire fall (and showing Luke Skywalker in his prime), but the answer may lie in how the Battle of Jakku is somehow connected to the Emperor's return. The Aftermath books featured one of Palpatine's old advisers, Yupe Tashu, a Sith cultist who was convinced the Emperor would come back from the dead. In one key scene in Aftermath: Empire's End, Tashu and Gallius Rax - a close aide who planned to take over the Empire for himself - conducted a mystery ceremony. Whatever the purpose of this ceremony, which included a Sith mask and Holocron, both spoke of Palpatine's return. Tashu believed in it; Rax did not, but viewed Tashu's faith in Palpatine as a useful tool for manipulating him:
"Tashu gambols down in front of the artifacts, his fingertips dancing along their cases. He mutters to himself, and Rax sees that he's chewed his own lips bloody. "Are you ready?" he asks Palpatine's old adviser.
"I am," Tashu says, turning. His cheeks are wet with tears. His teeth slick with red. "Palpatine lives on. We will find him again out there in the dark. Everything has arranged itself as our Master foretold. All things move toward the grand design. The sacrifices have all been made."
Not all of them, Rax thinks.
"You must be clothed in the raiment of darkness," Rax says. "The mantle of the dark side is yours to wear, at least for a time. At least until we can find Palpatine and revivify him, bringing his soul back to flesh anew.""
Like Rax, readers assumed that Tashu was simply insane, and that his belief in Palpatine's imminent resurrection was a manifestation of his madness. Now, in the wake of the first trailer for Star Wars 9, it's surely intended as setup. It's reasonable to assume that Tashu's ceremony, which was itself interrupted, has some connection to the Emperor's return from the dead. It certainly involved a Sith mask and Holocron, and the room was described in almost identical terms to the Emperor's Throne Room on the Second Death Star, a curious if mysterious detail. Perhaps this entire conflict was really a cover, a Machiavellian scheme through which the Emperor could conquer death itself.
One thing's for sure: Star Wars 9 will need to explain Palpatine's unexpected return, most likely using flashbacks, or even "Forceback" visions of the past akin to those Rey experienced in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If Jakku is somehow important to the Emperor's resurrection, then it would make sense for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to include flashbacks to the battle that was fought there.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019