Matt Smith's role in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a complete secret, but there are only a select few characters he could be playing, and we have a theory on who that is. Set for release on December 20, 2019, Star Wars 9 will end the Skywalker Saga, bringing the 42-year story to a close in presumably dramatic fashion.
Directed by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker's cast sees a number of familiar faces return, including Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker and the late Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa, but there are some big additions as well. Naomi Ackie has joined Star Wars 9 as Jannah, Richard E. Grant plays Allegiant General Pryde, and Keri Russell is going to be Zorii Bliss, while Dominic Monaghan has been cast in an undisclosed role.
On top of all of those, there's the return of Emperor Palpatine for Star Wars 9, although it remains unclear exactly how he's coming back - but that might be where Matt Smith fits in. The role of the former Doctor Who star is very much a closely guarded secret, but it's quite likely linked to Palpatine in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
The Mystery Of If Matt Smith Is Even In Star Wars 9
Matt Smith was reported to be in Star Wars 9 back in August 2018, although it's worth noting that wasn't an official casting announcement. Still, it was the kind that seemed extremely accurate and reliably sourced, so there was little reason to doubt the veracity of it. After that, there were rumors about Smith's role in Star Wars 9, which is to be expected when any actor of note is cast in a movie of this size, although of course there was again nothing official this end from Lucasfilm or Disney.
Things took a twist, however, back in March of this year, when Smith said he isn't in Star Wars 9, saying: “As far as I can tell, I’m definitely not [in Star Wars 9]." The final turn in the saga of Matt Smith in Star Wars happened in May. Smith had previously been listed in the cast for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on Disney's official UK website, but then in May his name was removed - so what gives? Since Smith was supposed to have an important part in the film, it seems unlikely that he was never in it, or that it's even been cut.
Instead, it's worth remembering that Star Wars 9 is being made by J.J. Abrams, a man who lives for mystery and secrets, and delights in trying to trick viewers, especially in the lead-up to films. While it's weird to go as far as pretending that Smith isn't in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, rather than confirming his casting but not his exact role, it isn't completely out of the ordinary for Abrams (just look at how much he insisted Benedict Cumberbatch wasn't Khan ahead of Star Trek Into Darkness). It's likely, if not 100% confirmed, that Matt Smith is in Star Wars 9, and is now another one of Abrams' mystery boxes just waiting to be opened when the film releases.
Could Matt Smith Be Connected To Palpatine?
After he was cast, the biggest rumor doing the rounds was that Matt Smith would be young Palpatine in Star Wars 9. That obviously still hasn't been confirmed, but it does nonetheless tie into what the most likely use of Smith in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is: that he's connected to Palpatine in one way or another, and there are a good few options for just how that could come to be in the movie itself. It may very well be that Smith really is young Palpatine after all, meaning those first rumors were true. Star Wars 9 is presumably going to tie-up Palpatine's entire story and reveal a major plan that we haven't seen, so it's not out of the question there'll be flashbacks to a much younger version of the character to tie into that.
Of course, this is Star Wars, so there are plenty of other options too. Palpatine loves his clones - and there's a fair suggestion that Star Wars 9's Dark Rey is a clone too - so again, it's entirely possible that Smith has been created as a clone of Palpatine. Alternatively, he may be some hapless victim who has been possessed by the old Emperor, who needs to use the body because his is no longer of any use. That's what gets to the crux of Palpatine in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - that there's a very good chance we aren't actually going to see Ian McDiarmid in the role.
Both Star Wars 9 trailers have featured the Emperor, but only in a voice capacity; we're yet to see what he looks like in this movie. Furthermore, Palpatine was a toy in the D23 Star Wars 9 poster, which only further suggests we're not going to see McDiarmid in a physical role. Like with Smith's casting, Lucasfilm is doing what it can to hide what Palpatine looks like in this film, which only really makes sense if we assume it's not McDiarmid. But since Palpatine seemingly has such a large role in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, then someone must actually be playing him.
Why Smith As Palpatine Makes Sense For Star Wars 9
Based upon everything we know about Smith's casting (or apparent lack thereof), and what's already been revealed about how the Emperor fits into the film, then Matt Smith playing Palpatine in Star Wars 9 makes a lot of sense for both the actor and the character. Smith's part was described as a "key role" and, outside of the core characters who are already accounted for, they don't get more important than Palpatine.
It's worth considering the secrecy around Smith's casting and Palpatine's appearance. Neither is completely unprecedented, but they're not entirely normal either. So for a film to be doing both effectively at the same time does suggest they're linked. It'd be a weird coincidence otherwise, but also there's no discernible reason to be hiding Smith's role in Star Wars 9 unless he is Palpatine. Even if he was, say, Rey's father, there wouldn't necessarily be an obvious way of figuring that out just from a fleeting shot or two in a trailer. Palpatine is different, because he's going to have to look the part, and even without context that's a difficult thing to disguise.
In terms of how Palpatine fits into Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, this makes sense too. Piecing together what's known about the film, it's likely that Palpatine is a crucial part of this movie as an influence over both Kylo Ren and Rey, but he doesn't need to appear too much for that. He can be a voice inside their heads, which is how McDiarmid returns. For a physical appearance, though, well it fits that Palpatine would look rather different: we don't know if his body survived after Return of the Jedi, or just his mind and soul. We know that Palpatine had a contingency plan in place, and it's possible this then extended to a clone, a willing (or unwilling) vessel for him to take over, or another means of possessing another human's body. It allows McDiarmid to return, but without demanding too much of him. This works well for Matt Smith too: he's a good actor (and one with great physicality), but one who hasn't completely made the leap in a blockbuster sense after Doctor Who, so even if it's not a lengthy role, it'd still be a big one for him.
There could even be a chance that Smith isn't completely lying when he says he's not in the film, at least from a certain point-of-view. He's skilled at keeping secrets from his time on Doctor Who, and it'd be quite fitting with that and Abrams' sensibilities if what he means is that he's playing a warped version of Palpatine: perhaps a body that's been disfigured, like the old one, so that Smith is hardly recognizable. But even without that, Smith seems like a good fit to be filling at least part of Palpatine's role in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019