When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012 and announced that there were going to be new Star Wars films, there was a level of excitement that was palpable. However, there was also trepidation when fans found out that these films were going to manifest as a sequel trilogy. How do you tell a story after Return of the Jedi that matters but doesn’t ruin the ending of Return of the Jedi?
Before getting to that, I must admit that Return of the Jedi is my sentimental favorite film and that the ending, from Luke throwing away his lightsaber to that final yearbook photo fairy tale finish, is the foundation of how I read Star Wars. It is the bedrock of my own approach to life. My one “demand” for the sequels was that they didn’t ruin this ending, because it is not just important to the story George Lucas told, it is the story that George Lucas told.
While there are many people, with very valid points, that feel that Rise of Skywalker did ruin the ending of the saga, I would argue that it does not ruin it, but rather re-contextualizes.
Return of the Jedi- Healing the Force
In Episode VI, balance was achieved. Both Luke and Anakin express this directly:
“For many years there was balance,” Luke tells Rey.
“Bring back the balance, like I did,” Anakin declares to her later.
Balance was achieved because the wounds of the Force had been healed. In a metaphorical sense, the Skywalkers are the Force. Anakin was created by the Force itself to counter the rise of the Sith and the dark side, manifested as Palpatine. What the Jedi failed to understand, though, Palpatine got right, “If one is to understand the great mystery, one must study all its aspects.” While the Jedi believed balance to be the absolution of the dark side, in reality balance was showing that there is no difference between the light and the dark. The Force is not parts, but a whole. Light and dark come from how people choose to use it.
As Ahsoka says in Rebels, “To defeat your enemy, you have to understand them.” The reason the Jedi could never fully balance the Force and get rid of the darkness was because they did not understand the dark. Instead of trying to understand why one would fall to the dark, the Jedi tried to sweep it under the rug. But eventually you’re going to move and that dust will have to be cleaned up.
Anakin had to fall because Anakin had to return to the light, to show that Yoda was wrong when he told Luke, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” Darkness, like light, is a choice. In choosing the light, Anakin chose his son above himself, the opposite of what he did with Padmé. As the representation of the Force, the Skywalkers reuniting is showing the Force becoming whole again.
The Rise of Skywalker- Living the Lessons
The Dyad of Ben Solo and Rey is the legacy of this healing. As Kylo Ren, Ben Solo chooses the dark despite knowing the light is calling him. Rey, in contrast, is pulled to the dark but works for the light. However, they start to switch places as the sequel trilogy goes on. In The Last Jedi, Ben Solo starts to emerge, the facade of Kylo Ren slipping away. He kills Snoke, begs Rey to join him, and fails to pull the trigger to kill his mother. In Rise of Skywalker, Rey’s darkness really starts to take hold. She is always the first to pull her lightsaber, shoots Force lightning, and eventually kills Kylo Ren (with a red blade, at that).
The back and forth of the Dyad, the tension, exists because there is no line between light and dark. Again, they are one. As is the Dyad. The very existence of them is a testament that the Force is once again whole, unlike it was in the original trilogy.
In Claudia Gray’s Master and Apprentice, we finally get a look into the prophecy alluded to in the prequels:
When the Force itself sickens, past and future must split and combine. A Chosen One shall come, born of no father, and through him will ultimate balance in the Force be restored.”
Through his sacrifice, Anakin, “A Chosen One shall come, born of no father,” cured the sickness and brought balance. He did not, however, bring ultimate balance. There was another part of the prophecy that he and Luke could not complete. “Past and future must split and combine” falls to Rey and Ben because Ben is the past, as a Skywalker, and Rey is the future, as the one who will carry on the Skywalker name. Being that they are not physically one, the past and future are split. Through the story of Rise of Skywalker, they become one by giving their life Force to each other. This brings ultimate balance and still holds true to the “through him” aspect of the prophecy, being that Ben is Anakin’s blood and Rey becomes Anakin’s namesake.
The Prophecy Is Now Complete
In Revenge of the Sith, Yoda tells Mace Windu and Obi-Wan that “a prophecy misread, could have been.” He was spot on. Not only was the prophecy misread, the understanding of balance was as well.
When looking at the whole story together, it becomes much clearer what both the prophecy and balance were all about. The aspects of the prophecy have been discussed, but what of balance? Balance is not everlasting peace, but the understanding that we all have a choice. Return of the Jedi shows that there is a choice, and in contrast to Revenge of the Sith it shows how to make the right choice. Rise of Skywalker shows that this is not a one time deal. We must continually make the choice between light and dark. The Balm of the Luminous points this out in saying, “we walk in the light, acknowledge the dark, and find balance within ourselves.” Balance is within.
As Qui-Gon said, “I don’t turn toward the light because it means someday I’ll ‘win’ some sort of cosmic game. I turn toward it because it is the light.”