The Rise of Skywalker brought an (insert adjective here) ending to the Skywalker Saga. As Star Wars so often does, Rise of Skywalker referred back to past films in numerous ways, yet there is a feeling amongst the prequel generation (of which I am a card-carrying member) that the canonical beginning of the saga was largely ignored.
There is certainly an argument to be had there, as J.J. Abrams’ bias toward the original trilogy is front and center in both of his films in the trilogy. All the while, the prequels were not completely ignored. At the very beginning of the film Kylo Ren and the First Order are causing destruction on Mustafar, a planet introduced in the prequels; Kylo then traverses across the galaxy to go to Exegol, later named as a Sith planet. The word “Sith” is never mentioned in the original trilogy, albeit the Sith clearly have a presence. (Okay, okay, it’s a technicality, but we have to take what we can get.) More directly, Palpatine reiterates one of the most famous lines from arguably the best scene in the prequels, “The dark side is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be… unnatural.”
Sometimes, however, these links are much more subtle. So subtle, in fact, that one may have to put on a tinfoil hat in order to comprehend it. But, alas,
In the pivotal battle between Rey and Kylo Ren on the wreckage of the Second Death Star, Rey stabs Kylo in the stomach, killing him. This is a subtle nod to the duel that started it all, The Duel of the Fates, where Qui-Gon Jinn is stabbed in the stomach, killing him as well.
In fact, it even goes deeper than that, and shows the Abrams took the ring theory, “It’s poetry, it rhymes” ideology of Star Wars seriously. In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon is killed by the red blade of Darth Maul, student of Palpatine and the apparent heir to the Sith legacy; in Rise of Skywalker, Kylo Ren is killed by his own red blade, wielded by the heir apparent to the Sith throne, Rey. (In a “probably not important to the story, but pretty cool anyway” occurrence, both lightsabers, the duel blade and the cross-guard, were unique sabers at the time of their story’s release.)
When Qui-Gon is killed, it starts a chain of events that will send the galaxy into the waiting arms of one Sheev Palpatine. If that moment doesn’t happen, we don’t get Darth Vader. Likewise, if Rey doesn’t impale Kylo Ren we don’t get the return of Ben Solo. Only moments before, in the throne room of Palpatine, Kylo tells Rey that she can’t go back to Leia, just like he can’t. He is hopeless and convinced that he is unlovable. But then Rey, the person he has tormented and battled, gives her life force to save him from her own sinful action. As Rae Carson explains in the Rise of Skywalker novelization, Ben Solo sees that act of compassion and realizes that he is worthy, he can be forgiven by his family, and he can redeem himself to save the galaxy.
That healing is a wonderful way to bring the saga to a conclusion because it corrects the failure of the Jedi in the prequels. Rey learns healing from delving into the original Jedi texts, learning from the primary source what a Jedi was really supposed to be. The Jedi of the Republic were not that, and the knowledge of what a true Jedi could accomplish was lost. Imagine a galaxy where Obi-Wan, who was a studious Jedi already, studies the ancient texts and learns how to transfer life force. He heals Qui-Gon after defeating Maul, thus becoming a full Jedi Knight and opening the Padawan position for Anakin. Anakin gets the proper training from Qui-Gon, defeats Sidious, badabing, badaboom peace and balance forever.
But, of course, that is not what happens. The Jedi lack the proper education and it shows. Rey is a learner, though. She learned to fly from rebuilding a flight simulation system, trained herself to fight, and learns the ins-and-outs of every ship she can scavenge. While this was all out of necessity in the hellscape of Jakku, it is these very experiences that make her ready to not just learn about the Jedi of old, but to implement their compassion, dedication, and commitment to life. It is these very experiences that make her the Jedi to finish what Qui-Gon started.