Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker's ending, explained

Major spoiler alert: Who is the Skywalker that's rising?

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Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
6 min read
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

This is it for the Skywalker Saga.

Walt Disney Pictures

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker caps off a story that spans nine films over the last four decades. That's a lot of baggage to unload, and director J.J. Abrams attempts to pay off earlier elements while offering nods to the classic trilogy. That's a fine line to walk. 

The film is busy and moves from plot point to plot point quickly. But that leaves a bunch of questions. 

Just who is the Skywalker in the title? Where is the last battle taking place? And does everything make sense?

I'll break down the ending of the film. There's a decent amount to unpack. But first, here's your courtesy spoiler alert.


One last warning: Spoilers below! 

Watch this: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - Official Trailer (2019)

The Rise of Skywalker ends with a massive space battle between the Resistance and the First Order, this time armed with a freshly built fleet of Star Destroyers because, well, it's Star Wars and that's how these movies end. 

The battle takes place on the planet of Exogol, located in an unchartered region. It's here that Emperor Palpatine, who's somehow survived being thrown down a shaft in Return of the Jedi, has been quietly pulling the strings. You see vats of cloned Snokes, indicating he's been involved since The Force Awakens. Still, viewer is given little indication to how he survived beyond vague references to dark Force powers. You just have to go with it. 

A large chunk of the movie is dedicated to locating Exogol, including a fetch quest to find a "Wayfinder" that acts as a star map to the hard-to-find planet. When Rey confronts Kylo Ren and defeats him on the moon of Endor, she steals his ship, which already had a Wayfinder in place from the beginning of the movie. She makes her way to Exogol and leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for the Resistance to follow. 

The final conflict

Beyond striking back at Palpatine, the Resistance is desperate to get to Exogol to take out the massive fleet of Destroyers that have been built, which the First Order intends to use to overrun the galaxy. But before the fleet heads out, the ships need to rely on a relay to both take off and leave orbit. 

The Resistance's small forces, led by Poe Dameron, are about to take out the relay when First Order General Pryde figures out the plan and switches the fleet control over to his functioning Destroyer. So Dameron and the Resistance ground forces, led by Finn, mount an attack on the ship. 

At first, it's just the Resistance, but Lando Calrissian (a clearly having fun Billy Dee Williams) and Chewbacca spent much of the early battle rounding up seemingly every free ship in the galaxy for a massive assault. It's a visually impressive moment as the screen fills with ships jumping out of hyperspace.

Ultimately, Finn is able to fire one of the Destroyer's own canon at its bridge, leaving the fleet suck without shields and vulnerable to the Resistance attack. These Destroyers are all armed with planet killing guns, which ultimately turn out to be their vulnerability. 

Down on Exogol

The real action, however, is on the Sith planet, where Rey has her own fight against a resurrected Emperor Palpatine before crowds of hooded, unnamed Sith. There's no backstory or reason for who these people are. 

Throughout much of the latter half of The Rise of Skywalker, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has to deal with the revelation that she is Emperor Palpatine's granddaughter. She's not just Rey, she's Rey Palpatine. It's a retcon of The Last Jedi's idea that anyone could be a Force user and a meaningful player in this series. Nope, she's basically Force royalty.

Rey's flirtation with the dark side is a key theme that plays a role in her final struggle with Palpatine, and spills into her earlier attempt to turn Kylo Ren back to the light side. His redemption comes through the most dramatic method: Rey impales him with a lightsaber. But he doesn't die, with Rey using the Force to heal him. If you're surprised by that particular power, note that The Mandalorian sets it up in Episode 7. (Oh, there's no Baby Yoda in this film.) When she left him on the moon of Endor, Kylo has a revelation and a second confrontation with the memory of his father, Han Solo (Harrison Ford). He throws away his cross lightsaber (one of the cooler weapons in the Star Wars universe).  

But back to Exogol. Like he did with Luke in Return of the Jedi, Palpatine invites Rey to strike him down and fulfill her legacy as the new emperor. He says his spirit, alongside that of the Sith, will enter her upon this act, which doesn't seem like a good sales pitch. The better incentive is the promise that she could stop the conflict above and save countless lives. This all feels really, really familiar. 

She doesn't, of course.

Kylo Ren, who now goes by Ben Solo, sneaks into Palpatine's chambers, and is confronted by the Knights of Ren. Remember when they were teased in a Rey vision in The Force Awakens? Yeah, don't expect a lot of details for these cool-looking, but ultimately underdeveloped characters. 

Rey, who rocked both Leia and Luke's lightsabers, loans Ben one of them through their shared Force vision trick, and he dispatches with the knights and makes his way to Rey, where they both confront Palpatine. 

But Palpatine was expecting this, and taps into the Force powers of both Rey and Ben to fully revive his damaged body. If Jedis can heal, Sith can suck out life force. Sure, that's a thing. Rey and Solo break the connection, and an enraged Palpatine sends Ben off the cliff. He then fires off his classic Force lightning bolts at Rey, who is barely able to contain them with her lightsaber. 

As Palpatine cackles again that he carries all of the Sith with him, a chorus of classic Jedi, from Yoda to Mace Windu and even Star Wars Rebels' Kanan voice their support for Rey, and she responds by saying she represents all Jedi. Using the Force, she grabs a lightsaber and in a very Wonder Woman-esque cross-pose, deflects the lightning that's attacking her, killing the emperor. But the act is draining, and she too dies.

The scene pulls back and we see Ben's hand grip the edge of the cliff. He climbs back up and proceeds to use the same Force healing technique to resurrect Rey. When she wakes up, they embrace and kiss, and he dies, having sacrificed his life energy to revive her.

And the Skywalker?

It's the final scenes that offer a true answer to who the Skywalker is and rebuts the idea that Rey is a Palpatine and evil. After a victory celebration, Rey travels to Tatooine, visiting the moisture farm Luke Skywalker grew up on. It's there she buries Luke and Leia's lightsabers together, and shows off her own new yellow lightsaber. Building your own lightsaber is one of the milestones on the way to becoming a true Jedi, and that glimpse is a nice visual cue of just how far she's come.

An old woman passes by and asks Rey who she is.

Rey looks out and sees the Force ghosts of Luke and Leia, and she answers, "Rey Skywalker."

So even if she's a Palpatine by blood, her time spent training under Luke and Leia, and her efforts to redeem Ben, forged her new family.

She and BB-8 stand in front of the twin suns of Tatooine, echoing the beginning of Star Wars and the end of Revenge of the Sith. Cue John Williams' epic score.

Kylo Ren's Force FX lightsaber shines in Hasbro's Star Wars: Black Series

See all photos

Corrected on Jan. 18: Removes a reference to Rey seeing a Force ghost of Ben Solo, who didn't appear at the end. 

Originally published Dec. 18.