J.J. Abrams drops a big hint that Anakin returns in 'Star Wars 9'

The director of the final 'Star Wars' Skywalker film has made it clear when the Emperor came into the picture. So, is his apprentice a lock, too? 

star wars 9 spoilers emperor palpatine anakin skywalker force ghost

Fans might have different opinions about Hayden Christen as Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels, but even before Hayden, the character of Anakin Skywalker (aka, Darth Vader) was central to understanding what we now call “the Skywalker saga.” Anakin never had a biological father, but metaphorically speaking he had two dads: A good dad (Qui-Gon Jinn), and a bad dad (Emperor Palpatine). Now that we know Anakin’s former dark master is back to hassle Rey in The Rise of Skywalker, it feels like director J.J. Abrams may have slyly (and inadvertently) confirmed Anakin, too.

Abrams went on a mini-press tour this week, appearing on Good Morning America and The Late Show with Colbert, and giving a revealing interview to Uproxx. Here’s what we’ve learned in general, what Abrams has said about when everyone decided to bring back Palpatine, and why it might mean the return of Hayden Christensen in a galaxy far, far away.

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Palpatine awakens

Palpatine was on the table back in 2014

If you squint, the resurrection of Emperor Sheev Palpatine for Episode IX might seem like a nostalgia Hail Mary, a kind of desperate plot element thrown into the mix to make literally every kind of Star Wars fan happy. (After all, it happened in the comics back in 1991 and 1992.) But, Abrams now insists that he and Force Awakens co-writer Lawrence Kasdan were actually kicking around Sheev-ish ideas back in 2014 while working on Episode VII. Here’s what Abrams says on the subject in that Uproxx interview:

“…there were discussions about that [Palpatine’s return] at the time. Yet, like any beginning, you want to put the threads in, but you don’t want to necessarily be literal about everything. And then when Rian [Johnson] was brought on to do The Last Jedi, we met and we talked about things and he wrote his story. And when I read the script, I realized this didn’t get in the way of anything Larry [Kasdan] and I talked about that I thought I’d get to. There were some very specific things we did get to do in this movie [The Rise of Skywalker] that we were laughing and going, ‘Oh my god, we’re finally doing that thing we talked about five years ago.’”

So, there you have it. Even if former Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow claims that Palpatine wasn’t discussed for his version of the film, it seems pretty clear that Abrams was planning a Palpatine return when he directed The Force Awakens. On some level, this fact should be reassuring to skeptical fans, if only because it means this ending isn’t tacked on.

'The Last Jedi' Snoke Death
Snoke may not be explained in 'The Rise of Skywalker'

Abrams says all sorts of questions will be answered, including, maybe Snoke?

In the same interview, when asked directly about Snoke, Abrams is slightly evasive but says:

“But once you see it, hopefully your question will be answered.”

Fans are reading this two ways. On the one hand, it seems like Abrams won’t touch the Snoke stuff in The Rise of Skywalker. On the other hand, he could be 100 percent saying, yes, some kind of explanation about Snoke and his connection to the Sith will be offered.

But, beyond Snoke questions, it seems the biggest question Abrams and Chris Terrio will be forced to answer in The Rise of Skywalker is everything connected to the balance of the Force. In other words, if Vader/Anakin restored the balance of the Force in Return of the Jedi how did it get unbalanced? (Was that when it woke up in Episode VII?) Did Kylo Ren create an imbalance? What about Rey? And if, Rey and/or Kylo Ren help restore balance to the Force, does that mean Anakin is still “the Chosen One.”

Either way you slice it with your fan theory lightsaber, those questions are probably all more important than anything about Snoke’s origin.

Palpatine and Anakin
Palpatine chatting up Anakin in 'Episode III: Revenge of the Sith'

It would be weird if Palps didn’t come back. So, what about Anakin?

Thinking about all the balance of the Force stuff, and questions that need to be answered to wrap up the Skywalker saga, this leads to an interesting hop-skip-and-a-jump from Palpatine being an obvious choice for a comeback, to Anakin. Over on Reddit, one user pulls an Abrams quote from the same interview, and notices that the director says: “…perhaps the weirder thing would be if Palpatine didn’t return.”

The thinking here, if you’re in the Anakin-must-return-or-I’ll-have-a-nervous-breakdown-camp, is simple. If J.J. Abrams thinks Palpatine is a no-brainer to wrap-up the Skywalker saga, it also means he knows Anakin is, too. As stated now, ad nauseam, by my myself and literally every other hardcore Star Wars fan on the planet, Anakin’s spirit is clearly hanging out at the end of Return of the Jedi. In The Force Awakens we heard Obi-Wan’s ghost and in The Last Jedi, we saw Yoda’s ghost. So, if Abrams is thinking about things that would be weird not to do, then Anakin is surely on that list, right?

Everything Abrams is saying about The Rise of Skywalker suggests he’s getting to execute on ideas he had when he wrote The Force Awakens. In that film, Kylo Ren tries to talk to the spirit of Anakin Skywalker via Darth Vader’s melted helmet. If Abrams was thinking about that nearly five years ago, surely, the most famous Jedi — and most famous Sith — is coming back for the grand finale.


Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is out everywhere on December 20, 2019.

Media via Lucasfilm, Reflex0099