A piece of Star Wars music that is somehow simultaneously overrated and underrated features in the latest trailers for The Rise of Skywalker. We’re talking about “Duel of the Fates,” which popped up in a new TV spot while Kylo and Rey battle as Palpatine cackles about “the final word in the story of Skywalker.” The funny thing is, we actually haven’t heard this particular chanting chorus associated with a new Star Wars film since 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. So, what does the return of “Duel of the Fates” mean about the direction of Episode IX? Does this mean we’ll see cameos from prequel characters like Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi?
Speculation for The Rise of Skywalker ahead.
Back in 1999, John Williams’ track from The Phantom Menace was the official hype machine of the then-new Star Wars. Prior to the release of Episode I, the song had a music video debut on MTV’s Total Request Live, where it stuck around for a week and a half, making it the only piece of classical music Carson Daly had to talk about, likely, in his entire career. It was also the first time that spoken words were featured in any Star Wars music that wasn’t diegetic (like the Ewoks singing “Yub Nub”) or wordless voices (like the creepy chorus that booms during Luke and Vader’s final battle.) In case you were planning on hitting up some karaoke, here’s a sample of the lyrics to “Duel of the Fates.”
Korah Matah Korah Rahtahmah
Korah Rahtamah Yoodhah Korah
Korah Syahdho Rahtahmah Daanyah
Korah Keelah Daanyah
Nyohah Keelah Korah Rahtahmah
Syadho Keelah Korah Rahtahmah
Korah Daanyah Korah Rahtahmah
Korah Daanyah Korah Rahtahmah
Nyohah Keelah Korah Rahtahmah
Unlike lyrics from exclusively diegetic Star Wars music (again, think Ewoks or anything Sy Snootles sings in Return of the Jedi) the words of “Duel of the Fates” aren’t from a made-up Star Wars language like Ewokese or Huttese. Technically, the words are spoken Sanskrit, but the origin of the phrases comes from a Medival Welsh poem called “Cad Goddeu” which translates to “The Battle of the Trees.” A full English translation of this poem was done in 1948 by Robert Graves and John Williams specifically lifted the following lines, and then, translated those lines into Sanskrit. So, here’s what the words actually mean, in English.
Under the tongue root
a fight most dread
and another raging
behind in the head
So, right off the bat, the sentiments of the poem — and by extension, the lyrics of “Duel of the Fates” — could describe almost any of the internal and external struggles across the Skywalker Saga. Obviously, a lot of characters in Star Wars have fight raging “behind in the head,” which mostly lately, probably most aptly describes Kylo Ren and the fact that he says he’s being “torn apart,” in The Force Awakens. Then again, Rey is “trying to find my place in all this,” and of course Anakin Skywalker had all sorts of crazy shit going on in his brain, too.
Okay, so the lyrics of “Duel of the Fates” have cool significance that lends Star Wars some cred from legit antiquity. What does it mean? Other than a few episodes of Rebels and a faint, faint version of the track in that Darth Maul scene in Solo, “Duel of the Fates” has not been the go-to track for Star Wars promotion for a long, long time, which makes its return feel significant. For the most part, musical cues in the trailers for the new films have either focused on classic trilogy themes (like “Princess Leia’s” theme in the first Rise of Skywalker trailer) or have doubled-down on the themes from the newer films (like “Rey’s Theme.”) Bringing back “Duel of the Fates” is a jolt of nostalgia, but it’s a jolt of nostalgia not for the classic films that everyone loves, but instead, the controversial films which, in theory, set up all the conflicts Episode IX has to resolve.
In other words, “Duel of the Fates” might be a metaphor for what the movie is actually about. Here’s three ways that could shake out.
This means nothing because the music isn’t in the movie
A cynical way to look at this is that a new arrangement of “Duel of the Fates” isn’t in The Rise of Skywalker and is only being used in promotional stuff right now to get everyone pumped up. This wouldn’t be the first time this has happened. In fact, most music used in Star Wars trailers is not actually in the film. The best example of this that you’ve forgotten about is that remixed version of “Han Solo and the Princess,” which played over the big Force Awakens trailer when Rey says “there were stories about what happened.” This piece of music was not used in the final film, though a different, understated version of it played when Han and Leia crossed paths.
“Duel of the Fates” is in the movie, but that doesn’t mean anyone from the prequels is showing up
“Duel of the Fates” certainly sets the tone for everything expected to happen between the Emperor, Rey and Kylo Ren in this movie. That doesn’t necessarily mean the song is a harbinger for a cameo from Anakin Skywalker or Qui-Gon Jinn. Instead, if the music is in the film, it could be the easiest way for the story to throw a bone to the prequels without actually talking about the prequels that much. This is J.J. Abrams after all; he might not want to get in the canon weeds too much, and may settle for a prequel-era music track to do the work for him.
“Duel of the Fates” is in the movie, and prequel actors are, too
If balancing the Force is actually central to the plot of The Rise of Skywalker (which it kind of has to be?) then it stands to reason the use of “Duel of the Fates” in the film hints Hayden Christensen will appear as the ghost of Anakin Skywalker at some point in the film. If Christensen doesn’t appear, perhaps a visage of Darth Vader or Obi-Wan Kenobi is in order. Then again, the last time we heard this music track in a Star Wars movie was when Yoda fought the Emperor in Revenge of the Sith. And though we’ve been obsessed with an Anakin cameo for a while, the ghost of Yoda is still very much on the table.
Star Wars: The Rise of Duel of the Fates is out everywhere on December 20.