The return of the Death Star is the biggest 'Rise of Skywalker' plot hole
A lot of stuff in 'Episode IX' doesn't make sense, but the biggest retcon has nothing to do with 'The Last Jedi.'
While all your friends rant and rave about all the ways The Rise of Skywalker back-peddled on various plot elements in The Last Jedi, it’s a good time to remember that the ninth episodic Star Wars movie also blatantly rewrites the ending of Return of the Jedi. And no, we’re not talking about ways to interpret the balance of the Force or the survival of Emperor Palpatine. We’re talking about the elephant in the galaxy: The destruction of the second Death Star above the forest moon of Endor.
Here’s why everything about the Death Star in The Rise of Skywalker makes little to no sense. Plus, sprinkled in along the way, a few ways we can do mind tricks on ourselves to make sense of it.
Spoilers ahead for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and you know, Return of the Jedi, too.
Right toward the end of the first hour of The Rise of Skywalker, after undergoing a memory wipe, C-3PO reveals the location of Emperor Palpatine’s hidden Sith Wayfinder:
“The Emperor’s Wayfinder is in the Imperial Vault at Delta 36-transient-936 bearing 3.2 on a moon in the Endor system. From the southern shore, only this blade tells.”
Though Finn notes that the Endor system is “where the last war ended,” the ocean moon of Endor is not the same as forest moon of Endor from Return of the Jedi. Instead, both moons orbit the same larger planet. In real life, this would be like if we had a space station orbiting Saturn’s moon Titan, but after said hypothetical space station was destroyed, part of the wreckage ended up on a Mimas. Basically, a moon-like space station orbiting a real moon was destroyed and part of its wreckage ended up on a different neighboring moon in the same system.
Leaving the absurd physics of this aside (because really, let’s not start complaining about real space science in Star Wars) there’s only one problem with this…
The second Death Star totally asploded…
Yep, take a look at that scene from the climactic end of Return of the Jedi. Looks like the whole space station was vaporized. Plus, that extra ring-like shockwave (which is called a “Praxis” shockwave and was originally created by ILM for Star Trek VI) was added by George Lucas in the 1997 special edition of the film just so you really understood that the Death Star was reduced to nothing but random atoms.
However, for the sake of the plot of The Rise of Skywalker, we accept that, somehow, a huge chunk of the “top” off half this Death Star not only was relatively intact but that somehow the Sith were going to be able to predict exactly how the wreckage would end-up looking. The dagger Rey uses as a Goonies-style map to pinpoint the Wayfinder has a jagged blade that matches up perfectly with the outline of the Death Star, but how is that even possible?
This is a giant WTF. Assuming the Sith Dagger was made before the events of Return of the Jedi, it implies Palpatine (or one of his Sith cronies) was a soothsayer with a psychic version of Google maps. If the Sith Dagger was made after the Death Star was destroyed in Return of the Jedi it suggests the Emperor is smoking crack.
Couldn’t the erosion of the Death Star wreckage have caused that map-dagger to be inaccurate? In order for this to work, we have to accept that the Emperor was subtly controlling the weather patterns on the moon, to make sure that the wreckage (which shouldn’t exist) maintained its exact shape. Considering how obsessed the Emperor is with specific aesthetics (consider his second robe at the end of this movie) the motivation here is easy to buy, even if the execution is questionable.
But the existence of the Death Star wreckage and the role the Sith Dagger plays in finding the Wayfinder isn’t even the weirdest thing. The weirdest thing is clearly the fact that it’s even trickier to explain another essential plot detail connected to all of this.
Um… when did the Emperor build the secret Death Star room?
Okay, so C-3PO’s translation of the Sith Dagger says “the Imperial vault,” which might suggest that the Emperor threw his Wayfinder into a random safe, kind of like how Ewan McGregor hid a bunch of heroin money in a rented locker in Trainspotting. If “the Imperial vault” is just one of many Imperial Vaults, then it seems kind of weird that the Emperor just randomly chucked this very important map into a pre-fabricated vault that already existed on the Death Star.
It also suggests that the Emperor kept his Wayfinder on his person, at all times, which means, now, when you watch Return of the Jedi, you have to think about the fact that the Emperor probably has the Wayfinder hidden under his robe when he gets off his shuttle to meet with Vader on the Death Star. (Either that or one of the Emperor’s creepy buddies brought it to him, which seems unlikely.)
But, there are a few problems with this. This Death Star was under construction when the Emperor arrived. In fact, that was the whole reason he was there; to make sure everybody finished the project. Now, we could argue endlessly about whether or not this was the Emperor’s real intent — I.E. he lured the Rebels there, maybe he anticipated Vader’s betrayal, etc. — none of that changes the fact that this Death Star was, again, as stated, a work-in-progress.
Moff Jerjerrod, the dude who Vader bitches-out at the beginning of Return of the Jedi, clearly says he “needs more men” to complete the construction of the Death Star. Which, really makes you wonder: Did he need more men to also complete the construction of secret rooms?
When you get right down to it, when we see Sith Wayfinder in the Imperial Vault in the second Death Star, it doesn’t look like a random locker. It looks like a hidden room specifically constructed for the purpose of hiding a creepy compass.
Plus, the door to the room opens-up, seemingly specifically for Rey. When Kylo Ren found his Wayfinder, it turns out that one was hidden by Darth Vader. This suggests these Wayfinder lock-boxes are keyed to the DNA of the people trying to open them. So, in the case of Vader, the DNA of his grandson unlocked the box, and in the case of Palpatine, the DNA of his granddaughter unlocked the secret room.
This is fine because, as we know, the Emperor claims, many times in Return of the Jedi that “everything is going exactly as I have foreseen.” It’s just now we have to include, as an aside, in his mind, where he says: “My plans also include hiding this cool compass in this little room, just in case my granddaughter ever wants to find me.”
Just like maintaining the Death Star wreckage in its perfect blade-ready state, it’s possible to come up with an explanation for how this works, but those explanations require us to accept that Palpatine is like an evil version of God. (Or normal God.)
And we’re not even close to being done yet…
Ben Solo’s TIE Fighter shouldn’t exist and shouldn’t be able to get to Exegol
Okay, okay, so we’re cool with the Death Star only getting half exploded and falling onto an ocean moon, Palpatine building a secret room on the fly, smuggling his own Sith Wayfinder in his robe, hiding it in the second Death Star, and making sure the erosion on the Death Star wreckage continues to match-up with a dagger constructed by some chump. But, what about Ben Solo’s vintage TIE Fighter?
When Kylo Ren decides to turn to the good side of the Force and after having a mind-chat with a memory of his father, Han, the question of how he flies to Exegol is kind of weird. The next time we see him, he’s parking an old-school TIE Fighter right next to the old-school X-Wing that Rey borrowed from Luke Skywalker. This implies Ben found a TIE Fighter in the wreckage of the Death Star and flew it to Exegol.
But wait, TIE Fighters don’t have hyperdrives, so that’s kind of impossible. Maybe Exegol was just close enough that Ben could get there with his twin ion engines, since that’s what TIE Fighters are working with in terms of propulsion. In dorky SF parlance, a TIE Fighter is sublight, which means it doesn’t have an FTL drive of any kind.
Now, funnily enough, even though X-Wings do have hyperdrive, Rey was still able to fly Luke’s X-Wing without an astromech droid. That shouldn’t be possible either since astromechs do hyperspace calculations for you in the same way Han Solo used a computer to do that in A New Hope. But since Luke apparently flew that X-Wing to Ahch-to in the first place, sans R2-D2, we can let that slide. Still, Rey used hyperdrive to get out of that star system (recall, that planet was hard to find, too) and she probably used the Force and the Wayfinder to navigate.
So it’s fine if Ben Solo also used the Force to navigate hyperspace, but he didn’t have a hyperdrive. It’s not like he’s so great with the Force that he can now just warp himself across space without an engine. Unless, of course, he can, which, wow, that’s a real missed opportunity! Let’s see a movie about that!
Finally, and this is really nitpicky, but why were there even extra TIE Fighters lying around at all? Assuming the Death Star wasn’t finished in Return of the Jedi, it seems like they would have scrambled all the fighters they had to stop the Rebels in the battle of Endor. Sure, I guess the Empire could have had extra TIE Fighters, but you’re really telling me that not only did the Emperor’s Throne Room survive but also, a really conveniently stocked TIE Fighter launch bay is right there, too?
If that’s true, the Emperor didn’t need to get into Sith magic to be successful. He and Kylo Ren should have hit the casino at Canto Bight. Because if you’re betting on dumb luck in Star Wars, it seems like you really should bet on the guys who wear black and talk about the Dark side. They’re much luckier than they are smart.
The Rise of Skywalker is in theaters now. You can stream Return of the Jedi on Disney+.