Luke Skywalker is dead. Rey’s parents are “nobody.” Yet Star Wars: Episode IX will be subtitled The Rise of Skywalker. What Skywalker is rising? From where to where? The name is a provocation—one very much in line with the director J. J. Abrams’s love of teasing audiences like a magician. He promises huge, reality-shifting twists. Behind the curtain often lies something familiar.
The teaser that debuted at Friday’s Star Wars Celebration in Chicago is even less informative than previous teasers for Disney’s revamped saga, which is saying something. It opens with Rey, the Force-filled hero, panting and squinting in that most essential of Star Wars biomes: a desert. “We’ve passed on all we know,” Luke Skywalker, or his ghost, says in voice-over. “A thousand generations live in you now. But this is your fight.” Out of the distance comes a souped-up TIE fighter. As Rey hurls herself over it, lightsaber in hand, The Matrix’s bullet time appears to come to the Galaxy Far, Far Away. It’s a statement piece of an opening—a reassertion that Star Wars is, first, a nifty, visceral hybrid of Westerns, sci-fi, kung-fu flicks, and myth.
From there, it’s all quick shots teeing up YouTube analysis videos that will be many times the length of the teaser. Identifiably new elements appear sparse, and each one is a callback in a way. BB-8 has a minimalist droid friend, Dio, that looks both like a glue-gun nozzle and like a duck (it’s cute!). Lando Calrissian (played again by Billy Dee Williams, last seen in a Star Wars in 1983) pilots the Millennium Falcon. There’s a city in misty, rainy mountains (there’s always a new city in a new climate). There’s a desert chase involving speeder bikes or podracing or both. Rey and her crew look out over crashing waves to what appears to be the detritus of a Death Star.
To close comes the big twist: a cackle against a black screen. It’s presumably the voice of Emperor Palpatine, the grand villain Darth Vader threw down an exhaust shaft at the end of Return of the Jedi, the original trilogy’s closer. To confirm a Palpatine resurrection, Ian McDiarmid, the actor who played the emperor, appeared onstage at the Star Wars Celebration after the teaser’s premiere. Given that the big bad Snoke was severed to bits in Episode VIII—The Last Jedi, it seems fair to assume that Palpatine has been a phantom menace throughout the recent films, and that he’ll emerge more fully for the finale.