A number of characters die in The Rise of Skywalker, and a number of them manage to cheat death, just like their Disney stablemates in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, an original trilogy character did die for real in Episode IX — and it seems to have escaped attention.
Some would argue that’s because the movie is so frenetic. Detractors have argued the rushed production resulted in a choppy finale to the Skywalker saga, with not one but two alternate versions of the movie that are supposedly better.
[Spoiler alert: Because the topic is death, be advised Rise of Skywalker spoilers lie ahead.]
Which character death escaped notice?
Fans were outraged that Nien Nunb died in The Rise of Skywalker. Although his name sounds like the song that concluded the original version of Return of the Jedi, it’s actually the character who flew the Millennium Falcon with Lando Calrissian during the Death Star attack, while Han and Chewie were working to disable the Death Star’s shield.
Nien Nunb had been an arms dealer and smuggler before joining the Rebellion, and he continued to fight on that side with the Resistance facing down the First Order. In the Battle of Exegol that concludes Episode IX, Nunb is flying the Tantive IV, the Rebel ship attacked in the very first scene of A New Hope.
That ship is one of the many destroyed by Palpatine’s Force lightning.
Fans shouldn’t feel bad about missing this for a couple of reasons. First, the death of Nien Nunb was not specifically shown. And because of that, not even the actor who played Nunb was aware his character didn’t make it.
Why Nien Numb’s death was an insult to long-time fans
Niem Numb had little screen time in the original trilogy to begin with, but that hasn’t stopped fans from angrily mourning his passing. The reason? The quick, easy-to-miss death didn’t do his character justice.
The character was present at the tail end of the original trilogy, a sequence of events that remain close to many Star Wars-loving hearts. He may have been a minor character, but if you’ve watched a movie as many times as some fans have, even those with little screen time become your heroes.
This isn’t the first time the sequel trilogy killed off a major Star Wars character without honoring them properly either, at least according to some corners of the fandom.
Admiral Ackbar died unexpectedly in The Last Jedi with only a passion mention in the same attack that General Organa miraculously survived. Like Nien Numb, Ackbar appeared in the original trilogy as part of the Battle of Endor.
It’s not hard to argue that The Rise of Skywalker in particular struggled with its pacing. This created numerous problems, one of them being the way it handled death. General Hux dropped in Act 1 with no further mention. Even Poe got about five seconds to mourn Snap Wexley’s death before the plot had to press forward.
The film carefully and brilliantly executed the passing of Carrie Fisher’s character, but this was a major plot point even J.J. Abrams knew better than to rush through. Nien Numb is a long-beloved character, but still a minor one — his death was quick and easy to miss, but so are many things in battles of epic finale proportions.
Still, many fans expected more, the same way they hoped for a funeral scene for Han Solo that appeared only in a book, never in the film itself. Some even still hope for an extended or alternate cut of a film that seemed too rushed.
What are the alternate versions of ‘The Rise of Skywalker’?
The two alternate versions of The Rise of Skywalker technically do not exist. The first is the alleged “JJ cut,” so named when a leaker on Reddit claimed that Disney/Lucasfilm took Rise of Skywalker out of director JJ Abrams’ hands and hacked down his three-hour cut.
Fans have clamored to “Release the JJ cut,” but that’s probably nothing more than an early assembly, and early assemblies almost always run long.
The other version was the one The Rise of Skywalker’s original director Colin Trevorrow, had written with his partner Derek Connolly before they left the project. That leaked this week, and the AV Club said it was arguably better than what was released, with more coherent plotting and no role for Palpatine, other than a minor appearance.
Whether a longer Abrams cut or Trevorrow’s script would have made The Rise of Skywalker better will never be known. Either way, Nien Nunb’s passing is best recorded in social media tweets and online Star Wars encyclopedias.