‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’: The Real Story Behind that Shocking Original Trilogy Return

With Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, audiences have allegedly seen the very last of the Skywalker saga. Over the last 42 years, the “galaxy far, far away” centered on Anakin Skywalker, his children, and — in this sequel trilogy — his grandson. As the last chapter for the Skywalkers, the latest film could also open up a whole new universe of storytelling possibilities.

Of course, before Lucasfilm imagines the future of Star Wars, The Rise of Skywalker gives fans the opportunity to say goodbye to so many fan favorites. Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) story, for instance, is complete. The Rise of Skywalker marks the final curtain call for tons of original trilogy characters. Yet, few fans expected its biggest surprise cameo.

[Spoiler alert: This article contains MAJOR spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Read at your own risk.]

People dressed as 'Star Wars' characters
People dressed as ‘Star Wars’ characters | Keith Mayhew / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

No one expected this actor to return to ‘Star Wars’ one final time

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker‘s marketing heavily featured a watery showdown between Rey and Kylo Ren. But this lightsaber duel isn’t the film’s final battle but rather the preamble for Kylo’s redemption. Defeated in combat, Kylo is about to die when Rey uses the Force to heal his wounds. Admitting she did want to take his — i.e., Ben Solo’s — hand in The Last Jedi, she takes off in Kylo’s ship.

Awestruck by Rey’s decision to spare him, Kylo reflects for a moment before hearing a familiar voice. His father, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), appears in the form of a memory, giving Kylo the forgiveness he’s been seeking. In what begins as a close retelling of their confrontation in The Force Awakens, Kylo discards his red crossguard lightsaber. He has been reborn as Ben Solo.

Ford famously wanted Han Solo to die in Return of the Jedi. So, when he returned for The Force Awakens, no one — not even director J.J. Abrams — thought he would reprise the role again. Yet, Abrams found himself working with Ford once more on The Rise of Skywalker. And the heartfelt father-son reunion is actually a key element of the entire film.

Why Han Solo’s scene was necessary for Kylo Ren’s story

Following the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Chris Terrio — who wrote the film with Abrams — has been making the rounds discussing its production. In a recent chat with The Hollywood Reporter, Terrio explained exactly why Han’s all-too-brief return was so pivotal.

In a way, the great family sin of Kylo Ren was patricide — he killed his father. He committed any number of sins throughout the galaxy; he’s not an angel. He’s done many truly horrible things, but on a level of the family saga, as in any Greek myth, it was the killing of a parent that is the central sin that needs to be atoned for. … Ren needed to ask his father for forgiveness. … They can now have a kind of intimacy that they haven’t had, really, since Ren turned to the Dark as seen in the events of Episode VIII.

Some fans accuse The Rise of Skywalker of subverting its divisive predecessor, 2017’s The Last Jedi. But even that movie acknowledged how Han’s murder affected Kylo. Snoke (Andy Serkis) even points out how “the deed has split [his] spirit to the bone,” an idea Terrio and Abrams run with. Moreover, as Terrio admits, Kylo may not be able to undo what he’s done but gets to make the choice he couldn’t in The Force Awakens.

“In that moment, Ren gets to find a kind of peace — especially now that he knows he was manipulated — just like his father said,” Terrio told THR. “It wasn’t only Snoke that manipulated him; it was the enemy from the old wars that was manipulating him. He’s been every voice inside his head.”

How Harrison Ford agreed to ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

So Han’s role in servicing Kylo Ren’s story is clear. But how did Abrams get Ford to agree to return for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? We imagine part of it involves script changes made in the wake of Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing in 2016. Yet, according to what Abrams told Vanity Fair, bringing Ford back was easier than you might think.

We had a meeting and talked about what it would be. Harrison, who is one of the great people ever and incredibly thoughtful about everything that he does, all he ever wants is to understand the utility of the character. “What is my role?” It was about sitting with him and explaining what our intention was. We talked about it for quite a while. I sent him the pages. He got it, and of course, as you can see, he was wonderful.

For Abrams, the experience of directing Ford again was very surreal. But even more rewarding for the filmmaker, he told Vanity Fair, was how the scene between Ford and Driver pays off those characters.

To see two characters that are these traditionally pretty tough guys be so vulnerable to me speaks to the beauty of what Star Wars has always been. … Star Wars was always a story of the underdog and this inclusive sort of world where anyone, organic or synthetic, male or female, doesn’t matter what your race or species, it’s an equal opportunity place. So I just love having these two men not behaving in a way that you’d necessarily expect to see either of them.

For fans, seeing Driver embody the son of Han Solo — including Han’s iconic Return of the Jedi shrug — is bittersweet indeed. We might not get much time with Ben Solo, but at least his story maintains the overarching message of Star Wars: hope.