WARNING: The story below is a creative exercise in Star Wars storytelling, based on my personal hopes and preferences for an end to the Skywalker Saga. While I have not yet seen episode IX as of this writing, I have been privy to a fair number of leaks, trailers, and spoilers. Thus, if you are still interested in a spoiler-free experience of any presently released Star Wars story (including The Rise Of Skywalker), then do NOT read this yet.
Five years have passed since the Battle of Crait. THE RESISTANCE has been reborn from its ashes, and has kept up a valiant insurrection against THE FIRST ORDER in the Outer Rim. Many worlds are now aligned against this galactic evil, but without the caring leadership of Leia Organa, their political future remains uncertain. What does victory mean in this ever-lasting conflict?
But Leia’s legacy of sacrifice has produced a new generation of heroes ready to take on this challenge. Resistance generals Poe Dameron and Rose Tico have kept the struggle together, and the wandering journeys of the former stormtrooper Finn have inspired rebellions everywhere. Despite the vagaries of war, hope lives in the galaxy.
Such hope has also been embodied by Rey, the Last Jedi. She has built an open refuge for spiritual study on the planet of NEW JEDHA, eager to uncover the origins and teachings of her forebears. Yet an unexpected arrival stands ready to disturb her peace…
We open on the planet of New Jedha, where Rey has tried to establish a Temple for the study and training of Force sensitives. Few have yet visited her, and none have come to be her apprentice. This worries her, since founding a New Jedi Order will require a group of eager students or fellow Jedi to come forward. Then again, perhaps this absence is a relief; the challenge of being a Master would only reveal her own ignorance. Rey has no idea of what she might teach any prospective padawan, and wishes she knew more about the evolution and practices of the Jedi Order, rather than just its origins. But such knowledge could be scattered all across the galaxy. Where must she go?
As she ponders these things in the chilly nights of her new home, a shooting star streaks across the sky towards her, quickly revealing itself to be a downed TIE fighter. As she drags its unconscious occupant from the burning wreckage, he is revealed to be Kylo Ren, whom she still hopefully regards as Ben Solo. Nevertheless, she shows much hostility towards him upon waking, which is only interrupted when a different enemy arrives to her refuge: the Knights of Ren. While she assumes that they are Kylo’s lackeys come to collect him, they soon prove to be no friend of the Supreme Leader, and the two lightsaber wielders are forced to fight together against this common threat. Once the Knights have been driven back, Rey demands an explanation. Why did he come here, and why are his former henchmen now suddenly fighting him? Kylo keeps his words short and simple. The Knights attacked him because they consider him a traitor to the Sith. This they believe because he has come to Rey with a daring offer: to end the war between the Resistance and the First Order, and the greater conflict between the Jedi and the Sith. Kylo has learned much over these past five years, and all he now desires is peace.
Naturally, Rey is not about to take the leader of the First Order at his word; she has heard such an offer before, when they stood in the burning throne room of a dead tyrant. Thus, she demands elaboration; how can he prove that things are different this time? Kylo explains that he has been in communion with the Force Ghost of Anakin Skywalker, who once desired an empire just like his own. But he was overcome by anger, and cast out that which he loved most, his friends and family. This lead his grandson to realize that he had been too harsh to Rey in forcing her into the same choice, and that she had been right all along in choosing her Resistance friends over him. Only by creating galactic unity can the endless cycle of war be stopped. All parties must act like they are on the same side, even Jedi and Sith, rebels and stormtroopers. Thus, for the sake of the greater good, Kylo hopes that she will contact the Resistance, and arrange preliminary peace talks at a place of their choosing. As a show of goodwill, the First Order will uphold a unilateral ceasefire in the meantime, guaranteed by the will of its Supreme Leader. It’s a free offer, so Rey can take it or leave it. But isn’t peace worth trying?
Rey is overwhelmed by Kylo’s overtures, which seemed to come out of nowhere. Out of her own Jedi idealism, she at least assures Kylo that she will communicate his offer to the Resistance. When she reunites with her friends at an off-world Resistance base-just Poe, Finn, and Rose this time, since Chewbacca is fighting on Kashyyyk-they are of course highly skeptical of the Supreme Leader’s proposal. While galactic war is a terrible thing, they won’t give up their cause just because the enemy asked them nicely. Rey explains she isn’t sure about it either, but Ben’s intentions seem to be pure. Maybe they can find some path to autonomy for the worlds of the Resistance, and make clear demands to prevent the evils of the Empire. If Kylo could actually force the First Order into a ceasefire, then it might be worth considering. Besides, there is no harm in negotiating itself, and so the four of them begrudgingly agree to give it a try. At Rose’s suggestion, the talks are to be held at Organa Major, the space station which still orbits the ruins of Alderaan. May that place of galactic atrocity remind everyone of the dire need for peace.
Before these talks can proceed though, the Resistance will need to contact its allies in the Outer Rim to form a rough consensus on what their peace demands are going to be. Creating such a united front will require our protagonists to split up; while Finn and Rey will head to Alderaan to prepare for the negotiations, Poe and Rose will be heading to Ryloth and Kashyyyk respectively. These worlds are some of the most hardcore supporters of the Resistance, and if their representatives can be brought to the peace talks, then little stands in the way of galactic peace. Just before their group breaks up, Poe claims that this is what Leia would have wanted them to do. Or so he hopes.
With the four friends going their separate ways, the following sequence generally cuts between their respective journeys. Rey is still anxious about the sudden turn in Kylo’s demeanor-as well as her progress as a Jedi-and discusses this with Finn on the way to Alderaan. The latter assures her that she is on the right path, and that if the though of a good-natured Sith seems strange to her, she would do well to remember that he was once conditioned to be evil as well. People can change, it seems. In turn, Finn shares some of his own securities, mostly about how this peace is going to work between such diametrically opposed sides. But this fear also has a more personal element; Finn worries about what his friends would think of him if he took the negotiations one way or the other. What would Poe or Rose do in his stead? He has no idea if he can please them both, and he doesn’t even know how they feel about him in the first place. Finn feels like he’s stuck in an ambiguous love triangle; even if he doesn’t say so explicitly, that frustration is what Rey senses in the Force. Yet in spite of all these troubles, their journey continues.
We now come to Poe, who has travelled to Ryloth to speak with the Resistance cells there. Ryloth is a free world these days, although it cannot afford to let its guard down; occupied worlds are close by, and the First Order would really like to control the supply lanes running through the system. The ceasefire has offered them some respite, and Poe is able to talk to most of the local leaders about the Supreme Leader’s peace offer. While some of the Twi’Leks believe that their world can’t be free until all others are, most agree that if Ryloth can preserve its independence, peace would be better than continued conflict. As long as the Imperials or the cartels don’t return to Ryloth, they’ll be content with whatever treaty arises. But to make sure that happens, they’ll send the valiant Hera Syndulla and her Force-sensitive son Jacen as representatives to Alderaan. Poe is eager to escort them there, exchanging all manner of pilot tricks and stories with the aged hero of the Rebellion. She reminds him a lot of Leia.
Meanwhile, Rose is visiting Chewbacca and his family on Kashyyyk, preparing for a similar meeting with the leaders of the local resistance. But unlike Ryloth, Kashyyyk is still a world at war, and Chewie had gone there two years ago to fight for his people and protect his family. Though he’s still middle-aged for a wookiee, Chewbacca is increasingly tired of the endless conflict which has plagued his planet. No matter who is in charge of the galaxy, war and slavery seems to come to Kashyyyk eventually. He is not sure whether another treaty, especially one with a neo-Imperial entity such as the First Order, could ever bring the peace his people deserve. Rose is disheartened by this cynicism, but agrees that a more radical solution may be required. She urges him to come to Alderaan as a representative, but he declines, wishing to be with his family when the ceasefire breaks. Instead, Rose is accompanied by a mysterious non-Wookiee rebel from the Shadowlands. As will be revealed in their discussions, they are the child of a Jedi and a Nightsister, a curious pairing that produced a fierce and Force-sensitive fighter. They wish to go beyond their home world and explore more of the galaxy, maybe meet some people who share their gifts. Rose happily includes them and their godfather Tarrful in the delegation to Alderaan.
By this point in the film, Rey and Finn have arrived on Organa Major, and are meeting for the first time their First Order counterparts, including Kylo himself and someone called ‘Allegiant General Pryde’. Finn has a hard time exchanging pleasantries with either of them, and the mutual hostility threatens to bring the entire thing down before it’s even begun. Luckily, this is the point at which the Resistance’s chief negotiator arrives: former Rebel general Lando Calrissian. With his smooth-talking attitude defusing the tense atmosphere, the preliminary negotiations can begin more properly. As diplomatic emissaries trickle in from all over the galaxy, it appears these talks are going to be a real chance at peace. What could possibly go wrong?
The answer to that question is ‘general Armitage Hux’, for the second-in-command of the First Order has been plotting against his Supreme Leader ever since the phrase ‘peace talks’ was first uttered. During the formal opening ceremony of the Alderaan conference, he and a group of dissident officers take control of Kylo’s flagship, and order it to fire on the defenseless space station. While the first few barrages strike true, putting the entire station in danger of disintegration, the Resistance fleet soon rallies to its defense, and a space battle develops amid the debris of a shattered paradise.
Kylo Ren is incensed at these developments, not expecting Hux to take his insolence this far. Him and Rey board a First Order shuttle to arrest the mutinous crew of his destroyer, though Kylo takes quite a direct approach by ramming the ship into Hux’s command bridge. Giving in to his darker urges, the Supreme Leader decides to Force-choke his least favorite underling, and is about to kill him when Rey intervenes. She persuades him to turn away from such hatred, a rage which would only poison their negotiations. Let her show him the way to calmness.
The Light Side prevails in this instance, and Hux and his co-conspirators are soon taken into custody by Resistance troops, a gift of the Supreme Leader. To deal with the inner disturbance of this betrayal-and to take advantage of their current location-Kylo tells Rey that he means to show her something, another gift of his. While she is a little hesitant, Ben appears to be making good on his promise of cooperation, and so she joins him in visiting a special room in his personal quarters. To her great surprise, it is filled to the brim with Jedi artifacts, including lightsabers, holocrons, and great volumes on the ‘Complete History of the Jedi Order’. This is all hers to take, says Kylo, in the hopes that it will renew her order and bring balance to the galaxy. Rey is once again baffled by his kindness and sincerity; has he given up on the Dark Side? He assures her that he has not, but that the key to being a true Sith is putting the self in order. Anakin taught him that, and it’s made him see that the Jedi and the Sith are not that different altogether. To her own surprise, Rey responds to that argument with some recognition: she explored the darkness on Ahch-To once, and it seemed to carry no danger with it but the reflection of her own fears. And that process only strengthened her in the end. Maybe an alliance between all Force users could work, as long as they let each other be in peace.
Then Kylo shows her a second room. This one is filled with Sith artifacts, with the burned remnants of Darth Vader’s helmet taking up a prominent place in the middle. Here is where I talk to Anakin, he explains, like a kid all too eager to show off his toys. At the same time, Rey is terrified by the wave of Dark Side energy that comes crashing over her. This is no place of goodness, how could she be so naïve to assume otherwise? But maybe, somehow, anyhow, Kylo has not realized this himself. She pleads with him to stop ignoring the darkness around him; no good could come from spreading this atmosphere of oppression across the galaxy. Now he is accusing her of naivete: the Supreme Leader has read the histories, of both the Jedi and the Sith. And do you know what they agreed on, what their first collective action was? The creation of a galactic republic. That’s right, without the alliance of Jedi and Sith, the ancient Force Lords who once dominated thousands of worlds could never have been overthrown. For the longest time, the Republic was protected through their pact, only broken when the Jedi betrayed the Sith for the sake of doctrinal purity. Kylo is just trying to restore those ancient bonds. That is objectively a good thing.
But Rey disagrees. The Light Side must ultimately represent the Will of the Force, and she points to Vader’s mask for a perfect example. If the way of the Sith was stronger, superior, then the simple love for his son would never have turned Anakin Skywalker away from the darkness. Indeed, it is through practicing that the Dark Side no longer holds power over you; that is how she has survived her own encounters with it. Kylo scoffs at this idealistic philosophy. The Jedi and their ilk do not possess a monopoly on love and compassion: was Darth Plagueis not motivated by love when he saved those closest to him from dying? Or what about his apprentice, Lord Sidious? Even his most heinous act, the purge of the Jedi Order, was just payback for what the Jedi had down to his own people. If that was the Revenge of the Sith, then were Luke’s actions against the Emperor not the Revenge of the Jedi? Once again, it seems the two sides were much alike in almost every way.
Rey is beginning to break down now. She can feel Ben slipping back into the darkness, and wonders whether his change of heart was an act to begin with. It feels as if they will keep doing this forever, with her playing the part of the lone hero who attempts to reason with the unreasonable. Yes, the disciples of the Force have been playing this game for generations. But she must keep trying to push back the darkness, since she knows there is no alternative. Thus, she points out the obvious: Anakin Skywalker very clearly turned to the Light before his death, so why would he be whispering such Dark Side apologia into the ear of his grandson? This only makes Kylo more agitated; Rey is just jealous of his connection to a powerful Force wielder. I bet that Luke hasn’t even said a word since his cowardly death, he taunts. Rey doesn’t respond to that, having turned her attention fully to the charred mask. There is something there , something beyond the mere residue of a Sith Lord. It’s darker than the cave, or even the ambient cruelty of Snoke’s cold grasp. Before Kylo has a chance to stop her, Rey’s lightsaber is out, and the vibrant blue blade shatters the old helmet into a thousand pieces.
Kylo doesn’t even bother to hide his rage, yet instead of taking it out on the Jedi, he just rushes over to the pedestal to see what remains. At about the same time as Rey, he notices a brilliant red glimmer amid the black splinters. As they both bend down to get a closer look, it reveals itself to be a Sith amulet. For a moment he wonders whether this piece had always been a part of its design, but then Rey points to its most prominent feature: the Emperor’s seal. Before he can reckon with the implications of this discovery, a familiar voice burrows deep inside his head, demanding he pick up the amulet. It is Anakin’s voice, and he follows its command out of an instinctive trust. When he rises to his feet again, a cacophony of dark and insidious laughter resounds throughout the room, seeming to come from every Sith artifact present there. Rey knows this means trouble, and Kylo is starting to suspect that too. Then, suddenly, he fades like his uncle’s projection, the Emperor’s amulet dropping to the floor. The room’s dark objects return to their deathly silence. Kylo is gone, and Rey is alone.
The next hour passes in chaos. Rey isn’t sure how she got off the star destroyer, or why is she is carrying a collection of history volumes under her arm, but Finn recognizes distress when he sees it, and soon she is recovering from her shock in one of the station’s overcrowded medbays. When she finally relaxes her clenched fists, she discovers she is holding the blood-red amulet. Whatever happened to Kylo, or whatever’s been happening to him for a long time now, this is her only clue. Finn catches her staring at it, and knows it to be important. A hunch tells him that if this amulet was of personal significance to the Emperor, it was probably on him at his death above Endor. Rey tries to look into the object’s Force signature-though not deeply-and indeed receives an impression of the Second Death Star. That is where she must go then, if she is to find any evidence of what might have happened to Kylo Ren. Without him, these peace talks will collapse anyway, and a part of her believe she can still talk him into pursuing those. Another, tinier part of her is genuinely worried about Ben Solo’s fate; all this time, he has been manipulated through the Dark Side by someone posing as Anakin Skywalker. Whoever could that be? Rey is not sure she wants to know…
For Finn, Rey’s decision to depart for Endor poses a dilemma. He desperately wants to help his friend uncover this mystery, but if the ceasefire between the Resistance and the First Order, he may need to stay here and keep everyone calm. As long as the First Order believes the negotiations will go on despite Hux’s coup-as per Kylo’s last order-it may take them a while to notice their Supreme Leader is missing. However, Lando is kind enough to take this problem out of Finn’s hands. He will stay here and produce some great distractions for the diplomatic, while the Rebel and the Jedi can go on their little trip to Endor. Just remember to say hi to the ewoks for him.
This is how Finn and Rey find themselves travelling together once more. While Finn is busily writing and rewriting draft treaties, Rey is using the journey to read through the history books she took from Kylo’s library. They confirm his stories about the origin of the Old Republic, even the part where the Jedi ‘betrayed’ their erstwhile allies for their Dark Side tendencies. It wasn’t the wrong move if you know how the Order of the Sith generally operated, but Rey can see how this narrative might be twisted into something less righteous. In any case, this action is incomparable with Palpatine’s Jedi purge, an account of which she also possesses. The history of these orders is not exactly symmetrical, even if the Jedi have made plenty of mistakes themselves. These are all things she needs to learn from, and she is glad to have these sources close to hand now. Only by understanding the past can she hope to transcend its frightening cyclicality.
As Rey is studying the ancient star wars, Finn has entered a holo-conference with Rose and Poe, who are still on their way to Alderaan with their respective delegations. The main topic of discussion is their radically divergent attitude towards the possibility of peace: Poe means to accept it for the sake of Ryloth and many other independent worlds, whereas Rose is sure that no true peace could be forthcoming as long as the First Order survives in any capacity. The trouble is that Finn can see both sides of it, clamoring for a chance at peace while understanding its current limitations. As the three of them argue so fervently, it is clear that their dynamic reflects a deeper, more personal source of discontent. Both Rose and Poe are trying their hardest to get Finn on their side, as if his approval would reflect a stronger bond between them. This is a struggle Finn cannot bear for too long, and he eventually shuts down the holoprojectors out of frustration. He loves these two proud fighters more than he’s ever loved anyone: why do they intend to make him choose?
Their arrival on Endor is relatively peaceful. To the dismay of the native Ewoks, a community of salvagers still thrives near the crashed ruins of the Second Death Star. Walking among the market stalls and workshops, Rey is reminded of her former home on Jakku. That life seems like an eternity ago, certainly much more than five years. While she is caught in this momentary reverie, Finn makes sure to get a good deal on one of the less leakier barges being sold at the settlement’s docks. It’s just a one-person vehicle though; Finn can’t navigate these old Imperial megastructures the way Rey does so intuitively. He’ll stay behind and watch the ship, using its scanners to make sure they aren’t being followed. And so Rey heads out alone, crossing a windswept sea towards the looming shadow of a derelict superweapon. While death defines the entire thing, she is headed for its darkest center, where a lone Jedi like her once defined the greatest evil in the galaxy. She hopes she can live up to that legacy.
Once she arrives at the cold and vacant ruins, she cross-references old Imperial blueprints of the Second Death Star with local scrapper maps, carefully weaving her way through great halls and half-collapsed tunnels towards the spire of the Emperor. Then the Force interrupts her. She is not alone here. She pulls out her lightsaber and prepares for the worst, though she has no idea what that might be. A voice calls out to her, echoing through dark chasms as it assures her no harm is intended. Rey turns around and is approached by an aged Togruta who claims to be a innocent scrapper, same as her. But Rey calls bullshit: nobody would think of her ignited lightsaber as a mere salvage tool, and two similar hilts adorn the stranger’s own belt. Thus, she demands to know who she’s dealing with.
The stranger is amused, and gives up her grandmotherly guise to reveal a strong and clever demeanor. Her name is Ahsoka Tano, formerly a Jedi, now just a protector. She lives here to keep the looters from the more insidious parts of these ruins, a humble but worthwhile endeavor for a Force user of her age and experience. She had sensed that this girl before her was intentionally heading for those dangerous parts, and Ahsoka became curious as to why. The blue blade of her lightsaber is a pretty significant clue, but please, tell this old woman more before you recklessly head out into the heart of darkness.
Rey tries to explain her quest as well she can, sharing her hope of a more peaceful galaxy and the fear that a phantom menace may have been sabotaging that dream for a long time now. You have no idea, replies the Togruta, this evil has been plaguing the galaxy since she was young, and probably before then too. But if taking Rey to the Emperor’s grave can help reveal and defeat that evil, then she will gladly assist her. And so the two women continue their way through the Second Death Star, one crumbled cruelty among many in this downtrodden galaxy. They exchange stories of friends and foes, past and present, many of which seem quaint before the final confrontation they both know is drawing near.
In the meantime, Finn has been manning the consoles of the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit. The absence of any obvious threat (like a swarm of TIE fighters or whatever) has him a little bored, but he passes the time by staring out at the busy throng of scrappers and marketgoers below. Then he notices a menacing figure amid the crowd, strange armor and a vibrating axe at their side. He’s heard enough stories from Rey and other rebels to know that this is a Knight of Ren, and where there’s one of them, there’s bound to be many. If they’ve been tracking the Falcon, there’s little point in pretending he hasn’t seen them, especially if they’re able to figure out where Rey went. But him against a small army of Dark Side disciples? Those are some interesting odds.
Back in the ruins, Rey and Ahsoka have reached the throne room of the dreaded Emperor Palpatine, or at the empty elevator shaft that’s supposed to lead up to it. Here the two brave women must part ways, for the dark power that awaits Rey is nigh unlimited in its might; even a learned Force user like Ahsoka won’t be able to protect from it. The only advice she can give to Rey is to stay true to who she is, to wield off any attacks on her person and trust in the Force. After saying her solemn goodbyes, Rey begins her ascent with the dutiful resolve of a True Jedi.
Two scrappers are hard at work, tearing apart the once sacred quarters of their dead ruler. At the behest of a cloaked stranger with few words and many credits, they are scouring this place for a small red amulet. Neither the Emperor’s private rooms nor his guards’ quarters turned up this trinket, so now they’re taking a vibrosaw to the inviolable throne. Numerous personal effects spill out of the armrests, including that precious amulet. Elated by the desired outcome, they merrily cross the room to a jury-rigged elevator. They are about to leave when the female scrapper calls out for a third figure, who’d been quietly entertaining herself in a lightless corner of the Emperor’s tower. The 4-year-old girl hurries towards the closing elevator doors as her mother scolds her for her tardiness. If little Rey doesn’t keep up with her parents, they will not be held responsible for whatever happens to her.
This is the memory which floods Rey’s mind as soon as she steps into the throne room. Her childhood was so dominated by her abandonment on Jakku-something she wasn’t willing to acknowledge as such for the longest time-that she rarely cared to remember what had happened before then. Now she realized that part of that memory had been excised deliberately, probably by the same dark force which has now allowed her to remember it. But there is still more for her to see here, for a great cataclysm appears to be unfolding outside the grand window facing her. As she comes up to it, standing next to the throne which once contained a great evil, she sees the great battle which lies in her future. A massive fleet of blood-red star destroyers is facing off against the colorful scraps of the Resistance Navy, hundreds of peoples joined together in what appears to be a hopeless struggle.
Then an old and raspy voice speaks up besides her, commenting with some humor on the futility of this engagement. Of course, it remarks, even this technological triumph is insignificant compared to the power of the Dark Side. Rey turns to the empty throne, only to find it suddenly occupied by the Emperor Palpatine, alive and well. To him belongs the amulet. To him belongs the hidden fleet. And Rey, the little girl who once wandered these halls, she is his most of all. Why does she think a pitiful scrapper could possess the power of a Jedi? He gave her a residual portion of his own Force power, so that she could carry out his bidding when the time was necessary. And she did well, delivering the last Skywalker unto him when the whispers of Snoke threatened to throw his own plans into disorder. But now her powers will flow back to him, and she along with them. As with Kylo in the chamber of holocrons, it is now Rey’s turn to vanish. And so she does.
Back at the scrapper’s camp, Finn is desperately outnumbered by the Knights of Ren, and has had to abandon the Falcon to keep himself from being trapped. But just as he is about to be cornered by a pair of dark disciples, a flurry of white blades slices cleanly through his opponents. Seemingly unbothered by her advanced years, Ahsoka is ready to defend the rebels of this galaxy once again. She does bear some bad news though; as far as she is aware, Rey has been taken far from this place in a rush of Dark Side energy. The good news is that she put a tracker on the young Jedi the moment she met her, and its current signal points to an uncharted region of the Deep Core. Finn suspects that a great challenge will be meeting them there, and that he’ll need more than himself and a tough Togruta to make it through.
But as Finn heads to the Falcon to put out a call for collective action, he finds two Resistance shuttles parked right next to it. At the ramp to his own ship stand Rose and Poe, both of whom had gladly rerouted their diplomatic missions for the sake of a greater struggle. What good are diplomatic negotiations anyway, when a new and mysterious enemy threatens to stab you in the back? Of course, what really motivated them was their love for Finn, that much is obvious. The latter is grateful to have them here, as well as their collection of Resistance allies. Still, they are going to need a lot more people and ships to overcome that which lurks in the Deep Core. And so he sends out a speech.
An ostentatious throne awaits Rey upon awakening. This one seems more empty than the last, though a weak and throaty breath still emanates from its direction. The stone platform she stands on stretches out into the distance, open to the frigid air of a cloudy atmosphere. Only one other figure appears to share this expanse with her: it’s Kylo. Somehow, he looks even worse than the last time he must have felt this lost; it’s as if even the suggestion of power has been drained from him. Speaking of powerlessness, she herself feels inhibited, as if the Force sensitivity she had grown so accustomed too has now vanished entirely. Both of these facts are soon related to the shadowy presence which looms over it all, the restless spirit who once dominated the galaxy for decades. What to make of his return?
In truth, my child, I was never gone. Of course he can read her mind, and he speaks in it too. Now she knows how Kylo has felt for so long. If she didn’t know the man behind them, the whispers would almost be pleasant. In a cynical yet triumphant way, the make the galaxy make sense. He is in control, and you have very little to say about it. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Now comes his most favorite part, where he explains how he has already won long before you knew the game had even begun. Rey anticipates the visions, and fears she will end up as hopeless as her lone companion.
The story starts a long time ago. Even before their purge at the hands of the Jedi, the Sith had built in a cunning backup plan in their opponent’s collective consciousness: the prophecy of the Chosen One. If the Jedi could be made to believe that any particularly powerful Force user was their ultimate savior, then a sleeper agent could eventually be implanted into their ranks. As it so happened, this plan coincided quite nicely with the Force experiments of Darth Plagueis, who was able to corrupt a vergence in the Force so that the little boy who grew up under its influence would eventually turn to their side. Of course, Plagueis was long dead before he could see that scheme unfold, and it was left to his apprentice, Darth Sidious, to continue the grooming of the boy and the search for a power over death. By the time the former would collapse into a sudden betrayal, the latter had already been achieved, and so Darth Vader’s sacrifice came to little in the end. Palpatine lived on in the Dark Side.
Even with the pathetic ‘redemption’ of Anakin Skywalker, Palpatine’s interest in his lineage had not ceased. While Luke and Leia were both too vigilant to consider turning, the child Ben Solo could prove a lot more viable, and the hidden gift of a Sith amulet proved a potent amplifier of his influence. So far so good for the Dark Lords of the Sith; but then this dreadful Snoke figure had to come creeping in from the Unknown Regions, capturing the boy in his own orbit before Sheev was ready himself. Even the First Order was supposed to await his command, not run off with the first Dark Side user who captured its attention. He is still planning to punish them for that, once he has his way with the rest of the rebel scum. His only fortune was that Snoke proved resoundingly incompetent, a credit to his forgotten kind. Yes, the man had once been one of the ancient Force Lords, defeated and exiled a millennium ago, just before the founding of the Republic. It doesn’t matter much now.
In any case, the boy Skywalker is now fully in his grasp, beaten down by the magnificence of his schemes. He has possessed his lineage from the very beginning; he might try to resist, but his descendants will surely be back here in a generation or so. With Sidious having become one with the Dark Side of the Force, the destiny of this pitiful galaxy can now be fulfilled: total submission for most, unlimited power for him. How elegant. Ah, but has he not forgotten about the power of the Last Jedi? If Luke could catch him off guard, then so might she! What a silly suggestion that is. Again, it was he who granted her power to begin with. This is a matter of giving and taking, and now she is the same weak specimen she has secretly been all her life. She can try to resist, but why bother?
Oh look, there comes the ragtag fleet that is supposed to resist him militarily. Sure, he was surprised to see a few First Order vessels among them, but that only reassured him of their previous betrayals. His army of vat-grown Sith Troopers would make short work of them. Really, he only tolerated Rey’s presence because her distress amused him. Beyond that, she had outlived her usefulness. Maybe Kylo could prove his might against her, just to make sure he hadn’t put his bet on the wrong lineage. Yes, a final battle would be most appropriate. So let it begin.
Many rally to the banner of the Resistance, and to Finn’s speech in particular. All can sense the finality in these events, as if the defeat of this spiritual evil could resolve the material struggle of galactic war as well. It is just an impression though, an excuse for momentary unity between the worst of enemies. The fight against the First Order will not cease with this battle, this much Finn knows, but maybe their insidious heart can be cut out.
As their hastily assembled fleet fights its way through the onslaught of destroyers, it is clear to all tacticians that they can not win the day against these overwhelming numbers. Yet those who are open to the Force know that they merely have to barrel through this barrage towards its commander: every centrally organized power cultivates a supreme weakness at its center. To keep this summary short, I will refrain from most of the thrills and tragedies which pervade this operation, of which I am sure there are many. Instead, let us turn to that pivotal clash between the senseless Jedi and the hopeless Sith, and how their balance is shifted and restored.
The simple truth is that no two people can decide the fate of a galaxy, no matter how important they would like to consider themselves. For how can they exist without friends, foes, the simple network of sociality which pervades it all? This is what Rey is reminded of by the timely intervention of her allies on the plains of the Deep Core. Simple blasters may not stop Kylo Ren, but the heroes of the Resistance point them at him nonetheless, standing by their Jedi friend to their inglorious end. Then are ignited many lightsabers, some ancient and faded, some cobbled together from scraps. These Force users might hold their own against the fallen Skywalker, yet would still be vanquished by a hint of Palpatine’s power. In short, this battle is one of many against two, and the latter party is sure to win.
But maybe these numbers can be turned ever so slightly. Rey decides to plead with Ben one more time. Some of his desire for peace has to be genuine, or Palpatine would never have exploited it this easily. The path he is on now is no good, as it has never been. Instead of her joining him, is it not time for him to consider the opposite? The words reach his ears, but Ben can’t hear them. The whispers are too loud. Then a hand touches his right shoulder ever so slightly. He turns around, and sees the face of his mother. Another touches his left shoulder. It’s his father. For a moment, he fears this is just another trick, Palpatine’s latest illusions in his tradition of deceit. But for all his power, the Sith Lord has never once been able to conjure up love, and he feels it now. Still, what are they telling him to do? He cannot make up for what he has done, not even with this. The Force will be with you, they say. They’re louder than the whispers.
And with that, Ben Solo turns against his erstwhile master. Once again, Palpatine is most disappointed, if not entirely surprised. Better to throw out the bloodline and start over. He will have plenty of time for that. That’s when he notices many other apparitions standing among his feeble opponents. The Elder Luke walks up to his last apprentice, and speaks to her without the urgency their doomed fate would imply. He asks Rey to breathe, just breathe, and reach out with the Force. It was taken from me, she says, I don’t think it was ever mind. Luke can’t help but chuckle at that. Who told you the Force can be taken away? He points to the throne. That guy? If he was powerful as he claims, we wouldn’t all be here right now. Now, reach out and tell me what you sense in us. Him too.
Rey does as Luke asks. While she is still feeling weak, her master’s words are encouraging, and the senselessness resolves into a mild numbness. As she reaches out to her friends in peace, she knows them almost as she knows herself. And just as with her, the Force dwells in them, manifesting in slightly less dramatic ways, but equally valuable. She sees Finn, the stormtrooper who followed his heart to the light. She sees Poe, the daredevil pilot who was always just a little too lucky and now treads in Leia’s footsteps. She sees Rose, perhaps the bravest of them all, who faithfully continues a legacy of sacrifice. And finally, she sees Ben, who is taking his first steps on a hopeful path. They are one with the Force, and the Force is with them. As it seems to be with everyone.
Except for Palpatine. Here the Force gets confused, and so does she. It’s as if he has severed himself from the rest of them, entrenched in the wound that remains. Is this the Dark Side? It seems more like an absence, a vacuity which consumes and extends, but never produces. By contrast, she can feel the life around her shifting and renewing endlessly, minuscule moments of wonder in between. It’s when he tries to grasp at her, take another piece away from her, that she is able to stare back into him.
When she sees Palpatine’s mind, his lies come apart fast. Yes, Anakin’s creation was corrupted, but there was a vergence there to begin with; life did not spring from the Dark Side. Death eventually came for all who were ‘preserved’ by Plagueis, himself included, and immortality ultimately proved a fluke. When Sidious was overcome by Vader, he did not keep himself from dying. Instead, he had so intimately tied himself to the Dark Side that the latter would not allow him to pass on, even if he had wanted to. As long as the cruelty of Empire dwelled in the galaxy, as it still did in many places during the time of the New Republic, the spirit of Sidious would be there. It was a lonely agony, only alleviated when an erratic cultist placed one of his conduits near a receptive young boy. Before that, there was no plan, just suffering. It persists even know, a hungry ghost who will never know contentment. For all his claims to unlimited power, Palpatine has become his own limitation: his very will to power is what ultimately binds him to this unending existence. He will never know another.
Unless she shows him. She now reaches out to all before her, a universal connection which is easily reciprocated. The true power of the Force is endless, and so it can reach everywhere without force. Only those who would claim it for themselves beget suffering, one which often multiplies into tyranny, but which can be dissolved by anyone and everyone. It is the open secret of this galaxy, the deep connection between the spiritual and the political. The Emperor lived because his Empire did; but only an Emperor could trick himself into thinking it was the other way around. As the Force collects itself from the bottom up, it swears to itself the promise of peace, and so opens the way for Palpatine. Death embraces him, and as the Sith-shaped emptiness finally looks beyond himself, it seems to leave this world with a smile.
With the departure of Palpatine, the war is not yet won. While the challenge of the Sith fleet has significantly diminished in the absence of its leader, there is still a larger conflict to consider. With Ben Solo committing himself to the light side, his Supreme Leadership over the First Order is just about the last thing on his mind. While in subsequent months he will try to sabotage their command structure from the inside, the peace negotiations are now doomed. What’s more, the eventual escape of General Hux and the resurgence of his faction is sure to keep some measure of galactic conflict going in the foreseeable future.
However, at their initial celebrations at the Resistance Base on Lothal, Finn is already planning ahead. Taking Poe and Rose apart, the three of them earnestly discuss the possibility of peace. Poe is the first to apologize, realizing that recent events have compromised any possibility of peace talks, and that these were probably a bad choice from the beginning. Rose is also feeling sorry though, knowing that their ongoing war is a costly necessity, and she would gladly be doing anything else if she could. Ultimately though, it is Finn who resolves their paradox: they can have peace without ending their struggle. After all, peace is not just the absence of war, it is the absence of conflict, of suffering. A peace which would preserve empire and slavery is no ‘peace’ worth having. Their chance at peace, then, is twofold: they will fight the First Order or its splinters wherever they advance, while still striving to build a better society on the liberated worlds. If anything, the greatest mistake the Rebellion ever made was thinking the war could be ended with a treaty, or with the declaration of a New Republic. Instead, they will build and fight simultaneously, establishing something wonderful in the process.
Speaking of wonderful things, Finn also makes use of this opportunity to break the topic of their personal dispute. Clearly there is something more going on between them than a mere difference in strategy, and he would like to have it resolved right now as well. Between a few awkward declarations of affection and many surprise reactions, it turns out the three of them have a most mutual interest in one another. It seems there was no conflict after all. And so, with the immediate matters of love and war resolved, they are able to join the festivities in earnest.
Meanwhile, on the planet where it all begun, Rey and Ben are figuring out some things of their own. Redemption is not a word to use lightly, and the last Skywalker know it. His aim will be to wonder, to discover a self he had lost to the darkness. If he can make a path for himself without fear, without hatred, without power, then perhaps he is ready for what Rey would teach him next. Until then, Rey will have many other Force wielders to teach and learn from, and she is eager to see what comes out of that. They hug and part ways, Rey staring from the hills as the Millennium Falcon heads for the stars once more.
The Force will be with them. Always.