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Questions Star Wars Episode IX needs to answer

2019 is a huge year for pop culture, giving excited audiences big finales to beloved franchises with installments like Avengers: Endgame, the final season of Game of Thrones, and of course Star Wars: Episode IX, the long-awaited conclusion to the Star Wars trilogy that launched in 2015 with The Force Awakens and continued in 2017 with The Last Jedi. Titled The Rise of Skywalker, this Star Wars chapter sees Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams back in the director's chair, and will likely continue the tracks laid in that installment — which may be difficult, as the Rian Johnson-directed Last Jedi seemed to dismantle many of Abrams' plans.

With plenty of mysterious threads throughout this trilogy, there are still plenty of questions left to be answered in Episode IX, and fans can only hold out hope that it will deliver. From Rey's true heritage to Kylo Ren's mysterious knights and Lando Calrissian's return, here are the biggest questions Star Wars fans have going into The Rise of Skywalker.

Was Kylo Ren lying about Rey's parents?

One of the biggest mysteries within this new trilogy has centered on Rey (Daisy Ridley), an extremely talented Jedi in training who, one might assume, comes from talented stock. Much like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who ended up serving as her mentor in The Last Jedi, Rey clearly comes from a storied family, and in The Force Awakens, it seemed like the next one or two installments might clear up who her parents truly were — and whether or not she was a Skywalker, a Solo, or a member of another powerful legacy clan.

In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren broke the news to Rey that she was nothing but the child of "junk traders" and that her parents were "nobody," but naturally, most fans don't believe that a Jedi with such natural talent who seems poised to take up the lightsaber of someone like Luke Skywalker came from "nobody." Will The Rise of Skywalker reveal that she's actually a Skywalker, or will she still be a "nobody" who rises to defeat the First Order?

How did Maz Kanata get Luke's lightsaber?

Introduced in The Force Awakens, Maz Kanata, a motion-capture character played by Lupita Nyong'o, has left audiences curious since her first moment onscreen. A wise being who is apparently over a thousand years old, Maz is as inscrutable as she is sarcastic creature — when we meet her, she's managing a bar on the planet of Takodana where she seems to know every person and everything about them, and has an incredibly important possession: Luke Skywalker's lightsaber, which she says "calls to" Rey, just before she tells Rey that someone or something is still coming for her.

Maz Kanata is capable of using the Force, so there are plenty of reasons why she might have Luke's lightsaber — one of the most important items in the entire Star Wars saga — but it's still unexplained when, if, or how exactly Maz met Luke, let alone got close enough with him that he bequeathed his lightsaber to her. Who is Maz, and where did she come from? How did she know Luke? How did she get his lightsaber, and how did she use the Force to ascertain that it should go to Rey?

Will the Knights of Ren return?

The First Order might be the main evil organization within the Star Wars sequel trilogy, but don't overlook the Knights of Ren, of whom Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the series' central villain, is a member. This secretive organization is technically a part of the First Order, even though they seem to also be under Snoke's control (and are led by Ren himself), and their previous goal was to find and kill Luke Skywalker, since Snoke knew that as long as Luke lived, a new generation of Jedis that could destroy their plans was always a possibility.

During The Force Awakens, the Knights of Ren are briefly seen in one of Rey's visions when she's in Maz Kanata's chambers, but since the first film, they've only been referenced, and haven't appeared since their brief sighting in the first film of the trilogy. Without Snoke, will this group rise along with Kylo Ren, or will they fade into the background?

Is the Emperor alive?

In an Episode IX teaser released in April of 2019, audiences clearly heard the distinctive chuckle of Emperor Palpatine, one of the signature villains of the original trilogy and the prequels, and were left wondering how he could possibly factor into the sequels. As the Sith master of the infamous Darth Vader, The Emperor strikes an imposing figure throughout the series, bringing the Sith back from the brink of extinction while serving as the Emperor of the entire Galactic Empire, a dictatorship intent on ruling the entire universe. The Emperor is also known for exterminating various Jedi that he sees as potential threats.

Even though Darth Vader ultimately redeems himself (and saves his son Luke) by killing the Emperor in The Return of the Jedi, Palpatine's evil laugh is clearly featured at the end of the first Rise of Skywalker teaser. Surprisingly, director J.J. Abrams has already confirmed that the Emperor will appear in the film — still played by Ian McDiarmid, reprising his role from Return of the Jedi and the prequels. Considering that he died in the original trilogy, is it possible that the Emperor is still alive? McDiarmid has said the character is definitely dead heading into The Rise of Skywalker, but what role will he play in the final installment of the series?

Is Kylo Ren really lost to the Dark Side?

When Kylo Ren, the child of Han and Leia (Carrie Fisher), was introduced as the villain in The Force Awakens, he seemed fully committed to the Dark Side. He idolized his grandfather Darth Vader and wanted to lead the First Order and the Knights of Ren to victory, he vehemently opposed heroes like Rey and Finn (John Boyega) — he even killed his own father, Han Solo, eventually fighting both Rey and Finn until Rey finally subdued him and injured him with Luke Skywalker's lightsaber. That defeat carried an extra emotional sting: After training as a Jedi under his uncle Luke, he turned on Luke when he believed his uncle would actually kill him, destroying the entire Jedi Temple and solidifying his path.

However, in The Last Jedi, audiences saw a different side of Kylo Ren — not only did he use the Force to telepathically bond with Rey, he even used her as a distraction to defeat Snoke. But with Snoke out of the way, he showed his true colors, asking Rey to join him and create an entirely new order in the galaxy. Rey refused, but the two clearly share a bond. The question remains: is the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa truly lost to the Dark Side, or can he be saved?

Will the films ever explain anything about Snoke?

Every epic trilogy needs a Big Bad, and Star Wars is no exception. The Force Awakens introduced Supreme Leader Snoke (a computer-generated character voiced and portrayed by motion-capture legend Andy Serkis), who leads the evil First Order. Audiences first meet Snoke as a strange, inhuman creature who is almost ghostly in his appearance, with a mangled, scarred face and a larger than life presence, who has drawn Kylo Ren to join him on the Dark Side. He's dismissive of Kylo, repeatedly insulting his young disciple, which likely helps gives inform Kylo's decision to kill his master and pin Snoke's death on Rey before he takes control of the entire First Order.

Fans have been frustrated over the lack of concrete information provided about Snoke; hopefully, with J.J. Abrams back at the helm, The Rise of Skywalker will answer some questions about who he was, where he came from, and what real purpose he served in the larger saga (if any).

Who will Keri Russell play?

Star Wars casting news is always shrouded in mystery, and The Rise of Skywalker is no exception. Matt Smith (Doctor Who's eleventh doctor) was rumored to be in the film but denied his involvement — if he is in the movie, he'll join Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and Dominic Monaghan (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Lost) in undisclosed and highly anticipated roles. Then there's Keri Russell, the acclaimed star of The Americans who is reuniting with J.J. Abrams after their time on the Abrams-created, Russell-led Felicity.

This saga has been home to plenty of accomplished actors — Alec Guinness, who played Obi-Wan in the original trilogy, was an Oscar winner before ever setting foot on a Star Wars set, and the sequels feature lauded performers from Laura Dern to Oscar Isaac to Lupita Nyong'o. Russell's role is especially mysterious considering that most audience members are anxious to learn about Rey's heritage, and the resemblance between Russell and star Daisy Ridley is undeniable. Will she turn out to be Rey's mother (or even a missing Skywalker)? Or is this all a big tease?

Why is Lando back?

Fans of the original trilogy fell in love with Billy Dee Williams' portrayal of Lando Calrissian, even though this playboy con artist wasn't above turning on friends like Han Solo for his own gain, even betraying Han to Darth Vader before coming back to join the Rebel Alliance and fighting to take down the Death Star. Audiences last got to see Lando as a young man (played by Donald Glover) in Solo: A Star Wars Story, which told the origin story of his relationship with Han, but in The Rise of Skywalker, the original Lando will return — Williams is reprising his role in Episode IX, closing one of the longest gaps between portrayals of the same character in cinematic history.

Even though it's exciting to hear that one of the original trilogy's most popular and beloved characters will finally return, it also remains a mystery exactly why Lando is back, especially considering that he was conspicuously absent from this trilogy's first two films. What role will he play in the story? How will he react to the news that his friend Han died at the hands of his own son? Finally, will he side with the Resistance, or turn sides when it becomes convenient for him?

Will Leia die in Episode IX?

The sudden death of Carrie Fisher in 2016 was incredibly devastating to Star Wars fans, who loved her portrayal of an older Leia Organa who'd become a Resistance general without losing any of her grit. Fisher, a veteran screen presence who was also a bestselling author and prolific script doctor, suffered cardiac arrest during a flight from London to Los Angeles, passing away in an intensive care unit several later at the age of 60. (Even more tragically, Fisher's mother, screen legend Debbie Reynolds, also died shortly after her Fisher's death.) Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd, is a cast member of the Star Wars sequels.

Considering that many believed Episode IX would feature Leia in an even bigger role, it remains to be seen how she will appear, though J.J. Abrams and others have revealed that thanks to unused footage from the first two films, it's possible for Fisher to posthumously appear in The Rise of Skywalker without resorting to a CGI version of her character. Fans might prefer that her last appearance ends on an ambiguous note, but considering that Han died in The Force Awakens and Luke died in The Last Jedi, will this final film in the trilogy kill Leia?

How will Luke appear in Episode IX?

We saw Luke seemingly sacrifice his life to save Rey and the Resistance at the end of The Last Jedi, but it seems as if audiences haven't seen the last of Luke Skywalker — Hamill has revealed that he will return for one more go-around in The Rise of Skywalker.

Luke played an enormous role in The Last Jedi as a toughened, bitter version of the wide-eyed Jedi audiences once knew, haunted by his failures regarding Kylo Ren and initially unwilling to mentor Rey, no matter how much she begs for his help. He eventually teaches Rey the ways of the Force, even though he's frightened of how powerful she is. Ultimately, he uses the Force to send a projection of himself to the battlefield on Crait, tricking Kylo Ren and the First Order and giving the Resistance a chance to escape — then, expended, he embraces death and his body vanishes, leaving a lot of questions as to how Luke will appear in the trilogy's final film. Did Luke really die? Will he return as a Force ghost to help Rey one more time? Or does J.J. Abrams have a surprise in store?

How will the Resistance rebound?

The Resistance is the scrappy band of good guys in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, led by Rebel Alliance veteran Leia Organa. The group is home to anyone who wants to fight against the First Order; some, like Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), have a family connection to the Rebel Alliance, in that their parents served in the Resistance's precursor. Even though they destroy the Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens, by the time audiences see the Resistance in The Last Jedi, they're being doggedly pursued by the First Order, losing members to battles and attacks along the way. During the film's climax, Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) helps evacuate Resistance fighters and sacrifices herself by destroying their empty flagship in a kamikaze run. It's clear that the group has taken some huge hits since the events of The Force Awakens.

With so few members left to fight alongside Rey, Finn, and Poe, one of the central questions in Episode IX centers around how this group rebounds in its fight against the powerful First Order — as it stands now, it would take a small miracle for the Resistance to claim victory.

Who is the Skywalker rising?

It's clear that the storied Skywalker name is still of the utmost importance in the sequel trilogy — reinforced by the news that Episode IX's official title is The Rise of Skywalker, leading to plenty of questions about what that means and how it reflects on the plot of this final installment.

Kylo Ren may have told Rey that she came from "nobody," but director J.J. Abrams seems determined to return to the mystery he set up in The Force Awakens, telling fans that the identity of Rey's parents will still prove important in Episode IX. It's possible that Rey, who possesses a stunning amount of power for such a young Jedi, could still be the titular Skywalker. Aside from her, Kylo Ren is technically half Skywalker on his mother's side, and could turn back to the light and reclaim his heritage. It's even possible that a new character could take up the Skywalker mantle and rise to fight alongside our heroes. With all that said, the biggest question still stands – who is the Skywalker in the title, and what purpose will they serve in Episode IX?