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The Most Surprising Cameos In The Rise Of Skywalker

The Rise of Skywalker is nothing if not a curtain call for the Star Wars universe. It's not just an ending, it's many endings at once — the third act of the sequel trilogy that began in 2015, the culmination of the four-decade Skywalker Saga, the final flourish of John Williams' iconic space opera canon. It's understandable, then, that the movie spends plenty of time giving fans one last nostalgic look at favorite characters, places, plot points, and themes before Star Wars leaves the big screen (for a while).

Of course, there's a lot (and we mean a lot) going on in Episode IX as it sets out to tie a big galactic bow on the original, prequel, and sequel trilogies. There's not much time to spend with each individual side character when you're racing from planet to planet in search of a knife that will lead you to a box that will lead you to a Palpatine. Some of the movie's biggest surprises happen in a lightspeed flash. That's why we're here to run down the biggest surprise cameos in The Rise of Skywalker, from original trilogy sidekicks to behind-the-camera architects. Naturally, spoilers abound.

Ghosts of Sithmas Past

"The dead speak!" proclaims The Rise of Skywalker's opening crawl, making it clear as soon as possible that things are about to get weird. And weird they do indeed get, as we find Kylo Ren arriving at the planet Exegol in response to a mysterious broadcast from the (somehow alive) Sith Lord and Emperor Sheev Palpatine.

Ren does find Palpatine, but that's no surprise — we've known since the movie's first trailer that he'd be back. More unexpected are the cameos from other past antagonists, particularly because of the unusual form they take. When Palpatine introduces himself as "every voice you've ever heard inside your head," his voice shapeshifts briefly into that of Supreme Leader Snoke, and then that of Darth Vader. Sure enough, both Andy Serkis and James Earl Jones lend their menacing pipes to the illusion. Snoke even appears a moment later in the flesh — nothing but the flesh, actually, with parts of seemingly rejected clone bodies floating in a tank like a savory Snoke stew.

Han Solo's not "as good as gone" after all

It's surprising to see Harrison Ford in Rise of Skywalker for a few reasons. Sure, there's the fact that non-Jedi have never appeared as "Force Ghosts" in the movies before (an issue the film skirts by presenting Solo as a figment of his wayward son's memory, rather than an actual factual specter). There's also Harrison Ford's infamous (and perhaps exaggerated) annoyance with the legacy of Star Wars — he unsuccessfully campaigned to get Solo killed off in Return of the Jedi and will take great pleasure in telling you he doesn't care who shot first.

It was surprising enough when it was first announced that he would star in The Force Awakens (maybe finally getting to die was what clinched the deal), and downright shocking to see him pop up again in Rise of Skywalker. But Ford seems to enjoy working with Adam Driver, and we can guess he probably liked the idea of paying tribute to Carrie Fisher. That's why it's easy to overlook what could've been eye-roll-worthy fan service and appreciate the message that even though Leia's gone, what she meant to us still lives. Having Han Solo himself deliver that message — complete with a callback to the iconic "I love you/I know" exchange — makes for the movie's most poignant moment.

Kylo Ren didn't lie about Rey's parents (from a certain point of view)

There has perhaps never been an issue more contentious in Star Wars fandom than the identity of Rey's parents (and oh boy, that is saying something). The Force Awakens set up the mystery of where this desert scavenger came from, sparking intense speculation about her lineage and which legacy characters somehow figured into her conception. Surely, she had to be related to someone we knew, because, to be fair, that's how Star Wars usually works.

Then came The Last Jedi's subversion of expectations, with Rey learning she's a "nobody" with no predetermined place in the galaxy's story. As writer/director Rian Johnson reasoned, learning that she has to decide her own destiny would be as hard for Rey to hear as the truth about Darth Vader was for Luke to hear back in the original trilogy. It followed tradition while forging a bold new direction for Star Wars storytelling, giving a new generation new lessons about heroes, legacies, and identities. Except actually, it turns out it was Palpatine.

The reappearance of Rey's parents in Rise of Skywalker's flashbacks isn't surprising, nor is it particularly significant that they're played by two up-and-coming young actors (Killing Eve's Jodie Comer and Dunkirk's Billy Howle). What is surprising is that one of them is apparently a child fathered by Palpatine at some point during the general timeframe of the original trilogy. Actually, it's not so much "surprising" as it is "confusing," given that movie makes no effort to explain this lineage whatsoever. Oh well, that's what tie-in books and Fortnite events are for, right?

A cameo straight from the Caravan of Courage

From the moment we knew that The Rise of Skywalker would revisit the Endor system, we had to wonder if we'd be seeing some Ewoks. Sadly, the wreckage of the second Death Star isn't actually on the same forest moon we visited in Return of the Jedi, but on Endor's "ocean moon," Kef Bir. The heroes' big knife chase brings them into contact with their new friend Jannah and her very good space horses, but sadly, the adventure remains devoid of murder bears. That is, at least, until the movie's grand finale.

As the Final Order fleet falls, a montage much like the one added to the "Special Edition" of Return of the Jedi brings us to a few planets to witness the galactic victory celebration. In addition to Jakku and a surprise glimpse at Cloud City, we see a family of Ewoks joyously beholding the defeat of another Empire. That's when we're reintroduced to Wicket W. Warrick, played once again by Willow himself, Star Wars mainstay Warwick Davis, who was just 11 years old the first time he got zipped up into a teddy bear costume for Episode VI. Alongside him is Pommet Warwick, played by Warwick's real-life son, Harrison Davis.

Red Two, reporting for cameo

Wedge Antilles is something of a Star Wars good luck charm. Having survived all three major battles of the original trilogy (Yavin, Hoth, and Endor), he was always there when Luke and the Rebel Alliance needed him, even if he never took up a lot of screentime. The character would go on to play a major role in plenty of Expanded Universe material, endearing him to a generation of superfans. The fact that actor Denis Lawson happens to be the uncle of Ewan McGregor only further cemented his status as a Star Wars legend.

It was surprising, then, that Wedge didn't make an appearance in The Force Awakens, which saw the returns of beloved ancillary Rebel heroes like Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb (with physical and voice actors reprising their roles, no less). At the time, Lawson was quoted as saying that he turned down an offer to appear because it would have "bored" him. The actor later backtracked these comments, claiming that he would have accepted the role if not for scheduling conflicts. Whatever the case, he's there for a brief moment in Rise of Skywalker's climactic space battle, manning a gun turret on the Millennium Falcon.

Rise of the crew of the Rise of Skywalker

It's Star Wars tradition for behind-the-scenes crewmembers to make blink-and-you'll-miss-them onscreen cameos. The prequels, for instance, had brief roles filled by George Lucas and his kids, longtime sound designer Ben Burtt, and even well-known Star Wars actors who hadn't gotten to show their faces before, like Anthony Daniels and Ahmed Best. In addition to the cameos by beloved characters, The Rise of Skywalker continues this tradition of giving incidental background roles to hardworking creative types.

Director J.J. Abrams provides the stuttering voice of skittish droid D-O, while his Episode IX co-writer Chris Terrio can be heard as Aftab Ackbar, the squidlike son of the beloved admiral who perished during the events of The Last Jedi. Most significantly, John Williams can briefly be seen as Oma Tres, the bartender of the Kijimi dive where our heroes find Babu Frik. Despite the fact that the composer has brought iconic musical life to the Star Wars saga and countless other movies beloved by generations, this marks the 87-year-old's first appearance onscreen in a feature film.

Talent among the troops

The Star Wars sequel trilogy has already cast some big names in cameos as faceless stormtroopers. Daniel Craig, Tom Hardy, and even Princes William and Harry joined the ranks of the First Order between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. The tradition continues in The Rise of Skywalker, with filmmaker J.D. Dillard and music producer Nigel Godrich donning the white armor on Kylo Ren's star destroyer alongside Dhani Harrison, son of Beatle George and a musician in his own right. Ed Sheeran was also rumored to be appearing as a stormtrooper, but it seems he may not have made the cut after all.

The First Order hasn't cornered the market on trooper cameos, though. Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda stepped into the uncredited role of a Resistance fighter, as he confirmed on Twitter via a selfie with J.J. Abrams. Miranda was heard in the Star Wars galaxy before he was seen — collaborating under the galactic musical persona Shag Kava, Miranda and Abrams recorded "Jabba Flow" for Maz Kanata's castle in The Force Awakens and "Lido Hey" for the bar on Kijimi in The Rise of Skywalker.

Return of (all) the Jedi

As The Rise of Skywalker begins, we learn that Rey has been continuing her Jedi training under Leia, focusing specifically on the effort to commune with the spirits of past Jedi. Communication through the Force has been a specialty of Leia's ever since The Empire Strikes Back, before she was even aware of her own abilities. Still, despite her training, Rey remains frustrated and unable to hear any voices... until her most desperate moment during the film's climax, as she lies nearly defeated at the feet of Palpatine. That's when generations of Jedi finally talk back, offering her encouragement and support (but not any further explanation of the movie's plot twists).

We don't see any of the spirits reaching out to Rey, but we hear them all in a burst of echoes recalling each of the three Star Wars trilogies, as well as the Clone Wars and Rebels animated series. The "Voices of Jedi Past" (as the end credits call them) naturally include Luke (Mark Hamill), Yoda (Frank Oz), and Obi-Wan Kenobi (brought to life via both archive recordings of Sir Alec Guinness and by Ewan McGregor, bookending his whispered cameo in The Force Awakens). We also hear some voices from the prequel era, namely Hayden Christensen's Anakin Skywalker, Samuel L. Jackson's Mace Windu, and Liam Neeson's Qui-Gon Jinn.

The biggest surprise, though, is that voice actors Freddie Prinze Jr., Angelique Perrin, Jennifer Hale, Olivia d'Abo, and Ashley Eckstein reprise their roles as Kannan Jarus, Adi Gallia, Aayla Secura, Luminara Unduli, and fan favorite Ahsoka Tano, respectively. This marks not just the end of Rey's journey and the Skywalker Saga as we know it, it also ignites a new age in the Star Wars mythos — one that breaks down the walls between films, television, books, video games, and breakfast cereals, making it all one big, sprawling legend with a thousand possible futures.