The following article contains numerous spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker serves as the culmination of a 42 year cinematic saga and, as a result, director JJ Abrams approaches the film as something of a victory lap.
He brings in elements of all of the previous movies in order to create a movie that, despite its decidedly mixed critical reaction, is a treasure trove of references and nods to the past of one of cinema’s most iconic franchises.
Some of the nods are obvious, from the return of Emperor Palpatine after his apparent death in Return of the Jedi through to the presence of Carrie Fisher’s General Leia thanks to unused footage filmed for The Force Awakens prior to her passing. Billy Dee Williams has also been widely publicised as returning to the role of Lando Calrissian. However, those were things everyone knew about prior to the film’s release.
So let’s take a look at some of the more surprising Easter eggs and cameos littered throughout The Rise of Skywalker...
In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren revealed to Rey that her parents were “filthy junk traders” and that she came from “nothing”. That gets a retcon in The Rise of Skywalker, which reveals that Rey is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine and, as such, is effectively the de facto heir to the Sith throne.
Flashbacks show that Palpatine sent assassins to get to Rey when she was a child and they killed her parents. Those parents are played by Billy Howle — most famous for On Chesil Beach and Outlaw King — and none other than Jodie Comer, aka Killing Eve’s deadly Villanelle.
When, where and how Palpatine found time to father a child, is something we’d rather not contemplate right now.
Mark Hamill had been announced as a part of the movie prior to its release, so his scene as a “force ghost” appearing to Rey on Ahch-To — complete with Porg cameo — wasn’t a massive surprise.
However, it was something of a shock to see Harrison Ford reprise the role of Han Solo — albeit as some sort of vision, rather than a revival from the dead — in order to convince his wayward son to embrace the Ben Solo moniker and say goodbye to Kylo Ren.
A small but significant final appearance for one of the most memorable characters in movie history, that had echoes with the Chris Terrio-scripted Batman v Superman moment which saw Clark Kent’s dad return from the grave to offer words of encouragement to his son.
All of the Jedi
One of the key driving forces of the third act of The Rise of Skywalker sees Rey at her lowest ebb, weakened as Palpatine uses his force lightning to attack the Resistance fleet. She hears the voices of more than half a dozen Jedi from the history of the franchise, giving her the strength to fight back against the Emperor. These include Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness — through archive sound — as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu, Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn and Frank Oz as Yoda.
Read more: Possible plots for the Disney+ Kenobi series
Less obviously, the montage of sound also includes some voices from the Star Wars animated shows. Eagle-eared fans will enjoy Freddie Prinze Jr. as Kannan Jarus, Jennifer Hale as Aayla Secura, Olivia D’Abo as Luminara Unduli and Angelique Perrin as Adi Gallia.
Wedge Antilles and Nien Nunb
Wedge was one of the best X-wing pilots in the Rebel Alliance, surviving the attack runs on both Death Stars during the original Star Wars trilogy. He has become one of the favourite supporting characters of Star Wars fans over the last few decades and would’ve been in The Force Awakens, were it not for a scheduling conflict. Actor Denis Lawson (Ewan McGregor’s uncle dontcha know?) makes a brief appearance in The Rise of Skywalker as one of the pilots taking on Palpatine’s fleet in the skies above the planet Exogel, stating that he’s happy to be fighting alongside Lando once again.
There’s also a brief appearance for Nien Nunb, who notably served as Lando’s co-pilot on the Millennium Falcon during the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi. After popping up in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi — original voice actor Kipsang Rotich was tracked down in his native Kenya to reprise the role — he is again part of the clash with the First Order in the final scenes of The Rise of Skywalker. It’s not clear whether he survived the Battle of Exogel though.
The Holdo Manoeuvre
One of the most divisive moments of The Last Jedi was the scene in which Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo sacrifices herself by flying at lightspeed directly through Supreme Leader Snoke’s ship, striking a significant blow for the Resistance against the First Order. Fans nitpicked that such a move had never been done before — and the actor behind Admiral Ackbar wasn’t sold on Holdo either — but The Rise of Skywalker does provide something of a reason for that.
During a discussion about potential tactics to take on the First Order, one Resistance fighter suggests trying out some “Holdo Manoeuvres” to cripple the opposing fleet. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, however, states that the move is “one in a million”, suggesting that Holdo was rolling the dice and that it could easily have completely failed.
If there’s a man behind the scenes as important to the enduring power of Star Wars as George Lucas, then it’s legendary composer John Williams. He has scored all of the movies in the main saga and his work on the franchise stands out as among the most memorable in even his enviable back catalogue.
The 87-year-old legend of cinema gets to appear on screen in The Rise of Skywalker, popping up on the planet Kijimi as the heroes search for droid tinker Babu Frik. He can be seen shaking his head disapprovingly. Even better, his character’s name is Oma Tres — an anagram of “maestro”.
Snoke and Vader
Fans were rather upset by the unceremonious demise of Supreme Leader Snoke in The Last Jedi and were very keen to know where the First Order bad guy came from. Abrams answered those questions in The Rise of Skywalker, revealing that Snoke was one of a number of clones created by Palpatine on Exogel. Several Snoke-like figures can be seen in Palpatine’s lair inside some sort of machine.
Andy Serkis reprises his role as Snoke for a vocal cameo and there’s also a brief appearance from the iconic voice of James Earl Jones as Darth Vader — cinema’s ultimate Big Bad.
The creator of Hamilton recently revealed on Twitter that he helped to write some of the music for The Rise of Skywalker, but he also appears in a brief cameo as a Resistance fighter during the final scenes of celebration.
Fairly early on in The Rise of Skywalker, there’s a reference to a location in “the Endor system”, which seems almost certain to see the action return to the forest moon which provided one of the climactic locations for Return of the Jedi. This doesn’t happen, but the film does make it to Endor during the final celebration sequence.
There, we see a pair of Ewoks, including leader Wicket, with Brit star Warwick Davis reprising his Jedi role. Given Davis’ teenage son, Harrison, is listed in the credits as a character called “Pommet Warwick”, it seems like a safe bet that he’s the other Ewok in the scene, making it a lovely family moment.
As if he didn’t have enough to do as co-writer and director, Abrams also appears in the movie as the voice of the new, cone-headed droid D-O. He’s a rare example of a droid who speaks with English words, more like C-3PO than BB-8 and R2-D2, despite his size and non-humanoid appearance.
Co-writer Chris Terrio confirmed the cameo to Vanity Fair and said that Abrams’ voice was initially installed temporarily, before they fell in love with it in the edit.
We know he’s in there somewhere as a Stormtrooper. Much like on the radio, Sheeran could show up at any time. In many ways, he’s everywhere.