Twelve things we learned from The Skywalker Legacy documentary about the making of The Rise of Skywalker!

The Rise of Skywalker released early on digital home media, and with it came lots of bonus content!

Most prominently was a feature-length documentary, The Skywalker Legacy, focusing on the making of the film, with a recognition of the saga that came before it. I am utterly fascinated by the making of Star Wars films and love these documentaries (The Director and the Jedi was absolutely FANTASTIC), so I was excited to watch this.

It lived up to my expectations, and I thought The Skywalker Legacy was a really well-done exploration of the making of this film. I’ve put together twelve things that stood out to me upon watching the documentary, and offered my thoughts and interacted with them.


1. This is the first film the new generation had to carry

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Director J.J. Abrams said, “It is the first movie that ostensibly this new generation had to carry on their own.” And it’s true. That much was evident in the marketing for the movie as well, as we never saw Luke, never saw Han, and saw Leia and Lando very sparingly. The promotional thrust for the movie was about the new generation of characters, and that’s exactly what the movie wound up focusing on too. And I’m glad that Abrams and the filmmakers recognized that and allowed that to happen; I think they struck a nice balance between honoring the legacy characters and focusing on the new characters.

Of course, General Leia Organa has a pivotal role in this film, and that’s the way it was intended to be. Abrams said, “When we were doing VII she knew that that movie was very much Han’s story, and then VIII was very much Luke’s, I think she had said that IX should be Leia’s, and that’s really something that we have tried to do.” This meant that they wrote her scenes around dialogue she had already filmed for The Force Awakens, but they knew they had to include her. “We couldn’t let Leia not be in this story,” Lucasfilm President Kathy Kennedy said. “Leia is extremely important as part of the conclusion of this saga, so we had to figure that out.”

They did, and they managed to find a way to honor Leia, give her a fitting and powerful sendoff, and still focus on the new generation of characters. I think they struck that balance well.

2. Kylo’s journey is the opposite of Vader’s

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Adam Driver had something interesting to say about how Kylo Ren’s journey in the sequel trilogy is kind of the opposite of Darth Vader’s journey in the original trilogy. “At the start of the movie you find Kylo the most assured of the choices that he’s making, going deeper and deeper into the dark side,” Driver said. “The thing that J.J. said to me when we first met was that I imagine a journey of a character where it’s almost the opposite of Vader. Someone who almost starts the most vulnerable and kind of gradually becomes closer to his convictions, more assured about his choices, had metaphorically and physically killed his father.”

In other words, going back to the production of TFA, the idea for Kylo Ren was to start him off as the most vulnerable, whereas Vader started as this impenetrable darkness. It wasn’t until Vader’s reveal to Luke at the end of The Empire Strikes Back that we saw any semblance of personality to this villain, and then in Return of the Jedi we saw a Vader who was eventually drawn back to the light. But in The Force Awakens, though Kylo is already evil (the massacre on Jakku is evidence of that), you can see the cracks. But as he kills Han and the darkness leaves, he retreats further to the dark side.

In the end, though, Ben wound up following his grandfather’s path not just to the dark side, but back to the light.

3. The story of Skywalkers and Palpatines

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Regarding the return of Palpatine, co-writer Chris Terrio explained that it didn’t take long for the idea to catch on. “The idea came up of, ‘well what if Palpatine lived on in some way?’ Within about thirty seconds of discussing that idea, we just knew that it was the right idea,” Terrio said, “because we knew that this has always been a story of Skywalkers and Palpatines.”

It’s interesting that it was generally agreed upon so quickly, but more interesting is Terrio’s comment about the saga always being a story of the Skywalkers and Palpatines. And while I guess I can technically see what he means, there’s no way I’d characterize that as the theme of the saga. Firstly (and this is pretty huge), there was no Palpatines (plural) until this film. It was always just one Palpatine, Sheev, and several Skywalkers. So it’s not accurate to suggest that this has been a story of Skywalkers and Palpatines, because though there have been many Skywalkers, it wasn’t until this film that there were multiple Palpatines.

But secondly, I also don’t think this is the theme of the saga. Palpatine didn’t show up until Return of the Jedi (ok, technically there was a brief scene in Empire), and he wasn’t even referred to as “Palpatine” in the film. All we knew is that this is the ultimate big bad, Vader’s boss, the ruler of the galaxy, and a formidable foe in the Force. The prequels gave us much more characterization of Palpatine, showing him as the master manipulator who took control of the galaxy as Chancellor, all the while working secretly to bring about the downfall of the Jedi. In the prequels you could make a stronger case that this is the story of the Skywalkers and Palpatine, but when considering the whole saga (leading up to TROS), it’s not quite as strong.

And really, here’s my main point. Palpatine is the big villain of the saga, so it does make sense from that standpoint to bring him back for the conclusion. But to frame it as being a story of these two families isn’t accurate. At least not until TROS.

4. Alec Guinness’s granddaughter has a cameo

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In the documentary J.J. Abrams introduces a special person making a cameo appearance: Sally Guinness, the granddaughter of Sir Alec Guinness! She portrays a First Order officer, though she wasn’t credited. Abrams introduced her, however, and she joked about how she joined the dark side.

Sir Alec Guinness, of course, portrayed Ben Kenobi in the original trilogy, bringing to life the beloved Jedi Master who trained Luke Skywalker and helped jump-start this entire adventure over four decades ago. Alec Guinness actually was credited in this film, as he was one of the many voices speaking to Rey as the Jedi from the past give her strength to face Sidious.

5. The Force dyad

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I found it interesting hearing the people on the documentary talk about the dyad connection between Rey and Ben. “What if your sort of soul mate in the Force was your enemy?” Chris Terrio asked. “Circumstance pits them against each other, but the Force bonds them together. They understand each other almost from a point of view of fate, and yet fate has made them enemies.”

Adam Driver said, “I think it just if anything reaffirms what he knows intuitively and has known for a while but hasn’t been able to articulate, until he can.”

Rey and Ben share a connection, one that has always been there (as The Rise of Kylo Ren #4 illustrated), but they haven’t really understood it until the Force thrust them into this grand adventure. They’re connected in a powerful way unseen for generations, and I do find it really interesting to hear these comments, and I think it was a great decision to further explain and explore their connection this way in the film.

6. John Williams’s cameo

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On Kijimi, there is a really cool cameo made by one of the most significant figures in Star Wars: John Williams. The legendary composer played Oma Tres in a brief shot on Kijimi, as the heroes travel to the back of an area, where Babu Frik is waiting for them. Oma Tres is the bartender and watches them go by before shaking his head and returning to his work.

The documentary reveals that the idea for the cameo came out of a conversation Williams had at lunch with Kathy Kennedy, and when Abrams heard about it he knew he had to make it happen. It was cool seeing Williams on-set, filming his scene, and how much respect there was for him on set (deservedly so).

But there was a really cool revelation that the documentary highlighted: surrounding Williams in this scene are 51 different artifacts, each one representing one of his 51 Oscar nominations! The documentary highlights some of these, but it’s a really awesome nugget that is exactly what these documentaries should highlight, and I love the attention to detail put into it.

And then, with his score for The Rise of Skywalker, Williams earned Oscar nomination number 52.

7. The idea for the Sith dagger

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The documentary shows Abrams and Terrio looking at a number of different possible artifacts that could serve as the key to finding the wayfinder, including scroll-like objects and others. Abrams said none of the ones he saw were it, but liked the idea. Eventually, he had the idea for a knife with a specific shape that was actually a map ingrained into the dagger.

Of course, for the dagger to perfectly fit the ruins of the Death Star was interesting, and Terrio explained it the way many fans have understood it. “It would’ve been, we’re saying it was made after the events of Jedi, the second Death Star, to pass on the information about where the wayfinder was to other Sith,” he said while looking at possible options for this map with Abrams. “Like, would it have to be hardier, because it would have to pass from hand to hand?”

They eventually settled on the dagger, and that worked. But I like hearing the thought process that went into the dagger, including confirmation that the idea that Abrams and Terrio had in mind was that the dagger was made after the destruction of the Death Star, to serve as a guide for others who would search for the Emperor’s wayfinder.

8. The explanation of Rey’s power

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Regarding Rey, J.J. Abrams said, “The idea that she’s so crazy powerful with the Force so quickly, for us, we always felt that there was a connection between her and something that would help explain some of these things.”

There’s no other way around it for me: that’s really disappointing to hear. Like, really disappointing. For years, in light of Rey’s sudden power in The Force Awakens, fans complained that she was overpowered and needed to be related to someone significant in order for it to be reasonable. Sometimes, this was a result of her being a female who was so powerful, with some thinking that there needed to be an explanation for it. But Rian Johnson was bold enough and confident enough in Rey to assert that the reason Rey was so powerful was because of herself; she didn’t need any other explanation, because she was enough.

Obviously TROS went back on that idea a bit, though they kept the idea that Rey could be strong enough to forge her own path ahead, no matter who her family is. In that regard, this could work… which is why it’s so disappointing to see Abrams say this. This goes beyond Rey Palpatine; this is Abrams giving in to the worst side of the fandom in saying that there needed to be an explanation for Rey’s power. In this instance, I guess he thought she just needed to be related to a guy who himself was randomly powerful.

9. It was Oscar Isaac’s idea for the scene of Poe mourning Leia

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When Poe Dameron returns to Ajan Kloss to discover General Organa has died, he is devastated. He is the new leader of the Resistance, but he doesn’t feel qualified. So he spends a touching moment at the bedside of Leia, talking candidly about how he doesn’t feel ready. And that’s when Lando Calrissian shows up, saying that they didn’t either, but they had each other.

It’s a truly beautiful moment, and it was Oscar Isaac’s idea. “When the Resistance loses Leia, Poe finds himself inheriting a Resistance that’s on the brink of collapse,” he said. “It’s clear that Leia had been grooming him for leadership, but he doesn’t even know if there’s anything to lead at this point. That scene wasn’t originally in the film, and I had talked to J.J. about, ‘well I think that it’d be great to just see a moment that Poe has with Leia, even just a moment to say goodbye.’ That speaks to J.J.’s ability to try things. And so out of that moment of goodbye, Lando shows up and reminds him about family and about friends and about not being alone.”

I’m glad Isaac said something, because it turned out to be a great scene.

10. J.J. Abrams took Rey where he always planned to

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In a very interesting bit of dialogue from J.J. Abrams, the director said that, “The balance of the Force is never a permanent, enduring thing. So the idea that this is the story of a character who needs to step up and bring balance in her own way. If you had asked me in the middle of doing VII, ‘where would we go with Rey?’, the headlines would be exactly the same.”

Firstly, his idea of balance is pretty clearly portrayed in the film, with Anakin Skywalker even telling Rey to bring back the balance like he did. The film clearly interprets balance as temporary rather than eternal, and I think that’s ok – so long as we can preserve the actions of Anakin at the same time.

But secondly, and most interestingly to me, Abrams said that the headlines we see now about Rey would have been the exact same if he was asked midway through TFA. And I do believe that it’s true. But I also wonder just how much this got in the way for him, because it seemed at many points like Abrams went back to the ideas that he had in TFA without considering where the logical outflow would be from TLJ. I actually think the film fits better with TLJ than most do (maybe I’ll write on that one day), but it does feel like Abrams returned to his TFA ideas and started with that. This would lend more credence to that theory. So I do believe him here.

11. Adam Driver’s thoughts on Ben Solo

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One of the true thrills of the film was seeing Ben Solo return to the light and come to Rey’s aid, and I found it really interesting to hear Adam Driver talk about the character (Driver’s comments in this documentary proved to be very thoughtful all-around).

“Before, there’s someone who has the absence of hope,” Driver said, referring to Kylo Ren. “And the thing that we started with for, who is Ben?, then, is someone who has hope. There’s no more ambiguity about what it is that he has to do, there’s no more see-saw that’s happening. For the first time someone who’s never had the answer now finally knows his purpose or destiny. He has to let her know that they’re together, but I don’t know that he entirely is sure what’s going to happen from there, nor do I think he cares. I think it’s so long as he’s with her, he’s on the right path.”

That’s beautiful. Well said, Adam Driver.

12. Maz Kanata was a complex animatronic puppet

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This one isn’t really discussed in the documentary, but we do get a glimpse of Maz Kanata on set in a montage of several different creatures. And it’s really incredible. Basically, they built a to-scale version of Maz Kanata as an animatronic puppet, bringing the character to life in her scenes rather than using CGI and motion capture as they had done previously.

It’s a really impressive accomplishment for the team, and while I’m not sure of the reasoning for the change this time, it’s surreal to watch the film and realize that she’s portrayed by this animatronic puppet rather than CGI. Seeing this on-set briefly in the documentary is crazy.

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