As the culmination of 42 years of Star Wars filmmaking, it’s no surprise that The Rise of Skywalker would want to pack in a few cameos for familiar faces – but the sheer scale of characters that return may surprise even the most die-hard of fans.
In this feature we’ll go through them all, with some exceptions – returns like Billy Dee Williams’ Lando, Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker or Carrie Fisher’s Leia don’t count as they’re fairly central characters we already knew about – and with your regular warning for spoilers, as we’ll be delving right into some pretty big moments from Episode IX.
Starting with the return of…
Darth Vader and Snoke
James Earl Jones and Andy Serkis return to (briefly) voice their characters Darth Vader and Supreme Leader Snoke in an early scene, where the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) reveals that he’s been behind a lot of the voices speaking to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) by imitating them.
“My boy… I made Snoke,” he informs his new protégé.
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Yes, it’s true – in a big surprise Harrison Ford’s scruffy-looking nerf herder makes once last appearance to his onscreen son Kylo/Ben, offering emotional support after Kylo killed him in Episode VII.
“Hey kid,” Ford says from offscreen, before appearing as he looked in The Force Awakens. “I miss you, son.”
Not a “Force Ghost” in the traditional sense like Luke or other Jedi from the past, Han exists here as a memory for Kylo, albeit a memory who can offer some sage advice.
“Kylo Ren is dead. My son is alive,” Han tells him, suggesting he “come home” and leave the Dark Side behind in similar dialogue used in his death scene from The Force Awakens.
And the film even manages to slip in a little reference to Han’s most famous line during his short appearance.
“Dad…” Kylo/Ben begins.
“I know,” Ford replies.
One for the old-school fans here, but Scottish actor Denis Lawson (star of New Tricks and countless other British TV dramas) makes a return in Rise of Skywalker as X-Wing pilot Wedge Antilles, reprising a role he first played in the original 1977 Star Wars and its immediate sequels (though for the first film his voice was replaced by American actor David Ankrum).
Apparently, Wedge was supposed to appear in The Force Awakens but Lawson declined due to a scheduling conflict, while a continuity issue meant that he was only heard as a voice (specifically Ankrum’s) in prequel Rogue One.
Still, Wedge has returned a few times in other Star Wars media including novels, videogames and animated TV series Star Wars Rebels, and it’s great to see his original actor brought back for this final chapter.
The older Jedi – including Anakin Skywalker and TV characters
During Rise of Skywalker’s climactic final sequence, Daisy Ridley’s Rey attempts one last time to connect to the older, deceased Jedi that she’s failed to reach at other points during the film – and this time, she succeeds.
And that means a host of former Star Wars stars speak to her in voiceover, including Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker but also prequel figures like Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, Samuel L Jackson’s Mace Windu, Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn, Frank Oz’s Yoda alongside lesser-known figures like Olivia D’Abo’s Luminara Unduli, Angelique Perrin’s Adi Gallia and Jennifer Hale’s Aayla Secura (notably, using regular Star Wars voice actors from various TV shows and games rather than their dialogue-free film actors).
But excitingly, the person must urgently telling her to battle and overcome the Emperor “like I did” is none other than Anakin Skywalker himself, Hayden Christensen, returning to the Star Wars saga for the first time since the once-reviled prequel trilogy.
Meanwhile, other Jedi who speak to her haven’t even appeared in the movies at all, with fan-favourite spin-off characters – including Freddie Prinze Jr’s Kanan Jarus from Star Wars Rebels and Ashley Eckstein’s Ahsoka Tano (from both Rebels and The Clone Wars TV show)– also offering sage advice to Rey.
Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan dialogue is also woven in alongside McGregor’s, though it’s the younger Kenobi who really has the final word, riffing on a classic Guinness line (which he previously recorded for a similar vision scene in The Force Awakens) to tell her: “These are your final steps Rey – reach out and take them.”
So, no, there’s no Anakin Force Ghost this time – but this is the next best thing.
Longtime composer John Williams makes his onscreen Star Wars debut on the planet Kijimi, playing a disgruntled resident of the planet with a special eye attachment.
Notably, his character name – Oma Tres – is an anagram of Maestro, in a clear reference to his incredibly musical contribution to the franchise.
In a flashback, audiences are treated to a vision of Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) mysterious parents, and her mother will be very familiar to UK audiences in particular – because she’s played by Doctor Foster and Killing Eve actor Jodie Comer, whose star continues to rise with this high-profile cameo.
Joining her as Rey’s father (both characters are unnamed) is On Chesil Beach and Dunkirk’s Billy Howle and you can read more about their quick appearance here.
Not exactly a secret as it was revealed before the film’s release, but actor, composer and writer Lin-Manuel Miranda appears as an X-Wing fighter in Episode IX, still sporting his moustache from BBC drama His Dark Materials.
Miranda also co-wrote a new song for the film with director JJ Abrams, which you can read more about here.
You may not have realised, but cute new droid D-0 (the one who looks like a cone on top of a wheel) is actually voiced by Rise of Skywalker (and Force Awakens) director JJ Abrams, with Abrams providing the repeated, worried catchphrases of the battered character.
This film’s breakout alien, tiny droidsmith Babu Frik, has a surprising actor behind him – Harry Potter and Bridget Jones star Shirley Henderson, probably best known for her role as JK Rowling’s fan-favourite ghost character Moaning Myrtle.
Now that’s range…
Greg Grunberg and Dominic Monghan
Longtime Abrams collaborator and friend Greg Grunberg (Heroes) reprises his Force Awakens role as Temmin “Snap” Wexley, a hotshot X-Wing pilot who also plays a role in some Star Wars spin-off media and here spends a lot of time communicating with the late Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia.
And another of Abrams old colleagues turns up too – Lord of the Rings and Lost star Dominic Monaghan, who plays a Resistance fighter called Beaumont (you can see him in the left background of the above image). Got in just under the wire for his own Wookiepedia article!
And maybe not… Harry Styles or Matt Smith
In the finished film, he doesn’t appear to play any role, sadly (he’s certainly not in the credits), so we’ll have to assume this plan fell through if it was ever really true.
Other rumours that popstar Harry Styles could have a cameo are also unconfirmed by the finished film, but who knows? In the coming weeks and months it could be that the truth is revealed…
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is in UK cinemas now