Ever since Disney resurrected Star Wars in 2015 with The Force Awakens, the franchise has had one foot in the future and one in the past. A number of classic characters have returned for new movies, from original trilogy icons like Han Solo, Leia, and Luke Skywalker to prequel characters like Bail Organa and Darth Maul. But one significant character who has yet to return to the franchise is Anakin Skywalker. The man who became Darth Vader was the star of the prequels, but so far he's been completely absent from Disney's big screen Star Wars efforts. Is there a chance Anakin will return for The Rise of Skywalker?
As the final piece of the nine-part Skywalker Saga, The Rise of Skywalker seems to be pulling out all the stops in its attempts to build bridges between the old films and the new. Billy Dee Williams is back as Lando Calrissian, and even Ian McDiarmid is back as Emperor Palpatine, a character long believed to have died at the end of 1983's Return of the Jedi. The new film's inclusion of the Emperor certainly makes it seem more plausible, maybe even likely, that Anakin will show up in the film as well, given the pair's extensive shared history. But if Hayden Christensen did return as Anakin, what would that look like, exactly?
As fans know by now, Kylo Ren has an obsession with his grandfather, Darth Vader. But before Vader became the scourge of the galaxy, he was Anakin Skywalker. Vader also famously reformed at the end of Return of the Jedi, meaning that at the time of his death, he was more Anakin than he was Vader. Many fans theorize that Kylo will similarly turn to the light side of the force in The Rise of Skywalker, and if he does, it could end up being a vision of Anakin that convinces him to do so. Since Kylo looks up to Vader over anyone else, the prospect of him hearing straight from Anakin's mouth that it's still possible to reform even after doing evil things would arguably be the most realistic way for Kylo to become a good guy. If that is the case, though, how would Anakin actually return?
Simply put, if the Emperor can return, then Anakin can return. The character may have died in Return of the Jedi, but he also showed up as a force ghost later on in the same movie. And if he showed up as a force ghost once, he can do so again. Just as Luke Skywalker — who is also deceased — says in the Rise of Skywalker trailer: "No one's ever really gone." Even if Anakin doesn't show up as a force ghost, he could still appear as a force-produced vision (fans have already seen a few of those in the sequel trilogy), presenting himself to Kylo, Rey, or both. He may even show up as a hallucination caused by the Emperor in an attempt to mess with Kylo or Rey, since that totally seems like something Palpatine would do.
It's unknown whether or not Anakin Skywalker will appear in The Rise of Skywalker, but given that the film marks the end of the nine-film saga about his legacy, it would seem like a massive missed opportunity to not feature the character in some capacity.