The Rise of Skywalker trailer provided us with our first hint at the return of the iconic Death Star. Since then, there have been a flood of questions about which Death Star it actually is. J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm have been doing an excellent job keeping everything under wraps, so we probably won't really know until the movie hits theaters later this year. Thankfully, an older Star Wars novel from 2017 may provide some tips as to which Death Star is being teased in The Rise of Skywalker trailer.
The Star Wars book Aftermath: Life Debt was written by Chuck Wendig and released in 2017. In the book, there is a chapter about the Alderaanians that were "off world when the planet got destroyed," during the events of A New Hope. After the Empire fell, they gathered together and "settled in the system on a flotilla of ships." The chapter in question ends with "Leia gifting them Alderaanians the remains of the first Death Star to build a permanent space station in the system out of it."
Since the first Death Star pieces were given away, it's safe to assume that it's all gone. This leads us to the second Death Star, which has been the prevalent theory amongst Star Wars fans. There have been some who believe that the planet shown in The Rise of Skywalker trailer is Yavin IV, but it's beginning to look like it really is Endor, especially considering how close the Death Star was to the planet when it was taken out. The second Death Star is also where Emperor Palpatine was killed, which brings everything back together.
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With Emperor Palpatine returning in Rise of Skywalker, the second Death Star seems to make the most sense. The ruins could be where Palpatine is possibly resurrected in the upcoming movie, though we're not sure how at this time. And if this is indeed Endor that we're looking at, we will undoubtedly end up seeing some elderly Ewoks. J.J. Abrams isn't going to just bring us back to Endor for some Death Star ruins. He'll have to have a couple of the little furry dudes running around too, at least for a moment.
Has Emperor Palpatine been haunting the Death Star ruins on Endor for all of this time? This could very well be the case, though there are a number of ways the Emperor could have returned. As for the Death Star, it will be interesting to see how this all fits into the current trilogy and how J.J. Abrams incorporates it into the storyline. For now, we'll just have to wait, but there are some pretty huge teases in the Rise of Skywalker promotional footage. Speaking of which, we should have a new trailer out sometime next month, so perhaps there will be more information there. The chapter breakdown from Aftermath: Life Debt was first revealed on Reddit.
There’s one particularly telling and effective moment in The Skywalker Legacy, the feature-lenght documentary that’s included on the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker home release that sums up much of the ambivalence and consternation that some had with J.J. Abrams’ return to the Star Wars universe. After showing the intricate construction of a giant, practical snake monster, the doc cuts back to footage of Jabba The Hutt, that old analogue beast that slithered its way into our hearts. The sentiment is clear – we’re making movies like we used to! A celebration of practical effects, the dripping of k-y jelly to give viscosity just like the old costume days, it’s all there. There’s excitement on set, everyone talking about how amazing it looks, how lifelike, how this is how you’re supposed to do movies like this.
Cut to Visual Effects Supervisor Roger Guyett who shatters the myth, letting us know the creature was replaced by a CGI version in post.
Guyett’s resume is mighty. Having made his bones on groundbreaking films like Twister and Casper, he helped Spielberg bring the events of D-Day to screen in Saving Private Ryan, helped bring to life the best looking film in the Harry Potter series, Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban, and even made the theatrical version of Rent feel more than a stage production. Guyett has had many collaborations with Abrams – from the Star Trek Reboots through The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker he was even second unit director on the former, as well as working with George Lucas on Episode III to round off the prequels. He’s in a unique position to speak to these changing landscapes of epic filmmaking.
We spoke at length about the apparent contradictions and indulgences in making a Star Wars film, and he made the case for why nothing was wasted and all contributed to the final presentation. He was erudite and open to the discussion, making for a dream conversation with a man who quite literally has helped shape what amazes us on screen for decades.
The following has been edited for clarity and concision.
We see practical effects being championed as almost a marketing ploy with the “postquels” as a mix of nostalgia and an attempt to delineate from Lucas’ second trilogy. In some ways the love of the practically-realized snake undercuts the extraordinary CGI you and your team accomplished, and raises questions about why the need to fetishize the on-set inclusions when they’re replaced anyway. Could you talk about that ethos, that somehow doing stuff on a computer is a “cheat” while doing an effect practically is not?
I think at the end of the day we’re all trying to do the best that we can, trying to make the best, most dramatic or emotional movie we can visually. I’m coming from figuring out how do you get the most...