They say the only people really dead in comic books are Uncle Ben and Batman’s parents, but when it comes to Star Wars, we’re at a point where Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are the only ones we can confidently say are gone for good.
The galaxy far, far away has seen characters survive everything from being chopped in half with a lightsaber to being swallowed by the Sarlacc. There’s no denying Disney regrets how some of these icons have shuffled off the mortal coil too soon; one need only look at the various resurrections that keep bringing them back. As the franchise continues to expand, the House of Mouse is destined to put more characters in the bacta tank for the sake of fan service and making a quick buck. The question is, when does it go too far, and why can’t Star Wars let the dead stay dead?
Star Wars’ Long History With Death
As far back as A New Hope, the shadow of death loomed large over Star Wars. From the aforementioned Owen and Beru Lars to Greedo, the space Western raised the stakes by killing characters. Luke (Mark Hamill) is told that Darth Vader killed his father, while the death of Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi was an Act 2 shocker. Obi-Wan soon returns as a Force ghost and The Empire Strikes Back’s Vader reveal remains one of the biggest movie twists ever (Luke’s father wasn’t actually dead, in case you haven’t heard).
Before pointing out the obvious, we know a Force ghost means a character is dead. Still, this phenomenon occurs in nearly every modern project and is essentially a workaround for bringing back the dead. Force ghosts were once a novelty, meaning Return of the Jedi’s Force scene with Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Yoda was an iconic way to conclude the original trilogy that worked because their appearance didn’t impact the film’s plot.
The Clone Wars set a precedent by bringing Darth Maul back from his dramatic end in The Phantom Menace.
Jump forward to Disney’s sequel trilogy and the Force ghost novelty has worn off. These days, a blue-hued Luke or Yoda (Frank Oz) stopping by in Force ghost form feels more like a way to showcase advances in technology and justify a fan-favorite’s return. As divisive as it is, Luke’s death in The Last Jedi is an important moment for the development of Rey (Daisy Ridley). Hamill’s return for The Rise of Skywalker was always expected, and after debuting as Luke 42 years earlier, it wouldn’t have felt right without him. Unfortunately, whereas the flashback of young Luke and Leia (Carrie Fisher) training is a heartwarming way to flesh out their backstory, Luke’s Force ghost is basically just an awkward plot device to ensure Rey gets Princess Leia’s lightsaber.
In terms of physically coming back from the dead, Star Wars: The Clone Wars set a precedent by bringing Darth Maul back from his dramatic end in The Phantom Menace. Maul’s preposterous return involved him swapping his severed lower half for spider-like legs, just to hammer home his villainous look. Even though characters returning from the grave was established long before the popular meme (and moment from The Rise of Skywalker) known as “Somehow, Palpatine returned,” there’s been an uptick since Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. These days, The Last Jedi’s line “no one’s ever really gone” is a little too ironic.
The Return of the Jedi
Although it once looked like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda were the only Jedi to survive Order 66, critics have pointed out that it would’ve been impossible for the clone troopers to eradicate every Jedi. Despite other survivors once being limited to Legends stories, Disney has more recently been canonizing an increasing number of Order 66 escapees. Having a Pau’an Temple Guard from The Clone Wars turn to the dark side and evolve into Rebels’ Grand Inquisitor feels like a fitting twist, but when The Bad Batch saves a minor character like The Clone Wars’ Gungi (as cool as a Jedi Wookiee is) for a single episode, Star Wars can be accused of fan service overkill.
One of The Mandalorian’s biggest mysteries is who saved Grogu from the Jedi Temple, and whether it turns out to be a new creation or another fan-favourite who survived Order 66, we’re also fully prepared that it might wind up being an obscure reveal like Jedi librarian Jocasta Nu’s Darth Vader comic survival.
Actors are even taking matters into their own hands, as with Samuel L. Jackson repeatedly championing Mace Windu’s return. As much as we’d love to see his purple lightsaber again, the fact that he was struck with Force lightning, thrown from a skyscraper window, and presumed dead for the past 18 years of fandom means there will be riots if it turns out he’s the one who grabbed Grogu from the Jedi Temple.
If there’s one Jedi familiar with death, it’s Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein in the animated shows). Not only did she die on Mortis and get resurrected in the same episode in The Clone Wars Season 3, but there was also Rebels’ iconic “Twilight of the Apprentice” episode that left her for dead at the hands of Darth Vader… but was retconned in Season 4. It turns out Ahsoka was yanked from time by Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray), which is about as outlandish as Star Wars gets. But with it giving us a live-action Ahsoka series (where Rosario Dawson is playing her), we’ll let it fly.
The problem is, the franchise might not be done with making Ahsoka the luckiest woman alive. Eckstein reprised her role as Ahsoka for The Rise of Skywalker’s montage of Jedi voices, but with the rest of those voices being known dead characters, fans theorized Ahsoka had also passed at some point before Episode IX. Co-creator Dave Filoni won’t leave her dead, however, and posted a cryptic tweet suggesting Ahsoka is still alive during this time period. It’s unclear how far the Ahsoka series will take her story, but if she is alive around Episode IX, it already feels like we’re setting up a Rebels-inspired epilogue set around the time of the sequels. And one starring a character who is practically immortal.
The More the Merrier
The constant resurrection of characters means that when someone actually dies, no one believes it. Cad Bane (Corey Burton) being given an exit in The Book of Boba Fett didn’t stop wild fan theories claiming he survived being stabbed by Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison). Burton even told ComicBook.com, “A good villain never dies.” It doesn’t help when Timothy Olyphant’s Cobb Vanth was also shown the door, only to be brought back for an MCU-inspired post-credit scene. Resurrecting Cobb Vanth so soon after his death rendered it dramatically inert, although some have clocked he could be the new Marshall of Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) in The Mandalorian Season 3.
The Mandalorian’s Jon Favreau recently discussed the potential survival of Salacious B. Crumb. Jabba the Hutt’s Kowakian Monkey-Lizard seemingly died in Return of the Jedi, but these days, Jabba’s Sail Barge has become its own Order 66 as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Boba Fett, Bib Fortuna, Max Rebo, and even 8-D8 (voiced by Matt Berry in The Book of Boba Fett) all should’ve perished but somehow survived. Saving Fortuna amplifies the franchise’s inability to let go, and let’s be honest, anyone could’ve been ruling Jabba’s Palace instead of shoehorning in an original trilogy character for nostalgia alone.
As for Fett, his return is one that splits fandom more than most. Despite surviving in Legends canon, the notion of him escaping the Great Pit of Carkoon for his own TV series seemed ludicrous back in the day. That all changed when he made a well-signposted cameo in The Mandalorian Season 2. Appearing as a gruff supporting character to Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) worked — especially with Morrison reprising his role from Attack of the Clones — but when the character was spun out into a whole series for The Book of Boba Fett, it all wound up feeling like The Mandalorian 2.5 with a story that devoted too much of its time to its sister series. Maybe this dogged desire to give Fett his own solo project should’ve stuck to the original plan of an anthology movie, but for many, that time passed when Djarin effectively became the franchise’s “new” Boba.
Connecting shows and movies works to a point, but with The Mandalorian and The Bad Batch leaning into cloning theories, both hint at ties to Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). It’s a thinly-veiled attempt to warrant the divisive return of Sheev Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) in The Rise of Skywalker. Most have accepted Snoke wound up being in those films to set up Palpatine’s clone, and while there are plenty of gaps in the story, it doesn’t necessarily warrant seeing Snoke again in live-action.
Similar to Palpatine, there’s Star Wars’ reliance on Darth Vader as the big bad. Hayden Christensen got to somewhat redeem the prequel trilogy in Obi-Wan Kenobi, but with Return of the Jedi being the character’s fixed endpoint, constantly strolling him out for prequel projects is essentially another way to cheat death.
There’s nothing wrong with seeing the occasional familiar face from beyond the grave, and like Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gonn Jinn proved in Obi-Wan Kenobi, bringing back the dead purely for fan service can work when done right. Jinn was a highlight of Episode I, and although a cameo was clocked well ahead of time, it didn’t define Obi-Wan’s final episode. That could all change if Kenobi is escorted by Qui-Gonn’s ghost for a potential Season 2, but for now, it’s the right side of farcical. But as with the Qui-Gonn cameo, Tales of the Jedi brilliantly rounded off the story of Yaddle (Bryce Dallas Howard) to give one of the franchise’s most obscure characters a fitting swansong without shattering the believability of canon.
Sadly, bringing back the dead is an overused trope that once kept fans on their toes but now feels like an inability to let anyone truly go. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) made a heroic sacrifice at the end of Episode IX, but as we’ve come to expect the unexpected, don’t be surprised if his clone or Force ghost pops up in some yet to be revealed future project. As Disney seems intent on continuing to bring back characters, it begs the question of whether anyone is truly dead in Star Wars. We know it’s only Sith that deal in absolutes, but when it comes to letting characters stay dead, it’s a notion that Star Wars could learn a lesson from.