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Warning: The following is mostly just rumor and speculation but if any of this bears out, it would constitute SPOILERS for Star Wars: Episode IX**!**
When it comes to Star Wars: Episode IX, we currently have no solid ground upon which to base our speculation. We’ve seen no images, no trailer and have no title or synopsis. Absent firm facts, we are left to wade out into the realm of rumor to guess what this movie is about and what will happen in it. Fortunately, there is no shortage of rumors about the final chapter in the Skywalker Saga. So ask the Mos Eisley Bartender Wuher to pass the salt as we dig in to a particularly exciting rumor.
This rumor is not really one but several that have cropped up during our wait for the film, and they all point towards the same conclusion: Darth Vader or Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker -- or both -- will appear in Star Wars: Episode IX.
One rumor is that there was a set constructed for a scene to be shot at Mount Etna in Italy, an active volcano where footage was filmed for the battle on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith. This leads to the conclusion that we will see Vader’s Castle in this film.
There are also a variety of rumors that Kylo Ren will have a scene with Vader. One is that Kylo will see a vision of Darth Vader having his mechanical appendages upgraded to new ones. Another permutation has the constantly conflicted Ben Solo on his knees surrounded by the Force Ghost of Anakin Skywalker, constantly shifting between Anakin and Darth Vader.
In addition, there are rumors that Luke will share a scene with his father and that Anakin will speak to Rey as she tries to repair his lightsaber. And finally, most recently, Express reported the rumor that Disney is negotiating for Hayden Christensen to return to film a scene for Star Wars: Episode IX.
That's a lot, and it all should be taken with huge grains of salt, but there is enough smoke here that it’s worth looking to see if there’s any fire, and considering how Darth Vader/Anakin could show up in this movie and what it would mean if he did.
The repercussions of Darth Vader’s existence and actions have been a small but not insignificant part of the sequel trilogy. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we saw that Ben Solo looked up to his grandfather, idolized him and sought to continue his work as Darth Vader. He practically worshipped him and kept his broken helmet as a totem.
It certainly seemed like J.J. Abrams had bigger plans for Anakin in the sequel trilogy considering that based on some concept art, the character almost appeared in The Force Awakens as a Force Ghost amalgamation of Anakin and Vader similar to what was described in one of the aforementioned rumors.
Peter Sciretta of Slashfilm recently hinted that we could find clues about Episode IX in that early concept art from The Force Awakens. He shut down fans that thought that this was a reference to the Anakin concept art, but still, it is worth noting that J.J. Abrams and company may be looking to their original ideas for this trilogy for inspiration for Star Wars: Episode IX.
As to whether or not this rumor will actually pan out, it’s hard to say. Neither Disney nor Lucasfilm has indicated that Hayden Christensen will be returning to the franchise for Episode IX but it could just be another surprise like Yoda in The Last Jedi. This rumor also does sound a bit like wishful thinking from fans. That said, J.J. Abrams is a fan and if he really is trying to right the ship with this film, the goodwill a Darth Vader or Anakin appearance would bring definitely wouldn’t hurt.
The majority of the rumors point towards Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker showing up as a Force Ghost and that seems the most plausible way this could happen that wouldn’t break mythology or retcon things. It seems highly unlikely that Darth Vader or Anakin would be fully resurrected in this final film, and the Force Ghost route provides plenty of flexibility for him to show up in a way that would fit the story.
The easiest way that Anakin could show up as a Force Ghost would be a simple cameo. He could appear at the end of the film Return of the Jedi style alongside Yoda, Luke and perhaps Obi-Wan Kenobi. Or, if Rey is seeking guidance from the Jedi Masters that came before her, she could confer with Luke, Obi-Wan and Anakin ‘We do not grant you the rank of Master’ Skywalker.
It wouldn’t be too out there for Anakin to appear to Rey when she is repairing his lightsaber either. She had a vision when she touched the lightsaber the first time, so it could totally happen again, this time with a Hayden Christensen appearance. The actor has said in the past that he’d return to the franchise if asked, so that’s one reason to think Anakin showing up is possible.
Darth Vader proper appearing in this film is a little trickier, but still doable. The easiest way would be via a flashback or vision. If Kylo Ren is tracking down Sith artifacts or relics of Darth Vader, maybe one of them could be imprinted with Vader’s spirit in some way, producing a vision of the Sith Lord. Or maybe he will find a Sith Holocron on Mustafar.
In theory, Anakin Skywalker found redemption in the end and his Force Ghost should now be him as Anakin like we saw in Return of the Jedi. So he shouldn’t be showing up as Force Ghost Vader. That said, we don’t know the mechanics of how Force Ghosts work or if Sith have them so maybe there is some wiggle room there.
It would make total sense for Darth Vader or Anakin or an amalgamation of the two to appear to Kylo Ren. Although he seemed to turn the corner fully to the Dark Side in the last film, Ben Solo’s struggle with the light has been central to his character throughout this trilogy, much as Anakin struggled with the dark in the prequels. If Kylo Ren is to be redeemed, having Anakin/Vader show up in Kylo’s story might be one way to force him to see his grandfather’s mistakes and that he changed sides in the end.
Unlike some of the other rumors out there -- like Mara Jade -- I think that Anakin or Darth Vader returning for Star Wars: Episode IX is both possible, desirable and an organic continuation and culmination of this story. There are already established plot threads that set up a Darth Vader/Anakin return so it wouldn’t feel out of left field and having Hayden Christensen show up in Star Wars: Episode IX would also serve the purpose of uniting all three trilogies as many fans are hoping this film does.
And this is it, the final chapter in the Skywalker Saga. Anakin Skywalker is the most central figure in that Saga, so it is only right that he shows up in some way, one last time to help bring closure to this story as it ends.
Star Wars: Episode IX blasts into theaters on December 20. Check out our release guide for all of the year's biggest movies and let us know in the poll below and the comments what you think about this rumor.