The Rise of Skywalker touted a marquee cast: Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega returning as the core team. Billy Dee Williams back as Lando Calrissian. Carrie Fisher resuming her regal role as General Organa thanks to the magic of Star Wars deleted scenes. Keri Russell, a J.J. Abrams favorite since the Felicity days, under a Boba Fett-like mask to play Zorri Bliss. The list goes on — and on and on and on.
Star Wars is the kind of property where name actors don’t mind filling small but important roles. Take Lord of the Rings and Lost star Dominic Monaghan, who shows up as a Resistance fighter who kinda sorta knows how the Emperor came back to life. Then there are the straight cameos: in Rise, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and longtime franchise composer John Williams both pop up in blink-and-you’ll-miss them moments, just because.
But perhaps the most fulfilling, inspired bit of cameo casting comes at the very end of The Rise of Skywalker, at a key moment that is definitely spoiler territory.
[Ed. note: the rest of this post contains major spoilers for Rise of Skywalker.]
As Rey stands down the Emperor in his dark chamber on Exegol, tempted to strike him down, the good-hearted warrior hears the voices of Jedi past.
“These are your final steps, Rey. Rise and take them.”
Like Korra in the Avatar: The Last Airbender spinoff The Legend of Korra, Rey is not only the obvious candidate to lead a new generation of Jedi, she’s literally possessing the power of every Jedi who walked before her. And as she faces her greatest enemy, her predecessors whisper words of encouragement through the ether. Some of the Jedi are recognizable. Others a viewer would only know if they’d kept up with the last decade of animated Star Wars television. Here’s a rundown of the surprising voices we hear in this key scene.
Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker
Though replaced by beloved voice actor Matt Lanter in The Clone Wars TV series, Christensen returns to his role as Brooding Older Anakin Skywalker to remind Rey that the Force “surrounds” her. It’s the first time he has appeared in a Star Wars movie since Revenge of the Sith (unless you count his Force ghost in re-edits of Return of the Jedi).
Christensen’s work as Anakin was not terribly well received, and in 2010, he took a four-year break from acting.
“I guess I felt like I had this great thing in Star Wars that provided all these opportunities and gave me a career, but it all kind of felt a little too handed to me,” Christensen told Los Angeles Times in 2017, while promoting the religious drama 90 Minutes in Heaven. “I didn’t want to go through life feeling like I was just riding a wave.”
Olivia d’Abo as Luminara Unduli
Despite deepening Star Wars canon since 2008, the mythology of creator Dave Filoni’s The Clone Wars has rarely crossed over into Lucasfilm’s theatrical blockbusters. Rogue One was a milestone, casting Forrest Whitaker to play a live-action version of Saw Gerrera and featuring a cameo by the Ghost, the main ship from Star Wars: Rebels. Rise of Skywalker brings the connections to the canonical animated universe to the Skywalker Saga for the first time, featuring a line-reading from Olivia d’Abo, who breathed life into Luminara after she appeared silently in Attack of the Clones.
Ashley Eckstein as Ahsoka Tano
There is no bigger Star Wars fan favorite who has never to set foot on the big screen than Ahsoka. The padawan of Anakin Skywalker, the character was the lifeblood of The Clone Wars and later appeared on Star Wars Rebels to help guide the young Jedi wannabe, Ezra. (Both shows are now on Disney Plus, so no excuses.) When or if Ahsoka would appear in a movie has been a sticking point for fans, though they’d have a hard time separating Ashley Eckstein’s vibrant voicework from whoever might play her in a live-action setting. While we’ll hold out for a Mandalorian appearance, her voice cameo in The Rise of Skywalker is a bit heartbreaking. After Rebels, it was unclear what happened to Ahsoka, but by the time the First Order crumbles, we know she’s passed on.
Jennifer Hale as Aayla Secura
If you’ve spent an inordinate time looking at background shots of Jedi battles, you know Aayla Secura, who appeared in both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Dave Filoni and his team of Clone Wars writers carved out more backstory and adventures for the Rutian Twi’lek, but Aalya is especially notable for not being a creation of George Lucas. She first appeared in Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars: Republic, only becoming modern canon through her inclusion in the prequel films. Hale, who played her on Clone Wars, keeps the legacy of the character going into the sequel trilogy.
Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu
If viewers could pick out any of Rey’s motivators’ voices, it’s probably Jackson’s, who along with being a force of god on screen, has a reputation for great voiceover. After narrating Inglorious Basterds for longtime accomplice Quentin Tarantino, the actor delivered Oscar-worthy work speaking the words of James Baldwin in the recent documentary I Am Not Your Negro. The man can talk.
Mace Windu had a life after the prequel trilogy, with Terrence C. Carson performing the role on The Clone Wars for years. But in a recent interview with Stephen Colbert, Jackson he’d be interesting in returning to the role. “I’d really love to get one more run at Mace Windu in Star Wars,” he said. Lucasfilm, are you listening?
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi
No one in all of the Star Wars galaxy matched the concentrated charisma of McGregor, so it’s not surprising that Disney and Lucasfilm are actually giving the actor one more run in his old Jedi robes. August, Lucasfilm formally announced that Ewan McGregor, who filled the shoes of Alec Guinness in Lucas’ prequel films, would return to the Star Wars universe in a new Obi-Wan TV series for Disney Plus. We’re already dreaming of the possibilities, and his voice cameo in Rise of Skywalker only got us more pumped.
Frank Oz as Yoda
OK, we take that back about Sam Jackson: there’s no Star Wars voice more recognizable than Muppet veteran Frank Oz’s elderly Yoda voice. After appearing in the rubber flesh for The Last Jedi, the OG Yoda returned to inspire Rey in the Rise of Skywalker’s pivotal scene.
Fun fact: veteran voice actor Tom Kane assumed the role for The Clone Wars TV series, and while there wasn’t room to squeeze him into the voice-heavy Episode IX scene, he already has a place in the sequel trilogy pantheon: He picked up the role of Admiral Ackbar after original actor Erik Bauersfeld passed away.
Angelique Perrin as Adi Gallia
Like Aayla Secura, Adi Gallia was a Jedi who appeared on screen in the prequel trilogy but didn’t have much to do. Unlike Aayla Secura, the Adi of the Clone Wars series is, like her live-action counterpart, played by a woman of color. Angelique Perrin, who most recently voiced characters in Cannon Busters, voiced the role over seven animated episodes and returned for The Rise of Skywalker.
Freddie Prinze Jr. as Kanan Jarrus
Easily the biggest surprise to any millennial Star Wars fan who didn’t keep up with the animated expanded universe, former She’s All That and Summer Catch heartthrob Freddie Prinze Jr. pops up for a second in Rise of Skywalker’s aural Jedi collage. We don’t want to spoil too much of Rebels for the uninitiated, but Kanan is the rare mix of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, a Jedi who put down his saber for a blaster and life as a smuggler after his brethren were killed in Order 66. His story in Rebels will pull your heartstrings, making his inclusion in Rise of Skywalker emotional for a certain sliver of fans.
Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn
Last but not least, Neeson’s formidable Phantom Menace Jedi returns to the sequel trilogy to hep Rey battle a villain he didn’t live long enough to know as a villain. While Qui-Gon’s untimely death at the hand of Darth Maul kept him out of the main narratives of The Clone Wars, he did appear as a Force Ghost to instruct his former padawan Obi-Wan. And unlike most of the prequel trilogy actors, Neeson actually returned to play him.