Plot-wise, there are many ways to have Anakin Skywalker’s presence felt in The Rise of Skywalker. The first is to affirm his place as the Chosen One, the one who can bring balance to the Force. For a while, Anakin was well on his way to fulfilling it. His time training with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and becoming one of the leading generals during The Clone Wars series proved his valor. He was manipulated and turned to the dark side by Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), mostly due to the fear of losing Padme (Natalie Portman). After defeating him on Mustafar, Kenobi cried for his fallen brother, yet Anakin’s story did not end there and his destiny as the Chosen One was not truly lost. Anakin Skywalker ended up fulfilling his destiny when he killed the Emperor and redeemed himself in the eyes of his son. This makes Emperor Palpatine’s role in The Rise of Skywalker that much more interesting. His rebirth in the Sequel Trilogy should not take away from Anakin’s actions in The Return of the Jedi, so there must be more left to his story that Abrams wants to tie together.
While the Age of Resistance is essentially the story of Rey and Kylo Ren, Abrams has stated on numerous occasions that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will be giving respect to all three eras of Star Wars. This is evident by Emperor Palpatine’s return as the primary villain of the film, reaffirming his place as the one true evil across all three sagas. While Anakin and Luke Skywalker should both have a role in the defeat of Palpatine again, it will likely be Rey or Kylo who win the day.
So how can Anakin Skywalker return in The Rise of Skywalker without overshadowing the other characters? One idea is for a fan-servicey Avengers: Endgame style showdown. Rey has been trained by Luke Skywalker and his Force Ghost is likely going to be assisting Rey in some fashion. Kylo Ren takes great influence from his grandfather, just the wrong side of him. The concept of both original Skywalkers appearing as Force Ghosts in the final battle against Palpatine could leave most fans satisfied. Still, Star Wars is known to be a bit subtler than Marvel and there might be more subdued ways to make Anakin Skywalker work.
Concept images for Star Wars: The Force Awakens suggest Anakin Skywalker was going to have a brief appearance as a distorted Force Ghost. It was unclear what role the ghost would have had before the idea was scrapped but it did feature Hayden Christensen as an Anakin-Vader hybrid Force ghost, likely to influence Kylo Ren in some way. Exploring this concept further could lead to a moment where Anakin speaks to Kylo Ren, explaining the errors of his own past and the path to redemption that is still possible.
In the canonical Star Wars comics, it was revealed that Emperor Palpatine was responsible for the birth of Anakin Skywalker and in turn, the birth of the Skywalker line. Palpatine has groomed Anakin from childhood to become his key to ruling the galaxy. When he eventually wins, he turns his sights on Anakin’s son, Luke, to be his next apprentice to further extend his rule. Luke Skywalker managed to defy the dark side, turn his father back to the light and allow Anakin to deliver the final blow and defeat the Emperor. He then set his sights on the third generation of Skywalker, Ben Solo, and turned him into Kylo Ren through Snoke. Point being, the Skywalker struggle began with Anakin and Palpatine, and you can’t have one without the other.
For viewers who grew up with the prequels, whose first connection to Anakin Skywalker was as a Jedi, not as Vader, having Hayden Christensen return in The Rise of Skywalker would be just as poignant as when original trilogy fans saw Mark Hamill’s old Luke Skywalker in the final shots of The Force Awakens. To be a true finale of the Skywalker Saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker needs Anakin Skywalker to have some role in the film. Whether that role is a full appearance or just a symbolic one, it is safe to say that Abrams has something in mind to leave the legacy of Star Wars in a good place.