At the climax of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, holo-Luke Skywalker bid his angry nephew farewell after their intense duel: "See you around, kid." This wasn't just a cheeky way to inflame the already red hot Kylo Ren further. Luke was clearly foreshadowing his return as a Force ghost, which has since been confirmed by Mark Hamill's name being on the Episode IX cast list.
Force ghosts are how skilled Jedi Masters can cheat death in the Star Wars Universe, popping up to dispense guidance -- and misguidance in the case of Obi-wan "from a certain point of view" Kenobi. But there's another potential specter beside Luke who could make for a more surprising appearance. That is, of course, his father. As the Skywalker family saga comes to a probable close with the series' ninth installment, what are the chances that we'll see Darth Vader for the last time on the big screen?
Rumors of a cameo from the character (as Anakin Skywalker, Vader or both) have been floating around since the sequel trilogy began -- rumors that almost came to fruition in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Concept artist Ian McCraig revealed in The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens that he'd pitched the idea of Hayden Christensen's Anakin playing a role in the film as a Force ghost. "When you light a candle, you cast a shadow." This "shadow" ended up taking a more physical form in the finished product -- Vader's damaged helmet, accompanied by the echo of his labored, mechanical breathing woven into the musical score.
However, Inverse's Ryan Britt points out that, in this particular scene in Kylo Ren's quarters, Vader's Force ghost is confirmed to still be around, even if we don't get to see it. "'Show me again,' Kylo says to the helmet of Darth Vader, implying that yes, he has spoken to a Dark side spirit." Even without seeing artifacts or hearing the former Sith Lord's name, Vader's presence is evoked strongly enough through his grandson's fanboy worship -- from his allegiance to the Dark Side to his choice in headwear -- for the audience to feel the "shadow" the iconic villain continues to cast.
There was far less of this in The Last Jedi, which makes a lot of sense considering the trajectory the sequel series is on. Despite the thematic parallels between The Force Awakens and A New Hope, the new trilogy has been about saying goodbye to what came before: the death of Han Solo in The Force Awakens, the sacrifice of a very prickly Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi and that film's hints of the "democratization" of the Force. Kylo Ren even vocalizes this mission statement when he tells Rey, "Let the past die. Kill it if you have to."
Closing this chapter means concluding the Skywalker arc that's so consumed the franchise for the past 40 years. It's why the seemingly non-reveal about Rey's lack of Skywalker (or any other famous family) heritage was actually a big reveal, one that J.J. Abrams would do a lot of damage to if he were to unpick it in Episode IX. If Star Wars is to continue, which Disney quite plainly wants it to, things have to progress past the fate of one single family.
Episode IX's function as the Skywalker saga's finale is why some argue that a Vader ghost should be included. "Anakin Skywalker is the most central figure in that saga," Nick Evans writes for CinemaBlend. "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." It's an appearance that The Force Awakens has also made both possible and plausible.