Who Was Matt Smith's The Rise of Skywalker Character? Everything We Know – Screen Rant

Matt Smith was supposed to appear in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but was mysteriously absent from the finished movie. Who did he play?
Matt Smith failed to make his anticipated appearance in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – who was the Doctor Who actor supposed to play? The Star Wars sequel trilogy started strongly enough in 2015, with J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens premiering to record-smashing box office and glowing early reviews. Rian Johnson’s follow-up, The Last Jedi, proved considerably more divisive and provoked polarizing reactions from the Star Wars fandom. As such, Disney found itself banking heavily on 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker, which would serve as both the ending of the sequel trilogy, and the epic conclusion of the Skywalker saga that started way back in 1977. No pressure, then.
Ultimately, The Rise of Skywalker courted just as much controversy – if not more – than The Last Jedi, as fans and critics bemoaned a muddled and exposition-heavy ending to a legendary story. One recurring criticism The Rise of Skywalker faced was the overwhelming sense of being clobbered together in a rushed, haphazard manner. That “somehow, Palpatine returned” meme is hilarious, but it’s also depressingly accurate, and The Emperor’s miraculous recovery isn’t the only jarring aspect of The Rise of Skywalker‘s narrative – characters who were widely expected to feature went strangely missing from the finished cut.
Related: Every Character Who Is A Skywalker (By Rise of Skywalker’s Definition)
One such absentee was Matt Smith, best known for his performance as Doctor Who‘s Eleventh Doctor. Though casting rumors aren’t always true, Smith’s link to The Rise of Skywalker looked strong, and other reports of fresh faces – Richard E. Grant, Keri Russell, etc. – proved accurate. Since The Rise of Skywalker‘s release in 2019, more information about Matt Smith’s non-appearance has surfaced, revealing a story almost as strange as fiction. Here’s who Matt Smith was (probably) supposed to play in Star Wars, and why he didn’t.
A bit like the Star Wars sequel trilogy itself, The Rise of Skywalker‘s Matt Smith saga is something of a roller coaster. The tale begins in August 2018, when reports first emerged (via Deadline) claiming Smith was in talks for The Rise of Skywalker, then known only as Star Wars 9. Though the project may have remained untitled at that time, Matt Smith’s attachment to the galaxy far, far away came long after The Rise of Skywalker‘s change of director. Way back in 2015, Lucasfilm hired Colin Trevorrow to direct the final installment of Star Wars‘ sequel trilogy, but shortly before The Last Jedi cleaved a divide through the audience, J.J. Abrams swooped in as Trevorrow’s replacement. The Rise of Skywalker‘s directorial merry-go-round stopped spinning in September 2017, almost a full year before the Matt Smith rumors started, so the actor’s absence can’t be wholly blamed on Lucasfilm’s director change.
No further word on Matt Smith’s The Rise of Skywalker role came until March 2019, when the actor himself ambiguously answer “as far as I can tell, I’m definitely not [in it]” during an interview with Emily Zemler. “As far as I can tell” is a strange thing for Smith to say if he had no involvement whatsoever, so many fans assumed the Eleventh Doctor was executing the standard Disney media strategy of averting spoilers, and denying all knowledge – as has become commonplace for those cast in Star Wars and the MCU. Confidence in Matt Smith playing a secret character was boosted in April 2019 when Disney’s official UK website listed the actor among other confirmed cast members, before quickly deleting his name. Surely, this was proof The Rise of Skywalker had a Matt Smith-shaped card up its sleeve…
After Matt Smith’s The Rise of Skywalker no-show, many assumed the initial reports had been inaccurate, or at least blown out of proportion. But finally, in November 2021, Smith confirmed he was previously cast as a Star Wars character, and those 2018 rumors might’ve actually hit closer to the mark than anyone realized. On the HappySadConfused podcast, Smith admitted he had a “couple of meetings” about a specific role, but never got as far as a costume test before his services became “obsolete.” This explains why, in early 2019, Smith never sounded sure whether he was in The Rise of Skywalker or not.
Related: How Palpatine Could Have Survived Rise Of Skywalker (& Why He Would)
Knowing Matt Smith was, at one stage, set to appear in The Rise of Skywalker is a huge step, but what was the role J.J. Abrams had him pegged for? Whether out of respect for the Star Wars name or fear of Disney snipers, Smith still hasn’t divulged that information, but when pushed for more, the actor intriguingly described his proposed character as a “transformative Star Wars story detail.”
Most The Rise of Skywalker Matt Smith theories revolve around Palpatine, and one suggestion even had the actor playing a younger version of Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor. In the finished movie, a decrepit Palpatine intends to recover his power through Rey. Upon doing so, Palpatine pings back to his Return of the Jedi-era form, still played by McDiarmid. This theory claims Palpatine could’ve restored his youthful looks even further, and Matt Smith would’ve been the rejuvenated Emperor. Undoubtedly a cool thought, simply playing Ian McDiarmid with a face-lift doesn’t feel especially pivotal to Star Wars mythology, so this possibility can probably be ruled out.
A more left-of-center idea connects to Colin Trevorrow’s proposed Star Wars 9 script, Duel of the Fates. Palpatine is entirely absent from this early treatment, and Kylo Ren travels to Mortis instead of Exegol, seeking an awesome power boost. The home of the Father, Son and Daughter in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Mortis may have introduced Kylo Ren to the Force’s living embodiment, who Matt Smith could’ve portrayed. Maybe J.J. Abrams was still working from Colin Trevorrow’s original script at this stage, and initially planned to retain the Mortis idea.
Another recurring theory points toward Matt Smith as Palpatine’s son – the father of Daisy Ridley’s Rey. The Rise of Skywalker explains how one of Palpatine’s genetic clones rebelled against his old man, settled down with a wife, then conceived a daughter. The finished The Rise of Skywalker edit barely shows Rey’s parents, but providing a link between The Emperor and Rey would certainly meet the “transformative” criteria Matt Smith speaks of. Casting Jodie Comer (a relatively big name) as Rey’s mother suggests her parents were initially scripted for a larger role before being reduced to cameos, which perhaps means Smith was replaced by the lesser-known Billy Howle, who ultimately played Rey’s dad for a few brief seconds. Adding further weight to the theory, HappySadConfused put the Palpatine Jr. concept to Smith during their interview, to which the actor coyly replied, “I couldn’t possibly comment.”
Related: Every Reference To The Star Wars Prequels In The Rise Of Skywalker
Palpatine’s unnamed son is the most probable Star Wars character Matt Smith could’ve featured as in The Rise of Skywalker. It’s a key role that has a suspiciously small presence in the finished film, but there are subtle indications J.J. Abrams originally planned to explore Rey’s parentage in greater detail, so casting an actor of Matt Smith’s renown in the early stages makes perfect sense. The child of an original trilogy villain and the father of a sequel trilogy hero, it’s also easy to see why Matt Smith would talk-up his mystery character’s importance to the Star Wars mythos.
Affording Rey’s father a bigger spotlight in The Rise of Skywalker could’ve vastly improved Daisy Ridley’s character arc, as well as the sequel trilogy’s narrative overall. A story as massive as Palpatine’s own son defying him shouldn’t go untold, but The Rise of Skywalker frustratingly glossed over the topic. Why did the child leave? Was he powerful with the Force? How did he meet Rey’s mother? These are the questions that might’ve received answers had J.J. Abrams gone through with Matt Smith’s casting.
Matt Smith claims his intended The Rise of Skywalker character became surplus to requirements during pre-production, meaning the role was either greatly reduced or axed altogether at an early stage. Without knowing precisely who he was gearing up to play, it’s impossible to say for sure why the Eleventh Doctor’s Star Wars ambitions never came to pass. If Smith was intended as a younger Palpatine, he was probably replaced by Ian McDiarmid for the sake of familiarity. If the role was some embodiment of the Force on Mortis, this could’ve been dropped alongside other elements of Colin Trevorrow’s script.
Running with the most plausible theory that Matt Smith would’ve played Palpatine’s son, however, it’s a logical assumption that as The Rise of Skywalker‘s plot rapidly burgeoned, good ideas fell by the wayside – good ideas like including a proper backstory for Rey’s parents. As mentioned already, The Rise of Skywalker was widely critiqued for its chaotic narrative, and it’d come as no surprise if vital plots were sacrificed along the way. Matt Smith could’ve been another victim of The Rise of Skywalker‘s creative tug-of-war, and the stark change of direction following Trevorrow’s departure. Perhaps in another 2 years, Smith will reveal the rest of his Star Wars story.
More: Why Palpatine’s Clone Return Was Better In Legends Than Rise of Skywalker
Craig first began contributing to Screen Rant in 2016, several years after graduating college, and has been ranting ever since, mostly to himself in a darkened room. Having previously written for various sports and music outlets, Craig’s interest soon turned to TV and film, where a steady upbringing of science fiction and comic books finally came into its own. Craig has previously been published on sites such as Den of Geek, and after many coffee-drenched hours hunched over a laptop, part-time evening work eventually turned into a full-time career covering everything from the zombie apocalypse to the Starship Enterprise via the TARDIS. Since joining the Screen Rant fold, Craig has been involved in breaking news stories and mildly controversial ranking lists, but now works predominantly as a features writer. Jim Carrey is Craig’s top acting pick and favorite topics include superheroes, anime and the unrecognized genius of the High School Musical trilogy.

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