With IX in production, focus has shifted to the final installment in the Skywalker Saga. Many, if not most, expect that it will bring a close to the Skywalker storyline and the franchise will explore entirely new directions. However, a look at where we are and where we’ve come from suggests a surprising direction for the franchise.
Written by robotical712. Speaking for myself only.
Next year promises to be a busy one for Star Wars, The Clone Wars will be finished, a new live action show premieres and, of course, the final installment in the saga hits theaters. While the first two projects have generated a lot of excitement, most of the fandom’s attention is understandably on IX. The last installment, The Last Jedi was a shock to most and has touched off bitter arguments that are still ongoing. Most will admit they have no idea how the movie will not only finish out the trilogy, but the saga as well.
For those who do dare speculate, the vast majority believe Kylo will undergo some form of redemption. Opinions are split on whether he will live or die after that. A smaller number think he’ll die unrepentant. For almost all, that the First Order will be defeated is a forgone conclusion. However, I think an alternative is far more likely – Kylo fully embraces the dark side at the same time Rey embraces the light. The war between the First Order and those who oppose it will really begin in Episode IX. The Sequel Trilogy isn’t an end, but a middle chapter and a prologue in Lucasfilm’s overarching plan.
Where We Are
It has been four years since it was announced the long running EU would be ended and referred to as ‘Legends’. Going forward, all story content was to be part of a single unified narrative or ‘Canon’. Since then we’ve had one full animated series, twenty one original novels and YA novels, numerous comics and four films. Additional books have been announced for 2019 and Resistance slated to begin in October. Not a bad offering by any means. However, let’s take a closer look at what they’ve covered.
The Sequel Trilogy began in earnest with the release of The Force Awakens in December 2015 and set 30 years after Return of the Jedi. What transpired during that time is largely unknown other than Luke, Leia and Han went from triumphant to shattered and scattered across the galaxy. Leia and Han’s own son was at the heart of the tragedies that befell our heroes and from the ashes of the Empire arose an even more fanatical group which destroyed the Republic they worked so hard to build.
Two and a half years since TFA, we only know incrementally more about what happened in the time and only six novels and the Poe comics have been set in that period. Yet only Bloodline can really be said to be apart of the Sequel Trilogy narrative. The Aftermath trilogy basically finished out the Original Trilogy and covered the dissolution of the Empire. It brought us to the starting line of the ST narrative. Since then, we’ve had two other books set in that time period, but Last Shot and Phasma were largely self-contained stories told on the periphery. They gave us a few glimpses, but did little to tell how we got to the situation in the ST.
The two other movies, Rogue One and Solo, were anthologies that did extensive world building. Rogue One directly led into A New Hope and showed us quite quite a bit more about the Empire and Rebel Alliance as well as the construction of the Death Star. However, it also left virtually nothing to build off of as it destroyed much of what it introduced and most of the protagonists were minor players until the events of the movie. Solo, on the other hand, setup a number of potential plot threads to be explored and greatly expanded our view of the underworld.
The lone major animated show, Rebels, has given us a look at how the Rebellion came about from the view of a lone rebel cell. It’s given considerably more depth to the Rebel Alliance and its history. Yet, even it gave us a fairly narrow view of events and the action was largely away from the main figures of the rebellion.
The books and comics follow a similar pattern. They generally occur close to the events of the films or the depicted events are fairly self-contained and isolated. Most of the ST related content, such as the Poe comic series and the upcoming Resistance show, occurs within a year of TFA. Aside from glimpses, large swathes of the overall setting remain shrouded in mystery, including many key storylines – such as Emperor Palpatine.
To date the content released between 2014 and 2019 have largely focused on world building. There have been many hints of a deeper storyline, particularly concerning the Emperor, Unknown Regions and the history of the Force, but mostly content has focused on creating a loose outline for the setting. You could say the Sequel Trilogy era (2014-2019) is the Star Wars version of Marvel’s phase one. It’s setting up the key characters and conflicts for the post-Sequel Trilogy period.
This brings us to the Sequel Trilogy itself. When Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, the pressures facing the company changed considerably. The company has gone from serving the creative whims of one man to being beholden to Disney stockholders. This is not a strike against the company’s creativity, just a recognition of certain realities.
To that end, it is no longer enough to do an animated series or a new movie trilogy whenever the head of the company feels like it. The company needs to produce consistent results and therefore needs a sustainable framework for creating stories. Luckily for Lucasfilm it has the Skywalker saga.
The Skywalker storyline and family is by far the most recognizable and recognizable part of Star Wars. While the setting itself has room for many stories, the episodic films are the narrative core of the franchise. Therefore, while LFL will continue to branch out from the Skywalkers, it will be more incremental than some fans might like by necessity. At the same time, the episodic films have a certain formula that tends to be highly restrictive and will cripple the franchise if continued for too long. How then does LFL take advantage of its most valuable intellectual property – the Skywalkers? It does it by bringing the Skywalker saga to an end as defined by the episodic films while creating an enduring Skywalker story to tell.
It’s no accident that the ST is unique in that it feels like we’ve missed many important preceding events. Both the OT and PT were developed around the idea the vital events were contained within the films themselves. The story began and ended within the films and everything that happened in between were just details. In contrast, it feels like we’ve been dropped into a story already in progress. The Skywalker family has been torn apart, a new tyrannical regime has arisen and both the new Jedi Order and New Republic have been created just to fail disastrously. All of this has happened off-screen.
As listed in the preceding section, quite a bit has been released since Canon was announced four years ago, however we’re now two films in and still know very little about what transpired between Return of the Jedi and the Sequel Trilogy. What’s more, content set in other eras has hinted at a complex interwoven story that ties it all together. Thus, it can be expected ‘phase two’ will begin to explore this narrative.
However, there’s a problem, excitement for this undisclosed backstory will be at its highest while the Sequel Trilogy is ongoing. If the ST ties up all of the storylines it’s setup and future movies move on to other ideas (as Rian Johnson’s purportedly does), excitement will drift away from the gap stories and LFL will end up competing with itself. What’s more, all of the momentum for the new heroes, which lack the cultural recognition of the OT heroes, will be lost as they’ve been almost entirely defined by the conflict within the ST itself. Lucasfilm will have spent six years and hundreds of millions of dollars establishing characters with no clear direction or future. Worse, the OT3 will no longer be available to help.
In light of the above, the best move for Lucasfilm is to use the Sequel Trilogy as a sort of prologue. Instead of one self-contained story, the ST serves to setup the franchise for the long term. We can already see how this would play out in the past, but this also applies to the future and the two key conflicts that have extreme long-term potential are those between Rey/Kylo and the First Order/Resistance. Therefore, IX will finish what began in Episode VII – establishing and moving the key characters into position.
… The Rebellion is reborn today. The war is just beginning. And I will not be the last Jedi.
-Luke Skywalker, The Last Jedi
Most believe Kylo Ren and the First Order will be fully resolved in Episode IX, but I think it far more likely the movie will end with Kylo firmly in charge of the First Order (or whatever he decides to name it) and will have developed clear goals to pursue. On the other side, Rey will have learned her past and identity and fully embraced her role as leader of the forces of the light. Finn and Poe will have found and assumed their respective leadership roles within those forces. Those in the galaxy aligned to the light will finally rally to oppose the encroaching dark bringing the story begun in TFA full circle.
With this as the premise, Lucasfilm can tell parallel stories – the unfolding war between the dark and the light and that of the events that led to it. We’ll see Kylo and Rey’s ongoing journeys and conflict at the same time we follow their parents’ (Leia/Han and Luke’s respectively for those wondering) as well as the broader context that led to it.
In the next few articles I’ll discuss what the Skywalker saga is and what IX needs to do to conclude it, look at how The Last Jedi points squarely at this being the plan and finally provide some closing thoughts.