How could it? You’d be hard pressed to find anything in the first two entries in this new trilogy that moves things toward some big finale. And frankly, it’s impossible to watch the previous eight numbered “Star Wars” movies and think, “Yes, the next one could be the end of the story” without being told it is. You’d simply never come to that conclusion on your own.
Here’s what we know about “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker.” The characters who survived the last movie will be in it. Even though he’s dead, Luke Skywalker will pop up, probably as a Force ghost. Also Emperor Palpatine will be there, even though he also is dead. Lando is coming back too, but I don’t think he has died yet. Our heroes will go to a desert planet, and it may or may not be one we’ve seen before. And they’re also gonna go to where some Death Star wreckage is. And Rey is gonna use a janky new foldable lightsaber while looking evil.
What we don’t know is what anybody is actually trying to do in this movie. We don’t know the central plot beyond “good guys fight bad guys and probably there will be a twist.”
And looking back on the previous two films in this trilogy, “The Force Awakens” basically remixes “A New Hope” without actually explaining anything about the universe 30 years after “Return of the Jedi.” And nothing about “The Last Jedi” says “we’re nearing the end of this epic” — it actually plays more like the tragic end of a trilogy than a middle chapter.
It was basically the same ending “Revenge of the Sith” had — the bad guys won, the good guys have lost almost everything, and the hope for the future rests with children. But in the case of “Revenge of the Sith,” the story was leading into an 18-year time skip between the prequels and the original trilogy. In the case of “The Last Jedi,” the story was apparently supposed to be setting up the climax of the whole Saga, but there aren’t any leftover threads to pick up. The resistance is gone. The First Order is in control of everything. And for some reason, it was plainly stated that none of the things we were expressly or implicitly told would be a Big Deal in this new trilogy mattered at all. “Let the past die” and all that.
Beyond just the bad guys still being out there, there’s nothing we can infer from the previous films about where this whole thing is going. Ask yourself, if you hadn’t been told that the end of everything related to the story that began in 1977 was imminent, would you really be expecting it? Given the way “The Last Jedi” set the galaxy back into more or less the state it was between the prequels and the original trilogy, it would make much more sense to assume that Episodes X through XII would eventually be on the way, with “The Rise of Skywalker” setting up a big new story arc.
This whole situation reminds me of the marketing campaign for “Transformers: The Last Knight,” the fifth of the Michael Bay series, which awkwardly and out of nowhere claimed the movie would be “the final chapter” and encouraged fans to “find out how it all ends.” It was a weird direction for that film’s marketing because nothing about the trajectory of the franchise indicated “The Last Knight” would be the last main series “Transformers” movie. And the film itself directly contradicted that idea, ending with a cliffhanger that explicitly teased another sequel.
It makes me wonder when exactly they decided to end the saga here and fully embrace the shared universe thing with the slated Rian Johnson trilogy and whatever it is “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and DB Weiss are doing. The first instance I can find of a declaration that “Episode IX” would wrap up the main series comes from JJ Abrams back in 2017.
Speaking with Rolling Stone, Abrams said that he saw the then-untitled “Episode IX” as the end of the saga, adding the caveat that “the future is in flux” — meaning that was not an official statement on the matter. The confirmation came during the summer of 2018 in the press release revealing the new cast members of the film. It casually referred to the movie as “the final installment of the Skywalker saga” in the first paragraph.
The timing of that official declaration is interesting, coming two months after “Solo: A Star Wars” story became the first box office failure in the franchise’s history. That development no doubt sparked some major internal evaluation of the direction of the franchise. And then this year, Disney CEO Bob Iger said the theatrical portion of the franchise would take a hiatus after “The Rise of Skywalker,” a decision that I can’t help but think was at least partially inspired by the failure of “Solo.”
Whatever the reason, it doesn’t feel… correct that we’re only two months away from the end of this series of movies that has stretched on for so long. Sure, there is plenty of anticipation for “The Rise of Skywalker,” but it’s not that type of anticipation. It’s just the normal excitement for a new big “Star Wars” movie where we’re gonna see Mark Hamill and Billy Dee Williams and the late Carrie Fisher. It’s inherently a major pop culture event.
But if this is the end then it should feel like more than that. But it doesn’t. And that’s weird.