Somehow, the sequel trilogy has returned. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.) Star Wars Celebration Europe 2023 brought with it some exciting announcements for fans of the Skywalker Saga, as we’re apparently now calling it.
Lucasfilm president, Kathleen Kennedy, took to the stage to announce three new movies. One film, directed by James Mangold, will explore the inception of the Jedi; Dave Filoni’s project, at the other end of the timeline, will apparently tie up the plot threads introduced by current Disney+ series such as The Mandalorian. The third, meanwhile, is set to take place fifteen years after the sequels’ closing installment, The Rise of Skywalker (2019), as Daisy Ridley’s Rey establishes a new Jedi Order in the volatile years after the First Order’s collapse. Oscar-winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy will helm this as-yet-unnamed film, scripted by Steven Knight following the departure of Damon Lindelof and Justin Britt-Gibson from the project.
Could Rey’s new adventure begin to make things right? The Rise of Skywalker’s director, J.J. Abrams – along with co-screenwriter Chris Terrio – came back to finish what he’d started with the sequel trilogy’s opening installment, The Force Awakens, which had been followed by Rian Johnson’s polarising middle entry, The Last Jedi (2017). The last of the sequels, though, was met with a poor critical reception, amplified by the outrage of various disappointed sections of the Star Wars fandom: a downbeat ending for a trilogy greeted with such enthusiasm on its launch in 2015.
The Rise of Skywalker’s defenders often point out the difficulties that confronted Abrams and Terrio as they attempted to craft a follow-up to Johnson’s outing. Many fans see The Last Jedi as a narrative dead end; its much-vaunted subversions, in their eyes, weren’t the set-up to a thrilling conclusion, but the beginning of a death spiral from which the sequel trilogy simply couldn’t recover.
They’re right, of course – from a certain point of view.
The Rise and Fall of the Star Wars Sequels
The Last Jedi was a terrible middle entry in the trilogy if Lucasfilm’s aim was to close out this new chapter in its family saga by simply remixing George Lucas’s original three movies. Which, in the end, was exactly what The Rise of Skywalker did. Thanks to the choices made in that concluding film – a heel-turn redemption for its Dark Sider, an out-of-left-field parentage reveal for its new Jedi – the sequels ultimately amounted to a retread of Luke Skywalker’s journey. Kylo Ren’s brutal rise to power after disposing of Snoke; Rey’s dawning realization that her parents were, after all, anonymous junk traders; Finn’s budding romance with Rose: plot strand after plot strand was woven by The Last Jedi, only to be thoroughly undone, if not ignored, by its follow-up.
One thing seems clear, based on what little we know about these films’ troubled development. The Rise of Skywalker was constructed to give disparate groups of fans at least a little bit of what they wanted. It didn’t work, as anybody who, for their sins, spent more than five minutes on Twitter or Tumblr in December 2019 will attest. As shipper fandoms imploded and fans tried to avoid thinking too deeply about Emperor Palpatine’s sex life (don’t worry, kids; Rey’s dad was, apparently, a clone), it was a tough time for the galaxy far, far away.
2019 feels like a long time ago now, for many reasons, and maybe it’s time for a fresh start. Daisy Ridley seems enthusiastic about another adventure as Rey, but it’s not yet clear whether any of her co-stars from the sequel trilogy will be joining her, though speculation is mounting that John Boyega might reprise his role as heroic ex-Stormtrooper, Finn. Oscar Isaac told Indiewire last year that he’d consider returning as hotshot pilot Poe Dameron for the right story and director, so Poe fans can be cautiously optimistic on that front. It’d be lovely to see Kelly Marie Tran return as Rose Tico, which seems like a strong possibility. Adam Driver, on the other hand, looks pretty unlikely to come back as the repentant Ben Solo, but, if there’s one thing Palpatine’s taught us, it’s that death needn’t be final in Star Wars.
In the aftermath of The Rise of Skywalker’s release, we got a tantalizing glimpse of a very different sequel trilogy. Colin Trevorrow – originally intended to direct Episode IX before he parted company with Lucasfilm over creative differences in 2017 – would, judging by the script that leaked in early 2020, have tied up the trilogy’s loose ends very differently indeed. Provisionally titled Duel of the Fates, after John Williams’ magnificent theme for the climactic battle in The Phantom Menace, Trevorrow’s attempt at a conclusion does the supposedly impossible: building on The Last Jedi’s plot points and taking them to what was, by and large, their logical endpoint. Viewed from that vantage point, its precursor’s narrative is enriched, and The Force Awakens’s set-up for its characters is kept intact.
It's an early draft, and not everything lands, plus it’s a safe bet that the fabulous concept art we’ve seen since would have been toned down on its journey to the screen. But, for those disappointed by how this trilogy played out, it was an intriguing opportunity to ponder what might have been. Now, as fans look forward to another film featuring Rey, it’s a chance to speculate about what might follow for the lone representative of the Jedi Order.
In the spirit of positivity, let’s dodge the discourse and delve into the stories left unexplored for four of the sequels’ characters: reimagining a trio of movies that, as it turned out, could have gone down a few different paths. Poe Dameron isn’t on this list, because – that cringe-worthy backstory retcon aside – he came out of TRoS largely unscathed and has benefited from a comics line of his very own. Plus, Oscar Isaac already gave us a line reading so brilliant that it arguably can’t be surpassed. You know the one.
Possible Rey Storylines for Future Films
So Rey was, in the end, a Palpatine. Didn’t have that one on the bingo card. To be fair, it could have worked: Anakin Skywalker’s grandson confronted by the descendant of the monstrous Emperor who lured the future Darth Vader from the path of the Light. Like so much else in this trilogy, though, a great concept foundered on a lack of forethought. Had the Palpatine twist been planned from the start (and it’s pretty clear it wasn’t) we could have had, well… something truly special.
The Force Awakens left many feverishly speculating that the young Jedi was Luke’s daughter, perhaps even a lost child of Han and Leia. Either way, some Skywalker lineage seemed like a strong possibility. Many impute this to fandom misogyny as if a female character could only be worth our attention if she were somehow linked to a powerful man. Thing is, while “Rey Skywalker” was perhaps too obvious an answer to the lingering mystery of Rey’s vanished parents, it was also hinted at in clues dropped throughout the first film in particular. A misdirect intended to keep us talking and speculating? Quite possibly: there were other compelling options, like the prospect of Rey as a lost heir of Obi-Wan Kenobi, which Daisy Ridley has since revealed was on the table at an early stage in her character’s development.
A Kenobi bloodline would have been another intriguing twist which, like a mirror image of the Palpatine connection that was eventually disclosed, could have worked very effectively indeed. The key, as ever, would have been in the writing. Done well, the prospect of Rey succeeding where her grandfather could not – by helping a fallen Skywalker back into the Light – would have gained in emotional heft from our memories of that previous confrontation between two men who were once, as Matthew Stover’s Revenge of the Sith novelization puts it, “closer than friends. Closer than brothers.” Done badly, it would have been just another narrative shortcut in lieu of a proper arc for the franchise’s new face.
Duel of the Fates positions Rey as a sort of mirror to Anakin Skywalker: hot-headed, passionate in her loves (those who clocked the significance of her meet-cute with Poe at the end of The Last Jedi were on to something after all; let’s face it, “I know” only means one thing in Star Wars) and fierce in her hatreds. Some solid character development, at last, though Kylo’s dying confession that Rey’s real family name was Solana – no, me neither – is a bit of a headscratcher. Set-up for a Disney+ series? We’ll never know.
A fifteen-year time gap is long enough to establish Rey as a character who can stand alone, fleshing out her personality and providing her with a quest that hinges on more than her desperate need to belong. Rey’s introduction in The Force Awakens as she scraped an existence on barren Jakku was a masterful bit of storytelling that quickly established her resolve, tenacity, and ingenuity. Let’s hope Ridley gets to delve deeper into Rey’s true self in this new movie.
Finn’s Untapped Star Wars Sequel Potential
As excitement builds for the upcoming movie, fans are naturally discussing who else from the sequels’ roster of new characters might benefit from another outing to deepen their backstory, strengthen our emotional ties to their journey, and cement their place in the Star Wars pantheon. One candidate’s name comes up again and again in online conversations: Finn, the Stormtrooper stolen from his family as a child and forced to subsume his humanity until the slaughter of Jakku villagers in The Force Awakens compelled him to take a stand. John Boyega’s scathing denunciation of the racism he faced from the Star Wars fandom confirmed the suspicions of many fans who struggled to understand why Finn was consistently sidelined throughout the trilogy. The mere fact that this obvious foil to Kylo Ren never faced his enemy again after their brutal lightsaber fight in TFA is just one of many squandered opportunities.
So where could Finn’s story have been taken? The answer’s always been obvious to fans of Star Wars’ rich Expanded Universe (EU), where some intriguing parallels can be found. Finn Galfridian, the exiled prince of Artorias, discovered his Force abilities in the heat of battle against the invading Yuuzhan Vong, much as the sequels’ Finn first registered his own powers on the battlefield, an awakening perceived only by his fellow Force-sensitive, Kylo Ren. Imperial Officer-turned-Jedi Kyle Katarn, who made his first appearance in 1995’s Star Wars: Dark Forces video game, is another clear point of reference. Unfortunately, the films barely scratched the surface of the emotional conflict that we might have expected from an ex-Stormtrooper who finds himself fighting alongside those he had been trained to kill.
Trevorrow’s Duel of the Fates sees Finn, joined by Rose Tico, lead a citizens’ rebellion against the First Order. Some of those who take up their cry for action are Finn’s fellow escaped Stormtroopers. It’s a fitting moment of triumph for a man who displayed the strength of character necessary to break his own conditioning. Set against fandom talk of Finn’s “cowardice”, the cognitive disconnect is startling. This is a franchise that repeatedly hammers home a message of forgiveness for characters whose hands are bathed in innocent blood, but we’re going to sit in judgment on a man who refused to slaughter civilians? Finn deserved better than patiently waiting for Rey to lay her own demons to rest while the plot of The Rise of Skywalker unfolded around him. Keep your fingers crossed for a do-over.
We Need to See More of Rose Tico
The hate campaign against Kelly Marie Tran, who was introduced as Resistance mechanic Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, is another infamous example of fandom toxicity. Unfortunately, despite Disney and Lucasfilm’s welcome public support for Tran – which was more than Boyega ever received –, the haters got their way. Rose’s screen time in The Rise of Skywalker comes in at under two minutes. With the budding romance between her and Finn after their adventures in The Last Jedi having been quickly dismissed in Rebecca Roanhorse’s Star Wars: Resistance Reborn novel, the sequels’ final outing leaves Rose stuck at the Resistance base while Rey, Finn, and Poe go on a seemingly interminable MacGuffin hunt. For those of us who immediately loved Rose for her bravery, spirit, and her everywoman status, it was a colossal disappointment.
It's not hard to see how Rose’s story could have amounted to so much more. The sequels’ insistence on prioritizing Force-sensitivity, a tendency especially pronounced in The Rise of Skywalker, shoved both Rose and Poe into the margins of its story. Whether you enjoyed the hints of romance between Rose and Finn or not – and, sweet though they were in The Last Jedi, the suspicion, somewhat validated by author Alan Dean Foster, that they’d been shoved together to keep Finn away from Rey did cast a shadow over the pairing – The Rise of Skywalker’s dismissive handling of their bond was whiplash-inducing.
In Trevorrow’s Duel of the Fates script, Rose is right there with Finn in a storyline of their own: resisting torture, fomenting rebellion, and rising up to save the day. After Rose’s insulting treatment in the version of Episode IX we ended up with, the only consolation is that her story’s still wide open to be revisited in the future. There’s her abiding grief from the loss of her sister, Paige, in The Last Jedi’s opening space battle; the potential for friction between her, Finn, and Rey as they navigate an awkward friendship complicated by romantic yearnings; and the need to find her place amid the rebuilding of the New Republic. With her righteous fury against the First Order and her passion for the Resistance cause, Rose should have been more than a cheerleader for the central trio.
What’s to Be Done with Kylo Ren/Ben Solo?
Ah, Kylo. If only we could just lift you out of this timeline altogether and graft you onto Knights of the Old Republic 2, where you belong. Did the repentant Ben Solo really have to die at the end of TRoS? Probably, given that rather unfortunate galactic dictator phase. Yet a trilogy’s worth of possibility faded away when the errant Solo became one with the Force on the Sith world of Exegol. Those of us who, to put it diplomatically, weren’t invested in his connection with Rey didn’t get much to savor from his arc, in the end, bar that poignant moment between Kylo and a vision of his father, Han Solo. Yes, that father, the one he murdered. Look, all families have their issues.
It would have been nice if the films had given us more about a few trivial aspects of the younger Solo’s backstory: you know, just little things, like why Han’s child with Leia fell to the Dark Side in the first place. Those few minutes we got in TRoS of a Light-aligned Ben Solo delivered so much with so very little. Adam Driver sold Ben’s return perfectly as he fought his former allies, the Knights of Ren, and made a stand against his family’s nemesis, Palpatine, all without a line of dialogue. (And no, “Ow” doesn’t count.) Charles Soule’s and Will Sliney’s prequel comic, The Rise of Kylo Ren, has since filled in a few of the blanks, but the films could have delved so much deeper.
Trevorrow’s Duel of the Fates differs radically from the actual Episode IX in its handling of Kylo’s arc, which culminates in a bitter battle to the death against Rey as she avenges the parents whom, in this version, he killed. Trolled by Luke’s Force Ghost as he hunts for Sith relics and mutilated when an ancient holocron explodes in his face (hazards of the job, eh?), our new Supreme Leader learns the ancient art of draining the living Force from his victims before his mother, Leia, inevitably steps in to prevent him from killing Rey. Kylo allows himself to be consumed by his own lethal power and dies – but the light that fades from his eyes is the Light. Letting him live to atone for his crimes would have been a more fitting end for a man whose final moments, in both Duel of the Fates and The Rise of Skywalker, hinted at courage and dauntlessness that could have proved as powerful a force for good as they once were for evil - and, if all else fails, surely there are radar technician posts going vacant in the Newer Republic. But, if Kylo had to die, it’s fitting that the love of family set him back on the right path. He was, after all, a Skywalker.
So yeah, let’s save Ben Solo: from a narrative that did its very best to strip him of everything that made him so fascinating. The future for his character, if there is one, will probably lie in the past, in comic books and novels that might yet add much-needed light and shade to his story. Michael Moreci’s and Andy Duggan’s upcoming Star Wars: Hyperspace Stories #8 is a promising step in that direction. Along with his rival in the First Order, General Hux (and while we’re here, hats off to Domhnall Gleeson, another actor who managed to work miracles with what little he was given), Kylo will be dispatched by Snoke to quell dissent on the conquered world of Karaxis in this pre-The Force Awakens comic book. Based on his story for Kylo and Hux in 2020’s Star Wars Adventures #30, ‘Loyalty Test’, Moreci has a great handle on these characters, so Dark Side devotees should have something to look forward to.
What next for the sequels, then? If we’re lucky, this new film will tie up dangling plot strands, enrich the often sketchy characterization, and remind us why we fell in love with the new era in 2015. If not, hey… at least the Force is always with Lego.
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