The Empire Strikes Back closed with a somber cliffhanger. The credits rolled with Luke Skywalker sans a hand, Han Solo on ice and the Rebellion on the run. However, this is still a very happy ending compared to Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s climax.
Rian Johnson’s film sees a reborn Rebellion that’s been decimated by a similarly reduced First Order. By the time the credits roll, both sides have lost significantly powerful figures in their ranks (Luke Skywalker and Snoke, respectively). And their new figureheads in Rey and Kylo Ren? They’re undoubtedly powerful, but they’re both still in transitional stages. Rey’s learning the ways of the Force and Ren is going through some pretty sizable personal issues – mostly stemming from his patricide in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
How is the Rebellion going to rebuild in the wake of such devastation? Will its old allies finally help out? And is Rey going to rebuild Anakin’s lightsaber, or fashion a laser staff from its Kyber crystal? These questions naturally arise after watching The Last Jedi, but another more pressing one presents itself: has the latest chapter in the saga created too many problems for Episode IX?
The Sequel Trilogy Could Feel Very Uneven
Abrams’ upcoming film blasts into our multiplexes in two years’ time and many will be anticipating this last chapter in the Sequel Trilogy, which was presumably mapped shortly after The Force Awakens was announced. Or was it?
Unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is being planned out a decade in advance, Lucasfilm is formulating each film as it goes along. As Johnson recently confirmed to Vox:
“…it’s not like there was a blueprint for what happens after The Force Awakens. There wasn’t at all. It was literally just me reading the script, and then thinking, what happens next?”
This is where we hit a snag, especially if we consider the subtext that Johnson included in his film. With that Force-sensitive boy raising his broom in defiance, the message is clear. You don’t have to be a Skywalker — or come from somewhere special — to be a hero and save the galaxy. It’s truly poignant, and it’s a wholly necessary message to ensure that the saga keeps moving forward. But was this the right point to explore these ideas? Certainly, from its firm and conclusive title to the death of the series’ original hero, The Last Jedi feels more like a third-parter rather than a trilogy’s midway point. And this could be problematic.
If the right tone isn’t struck from the beginning of Episode IX, the story could feel somewhat jarring. We all know of at least one movie series which outstayed its welcome, and while it’s unlikely that this will happen with something as popular as Star Wars at this stage, if Episode IX doesn’t hit the right notes, it could feel tired and derivative – especially if it follows on from what could have been a fitting conclusion.
The Last Jedi Is A Hard Act To Follow
We’re all aware that the Star Wars universe isn’t ending with the next installment, but finishing some forty years’ worth of Skywalker stories is going to take some doing in Episode IX. Think about it: the majority of Star Wars movies end on a pretty large scale battle. Is it possible to manufacture a big finale when both the First Order and the Rebellion have been decimated by The Last Jedi’s end? And how would you go about bolstering both factions in Episode IX? A time lapse of several months or years may assist in this, sure. Yet, giving both sides some soldiers to instantly recruit may inadvertently make the huge losses of The Last Jedi feel inconsequential.
On the other hand, Lucasfilm may choose to subvert our battle expectations as they did with Johnson’s pic. They may choose to focus solely on the struggle between Rey and Kylo Ren and downplay the capabilities of the First Order and the Rebellion. That would be a huge risk in such a pivotal movie, though.
And then there’s another gargantuan task to consider: sending off Leia Organa. After the sad passing of Carrie Fisher, the minds behind Episode IX will have to handle the loss of a hugely iconic character after The Last Jedi sidestepped it.
With all of this to juggle, it’s no wonder that Colin Trevorrow and Jack Thorne reportedly struggled with the script for the movie. Whichever way you slice it, the new writers will have to go through a considerable amount of narrative gymnastics to fittingly end this trilogy. And speaking of the writers…
There Are Many Unresolved Mysteries
After the firing of Colin Trevorrow, J.J. Abrams is returning to helm and write Episode IX. Plus, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice scribe Christ Terrio is on board to help him meet that December 2019 release.
Some fans may be relieved by Abrams’ return. After all, he is a very talented filmmaker. Plus, he’s less likely to make the same controversial moves that Rian Johnson made with cherished characters. Yet, other enthusiasts are dubious about him returning to the trilogy that he started.
You see, Abrams always likes to tease audiences, creating enigmas and “mystery boxes” in his stories which may or may not be answered later on. As such, many Star Wars fans are now wondering whether Abrams’ sensibilities are suitable for a saga’s final outing. His enigmas may work to kickstart a trilogy. But for its finale? Not so much.
Indeed, we must also consider that many of the enigmas that Abrams introduced to the series have yet to be answered. First and foremost: how did Maz get hold of Luke’s lightsaber? And just what is the deal with the Knights of Ren?
You might argue that these don’t need to be answered. True, the way that Supreme Leader Snoke is treated does prove that a character’s function within the story is more important than their detailed background. However, these two cases aren’t throwaway lines about power converters at the Tosche Station. Both questions relate to important, continuing aspects in the saga’s narrative.
Are the Knights of Ren the students who left Luke’s order with Ben Solo? Where have they been since Kylo joined the First Order? And why did J.J. Abrams want to distinguish them so much from regular Sith or Dark Jedi? Again, not every aspect of them should be detailed. But if they aren’t important, why were they were given such a prominent position in Rey’s visions?
Filmmakers obviously owe their audience nothing but their best efforts. However, if Episode IX answers none of the questions that we had going in, then the sequel trilogy is going to feel quite woolly and unsatisfying for many moviegoers.
There’s A Power Vacuum Left Over From The Golden Trio
It’s clear that the aim of the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy is to pass the proverbial torch from the original cast to the next generation of good – and bad – guys in that galaxy far, far away. As we’ve seen so far, The Force Awakens was Han Solo’s sendoff, while The Last Jedi revolves around the return of Luke Skywalker, who becomes one with the Force at the end. Sadly, the passing of Carrie Fisher has meant that the filmmakers have had to scrap their plans for Leia in Episode IX.
Naturally, this is no one’s fault, but many have expressed doubts that the next generation will be able to carry Episode IX as capably by themselves. Don’t get me wrong, Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron and newcomer Rose Tico are fantastic characters. Their arcs are fresh and they’re charismatically brought to life by their respective actors. In short, they’re a joy to behold. But as we near their third chapter, can we say outright that their bonds of friendship are as strong and endearing as their predecessors were at this point?
That’s a tough one to answer. You see, for all of his scripting faults in the Prequel Trilogy, George Lucas was at the height of his abilities where Luke, Leia and Han are concerned in A New Hope. The latter half of the pic is so enjoyable because we witness this clearly defined trio bounce off one another as they learn to work together. Bolstered by some superb acting and a good dash of natural chemistry, it’s hard to understate just how popular — and beloved — the trio has become since that formative first film. Contrastingly, in the Sequel Trilogy, Finn is the only one to have formed any lasting bonds with all of his compatriots. Heck, Rey has only just met Poe in the closing moments of The Last Jedi!
Episode IX may of course find Luke’s Force ghost return, alongside lovable regulars Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2. Yet, with a disjointed next generation — and none of the golden trio playing an active part in the proceedings — it’s hard to deny that it may feel somewhat diminished by the shakeup.
Of course, this isn’t to say that everything is looking gloomy for Episode IX. In fact, with such a talented group of people in front of (and behind) the camera, there’s every chance that it could be another success for Lucasfilm. However, we’d be remiss not to admit that there are quite a few challenges facing Abrams and his team.
Here’s hoping, then, that Star Wars: Episode IX is just as successful — if not as controversial — as The Last Jedi.