Entertainment

What the Ending of 'The Rise of Skywalker' Means for the 'Star Wars' Universe

star wars the rise of skywalker
John Boyega in 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' | Lucasfilm
John Boyega in 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' | Lucasfilm
This article contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Continue reading at your own peril. You can also read our spoiler-free review or our preview of the movie, as well as where it ranks in the saga overall, and whether it has spawned any all-time-great Star Wars quotes.

Overflowing with new characters, worlds, and revelations, J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker introduces more questions than it could possibly answer in its 142 minute runtime. Though the film has been sold to audiences as the grand finale of the long-running Skywalker saga, a story that kicked off in 1977 with George Lucas' comparatively nimble space adventure Star Wars, fans know that Disney, the company that purchased the franchise in a $4 billion deal in 2012, won't let the franchise die. The Rise of Skywalker is most likely not a definitive ending. It's more like an inflection point.

Where might the narrative go next? That's a question that's doggedly not answered by the actual hug-filled conclusion of The Rise of Skywalker, which seeks to close a series of loops by rhyming certain images from the original trilogy and bringing back ghosts from previous films in the same way Return of the Jedi did back in 1983. Of the major characters from the original trilogy, only Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Lando Calrissian, the charming scoundrel pilot played by Billy Dee Williams, survived the Disney-era trilogy; Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia each died at different intervals, providing shocks and tear-jerker moments along the journey. Emperor Palpatine, who improbably re-emerges as the series Big Bad in The Rise of Skywalker, has now died in the saga twice -- but more on him later. 

The new characters proved to be more resilient. Daisy Ridley's young Jedi master Rey learned her true lineage and ended the film on Tatooine, where she buried Luke and Leia's lightsabers in the sand, adopted the Skywalker name, and wielded a lightsaber all her own. Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron got promoted to general of the Resistance and led a daring aerial assault on a giant army of Star Destroyers, likely securing a strong political future if he chooses to pursue it. John Boyega's Finn redeemed himself in battle and showed signs of having his own Force powers, suggesting that he could one day become a Jedi as well. BB-8, Rey's soccer-ball-like droid companion, is still jaunty and indestructible. It wasn't all sunshine: Adam Driver's Ben Solo, formerly known as Kylo Ren, found himself in the ill-fated Darth Vader role, sacrificing his life to revive Rey and sharing a kiss before dying.

star wars the rise of skywalker
LucasFilm

Rise of Skywalker doesn't necessarily point any of its three major protagonists in a specific direction at the end of the movie. Unlike the prequel-trilogy capper Revenge of the Sith, which has a tragic dimension and serves as an onramp to A New Hope, the screenplay by J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio, with story credits from Jurassic World co-writers Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, doesn't have another pre-established event within the universe to build towards. The task handed down to the writers was likely to mirror the emotional and tonal uplift of Return of the Jedi, which ends with supportive ghosts, celebratory bonfires, and an Ewok sing-along to the "Yub Nub" song. At the end of The Rise of Skywalker, only Lando, grinning as always, appeared ready to go another adventure as he spoke with Jannah, the horse-riding Resistance fighter played by Naomi Ackie. Everyone else feels more or less content.

Clearly, there's no shortage of new characters to drive speculation and debate in the coming years as fans take to message boards, social media, and convention floors. In addition to the main protagonists, the Disney trilogy introduced a host of supporting players like Kelly Marie Tran's resourceful mechanic Rose Tico, Lupita Nyong'o's reformed space pirate Maz Kanata, and Keri Russell's helmet-sporting criminal Zorii Bliss. These characters will no doubt pop up in various Star Wars-branded novels, video games, and cartoon series, but will any of them have a future in the Star Wars films and television series that Lucasfilm has in development? The answer to that question remains even more shrouded in mystery than the dark Sith super-science used to revive Emperor Palaptine. (Seriously, what's going on with the Sith cloning department?)

star wars the rise of skywalker
LucasFilm

In the same way Palpatine stored a bunch of Snoke body parts on Exegol, Disney looks like it's currently stockpiling potential film spin-off and sequel ideas. Back in November of 2017, Lucasfilm announced that Star Wars: The Last Jedi filmmaker Rian Johnson was developing a "brand-new Star Wars trilogy," which he would write and direct the first entry in. However, following the divisive fan reaction to The Last Jedi and the financial failure of Solo: A Star Wars Story in 2018, very little new information about this new trilogy emerged. During the press tour for his new whodunit Knives Out, Johnson told Variety he was "still talking to Lucasfilm" and said that "until it’s up on StarWars.com, don’t believe it."

Johnson's isn't the only name being tossed around. Another potential trilogy from Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss was announced back in 2018 and then cancelled this summer when the pair announced they weren't moving ahead with the project. (The pair cited their development deal with Netflix as the reason for their departure, but other stories suggested it also had to do with larger creative differences.) Additionally, Disney revealed Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige was developing a Star Wars movie back in September, driving further speculation about creative uncertainty behind the scenes at Lucasfilm.

A more definitive decision about the future of Star Wars on the big screen could arrive in the coming months. In a recent interview with the L.A. Times, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy indicated that the next Star Wars movie would arrive in 2022, and that the company won't abandon its new characters. She also indicated that they'd like to move away from the trilogy model. "I think it gives us a more open-ended view of storytelling and doesn't lock us into this three-act structure," she said. "We're not going to have some finite number and fit it into a box. We're really going to let the story dictate that." (Disney CEO Bob Iger pushed back against that plan during The Rise of Skywalker premiere, telling a Variety reporter, "Oh, I don't know about that.")

Let's not forget that Star Wars is also more than a film franchise now: Disney views it as a key component of their theme-park division and their streaming strategy going forward. The move away from a trilogy structure could also allow Star Wars to more closely resemble the loosely serialized approach of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which remains the company's golden goose. Following the Baby Yoda-powered success of The Mandalorian on Disney+, Lucasfilm will produce a prequel series centered around Diego Luna's Cassian Ando character from Rogue One and a new series with Ewan McGregor reprising his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Whether Rey, Finn, and Poe will show up again on Disney+ or in movie theaters is unclear. Just don't expect those lightsabers to stay hidden in the sand forever.

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Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.