In 2017’s The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker sternly tells Rey that the true nature of the Force is a combination of “balance” and a “tension.” She nods and says okay, but then she squints, clearly still confused, and asks, “But what is it?” You may be approaching The Rise of Skywalker — the supposed final installment in the Star Wars film series, set to be released in theaters on Friday — with a similar apprehension. We’re meant to believe this is the end of a nine-film saga, but is it?
According to the trailer, the answer is … maybe. “The Story Will End. The Saga Lives Forever,” it declares. Now if you’re used to wrapping your head around the nonlinear Star Wars universe, perhaps these two phrases make perfect sense. One story is ending (the Skywalker Saga), but a new episode of The Mandalorian (which takes place before The Force Awakens) will pop up on Disney+ seven days later. So what should we expect in terms of closure? Here’s what we’re betting will happen in Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker from start to finish, because even if it’s only an ending, and not the ending, it’s reasonable to want some semblance of resolution.
The ninth film won’t feel as if it has a beginning.
Something true of more than half of the Star Wars films is that they don’t start with proper beginnings. This is kind of by design. Though he didn’t slap that Episode IV: A New Hope subtitle onto the original Star Wars movie until 1981, George Lucas always intended for audiences to feel as if they were walking into the middle of a story already in progress. Since then, very few Star Wars films have eased audiences into the narrative, preferring instead to jump directly into crisis. So it’s safe to assume that, after another open-text crawl in outer space, The Rise of Skywalker will be two and a half hours of rising action capped with a climax that may or may not be reckoned with on smaller screens to come.
The movie will probably throw a bone to the prequels.
In more than one interview, director J.J. Abrams has made it clear that The Rise of Skywalker is intended to be an ending to all nine films, not just the contemporary trilogy he helped launch in 2015 with The Force Awakens. For those who still have shaky feelings about the George Lucas prequels, this statement could read as a disturbance in the Force. Sure, fans might have been fine seeing Amy Sedaris’s Mandalorian character hanging out with the pit droids featured alongside young Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace, but huge, overt references to the prequels in The Rise of Skywalker will be tricky. And yet, it’s going to happen. Luke Skywalker casually mentions “Darth Sidious” in The Last Jedi, and even The Force Awakens makes a point of calling out “clone armies” and how the Force is out of balance. A lot of the confusing prophecy stuff from The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith is bound to get trotted out now. This could entail something as simple as a flashback to Liam Nesson as Qui-Gon Jinn, but, no matter how you slice it with a lightsaber, this movie will make sure you remember that The Phantom Menace — complete with Jar Jar Binks and Natalie Portman — is real-deal canon.
There will be at least two unexpected cameos.
Speaking of Hayden, Natalie, and the prequels, it’s pretty likely that some mic-drop cameo moments will shake up The Rise of Skywalker. Back in 2017, The Last Jedi managed to keep Yoda’s return under wraps until a couple of days before the movie dropped. When Solo hit in 2018, nobody had any clue that Darth Maul would make a cameo near the end. If J.J. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio are really going to bring closure to the entire nine-part story, that will mean bringing in a few familiar faces we haven’t seen in the trailers. Some people think Denis Lawson will return to play X-wing pilot Wedge Antilles.
The cameos will likely be bigger than that. We already know Ian McDiarmid is coming back as Palpatine and Billy Dee Williams is reprising his role as Lando Calrissian, but maybe we’ll get Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan’s Force ghost, too. Or a Hutt Cartel return? (Since Mark Hamill is listed among the cast, we’re already planning on a Force ghost appearance from him.)
Leia will appear.
This is a certainty. Years after Fisher’s tragic death in 2016, Princess Leia will once again make a posthumous appearance in a Star Wars film. (She shot scenes for The Last Jedi before she died, and a CGI Leia appears at the end of Rogue One.) According to Fisher’s brother, Todd, Abrams used approximately eight minutes of unused footage from the Force Awakens in order to “reverse engineer” a “magical” conclusion for Leia, in which “Carrie is talking to us all from beyond.” On top of that, there’s also a rumor that a de-aged Leia will pop-up in a 1983-ish flashback.
Kylo Ren and Rey’s whole deal will be explained, but it won’t satisfy anyone.
Beyond the pressure to weave in story lines and concepts from two previous trilogies, The Rise of Skywalker is also — hello — a direct sequel to The Last Jedi. One of the biggest reveals in that movie was the notion that Rey and Kylo Ren share a telepathic connection. Daisy Ridley has said over and over again that the new film will address the meaning of the pairing, otherwise known as “Reylo.” Whether they end up in love or at each other’s throats, at least 50 percent of the fandom community will likely be upset with Abrams’s decision.
Same goes for the secret of Rey’s parents: If this film retcons The Last Jedi (in which Kylo claims that Rey’s parents are random junk traders) and reveals Rey’s mom and dad to be, say, Han Solo and Qi’ra (played by Emilia Clarke in Solo) — meaning Kylo and Rey are half siblings — certain fans will not go gently into the night.
Somebody (probably Kylo Ren) will die.
If this film follows the typical Star Wars playbook, it’s likely that Kylo Ren — formerly Ben Solo and habitually on the fence between good and bad — will do something to “redeem” himself, thus restoring his Skywalker name. Kylo has already turned on his former master in The Last Jedi, and in The Force Awakens, he confesses that he’s sort of bad at being evil, complaining about feeling a “pull to the light.” However, actor Adam Driver doesn’t necessarily see redemption in his character’s future, asking Entertainment Weekly, “What does he have to be redeemed for?” Maybe Driver is thinking of Kylo as more akin to Hamlet than to Anakin Skywalker, which, on some level, is fair. Just because he’s on the lightsaber’s edge between light and dark doesn’t mean he has to tip all the way one way or another. But it also doesn’t mean he’s going to make it out of the movie alive. Star Wars likes dramatic absolutes, and even a morally shady guy like Hamlet succumbs in the end.
The good guys will win.
No matter what you’ve heard about the ending of The Rise of Skywalker subverting expectations, the cold, hard reality is that it must have a happy ending. Back in 1983, when everyone thought Return of the Jedi was the end of the story, the movie closed with a full-on party, complete with Ewoks singing and banging drums. George Lucas has since dialed back the elation, replacing the original musical track with a lower-key John Williams number in the 1997 special edition of Return of the Jedi. Maybe he knew the party wasn’t really over?
But in 2019, that’s not the case. If Lucasfilm wants to deliver on its promise of true closure, The Rise of Skywalker can’t end on a down note. It has to strike the right tone of hope and awe that has always fueled the franchise.