“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” premiered Dec. 20, 2019, and with it, the supposed end of the Star Wars main saga storyline. Star Wars is always a big deal in any medium, and Star Wars fans are always enthusiastic when it comes to their reaction to a new theatrical release. But “The Rise of Skywalker”, which sees J.J. Abrams returning to the director’s seat is special. This latest installment, Episode IX, is not just the last installment of the sequel trilogy, but the last installment of the Star Wars Saga that began in 1977 with George Lucas’ Star Wars, now better known as “A New Hope.” But if “Rise of Skywalker” is not the end of the franchise with more movies planned for release starting in 2022. What, then, if anything, is really ending?
In order to answer that we first need to establish what the Star Wars Saga consists of. Technically, it is only the episodic films, with the other film released since George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012 existing as supplemental stories. But Lucasfilm, in its current form, overseen by Kathleen Kennedy, has placed less emphasis on the numeric titles of the sequel trilogy.
The episode numbers are still present in the opening crawls, but in terms of the film’s marketing, they have been nonexistent. And the previous entries comprising the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy have received new Blu-ray and digital releases that have likewise removed the Roman numerals from the titles. The effort here seems to be in the service of giving equal weight to Star Wars releases past, present and future. Now that the A Star Wars Story label is seemingly defunct, there seems to be an intention for Star Wars movies to simply exist as Star Wars and not as part of a hierarchical system where some films are more important than others.
We could also look at Star Wars Saga as being Skywalker centric, the stories of Anakin (Hayden Christensen), Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Ben Solo (Adam Driver). But even that definition seems questionable given that the sequel series has focused on Rey (Daisy Ridley), who, barring some unlikely retcon, is not a Skywalker.
What seems most likely is that the end of this Saga is more than Roman numerals, and Skywalkers’ bloodlines and namesakes. The end of this Saga is the end of the Palpatine conflict. Ian McDiarmid’s return to the franchise came as a shock when his role was revealed at Star Wars Celebration earlier this year. The Emperor seemed thoroughly defeated at the end of “The Return of the Jedi” (1983), and although the now non-canonical expanded universe saw him return, the likelihood of him showing up in another movie seemed slim. But his return gives the Star Wars saga a concrete through-line, a singular big bad, whose lines in the latest trailer seem to suggest that he planned for all of this.
In a 2015 Wired profile on Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm’s efforts to revitalize the franchise, the infinite possibilities of the franchise were discussed, along with the ability to move around in time. There are currently three separate Star Wars film projects in the works: a trilogy written and produced by “Game of Thrones”’ David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the first of which is set to premiere in December 2022; a trilogy from “The Last Jedi” writer-director Rian Johnson; and a film developed by Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige. It seems unlikely, given how the oversaturation of Star Wars affected the box office of Solo (2018) that we’ll see these film series released concurrently. The three-year break between The Rise of Skywalker and Benioff and Weiss’ film should give fans just enough time to miss the franchise again. No details about any of these films have been released, but audiences expect some to happen before “A New Hope” and others to happen after “The Rise of Skywalker.” So the end of “Star Wars?” No. The end of a saga? Yes.