It’s doubtful that there’s ever been a major movie sequel as game-changing as Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Not only delivering the expected, mid-trilogy shocks and calamities, it doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on the doom, turned the entire series’ mythology on its head, and spun up the wheels of a major philosophical shake-up for Star Wars while blowing the doors off a bold new future. Thus, Star Wars 9 theories are wide open. Because ye gods, has The Last Jedi left things in a complicated state.
Luke Skywalker is dead. Kylo Ren has killed Snoke and become the Supreme Leader of the First Order. Rey is the last Jedi, but is barely a Jedi at all, and is going to have to train herself from this point on. The resistance is crushed, barely anyone is left, and no-one is coming to help. So what happens now? Mercifully, while we lack any hard facts, the internet hive-mind has been working dutifully, throwing up a wealth of Star Wars 9 theories. So I’ve trawled the internet, dug into the Reddits, and pulled out the key ideas knocking around. And then I appraised them for plausibility, and had a good look at just where they might lead. Some are good, some are bad, but all of them are possible to varying degrees. Let’s start with the theory that…
The sequel trilogy is actually a prequel trilogy
Given that The Last Jedi ends on such an unrecoverable downer – The Empire Strikes back has nothing on the death of Luke Skywalker and the complete and utter extinguishing of the Resistance – some have theorised that with so much to recover in Star Wars 9, the next film won’t actually be the traditional redemptive, happy-ending finale at all. The idea is that Episode 9 will see the last handful of surviving heroes battle an increasingly powerful Kylo and ultimately fail, leading into a new ‘Empire vs. Rebellion storyline in Episodes 10 to 12.
To this, I say nay. While I understand the pacing reasons for assuming that Star Wars 9 can’t tie everything up, letting things run through into another trilogy would be a massive cop-out, leading to a thoroughly dissatisfying ending and a total waste of all of the themes and ideas raised in The Last Jedi. It would, frankly, make Episode 9 rather a non-event, its conclusion simply hitting the reset button on the whole trilogy. Some have ventured that it would make a nice, alternating cycle between good and bad endings between trilogies, but does anyone really want Star Wars to become that predictable?
There is though, a much better Star Wars 9 theory on how the sequel could deal with the unremitting bleakness at the end of The Last Jedi. And it involves taking a leaf from The Dark Knight Rises.
Star Wars 9 is set years after The Last Jedi
This one might sound like a curveball, given that The Last Jedi picked up right where The Force Awakens left off, but it's certainly not out of character for Star Wars. After all, the original trilogy left gaps of months between films, and the prequels covered more than a decade over the course of their run. But besides all that, a big time jump to Episode 9 would solve the big new storytelling challenges brilliantly
First of all, there's Leia. Following Carrie Fisher's tragic, too-soon passing, Leia's prominent role in the sequel trilogy cannot continue. But removing her from proceedings will be all kinds of tricky, if Episode 9 carries straight on from where we are now. A quickie, off-screen death would be distasteful and unsatisfying, and some manner of voluntary self-removal from the main story - by way of an away-mission, or perhaps a retirement - would be both weak and entirely out-of-character. But if Star Wars 9 is set five to ten years later, Leia's absence will be much more justifiable, whether we lose her through natural causes or the long-term effects of her space-exposure injuries.
Then, we have the overall galactic situation to deal with. Chiefly, there's the fact that as of The Last Jedi, the war is effectively over, at least in its current form. The First Order has won, the Resistance has been reduced to about 20 survivors hiding out on the Millennium Falcon, and the rest of the galaxy has apparently given up. Any sort of swift turn-around is going to risk feeling cheap and contrived. Logistically and dramatically, it will be much more effective to allow the new status quo time to settle in, before the struggle continues anew.
A jump of several years will give time for new events to set up a plausible next stage of the story, and if Kylo Ren's new First Order (or whatever it ends up being called) is allowed to thrive and dominate, then we have a much more affecting situation to explore, with much more tangible stakes, as things move forward. The Broom Kid scene at the end of The Last Jedi is a brilliantly-judged hint of vague, future hope, tempered with a melancholic sense that victory will be a long time coming. Episode 9 would do very well to run with that notion.
And with several characters now in states of serious personal flux - Kylo, Rey, Poe, Finn, and Rose are all on the cusp of major growth and self-discovery at the end of The Last Jedi - then a big time-jump will give time for them to really turn into the people The Last Jedi began shaping them into being. There are some profound, non-traditional character arcs going on in The Last Jedi, and they deserve room to continue and conclude properly.
Hux will be the real villain
So if the First Order (or rather, Kylo’s New Order) is allowed to take control of the galaxy, where do things go from there? The exciting thing is that it’s entirely uncertain right now. In Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, we do not have the usual megalomaniac Sith Lord fascist conqueror-type. We don’t have an all-out Bad Force Wizard intent on crushing the galaxy under his Dark Side boot. In fact, we don’t really know what we have, because Kylo doesn’t yet particularly seem to know what he wants at all. His actions at the end of The Last Jedi are the product of pure, knee-jerk, emotional instinct rather than any kind of long-game strategy or manifesto. He doesn’t advocate Sith, Jedi, Republic, or Empire. He just wants to burn down all the constructs of failure and betrayal that led to his misery, and replace them with… something.
So it’s entirely probable that whatever that something is, it won’t take the shape of anything particularly familiar. And it’s entirely probable that key First Order figures, who had previously come very close to realising the victory they’d worked toward for years, are going to be particularly displeased by the new state of affairs. Especially if a big time-jump sets Kylo’s new regime in place for a good while. Specifically the likes of General Hux and Captain Phasma – if she’s still alive – are liable to be peeved, Hux’s discontent exacerbated by Kylo having snatched leadership from him at the last minute, at the end of The Last Jedi, and humiliated him at the same time.
So how about, as a cool subversion of Star Wars’ traditional themes of evil empires and heroic rebellions, the next big insurrection comes from within the bad guy heartland, as Hux rallies his loyalists to overthrow Kylo and turn the First Order back into what he always wanted it to be. That would also be very effective dramatically, given that Hux was treated as an inept clown throughout the majority of The Last Jedi, his importance in proceedings increasingly downplayed in comparison to Rey, Kylo, Snoke, and Luke.
And crucially, it would give us a catalyst for the next real phase of the war. With the resistance crushed, bereft of either people or resources, there’s little scope for actual conflict using them alone as protagonists. But if Kylo Ren went up against a new, Hux-led First Order (the Second Order?), with the remnants of the old resistance still milling around awaiting an opportunity, then we have the makings of something very interesting. Something interesting which would lead directly into the idea that…
Star Wars 9 is going to do the Grey Force properly
The Last Jedi gets really, really close to making it official, but never quite cements the idea. Kylo is neither Sith nor Jedi, taking power in order to enact an entirely new path. Rey has decided to discover her own, new way of being a Jedi, free from the doctrines and limitations of old. She has Luke and Yoda’s blessing in doing this. The core theme of the whole movie is that the ways of the past always hold back progress if adhered to too closely. Everything is set up to explore a galaxy attaining peace and progress through a rejection of binary viewpoints and outdated ways of thinking. And if Kylo now finds himself battling a resurgent First Order representing an attempted return to tradition, then that opens the doors up wide for a new, combined faction of ‘Grey Side’ progressives to come together – made up of Ren supporters and resistance remnants alike – to shut down the old ways for good.
So we might well see Kylo and Rey fighting side by side. We might well see Poe leading orange-clad fighters alongside reformed First Order pilots. We might – and this would be wonderful – see Finn finally exorcise his demons by leading a squad of fellow Stormtrooper deserters against a platoon of Phasma’s own. Narratively and thematically, this all fits together brilliantly, making a complete, shared arc out of Kylo and Rey’s mutually sympathetic but conflicting viewpoints, and entirely realising the forward-looking philosophy of The Last Jedi. And it would do so in a way that still allows for a massive, climactic fight of progressive insurrection against oppressive, Star Destroying bastardry, delivering traditional Star Wars highs wrapped around a fresh new meaning.
Snoke will return from the dead. Or maybe isn’t dead at all
There are several theories on how this could happen. One idea - which possibly still clings to the theory that Snoke is Palpatine’s long-thought-dead master, Darth Plaguis - posits that if Snoke is powerful enough in the Force, then he could resurrect himself. Another idea theorises that, even if Snoke cannot repair his now decidedly disjointed (and possibly incinerated) body, then his Force Ghost could possess another, living character, in order to hitch a ride and cause trouble anew. And then, of course, there’s the suggestion that Snoke never died at all, and what Kylo killed was actually just a Force projection, similar to the one Luke himself uses to outsmart Solo Jr. a little later on.
I find myself conflicted on this one. My gut reaction is to call bullshit. There are several reasons for this call. First of all, logically, it would be a major feat of improvisational smoke and mirrors for Snoke to simulate having been cleaved in two upon realising that Kylo was going to attack him and not Rey. And Snoke has to have been surprised by that betrayal. The entire point of the throne-room scene – in which Kylo subverts Snoke’s prediction that he will cut down “his true enemy” by handing that designation to his master before he follows through – is that the certainty and arrogance of tradition has been felled by its own, overconfident belief in itself.
Snoke interpreted his vision in his own favour, because he believed that the old ways will always dictate the fate of the future. He hadn’t reckoned on Kylo’s progressive free will. That’s why the Supreme Leader’s rather off-hand dispatching is so great. He’d built himself up to be a big deal, but was ultimately proved irrelevant in the face of a world moving on past his point of view. Having Snoke somehow survive to become a major player again flies in the face of all of that.
That said, if Snoke returns as part of a resurgent First Order battling against a united Kylo and Rey, that could work. As a rotten, decaying figurehead for an old, regressive world (one that, literally and metaphorically, refuses to die), Snoke could make a great ‘final boss’ for the progressive new Grey alliance. Though arguably, that story wouldn’t actually need him in order to work.
Luke is coming back as a Force ghost
I have similar feelings to this one as I have about the return of Snoke. It’s possible, but also unnecessary, and would only risk detracting from the ultimate point of The Last Jedi. At the end of Episode 8, Luke’s arc is complete. And, taking all five of his films into account, it’s a hell of a great arc. He’s grown from naïve, hotheaded young upstart to naïve, hotheaded young Jedi. He’s become powerful, but slightly too quickly for his wisdom to have grown in step. He’s fallen victim to believing his own legend, and suffered the consequences of that, damaging a great many people in the process. And he’s given penance, but punished himself too hard for his mistakes, until a fresh new hope showed him that by letting go of the past he could forgive himself and help the future thrive on its own terms.
And now, that future needs to be allowed to do that. Luke’s return would help neither himself nor the galaxy at large. His part is played, and his work is complete. Any further influence he might have directly upon the story would sully that completeness, and also contradict his own standpoint at the end of The Last Jedi. There, we have a Luke who’s content in having fulfilled his purpose, and confident that the galaxy is in safe hands. That whatever happens, it will always find its way to the light. Once again, here’s looking at you, Broom Kid. As for Luke, let him rest. He and Yoda have a whole lot of catching up to do.
Lando will finally turn up
Okay, this returning-character idea, I am 100% on board with. Lando is still alive, and he’s still on the side of the good guys. If the entire galaxy was going to remain silent when the Resistance put out its final call, you’d still expect Lando to reply. Heck, a lot of us expected him to turn up in The Last Jedi’s casino scenes. If the sequel trilogy is going to wrap up the arcs of the core, original trilogy cast in order to set things in motion for the future, Lando deserves a role in Star Wars 9. I have no idea what that role should be, but he should have one. If Han got to pilot the Falcon one last time, Lando should too.
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