While we’re desperate to find out how the Skywalker Saga reaches its endgame in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the sequel trilogy are not exactly the first stories told in the galaxy far, far away post-Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. For three decades, the Star Wars timeline continued thanks to numerous writers creating dozens of tales set in the wake of the Emperor’s demise.
Of course, there was also George Lucas's vision for the future. The Star Wars creator wrote his own story treatments for Episodes 7, 8 and 9 that were subsequently (perhaps controversially) discarded by Disney after they bought Lucasfilm in 2012. And while those never came to fruition, the stories of Luke, Leia, Han and their kids continued through the novels and comic books of the mind-bogglingly vast Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU).
Unlike the movies and the Star Wars movies and The Clone Wars animated show that form the pillars of Star Wars chronology, these Expanded Universe stories were never regarded as official canon. With such a confusing state of affairs, Disney retired the old EU when they bought LucasFilm, placing the books under the “Legends” banner – i.e. the stories still existed, but the way was now clear for new tales to be told, unburdened by having to fit in with what came before. For the first time, Star Wars would have a single, coherent timeline like that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While Lucas’s treatments and the Legends stories have now been retired from active duty, they’re packed with brilliant ideas. Indeed, plenty of characters and plotlines from the old Star Wars Expanded Universe – Grand Admiral Thrawn in Star Wars Rebels, Luke’s Jedi school – have already found their way into official continuity, albeit in mutated form. So we’ve taken a look at how previously told stories have already the events that have unfolded in the Star Wars galaxy post-Return of the Jedi – and how they could still shape Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker…
The Lucas treatment
You don't need to be a Bothan spy to know that George Lucas had lans for three Star Wars trilogies – the original movies, the prequels, and a set of sequels. But, after Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith showed Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader, Lucas apparently called it a day on the series. That meant that anything that happened after the destruction of the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi would either be confined to non-canon books and comics – or fans’ fertile imaginations.
That all changed when Disney bought the Lucasfilm empire in 2012 – including Lucas’s treatments for Episodes 7, 8 and 9. Ultimately, however, we were denied the chance to see his vision for the future as his storylines were jettisoned in favour of a more obviously fan-friendly take on Star Wars.
Because, make no mistake, Lucas’s vision for a post-Return of the Jedi galaxy would have been different to anything we’ve seen before.
"[The next three Star Wars films] were going to get into a microbiotic world," Lucas told James Cameron’s Stories of Science Fiction in an interview published after The Force Awakens was released. "But there's this world of creatures that operate differently than we do. I call them the Whills. And the Whills are the ones who actually control the universe. They feed off the Force.
"Back in the day, I used to say ultimately what this means is we were just cars, vehicles, for the Whills to travel around in. We're vessels for them. And the conduit is the midi-chlorians. The midi-chlorians are the ones that communicate with the Whills. The Whills, in a general sense, they are the Force. But it's about symbiotic relationships. I think, personally, one of the core values we should have in the world, and kids should be taught, is ecology, to understand that we all are connected."
As many fans will know, the Whills have always been a part of Star Wars lore – they were mentioned in Lucas’s very early treatments for the original movie – but this sounds more like a spiritual Innerspace than a Star Wars film. Lucas often showed an enthusiasm for reinventing the franchise, but given the fanbase’s less-than-favourable response to midi-chlorians in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, this could have been commercial suicide. Indeed, it seems unlikely J.J. Abrams will venture anywhere quite so esoteric in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a movie that’s sure to hit all the right fan buttons after the decidedly mixed response to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
The Emperor Strikes Back
One of the few things we know for certain about Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker is that Emperor Palpatine is somehow back despite his (apparent) death. Frankly, nobody should be surprised about that, because while Episodes 1-9 are usually described as the Skywalker Saga, Palpatine is arguably a more important figure in the movies than either Anakin or Luke.
Indeed, they’re mere supporting players next to a Sith Lord who engineered an entire interstellar war – and all-but wiped out the Jedi Order – to enable his rise to power. And seeing as his legacy lives on in the ideology of the First Order, it would be surprising if his story ended three movies before the end of the saga – he’s rather more integral to the grand scheme of things than Supreme Leader Snoke, whose death was a tiny disturbance in the Force by comparison.
So how’s Palpatine coming back? Considering he once used the promise of cheating death to lure Anakin to the Dark Side, he surely had numerous contingency plans in mind. And there may be clues to his route back in Dark Horse’s Dark Empire comic books by Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy.
In that story, Palpatine’s spirit – which has been lingering in the netherworld of the Force – possesses a former Imperial aide, before being transferred into one of the many cloned bodies the Emperor had put aside before his death. Luke and Leia eventually manage to eliminate Palpatine’s clones, but the Emperor has another crack at a comeback a couple of years later: by possessing one of Han and Leia’s kids – named, appropriately enough, Anakin.
Could a clone be the vessel for the Emperor’s return? After the events of the prequel trilogy there’s no question cloning is part of Star Wars canon – and a physical Palpatine would be a more palpable threat than a Force ghost, however malevolent it was. Don’t be surprised if The Rise of Skywalker riffs on this idea in some way.
The Empire continues
In the official unified Star Wars timeline, the Empire didn’t last long after the destruction of the second Death Star – peace accords were signed in the wake the Battle of Jakku, which happened a year or so later. Instead of making a nuisance of themselves by hanging around, officers still loyal to Palpatine hot-footed it to the Unknown Regions of the galaxy to form what would become the First Order.
However, the idea that the Emperor’s death wasn’t Star Wars’ answer to a happily-ever-after for the galaxy was not a new one. Instead, the old Legends stories saw an Imperial Remnant striving to re-establish supremacy over the nascent New Republic – coincidentally an organisation that got its first mentions in the old EU.
Arguably the most notable new player was Grand Admiral Thrawn, the blue-skinned military commander who was the main antagonist in Timothy Zahn’s Heir To The Empire – a bestselling series of novels widely credited with reigniting the public‘s interest in Star Wars in the early-90s, and paving the way for the prequels. Thrawn proved such a popular character that he became part of the official canon in Star Wars Rebels.
Luke's evil clone
Nobody really thought that Luke Skywalker vanishing into thin air on Ahch-To was the last we’d seen of the last Jedi, did they? We already know that Luke will appear in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The smart money would suggest the late hero of the Rebellion is coming back as a Force ghost. Indeed, even star Mark Hamill seemed to suggest as much in an interview with the Associated Press: “The fact that I'm involved in any capacity is only because of that peculiar aspect of the Star Wars mythology where if you're a Jedi you get to come back, [to] make a curtain call as a Force ghost."
But what if lies, deceit and creating mistrust are Hamill’s ways now? What if he’s just deploying some of the traditional pre-release smoke and mirrors?
Because there are other ways for Skywalker to return – as an evil clone, perhaps… If that sounds a bit of a stretch, just look back at an old Dark Horse Comics storyline where Imperial agents created an evil clone of Luke Skywalker from the hand Darth Vader cut off at Cloud City. This so-called "Luuke Skywalker" brandished the lightsaber that formerly belonged to Anakin/Luke – the one Luke casually tossed away in The Last Jedi – and was eventually killed by the real Luke and his future wife Mara Jade.
Hamill himself endorsed this bizarre twist while promoting The Last Jedi – but it’s probably too weird to find its way into Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. However, it does show that deceased Jedi don’t need Force ghosts to come back. Besides, how cool would it be to see a version of Luke Skywalker legitimately working for the First Order, facing off against his former pupil, Rey?
There was, however, one area of Luke’s future the old Star Wars Expanded Universe predicted correctly. Like his counterpart in the official continuity, he did go on to found a new academy to train new Jedi – in this case on Yavin 4, the planet that served as the Rebels’ base of operations in Star Wars: A New Hope. Luckily for everyone in the EU, this Jedi Academy’s pupil roster didn’t feature a young Kylo Ren waiting to burn everything to the ground.
Han and Leia's other children
There can’t have been many fans of the original Star Wars trilogy who didn’t want Han and Leia to have a lasting relationship – theirs was, after all, the only thing approaching a love story in the whole of that galaxy far, far away. So it’s good to know that, long before The Force Awakens confirmed the pair had got married and had a kid, the old Star Wars Expanded Universe had already taken them in a similar direction.
In the discarded continuity, however, instead of having an only child named Ben Solo, they had three kids: twins Jacen and Jaina, and a younger son called Anakin – Leia chose the name to try and redeem it after her father’s many crimes.
While the children themselves were different, however, the Star Wars Expanded Universe did foreshadow Ben Solo’s fate in turning to evil, as – following Anakin Jr’s death – the grown-up Jacen Solo turned to the Dark Side as Darth Caedus.
Although she didn’t know it for most of the original Star Wars trilogy, Princess Leia Organa is really a Skywalker, and therefore has midi-chlorians in her blood. Aside from a spot of interstellar telepathy, she didn’t really get a chance to show off her Force abilities in earnest until she saved herself from dying in the vacuum of space in The Last Jedi – but presumably they’re a lot stronger than we’ve previously seen on screen.
And the Star Wars Expanded Universe did hint at the powers she might possess in the movies, as she ultimately became a Jedi Knight in the New Jedi Order founded by her brother, Luke. Sadly, we’ll probably never see that potential on screen in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, seeing as Carrie Fisher’s death in 2016 means that all her scenes in the movie are comprised of unused footage from The Force Awakens. Had she not passed away, we may have seen Leia brandishing a lightsaber and taking on her late brother’s Jedi mantle – but sadly, now all we can do is speculate.
Boba Fett's return
While The Mandalorian may delve into the galaxy's underworld, the movies have rarely touched on the dark belly of the Star Wars universe. Whether that’ll be addressed in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker remains to be seen, but the old Star Wars Expanded Universe does provide a potential way back for one of the most infamous criminals about.
Despite last being seen tumbling into the Great Pit of Carkoon in Return of the Jedi, Boba Fett eventually managed to escape the almighty Sarlacc in the novels. In fact, he was helped in his post-digestion recuperation by Dengar – another of the bounty hunters recruited by Darth Vader to hunt down Han Solo in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – and even went on to become best man at Dengar’s wedding. So it is possible for the coolest suit in the galaxy to make a comeback – though who knows what state he’ll be in three decades into the Sarlacc’s 1000-year digestion process.
The old Legends stories also introduced other rogue elements who could come into play in the official continuity – just as Black Sun, the criminal organisation run by crime lord Prince Xizor in 1996 videogame/novel Shadows of the Empire (set between The Empire Strike Back and Return of the Jedi), reappeared in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
For example, smuggler Dash Rendar, who hails from Han Solo’s home planet of Corellia, was a major player in Shadows of the Empire, and his presence in official canon was more-or-less confirmed when his ship, the Outrider, appeared over Mos Eisley in the Star Wars: A New Hope Special Edition. Assuming he’s not found himself at the receiving end of a bounty hunter’s blaster, it’s entirely plausible he could still be operating three decades later in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Maybe he’s even an associate of a card player, gambler and scoundrel you might be familiar with…
He’s definitely back in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but what could old smoothie Lando Calrissian have been up to since Return of the Jedi?
In the Legends stories, he continued to help the New Republic if needed, but as you’d expect, his commercial interests usually took priority. Lando eventually married a woman called Tendra, with whom he had a son (named Lando Jr, obvs) and ran a business called Tendrando Arms – not sadly, a pub, but a company that manufactured battle droids.
We’d be surprised if any of this makes it into the new movie, to be honest, but at least he still knows how to wear a cape.
Need more Star Wars in your life? Here are 20 things you need to know from the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker prequel novel Resistance Reborn before seeing Episode 9.