The Rise of Skywalker is upon us. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past five years, we’re only days away from the release of the ninth Star Wars “saga” film, the final in the so-called “sequel trilogy” and the supposed-finale to the trilogy of trilogies that comprise the “Skywalker Saga.”
Surely you’re not one of those people who plans to see the movie without at least seeing the two episodes preceding it. Ideally, you’d re-watch The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi before heading to the theaters, but just in case you’ve run out of time and need a quick refresher, here’s a breakdown of the trio of trios who are set to leave their mark on the film, and what to expect of them based on what’s happened already…
THE BIG THREE
Hotshot resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron had little to do in The Force Awakens, he is almost entirely absent from the film’s middle act. Originally slated to die, director JJ Abrams and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan took a liking to him (and to the charismatic Oscar Isaac who plays him) and decided to keep him around. He got his first real character arc in The Last Jedi, going from hothead soldier to someone who could conceivably lead whatever government is inevitably born out of the ashes of the New Republic.
Poe spent most of The Last Jedi being shut out of the secret plans of Leia and her right-hand lady, Senator Holdo. The two women didn’t trust that he was ready to be a leader (as Leia said, he needed to get his head “out of the cockpit”), and he proved them right by staging a mutiny in response to being cut out of the loop. He enters The Rise of Skywalker as someone that’s been humbled and ready to grow into the kind of tough but diplomatic leader that Leia has been from the moment we first met her in A New Hope.
Obviously, the death of Carrie Fisher puts a speedbump on what exactly can be done with Poe, in terms of his relationship with Leia. It’s possible that the archive footage being compiled for her character has so little to do with Poe that they will have to drop the development he underwent in The Last Jedi. I hope not. With this very reasonably looking like the end of Leia, Poe is the natural next character to fill her shoes. Whether he does or not, we’ll find out soon.
Finn started The Force Awakens as a Stormtrooper on the run. He wasn’t a defector to the Resistance, a point he makes clear throughout the movie; he was just a kid mixed up in the wrong stuff and finally ready to run. The movie ended with him finding a reason to stick around: His affinity for Rey. Let’s not call it a romance, though there were certainly enough seeds planted to go that route had anyone wanted to. The important thing to remember about Finn in The Force Awakens is that at no time does he commit to the cause of the Resistance. He’s very much like Han in A New Hope, who gets his money for rescuing the princess but goes back to help blow up the Death Star, not because he wants to be a rebel, but because he developed a soft spot for Luke and Leia.
The difference between Han and Finn is in the three-year gap (in the story) between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, versus the three-minute gap between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. By the time we see Han again, he’s a Captain in the Rebellion, having made his decision to stick around and fight. Finn starts The Last Jedi not yet having made that decision. The movie gives him a strong character arc (wherein he sees the ultimate conclusion of his “go it alone” mentality; the treacherous DJ) which culminates in him deciding to fight for the Resistance. Some time passes between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, which means we’ll finally see a Finn that is fully committed to the cause of the good guys. Where that ultimately leads him is unknown.
It’s worth noting that Harrison Ford wanted Han Solo to die in Return of the Jedi, as he felt it was the strongest dramatic ending possible for his character, given the circumstances. Might we see a similar fate in store for Finn? Will the once-reluctant soldier for the good guys finally, after embracing his new role, give up his life in the ultimate act of service for the cause? That would bring his character to a strong thematic close. We’ll find out soon.
The star of the big three and the one with the most mystery surrounding her is Rey. We first meet her as a scavenger on a wasteland planet, apparently left there by parents who promised one day to return for her. Throughout the first movie, we’re given hints that there’s more to her than meets the eye, though what that is remained a mystery. She ends The Force Awakens at the feet of the man she hopes can give her the answers: Luke Skywalker.
Luke has no answers for her, however. Thus Rey spends most of The Last Jedi not only trying to crack the hardened shell of the embittered Luke, but also doing her own investigation into her past, finally learning from Kylo Ren that she’s not special. She’s a nobody. She’s the daughter of drunkards who sold her for drinking money before unceremoniously dying. Rian Johnson’s decision to let the air out of Rey’s mystery was a masterstroke since it forces her to face the worst possible option regarding her past. If she was some great hero she’d have an immediate destiny to fulfill; if she was the creation of evil she’d have a destiny to buck. Either way, she’d have a purpose. Instead, she’s…nobody; she’s forced to make her own purpose, which takes her to Kylo and the hope of redeeming him from the dark side.
What comes next for Rey? Will she restore the Jedi Order? Will she create a new discipline of force users? Will she go off and have the stories that Luke had in the old Expanded Universe? Will she die?! There’s no telling what’s in store for her. All we know is she’s a fascinating character who has had some great development over the past two movies. I know The Last Jedi is criticized by some in the Star Wars fandom, but anyone with any appreciation for storytelling has to admit Rian Johnson crafted a deep, layered character arc for all three of the new heroes of this trilogy.
JJ Abrams is now tasked with wrapping things up and the obvious “out” that Kylo was lying to Rey about her past means there might still be more to her story. Even if that’s true, it doesn’t undo the great development she experienced over the course of the past two films. What happens to her next…we’ll find out soon.
This was part one of three articles that set the stage for The Rise of Skywalker. Look for part two shortly; it will cover the CLASSIC THREE who made their name in the Original Trilogy and who still had (and have) critical parts to play in the sequel films.