It comes as no shock that the final leg of the third trilogy of the Star Wars revival will be the most anticipated release this Christmas. Though the franchise has had a rocky road to its ninth film, the end of principal photography garnered a positive response from fans and built excitement for the film. Just last week, at an extensive panel with director J.J. Abrams and the cast, the teaser trailer for the finale of the trilogy dropped. With it, there is much to unpack, and I will break it down by section.
The Return of the Jedi
One of the most hotly–debated aspects of the previous movie, Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi was its unceremonious end to the iconic Luke Skywalker. Skywalker’s death attracted backlash from both fans and Mark Hamill, who has played the hero since the first Star Wars film in 1977. Many were concerned about what would come of the new generation of the Resistance without the guidance of Luke, particularly after the death of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in the previous film and the loss of Carrie Fisher, who plays Princess Leia, in late 2016. Hamill’s character was the only one left to have a full legacy in the final leg of the trilogy, and yet he disappeared in a pile of robes in the final moments of The Last Jedi—a tearful moment for audiences who had watched him grow up and come into his own before dying before our very eyes.
However, the first voice that the audience hears in the trailer proves that he is not truly gone. It is Luke Skywalker speaking to Rey, saying, “We’ve passed on all we know. A thousand generations live in you now.” Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, sets her jaw, alone in the empty expanse of the desert around her. With this affirmation, however, we are also told that this is not simply Rey following fate. “But this is your fight,” Luke says, indicating that this is not just a rehashing of the previous trio: This story is her own.
If audiences were concerned about how the legacy of the reformed Jedi would continue, Luke’s voice assures them that there is nothing of concern. While much of the previous film’s thematic focus was on the dismantling of nostalgia and the flaws of the Jedi, it is clear that Rey will represent a new, reformed group, just as Luke attempted to do.
Much of the drama surrounding the loss of Luke and Han created a desire to see a different famous character from the original trilogy: Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). Williams had expressed interest in reviving the role from the beginning of the new trilogy with J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens. Seeing him, finally, in the last section of the trilogy is a familiar, welcome face in a sea of new ones. To see how he will react to the death of both Han and Luke will be interesting, but most of all, it’s nice to see Lando back in action.
The Gang’s All Here
Perhaps the greatest flaw of the previous two films was their inability to let the three main heroes of the trilogy—Rey, Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac)—coexist in the same moment. The most memorable sections of the original trilogy are when Luke, Han, and Leia are all working together, or a pair of them are teaming up to save the other. It is easy to see why these moments have been most important to audiences: We are interested not just in their adventures, but also their character development.
The revival trilogy has spent too much time throwing its characters into different plot lines, yet the last film appears to finally establish their dynamic as a group. Rey and Poe only met at the very final moments of The Last Jedi, yet various scenes of the latest film indicate that all three heroes are going to be working together. It has taken long enough—especially considering all three actors have sweet chemistry with each other—but it's better late than never.
"No One’s Ever Really Gone"
Along with Luke’s apparent presence in the movie, seeing Carrie Fisher make her last appearance in film using archival footage creates a certain metatextual emotional layer that the trailer seems to lean into. “No one’s ever really gone,” insists the trailer, and then, over a shot of Leia hugging Rey in her arms, “We’ll always be with you.” It is hard to see the final moments of such an influential actress, but it is clear that J.J. Abrams is handling the subject with care.
On the other hand, there is the famous laugh heard over the final moments before the title screen: the cackle of the long–dead Emperor Palpatine. Palpatine has been a villain in both previous trilogies, so this sentiment rings far more sinister with his presence. Palpatine’s surprise existence indicates a new super–villain after the death of Snoke, and, indeed, a far more threatening one. How exactly Palpatine will come back to haunt our characters once again is unclear, but whatever comes of it, it is not good news for our heroes.
It is not until the final moments of the trailer that its title is revealed: The Rise of Skywalker. Such a title creates intense speculation because it, like the famous Return of the Jedi, has multiple interpretations.
Who the eponymous Skywalker is remains the utmost question of the film. It could be Luke, not actually dead—though doing this would cheapen the emotional weight of the previous films and their serious deaths, so Luke will likely spend this film existing as a "force ghost" to give advice. It could be Rey, secretly a Skywalker after all, because the film seems to be about her rise—yet the previous film hammered home the point that Rey was born of normal, unspectacular parents, making her not a Skywalker. Most likely, it could be Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a.k.a. Ben Solo, a.k.a. Ben Skywalker, given a redemption arc after all and returning to the Light Side.
Whatever happens in the final film of the trilogy will define the impression of this revival as a whole. While there is still nearly a year before its release, it seems that we are in good hands.