End of the Skywalker Saga

The final shot of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a Force-sensitive stable boy gazing up at the stars, echoes Luke Skywalker watching the dual sunset on Tatooine. Separated from the original film by 40 years and an ever-widening mythology — one that’s focused largely on a single lineage — the closing moments of Episode VIII brought the saga back to its roots, in a way.

As far as anyone knew in 1977, Luke was the last remaining Skywalker. Darth Vader was not his father. Leia was not his sister, and Old Ben did not live nearby specifically to protect him. Luke was a farmer and an orphan, albeit one whose father was once a Jedi. He dreamed of flying among the stars, and his journey was catalyzed not by lineage or destiny, but by the incidental murder of his aunt and uncle. He was left a nobody, thrust into a larger world of conflict that had found him by accident.

That’s no longer the Star Wars we know, but when the next chapter is written in 2019, it could, and perhaps should be once again.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Lightsaber Battle

The Last Skywalker

Does Star Wars exist without the Skywalkers? Certainly, in the Expanded Universe of novels, video games and animated TV shows. Its vast chronology, however, is tethered to the original series of films, the point from which every Star Wars narrative appears to emanate; Star Wars’ timeline will forever be measured by its proximity to its tragic Christ foil, Darth Vader, and his conflict with his son. Even seeming exceptions like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a video game set 4,000 years before the Skywalkers, builds on, and towards, the familiar.

There’s no inherent issue with this approach, of course. The building of a fictional universe is predicated on it feeling connected, but the films thus far, and all of the TV shows, have focused on one long conflict, itself rooted in a single family. The rise of the Empire was Vader’s doing. Its fall came at the hands of his children, Luke and Leia. His grandson, Kylo Ren now leads the First Order. All of this makes a single line in the recent Episode IX cast announcement feel especially worthy of scrutiny: “J.J. Abrams returns to direct the final installment of the Skywalker saga.”

What exactly does this mean? In literal terms, it’s the closing chapter of the third Star Wars trilogy, and perhaps the final film appearance of any actors and characters seen in the original series. Luke and Han are dead, and there probably isn’t enough footage of the late Carrie Fisher to respectfully bring Leia to an Episode X. And there will likely be an Episode X, mind you, in a decade if not immediately. New players like Rey, Finn, Poe and (if he makes it out alive) Kylo Ren are too valuable for the Mouse House to shelve. This is the world that Disney has created with the success of the Marvel films, wherein every other studio is struggling to keep their shared universes afloat. Fittingly, Disney themselves are the only ones who have come close to replicating the Marvel formula. Solo: A Star Wars Story, while a financial exception, still leads tangentially into the original Star Wars, while billion-dollar spinoff Rogue One does so directly. Assuming Episode IX is indeed the last film to feature a Skywalker, what does this mean for the saga going forward?

The answer might seem simple on the surface, in that no film from this point on (or rather, none set after the events of Episode IX) will feature Vader, Luke, Leia or Kylo Ren. We’ve seen Star Wars stories like this before — and we will continue to, with James Mangold’s Boba Fett movie; it’s unknown what Rian Johnson’s new trilogy is about — but until now, there has never been a novel or spin-off comic that didn’t exist to set up, pay off or expand on some minor element or side-character in the larger Skywalker story.

The Expanded Universe novels, prior to Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, went all the way down Vader’s family tree to his grandchildren’s grandchildren, born over a century after the events of the original Star Wars; the muddled chronology even implies an unknown generation born after the children of Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade. Point being, the Skywalkers have been the Star Wars status quo for over four decades. There is an entire parallel universe of stories out there (now referred to as Legends) where one lineage remains the core of this narrative for centuries, and it was considered canonical until a few years ago. Which brings us to what might very well be a seismic shift in the saga:

If Kylo Ren dies in Episode IX, there are no more Skywalkers.

His death is conjecture on my part, of course. I do think it’s likely, but I’ll defer to whatever outcome is most narratively satisfying. Though even if Ren survives the next chapter (perhaps redeeming himself and giving in to Light) and the Skywalker lineage lives on, the Skywalker saga still dies with him. Or at least, it ought to. If the folks at the Lucasfilm Story Group make good on their promise of “the final installment of the Skywalker saga,” there will be no more Skywalker stories left to tell once Episode IX has wrapped things up, in whatever way it chooses to. No film going forward will focus on the family that has, for centuries in the books and for multiple generations in the real world, been the center of this universe. That’s going to take a while to digest — now more than ever we seem to crave the comforts of the familiar — but dramaturgically, it may also be exactly what’s best for Star Wars.

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