After eight-core films, 42 years and a single story that has shaped the childhoods of three generations, placing a worthy capstone on something so colossal is no trivial task. For J.J. Abrams, concluding the franchise he’d worshipped since childhood was never going to be a case of simply placing a full stop, tipping his hat and waving goodbye. So long, and thanks for all the Sith.
Abrams’ has been a task more daunting by far: to create one great film that wraps up three films, while being a worthy climax to nine films, which just happen to make up the most famous series in history. How do you tackle a proposition of such magnitude?
The answer, it turned out, was simpler than he imagined. With a little help from co-writer Chris Terrio, Abrams looked back at the entire saga and took the story back to basics. Because beneath the Republic politics, separatist factions and taxation of trade routes, Star Wars, at its core, is extremely simple: a primal story of good versus evil.
All it needed was a crucible: a challenge so overwhelming it would make this final showdown a conflict for the ages.
“We were sitting outside a hotel in London and J.J. just laid the story out over an hour-and-a-half,” recalls Daisy Ridley. “I had to go away and take it all in. Later, I emailed him and said, ‘Sorry, can I just check? Did you actually say this is happening?’”
oRIGINALLY, IT WAS all going to end with midi-chlorians. Those ineffable, inexplicable microbes that impregnated Shmi Skywalker, enthralled Qui-Gon Jinn and flummoxed fans when they were introduced in The Phantom Menace came within a Wookiee hair’s breadth of being the real stars of Episode IX.
When George Lucas gift-wrapped the Star Wars universe and presented it to Disney in 2012, he did so with a bow on top. That bow was the treatment for a new trilogy, one that would round offthe whole saga and bring his iconic characters back for a final curtain call.
It was a mouth-watering prospect for the studio — one worth spending $4.05 billion on, in fact — but, like a pair of argyle socks unwrapped on Christmas morning, Disney’s present, once opened, wasn’t quite what they had hoped for.
“[The next three Star Wars films] were going to get into a microbiotic world,” Lucas explained last year to James Cameron in the latter’s Story Of Science Fiction TV series. “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 offthe Force …and the conduit is the midi-chlorians.”
Lucas’ triumphant finale, it turned out, was a gonzo tale of symbiosis and pseudoscience, in which his all-powerful ‘Whills’ rode around inside Jedi-like tiny hitchhikers (“We’re vessels for them!”). Unsurprisingly, the treatment was politely accepted by incoming Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and placed quietly in a drawer, never to be spoken of again. Where there’s a Whill, it seems, there’s just no way.
In its place, J.J. Abrams constructed The Force Awakens (2015), beginning a new chapter in the story, one that continued with Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi (2017) and, on 19 December this year, will reach its conclusion with The Rise Of Skywalker. To end the story, Abrams and Terrio found their inspiration not by delving into a microbiotic world, but by doing what Star Wars does best and pitting a band of plucky heroes against an implacable foe.
The great conflagration they dreamed up will see Rey and Kylo Ren duel atop the sea-swept wreckage of the second Death Star, and (in a big win for the internet’s ‘Bendemptionist’ contingent) seemingly working together to smash Darth Vader’s charred remains. Where Johnson teased us with Kylo’s possible return to the light, before having him double down on darkness, we might yet see the one-time Ben Solo come in from the cold.
“From my first meeting with J.J. about Star Wars, he told me an overall arc for Kylo’s character,” says Adam Driver. “He didn’t know how the three movies would end at that point, but by the start of the third movie he had explained a journey that was an exciting idea for me to think about. A testament to J.J. and Chris Terrio’s writing on this one, I think, is that how Kylo’s journey has evolved isn’t explained in text, but hopefully it’s felt.”
There’s far more at stake in The Rise Of Skywalker than one man’s soul, however. Another presence permeates this final film, one hinted at by imagery in the trailer: the ominous, stone-hewn throne, ripped straight out of the late Ralph McQuarrie’s original artwork for Return Of The Jedi; Imperial Star Destroyers rising from an icy tomb; the shocking appearance of a dark-side Rey, complete with crimson lightsaber. Yes, he’s back. The saga’s ultimate villain: Senator Sheev Palpatine. Darth Sidious. The Emperor.
“As soon as I read the first page of the script I was sucked in,” says John Boyega. “When I got to [the Emperor], I was just like, ‘Come on, man!’ Like, ‘Bloody hell, we needed a villain the whole fucking franchise. Well, now we got one!’” Of his own reaction, Driver merely says, “Pure excitement.”
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