The Star Wars franchise is constantly producing a stream of profitable new merchandising and material, including video games, novels, comics, and animated shows. But the film and TV side of Star Wars feels like it’s struggling. Over the past five years, Disney has repeatedly announced plans for new movies, then unceremoniously canceled them or just kept them silently back-burnered. Disney Plus’ recent Star Wars live-action shows keep promising new directions for the franchise, then pulling back and mixing messages. There’s no clear vision or coherent narrative direction for the screen versions of the franchise, even though they’re the most visible and mainstream part of Star Wars. Everybody seems to want something different out of this grand, sprawling story.
So Polygon is gathering some thoughts about the franchise’s future under the loose banner of What We Want From Star Wars. These opinion essays lay out what we love about the Star Wars universe, and where we hope it’ll go in the future … or a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
At the end of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — the (appropriately) maligned final entry in the multi-decade, nine-film storyline that made up the backbone of the Star Wars series — Force-wielding protagonist Rey (Daisy Ridley) visits the desert planet Tatooine. She visits the deserted farm that used to belong to original-trilogy Star Wars characters Owen and Beru and their whiny nephew, Luke Skywalker. She ceremoniously packages up the lightsabers of the galaxy’s greatest twins, Luke and Princess Leia Organa, and symbolically buries them. Moments later, a passerby asks her to identify herself. Staring at the Force ghosts of Luke and Leia, with John Williams’ iconic music swelling behind her, she responds that she is Rey. Rey Skywalker.
In the theater where I saw Rise of Skywalker, the entire theater groaned at this response. Maybe people groaned in every theater showing the film. Many of the viewers in my crowd may not have meant to exhale a sound of disgust, but it was involuntary; they heard the line, and ughhhhh. Never mind the rest of the many glaring issues with J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio’s slipshod script. In one action, Rey damns Luke and Leia to be remembered on Tatooine — a planet that was a cage of boredom for him, and for her, nothing at all. And given Rey’s minimal meaningful contact with the Skywalkers, her attempt to take up their mantle felt gross and unearned. But it does have value — if you choose to read it in a completely different way than Abrams and Terrio intended it, as a statement of purpose for where Star Wars could go.
That moment was meant as a wink and a nod for the audience, a cute little bow to tie up the trilogy of Star Wars trilogies. But Abrams and Terrio were demanding an emotional payoff without doing an ounce of the setup. It’s difficult to skim over the fact that for most people on Tatooine, Luke Skywalker is a nonentity at worst, and at best, a folk story, a mythical hero who embodies the fight against a cartoonish evil. Rey calling herself a Skywalker probably meant as much to that passerby as someone calling themselves a Bunyan.
It’s hard to parse the intended emotional impact of this scene, as Abrams spent most of the film rolling back Rian Johnson’s most interesting ideas from The Last Jedi while stringing together a bare-bones story full of spectacle and not much else. As Rey stands with rolling droid BB-8, silhouetted against the twin suns of Tatooine, The Rise of Skywalker’s artificial symmetry is part of a desperate attempt to make the audience feel something, and see this story as more deliberately designed than it actually was. With a bit more planning and effort, it’s possible that this moment truly could’ve measured up to half a century of storytelling, because Abrams’ impulse isn’t entirely wrong here. Rey is a Skywalker — just not in the way Abrams desires.
There’s a better context for calling Rey a Skywalker, and it doesn’t mean connecting her lineage to Luke and Leia’s. It’s time for the Kennedy family of a galaxy far, far away to step away from the limelight. “Skywalker” would be better used as a name to refer to the movement of warriors that should replace the Jedi, a confederacy of problem-solvers and heroes who’ve learned from their ineffectual predecessors how to steer clear of their binary classifications of good and evil, and how to avoid being beholden to rules. Midi-chlorians and Force sensitivity wouldn’t be requirements to join this theoretical Skywalker conclave — members would just need a good heart and a will to work toward positive change. Without a leading doctrine or hierarchy, the Skywalkers should act independently on their quests to be the next generation of peacekeepers throughout the galaxy.
Some fans might think it sounds cruel to demand that the Jedi Order must die for Star Wars to live. But think about it: What good have they done lately? By the time of the prequel trilogy, the Jedi are long past their heyday. With the glory days of the High Republic behind them, the Jedi Council is effectively a group of gatekeeping politicians who happen to have laser swords. They may swing those swords at droids or Sith from time to time, but most of the Jedi’s problems only exist because their complacency made them blind to the dangers within their own ranks.
Even Anakin, the prophesied destroyer of the Sith, goes over to the Dark Side because the Jedi refuse to help quell his fears — Yoda basically tells him to meditate and accept Padmé’s death because it’s fated, and also no big deal in the cosmic scheme of things. Not the best way to help someone who’s terrified to lose their sole loved one, is it?
The idea that the Jedi Order must end for the Star Wars story to move forward isn’t particularly novel. Rian Johnson crafted an entire film around the premise of letting the past go and killing it if you have to. Love it or hate it, The Last Jedi was the first, and so far only, film to reckon with the Jedi’s failures and posit that something new must replace them.
Much like the Jedi who surrounded his father, Luke began to conflate the Order’s rules and writings with its philosophy. His fear and strict adherence to an ancient code almost led him to kill Ben Solo, setting off most of the drama and trauma of the franchise’s third trilogy. His moment of weakness serves as his greatest failure, a regretful burden that forces him into isolation on Ahch-To. But as Yoda gently informs Luke, failure isn’t always a bad thing; it allows opportunity for growth.
This capacity for growth from defeat is what should separate the Skywalkers from the Jedi. Rey is the perfect figure to found and lead a Skywalker council, not because she trained with Luke and Leia, but because she understands the desperate need to reform the Jedi into something new. She’s seen the toll that the old ways took on Luke, how his desire to restart the Jedi Order imploded when he began to view good and evil as inescapable paths. His downfall is his obsession with the future, and the belief that changing things in the present wouldn’t be able to correct what he viewed as fate.
Rey witnesses Kylo Ren’s inner conflict, as his good heart fights valiantly against the villainous role he was cast into. She supports Finn fighting his cowardly instincts and molding them into heroic ones. She bickers with Poe Dameron as he learns to be a leader. Rey not only takes her frustrations in stride and strives to become a better person, she looks to the people around her to aid in the process. This stands in stark contrast to the strict moral purity of the Jedi, which limits their effectiveness. They see any deviation from purity as failure, and in the face of that failure, they run away — Luke, Obi-Wan, and Yoda all, at one point or another, run off to the signature Jedi exile.
Rey’s focus on empathy and helping those around her should be another vital difference between the Jedi and the Skywalkers. She sees the good in Kylo Ren long before he does and risks her life in attempts to help him atone for his wrongdoings. The Star Wars franchise focuses too deeply on the dark and light being antonyms, rather than two sides of the same coin. The Jedi often treat a pull to the Dark Side as some monolithic evil, as if experiencing anger, fear, or love is selfish and dangerous rather than something that occurs naturally within the chaotic nature of daily life. Some of the best characters in the franchise — Lando Calrissian, Han Solo, The Last Jedi’s DJ, The Mandalorian’s Din Djarin — exist firmly in the gray area between these two extremes. Good and evil aren’t mutually exclusive, absolutist traits — they exist in everyone in varying measures.
The idea of a radically new group springing up from Rey’s training and her sensibilities — and Last Jedi’s hints that Force powers come to people all over the galaxy, in all walks of life — is the opportunity for Star Wars to grow up. Instead of being a fable, it could be something more complex. Instead of being emotionless space samurai like the Jedi work to become, the Skywalkers could actually engage with the communities they set out to help, forging deeper emotional connections throughout the galaxy and finally providing the space for the nuanced conversations that have long been missing from the franchise. The possibilities for storytelling are endless, and they could finally make a new Star Wars footprint, rather than simply expanding the one created back in 1977.
The Skywalkers could travel the galaxy, finding their own solutions to the problems created by the Jedi, the Sith, and the entropic nature of life itself. The power within the universe will finally be in the hands of people not related to the Skywalkers, Solos, or Palpatines — it’ll be in the hands of Last Jedi’s broom kid, or Finn, or some hero we have yet to meet, who currently believes they’re fated for more than their meager lot in life. These are the Skywalkers who fans should be talking about for the next half-century, the people so inspired by the myth of Luke that they want to not only become him but surpass him. He is what they should grow beyond, after all.
It’s time for the Jedi to end and for the Skywalkers to be born. Let Rey’s odd declaration at the end of The Rise of Skywalker be retconned from a meaningless gesture into the seed from which the future sprouts. I promise Abrams won’t be mad about his silly ending being given a life and importance he never thought possible.
Star Wars is better with no new movies coming out
Star Wars needs more alien heroes
Please, Star Wars, forget about Tatooine
Star Wars needs its new characters so much more than its endlessly recycled ones
The future of Star Wars is Gundam
Star Wars needs more moral ambiguity
Make Star Wars cheap again