Where have you gone, J.J. Abrams? Star Wars nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
With only one movie left, apparently (more on that in a minute), Abrams suddenly has before him an effort more daunting than astral projection itself: wrapping up Skywalker Saga 3.0 in some satisfying way that also makes sense for a franchise that aims to carry on for generations.
**Spoiler Warning: Major Star Wars: The Last Jedi spoilers below!**
So much happened in The Last Jedi, but little changed: Kylo Ren is hell-bent on the Dark Side (meet the new Supreme Leader, same as the old Supreme Leader), Rey is clinging to the light, Luke Skywalker is pretty much unavailable, and the dwindling Resistance is on the run in a single Corellian light freighter.
What's interesting here is that Abrams and Rian Johnson have insisted that their films have not been part of some greater, Disney/Lucasfilm-mandated architecture. Johnson was given freedom to build upon Abrams' foundational The Force Awakens; now Abrams will finish the trilogy in time for 2019.
That all means things are still very wide open as Abrams begins his story pitches -- a process he reportedly started this week -- for Episode IX.
Well, most things. Here are our top 10 burning questions for the finale (is it really, though?) of this particular trilogy. Errrr ... tetralogy, if you're a conspiracy theorist like me.
Will there ever be Star Peace?
Obviously not, since Disney does not appear to mind minting money. But some version of balance, some semblance of victory, some... hope? It's a presence we've not felt since — well, A New Hope, really, when blowing up the Death Star warranted a medals ceremony missing only the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner.
Rey & Kylo
The best will-they-or-won't-they since Moonlighting has a major problem: The only clear path to these crazy kids hooking up is the redemption of Kylo Ren, which necessitates Rey forgiving a list of bad behavior so deeply troublesome that the current real world — I'm talking about the non-Star Wars one here, the one we physically live in — may not be able to forgive her forgiveness. If the Star Wars Illuminati painted itself into this corner on purpose because they know the way out, more power to them. If they simply find themselves here because they went and got cute, hoo-boy — J.J. has himself a Pandora's box where a Mystery Box used to be.
Perhaps the most obvious conundrum, but not the hardest one to deal with — and clearly the powers that be saw a way forward because they could've left Leia floating in space, like we all thought they would. But Star Wars does indeed like its funeral pyres, and Leia's would be easy enough to open Episode IX with (from a production standpoint, not an emotional one). On the current timeline, any other way out would require some serious wizardry, and we already know they're not going the CG route. But what if Episode IX were to take place much further into the future? Let's say that after years of hiding, Rey is now in charge, having re-established a New Jedi Order with the help of Force Ghost Luke? You could make that leap forward in the opening crawl alone.
Will the coward Poe Dameron answer for his high crimes of insubordination and mutiny
This question burns me the most, but I'm going to give Star Wars the benefit of the doubt here. Poe Dameron defied direct orders from a ranking officer, twice. He then staged a mutiny — at gunpoint! — that ultimately resulted in disaster for the Resistance. If not for his recklessness and disregard for authority, Holdo's plan to send cloaked shuttles to Crait would have worked easily; and that's not even accounting for the earlier loss of an entire bombing fleet. Mutiny is among the highest of military crimes, an act of treason that is traditionally punished by death, in every military and marine operation throughout human history. Leia and Holdo simply shake their heads, call him a "troublemaker" and put him back in command? I think there's more to this, that Poe Dameron will be arrested once the Resistance is safely absconded, setting up a redemption arc that will end in some major, Independence Day-style self-sacrifice. It better, because that guy should really be thrown in the next Sarlacc Pit they can find.
Porgs or no Porgs?
All depends on retail sales this holiday season. Stay tuned.
Who will be the New Resistance fighters?
Please not children. Anything but children. Children made a few brief appearances in The Last Jedi, including the straight-outta-Dickens chimney-sweep kid, and just their appearance made my teeth hurt. If that's the route they're going, may the Force help them.
Will there be a New Jedi Order?
Duh, of course. The Last Jedi spent most of itself telling us that the Jedi were on the way out, and why do you suppose that is? Actually, this isn't much of a question at all.
New Force Ghost powers, activate!?
We told you about the seven new powers available by way of The Last Jedi, and no doubt some of them will be used again. But the most intriguing one is the Force Ghost's ability to affect the physical world. Maybe Yoda was only able to call down lightning and fire because he was at Ach-To, and not really changing the course of history. But with Carrie Fisher no longer with us, someone has to anchor the legacy-character spot in Episode IX, and that task falls squarely to Luke — who wouldn't be very interesting as a glowing apparition who shows up for a couple of advice cameos. Something tells us "and he turns into a pile of clothes" isn't the last major story beat for Luke Skywalker.
The Love Pentagon
How does this all shake out?
Finn loves Rey.
Rey and Kylo Ren are toooootally falling for each other.
Because Rey is a character in Star Wars, she has chemistry with Poe.
Poe thus far may be asexual, definitely loves fellow asexual BB-8.
Fans want Poe to love Finn.
Rose loves Finn.
None of these relationships have been established enough to speculate on where they're going, but here's one thing for sure: Someone's heart is getting broken. You could spend an entire movie just on pulling the romance loose ends and still not sate the internet's hunger for ships upon ships. Which truly makes me wonder...
Are we really just getting one more movie with these characters?
Noooo! That's not true! That's impossible!
Okay, it's certainly the company line for now. But something tells me that once Disney/Lucasfilm has a look at what they're up against, they're likely to go the Hunger Games/Harry Potter route, splitting the finale into two parts. For once, the studio statement about "too much story to tell" will be right and true, and not just capitalizing. There is too much story to tell. Heck, the 2 hour, 40-minute Last Jedi already felt like four movies slammed into one, and we barely moved the story forward. Look for this announcement sometime in March, probably at Disney's quarterly investor call. There will be much rejoicing.