J.J. Abrams is no stranger to massive narrative challenges. This is the guy who helmed a Star Trek reboot that created an alternate timeline in 2009, after all, and who launched the Disney era of Star Wars on the big screen with The Force Awakens in 2015. With that film, Abrams had to revisit a story that hadn't been touched by another filmmaker for more than 30 years, and somehow insert new characters into the landscape while also reviving old ones in a way that made sense. With The Force Awakens' second sequel, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, he's somehow got to do that again while also putting the bow on top of a 42-year saga.
We've known for quite some time, even before it had an official title, that Rise of Skywalker would serve as an ending to the sequel trilogy Force Awakens started four years ago, but now that we're in the midst of the film's promotional onslaught, it's even clearer that Lucasfilm views this as an ending to something bigger. The film will close out what's been dubbed "The Skywalker Saga," a saga that started with Star Wars back in 1977, and while there will be more Star Wars after Rise of Skywalker, this film is tasked with closing the curtain on one of cinema's most famous stories.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly about the inherent challenges of that task, Abrams made it clear that he and co-writer Chris Terrio approached The Rise of Skywalker with the goal of writing an ending to nine movies, not just one, and not even just three.
“This is about bringing this thing to a close in a way that is emotional and meaningful and also satisfying in terms of actually answering [as many] questions as possible,” Abrams said. “So if years from now, someone’s watching these movies, all nine of them, they’re watching a story that is as cohesive as possible.”
Closing out the Skywalker Saga in a way that's satisfying to millions of Star Wars fans is a big responsibility, and one that Abrams wasn't expected to take on at first. Once upon a time he was signed on for only The Force Awakens, and left its two sequels open for another filmmaker to claim. Rian Johnson made Star Wars his own in a big way with The Last Jedi, and Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow was originally set to do the same with what would become The Rise of Skywalker. Trevorrow ultimately backed away from Star Wars over creative differences, and Abrams stepped back in to conclude the saga.
Among the big ideas he and Terrio are bringing to the table this time around (that we know of) are working Carrie Fisher's Leia Organa into the film thanks to pre-existing Force Awakens footage and, of course, the resurrection of Emperor Palpatine alongside the evocative image of the Death Star wreckage. We don't yet know exactly how these ideas will figure in The Rise of Skywalker's plot, but it's all in service to the idea that Abrams and his team are creating an ending that spans an entire saga while also making room for interesting narrative opportunities.
“While there were many things that were planned for and discussed — George Lucas himself said when he created this he saw it as three, three-act plays — that doesn’t mean there isn’t discovery, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that come up that make you realize, ‘Oh, here’s an opportunity,'” Abrams said. “It also doesn’t mean that there’s a list of payoffs that we have to do because of setups. But we also were very much aware this is the end of the trilogy and it needs to satisfy. We went into this thing knowing it has to be an ending. We’re not screwing around.”
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in theaters Dec. 20.