After the release of The Rise of Skywalker, the Star Wars series will reportedly forge ahead without any members of the family that has served as its lynchpin since the very beginning. After nine films (and several adjacent "stories"), the "Skywalker Saga" is apparently finally coming to an end. Presumably, so will the central conflict of Rebellion vs. Empire (and its spin-off, Resistance vs. First Order), and the focus will shift to other aspects of that galaxy far, far away.
There is certainly precedent for this. Dozens of Star Wars projects over the decades, including books, comics, and games, have concentrated on other characters, from bounty hunters to crime lords; other locations, such as the myriad worlds that lie within the Unknown Regions; and other time periods, including the earliest days of the Old Republic, the Jedi, and the Sith. Even George Lucas himself branched out, overseeing a pair of TV movies about the Ewoks that eschewed any other familiar elements of the established Star Wars universe.
But these were all spin-offs and side projects, most of which were declared non-canonical in 2014. Never before has the main action of the franchise not centered on Luke Skywalker, his father, or one of his other direct relatives.
What can fans expect to see in a post-Skywalker Star Wars (assuming it really is post-Skywalker)? No one knows for sure right now — Lucasfilm is certainly keeping things very close to the vest. But some of the talented creative people who have helped to expand the Star Wars brand over the last 42 years, or who have studied the series closely and used it as inspiration for their own creative ventures, are willing to speculate and share their thoughts on the directions in which the series might — and should — go in the sagas to come.
Our panel of experts:
- David Michelinie wrote the monthly Star Wars comic-book series for Marvel from late 1981 to early 1983 and created, with artist Walter Simonson, the popular character Shira Brie.
- Jo Duffy succeeded Michelinie as the writer of the original Marvel Star Wars series, and remained with it until the series ended in 1986.
- Tom Veitch helped launched Star Wars at Dark Horse Comics in 1991 by writing the acclaimed six-issue limited series, Dark Empire, which he followed up with several sequels, as well as storylines set in the early days of the Old Republic.
- Kevin J. Anderson wrote the Jedi Academy trilogy of novels published in 1994, the 1996 novel Darksaber, the Young Jedi Knights series of YA novels (with his wife Rebecca Moesta) published from 1995 to 1998, and numerous Tales of the Jedi comic books for Dark Horse.
- John Ostrander wrote numerous Star Wars comics for Dark Horse, including the series Star Wars: Legacy, which ran from 2006 to 2010 and was set more than 100 years after the Original Trilogy.
- John Jackson Miller wrote several novels, including 2011's Knight Errant, 2013's Kenobi, and 2014's A New Dawn, which was the first work to be set in the "new canon" established by Lucasfilm after it was sold to Disney. Miller also wrote the Dark Horse series Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars: Knight Errant.
- Jeff Gomez is the CEO of Starlight Runner, a premier consultant in the fields of brand narrative, story world development, creative franchise design, and transmedia storytelling. The company specializes in the expansion of entertainment properties, premium brands, and socio-political messages into highly successful multi-platform communications and international campaigns.
Michelinie: Can't we be surprised by something unexpected in the next few dozen Star Wars flicks?
[Instead of continued conflict between the Rebellion/Resistance and the Empire/First Order], how about something unknown and massive that threatens both sides, forcing them into an uneasy alliance with the survival of all at stake? That could provide all sorts of dramatic twists with betrayals, sacrifices, and the rise of new heroes and villains. Plus, the inclusion of heretofore unknown beings and technologies could provide a field day for art directors, freeing them from any pressure to visually match what's gone before.
Duffy: What if, instead of the people of the galaxy fighting amongst themselves, have somebody come in from another galaxy! If you want bad guys, instead of being so narratively as well as literally incestuous with it, let's bring in bad guys from elsewhere. Instead of building another Death Star, what if the guy from the galaxy next door comes over and he wants our planets, he wants our resources?
I don't want to see the evil Empire arise again and more Sith and Jedi going forward. If you want to be a Jedi, fine, be the best Jedi you can be by yourself. You do not have to go to freaking Jedi military school!
Veitch: Disney needs to both resolve the saga and keep its main themes alive into the future. Principally they need to open the story out to mysteries of good and evil that deepen and transcend everything we already know.
It's imperative they reveal a new world of stories. For the purposes of The Rise of Skywalker, as well as the continuation of the light versus darkness themes in future Star Wars films, the idea of a greater evil behind and beyond the Emperor is necessary. Otherwise, they are going to find themselves simply repeating the original trilogy, over and over—cloning the original characters, and bogged down in worn-out storylines.
Opening the narrative to greater vistas of darkness is better than putting a new face on an old villain. That means digging into the history of the Sith, and discovering secrets long forgotten, about Sith Masters who reached unspeakable levels of Dark Side knowledge and intuition [and bringing all of that back to life].
Anderson: I really like the idea of more series like The Mandalorian, set in the Star Wars universe, but with their own separate stories. By my count, I've done 54 different Star Wars projects, and I enjoyed playing in different time periods, different media. I would really love to see something done back in the Tales of the Jedi period, sort of a retro/medieval Star Wars. Those comics are some of my favorite works in that universe. The more steps removed from the central timeframe and main characters of the original films, the more freedom the writers will have.
Ostrander: I think I heard that the next trilogy will be in another part of the galaxy. I'm thinking maybe the Outer Rim. Fewer stars, fewer planets, more of a wide-open, Wild-West feel, I would think. If it's going to be Star Wars, then the Force needs to be around and manifest.
What if there was a lone surviving Jedi from the Dark Times who made his or her way out to the Outer Rim? Or maybe a sole Star Destroyer after Return of the Jedi, with a commander or admiral looking to establish the Empire out there or maybe his or her own Empire? A Thrawn type. Maybe that and a lone Jedi. That would be fun and interesting.
Miller: Where should Star Wars stories go next? We've had two other times already to ask this question, after the first and second trilogies. In both cases (though it took longer after the first trilogy), fiction and comics found a lot of places to elaborate upon, and many were not dependent on the film casts. My own comics and novel work for Star Wars took place in many different timeframes in the continuity — I only wrote my first Luke and Leia story more than a dozen years in!
So I think there's a good track record for keeping the Star Wars universe well-populated with stories — which now include animated series and live-action shows — that draw upon but exist independently from the original films. That's exciting, because the stories can basically go anywhere, be more open-ended. I wouldn't try to guess what's next, but it's safe to say there'll be Star Wars stories for decades to come.
In short, where should Star Wars stories go? Everywhere!
Gomez: I make my living helping to design and expand fictional universes for movies, comics, video games, and television shows... Star Wars demonstrated to me that in the American entertainment industry, you can have epic universes play out across multiple media and have them retain a degree of integrity.
My hope with Star Wars — and it's a hope that's supported by a number of hints in the most recent film, The Last Jedi, and in some of the canonical animation—is that [the saga goes forward] by truly breaking the cycle. In the universe of Star Wars, the use of the Force was polarized thousands of years ago, leading to endless war: Sith rise, Jedi fight them across the galaxy, billions of people die in the crossfire.
But, for the first time, in The Last Jedi, key characters have started to question this horrifically destructive, endlessly repeating conflict. For the first time, we're shown how the military-industrial elites benefit from both sides of the conflict. Here we have Luke, Kylo Ren, and even Yoda saying, "Hmm, no one's getting anywhere. This is for the birds!" I love that!
Ideally, I would be delighted if The Rise of Skywalker permanently shattered the status quo. That Anakin and Luke and Leia's lives meant something in terms of bringing a new kind of communality to the galaxy, releasing the Force from being bipolar to being a wide and varied spectrum. In doing so, Star Wars as an ongoing story world would be freed to explore an infinite diversity of Force users, as well as an array of moral and ethical perspectives. That will make for far more interesting storytelling.