Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars sequel trilogy.
One of the most disappointing things about the Star Wars sequel trilogy was that it didn’t actually advance the overall story of the saga in a meaningful way. Think about where it began and ended: a Dark Side, authoritarian power had been defeated in battle, but the war was still to be won. Palpatine had been killed. The galactic government had been destroyed and democracy would have to be restored. One young Jedi survived and hoped to rebuild the Jedi Order. Questions that we had all the way back in the ’80s about what would come next after Return of the Jedi weren’t answered; they were given a new lick of paint and asked again.
All of which is to say that there’s a lot of potential in a story set after the sequel trilogy and the “final” defeat of Palpatine. Seeing what will come next for the Star Wars galaxy as it takes steps toward a restoration of democracy and a recreation of the Jedi Order – in some form, at least – is something I’ve been genuinely interested in seeing since I first watched Return of the Jedi all those years ago.
I confess that I’m surprised to see Disney and Lucasfilm creating a “sequel sequel” so soon after The Rise of Skywalker. The trilogy proved divisive overall, and regardless of which part fans consider to be the worst, the general consensus is that these films weren’t as strong or enjoyable as they could and should have been. Returning to the sequels’ principal character is, therefore, a bold move.
I felt that there was a ton of potential in Rey as a character. The idea of a Force diad – light rising to meet the darkness – was an interesting one that the sequels, sadly, didn’t do justice to. However, as a young, inspirational character that others could look to for leadership, Rey had a lot going for her. Far from being just a “female Luke Skywalker,” as some dismissively suggested, there were nuances in Rey’s characterisation that took her to different thematic places – at least in the first two parts of the sequel trilogy.
Although we’ve caught a glimpse of Luke Skywalker and his attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order, those sequences in both the sequel films and the Disney+ spin-off shows are impacted by the knowledge of the tragedy that will ultimately befall Luke and his new generation of Jedi. He tried his best, but ultimately all Luke could do was pass the torch to Rey – and the task of creating a new and improved Light Side order now falls to her.
That idea holds genuine appeal, as does seeing the galaxy recovering from decades of oppression and civil war. There’s the possibility of telling an inspiring and uplifting story all about finding hope in dark times, and rebuilding from a fascistic dystopia. These are things that have real-world parallels that could prove incredibly timely!
Is Rey the right character to take the lead in such a story, though? After a disappointingly regressive and arguably quite bland arc across the sequel trilogy, Rey ended in a pretty uninteresting place. As the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine, Rey’s story seems to continue Star Wars’ disappointing trend of seeing the Force as a kind of metaphor for aristocracy; that those who are entrusted with power must derive that power from their bloodline, instead of discovering it on their own.
There’s also the question of whether the Jedi Order deserves to be reconstructed. In The Last Jedi, Luke was acutely aware of the failures of the old Jedi Order – and that’s also one of the key themes of the prequel trilogy: that the Order had grown complacent and arrogant to such an extent that its members couldn’t fathom the idea of somebody like Palpatine operating right under their noses. This is Star Wars, though, and the Jedi are an unshakable part of the franchise, so surely the name won’t be dropped!
The Rise of Skywalker ended in such a way as to tee up future stories, just as Return of the Jedi had done four decades earlier. The question on my mind, though, is this: is it too soon? It took more than thirty years for Return of the Jedi to get a sequel, and with the disappointment of the sequels still fresh in the minds of many fans, I’m struggling to see how this new film could hope to find success.
At best, a new story featuring Rey will prove to be divisive, continuing the divisions in the Star Wars fan community that have persisted for the past few years at least. Doubling-down on a character that many fans were unimpressed with at best is admirable in some ways… but it doesn’t strike me as being a particularly smart business or storytelling decision. The simple fact is that Rey’s presence in the story is a challenge; a hurdle that the new film will have to overcome.
Again, this is something that the passage of time would almost certainly damp down. Look at the reputation the prequel trilogy has today: it’s held in high regard by many fans, especially younger ones, and while there are still grumpy old holdouts like myself who remain unimpressed… the prequels on the whole have gone through somewhat of a renaissance. As fans who watched and loved those films as kids have grown up and continued to participate in the Star Wars fan community, the prequels have been – to an extent – rehabilitated.
The same is true of Return of the Jedi. Though never as controversial as the prequels, when I first encountered Star Wars in the early ’90s, Return of the Jedi was considered its weakest part by far. And it’s easy to see why: “from a certain point of view” is patent nonsense, Luke and Leia being retconned to be brother and sister was just silly, and the Ewoks were an army of teddy bears who defeated the Empire and ruined Palpatine’s carefully-laid plan! Yet you just don’t hear those criticisms any more outside of a small subset of Star Wars fans; Return of the Jedi has been rehabilitated by the passage of time.
In time, many of the most divisive and heavily-criticised aspects of the sequel trilogy will be absorbed into Star Wars’ broader canon. We’ve already seen moves in shows like The Mandalorian and films like Rogue One to flesh out story points and new additions like cloning or hyperspace tracking, and as Star Wars continues to expand – both on the screen and beyond, with books, comics, games, and so on – Rey’s status as the grandchild of Palpatine and other controversial (and silly) elements of the sequels will likewise become more broadly accepted.
But this process takes time.
With the sequel trilogy still fresh in the minds of most fans, and with the general consensus being that either The Last Jedi or The Rise of Skywalker are among the worst films in the entire franchise, building a new story atop that so soon feels like it’s asking for trouble. Return to Rey by all means – expanding her story might go some way to making up for its deficiencies in the sequel trilogy. But not yet. It’s too soon.
There’s also the point that I’ve made before a dozen times or more: Star Wars has only ever told one real story. Despite existing for more than 45 years, with nine mainline films, two major spin-offs, several live-action TV shows, animated series, books, games, and more… Star Wars has still only told one real story: the “Palpatine saga,” focusing on the rise, fall, rise again, and fall again of Emperor Palpatine. A new story focusing on Rey wouldn’t do the one thing that I’ve been calling on Star Wars to do for years: move on.
The Star Wars galaxy is one of the finest fictional settings ever created, in my view. It has millions of inhabited planets, thousands of alien races, space magic and sci-fi technology, dozens of named factions, and tens of thousands of years of galactic history. But every mainline Star Wars project has been denied access to the vast majority of this sandbox, being forced to return to the same time period, the same planets, the same factions, and even the same handful of characters and families time and again. Surely it’s time to knock it off now and try something genuinely new and different. Because of her involvement in the sequels, and because she’s been retconned to be a member of Palpatine’s family, Rey can’t achieve that objective on two counts.
Can we have any confidence that Lucasfilm has learned the lessons of the sequel trilogy? Not only was the decision to split up the writing and directing of the trilogy a catastrophic mistake, but allowing someone like J.J. Abrams to essentially re-tell large parts of the original trilogy with a different coat of paint was poor. With Star Wars so intent on doubling-down on the only story it’s ever told, and a lack of boldness in the Disney boardroom seemingly refusing to consider other options, there’s a very real danger that a new sequel will repeat many of the mistakes that the franchise has made in recent years.
Several recent Star Wars projects have been little more than fan-servicey mess, with the utterly illogical or regressive inclusions of characters for no reason other than to compensate for a weak story. Some of these – like Obi-Wan Kenobi – actually ended up damaging the original films and the characters they included. So I feel more than a little concerned that a sequel featuring Rey – and thus continuing, in some form, the “Skywalker saga” – will do the same.
So I guess that’s where I’m at when it comes to this “sequel sequel.” My main message isn’t “never do this, it’s a terrible idea,” but rather “now isn’t the right time.” As the dust settles on the sequels, and upcoming projects – both on screen and off – incorporate that story into the broader landscape of Star Wars, passions will surely settle. As younger fans who first came to Star Wars with the sequels grow up and come of age, the fan community as a whole will shift to becoming more supportive of those films. When that’s happened – say in fifteen to twenty years time – then it might finally be the right time to return to Rey. But not yet.
If I was in charge of planning the next steps for Star Wars over at Disney and Lucasfilm, I wouldn’t have given the green light to this project. My focus would be on diversifying Star Wars – stepping back in time to the days of the Old Republic, taking a look at new characters, and shining a spotlight on the denizens of the galaxy who aren’t blessed with space magic! Rey will undoubtedly have her moment to return to Star Wars… but for me, it feels incredibly premature to even be considering bringing her back now.
The Star Wars sequel trilogy (The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker) is available to stream now on Disney+. The films are also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Wars franchise – including all titles discussed above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.