In a move that has left Star Wars fans stunned and intrigued, Lucasfilm revealed today that Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson has signed on to return to that favorite galaxy far, far away for not just one more movie, but an entire trilogy (now we know why he turned down the opportunity to direct Episode IX).
Lucasfilm says Johnson's trilogy is "separate from the episodic Skywalker saga," which is another way of telling fans not to expect Episodes X - XII. Those movies may or may not be made some day, but what Johnson is creating is something different.
From a storytelling perspective, a new series is a brilliant idea. Rather than going on forever telling Skywalker-adjacent stories, launching a new trilogy with a different setting and different characters is a chance to let the franchise spread its wings and take audiences to exciting and unexpected places. The press release also says that Johnson's movies will "introduce new characters from a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars lore has never before explored." So, as much as we'd love to see Johnson tackle an Ahsoka Tano trilogy or the story of Luke's doomed Jedi Academy, that isn't happening, either.
A while back, there were rumors that Lucasfilm was considering doing a new trilogy of films centered on Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi, but that can't be what this is, since Obi-Wan is a well-known, integral part of the Skywalker saga. Those ideas seem to have coalesced instead into a one-off "Star Wars Story" in the same vein as Rogue One, which Lucasfilm has yet to officially date or cast.
So, what story could Johnson be telling that's separate from established characters, and takes place in "a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars has never explored"? The "separate from the Skywalker saga" stipulation suggests that a trilogy focused on characters like Yoda or Boba Fett are off the new trilogy's table. However, that still leaves an entire universe full of possibilities.
One rumor that's been circulated for a while is that Lucasfilm is interested in exploring the "Old Republic" era on film. Primarily known as the setting of a series of video games from BioWare, the Old Republic era is some four thousand years prior to the Skywalker saga, detailing the conflict between the Jedi Order of old and a Sith Empire looking to conquer the galaxy. Books, comics, and other materials have fleshed out that time period even further, even if most of it is no longer canon. Basically, there's a wealth of previously-developed material that Johnson could take inspiration from.
Another possibility is that Johnson plans to explore the nature of the Force. Imagine a tale that dives deep into the history of Jedha, and how it factors into the origins of the Jedi. Beyond the Jedi and the Sith, Lucasfilm has been emphasizing over the last few years that there are other religions and movements across the galaxy that are centered on the Force. The Guardians of the Whills, for instance, which were canonized in Rogue One. A historical saga that tells of the Jedi's beginning and rise to prominence over other Force religions could be compelling stuff.
Some fans are holding out hope for popular characters from side material like video games or novels to be introduced to live action, like Galen Marek from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Kyle Katarn from the Jedi Academy games, or Mara Jade from Timothy Zahn's novels. There's also legendary canonical characters that could be explored, those that have been referenced but never seen, such as Palpatine's former Sith Master, Darth Plagueis. Fan-favorite Grand Admiral Thrawn was ushered into canon via Star Wars Rebels last year, but how awesome would it be to see such a thrilling character in live-action, on the big screen?
The theory that makes the most sense — and the one most likely to be championed by fans — is that Johnson is looking four thousand years into the past for his new Star Wars trilogy. Lucasfilm is already known to be interested in exploring the Old Republic period, and there's plenty of story there to fill out three movies - and beyond.
Also worth considering, however, is the fact that Rian Johnson is a super creative guy. Instead of looking to non-canon material or spoken-of-but-never-seen parts of Star Wars lore, what if he's dreamed up something brand new that's not based on or connected to anything that already exists? The galaxy that George Lucas built is vast, after all, and always evolving.
Lucasfilm clearly has enormous confidence in Johnson, having previously given him plenty of creative control over The Last Jedi. Now the studio is entrusting him with an entire trilogy. For someone with the "keys to the kingdom", so to speak, cooking up something wholly original might be the more attractive option.
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017