[Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force Awakens ahead]
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is here, showing audiences at long last what has transpired in their favorite galaxy far, far away over the past three decades. And while the film does a superb job of introducing its new cast of heroes and villains and setting up the storylines that will be explored over the course of the next four years, it contains surprisingly little in the way of backstory or exposition, leaving the vast bulk of the sequel trilogy’s narrative wide open.
With so much groundwork having been laid down, there’s more than enough material to work with in providing educated guesses for what will transpire in both Episode VIII (which is set to be released in May 2017) and Episode IX (May 2019) – especially considering that executive producer Kathleen Kennedy and her cabal of writers and directors will be hewing so closely to the structure and developments of the original trilogy (a practice, of course, first established by Star Wars creator George Lucas himself in last decade’s prequel trilogy). This makes Our 10 Predictions for Episodes VIII and IX entirely possible to offer up below.
While these are all just shots in the dark, we should probably throw up a SPOILER warning for all those who don’t want to have any kind of foreknowledge whatsoever, whether it be the informed or wildly speculative sort. Oh – and there’s definitely spoilers for Episode VII.
10 Lando Calrissian will show up in the next film
While the main focus of The Force Awakens was squarely on the likes of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), reacquainting audiences with Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) was an undeniably important part of the story, as well – which makes perfect sense, as such an injection of old and new is generally the driving force behind any sequel.
As such, we’re fully expecting – and looking forward to – further such reunions with Star Wars legends past. After all, if writer-director J.J. Abrams could sneak in such minor faces as Admiral Ackbar (Tim Rose) and Nien Nunb (Mike Quinn) into Episode VII, then having a character of the caliber of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) in Episode VIII is a no-brainer. Besides, it helps fit into that whole “parallel narrative structure” thing that Lucas – and, now, Kennedy – love so much, since Lando was first introduced and played such a major role in the second installment of the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back.
9 Revealing the Knights of Ren
Audiences watching the original trilogy could be forgiven for not knowing that Darth Vader (David Prowse) was a Dark Lord of the Sith, as the name is never uttered once on-screen but is mentioned repeatedly in the novelizations and other assorted multimedia tie-ins. In much the same vein (indeed, was this yet another parallel that J.J. Abrams deliberately included?), the moniker of “the Knights of Ren” is barely referenced in The Force Awakens, even though Abrams and his filmmaking team have talked about the mysterious new organization a few times in the lead-up to the film’s release (and the Knights get one brief scene, during Rey’s flashback sequence).
So what are these new Ren Knights, and what’s their long-term game plan? Our best bet is that they are an attempt to merge the Sith Lords with the Jedi Knights, taking the intent and lust for power of the former and merging it with the structure and ubiquitousness of the latter; imagine them prowling the galaxy as the enforcers of the First Order, much like the Jedi did for the Old Republic, but while attempting to limit the amount of deceit and betrayal that caused the original Sith regime to crumble a thousand years before Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
8 Revealing Supreme Leader Snoke
One of the most closely-guarded secrets of Episode VII before its arrival was the ruler of the First Order, Snoke (Andy Serkis). And, it turns out, that was for good reason – the character has all of three scenes in the movie and absolutely nothing in the way of backstory; beyond learning that the character is Force-sensitive (“Have you felt the awakening in the Force?”) and that he is at least thought to be responsible for Ben Solo’s fall from the light side to the Knights of Ren, he is a giant unknown that is just begging to be explored in the two follow-ups.
As it turns out, this is almost perfectly in keeping with George Lucas’s handling of the Sith Lords in the prequels. After getting a quick introduction to Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid) in The Phantom Menace and learning that he’s pursuing revenge against the Jedi, audiences would have to wait six long years, until Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, before seeing what his plans exactly entailed and just why the Sith were so angry with the Jedi in the first place. As such, don’t expect a full accounting of what Snoke is up to until Episode IX.
And what will such a revelation entail? We honestly have no clue at this early stage in the game – Kennedy could take this character in almost any direction. However, we do already have one precious clue, thanks to the Expanded Universe’s “Journey to The Force Awakens”: he is the former fleet admiral of the Imperial Starfleet, meaning he’s been invested in Palpatine’s New Order for a good chunk of his life.
(For a full accounting of what we think we know, check out our in-depth Complete Guide to The Force Awakens’s Backstory).
7 Episode VIII’s training montage
The bulk of The Empire Strikes Back is dedicated to showing Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) training under the watchful, green eye of Master Yoda (Frank Oz) – a somewhat-low-key-but-certainly-narratively-important component of the middle part of the story. We are fully expecting this to be carried over in Episode VIII, but with the extra twist that the sequel trilogy has already established will be its trademark (starting with the little fact that its central protagonist is a woman): there will be two training narratives instead of just the one.
It’s clear from Force Awakens’s ending that Kylo Ren is finally ready to start the final part of his training under the tutelage of Snoke, meaning that audiences could very well get the chance to see a lot more of the supreme leader. Contrasting with this will be Jedi Master Luke Skywalker’s mentoring of Rey, although we expect this to be a reluctant storyline, at best; Luke obviously doubts both himself and his capabilities as a teacher (thereby mirroring Yoda’s hesitance at training Luke in Empire).
6 The death of Kylo Ren
The prequel trilogy ends with Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) symbolically dying and being replaced with the Sith Lord Darth Vader. The original trilogy climaxes with the coin flipping back the other way: Anakin renouncing his Darth countenance and returning to the ways of the Jedi. With Kylo Ren already stating that he has replaced the identity of Ben Solo, it’s obvious this narrative trend has already been picked up by the new filmmakers, and we wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see the cycle completing itself by Ren being obliterated and Ben once again rising to the surface.
Here’s the part of the development that gets murky for us: will Ren’s death purely be symbolic, like Anakin’s flip-flopping, or will it be literal? Will Ben have only a moment to reconnect with his family members (which may or may not include Rey), like Annie did with Luke, or will he go on to be a main character for the prospective fourth trilogy, fighting alongside our cast of heroes?
5 The Knights of Ren will survive this trilogy
If taken in chronological order, the prequel trilogy introduces the main antagonists of the bulk of the Star Wars saga, the Dark Lords of the Sith – who go on to plague our protagonists once again in the original movies. With nearly two decades transpiring between the two trilogies, and with all the changes in design and technology and, even, casts of characters, the continuity of villainy is a welcome narrative presence.
We fully expect the new Lucasfilm to play this card once again to help bridge the third and fourth sets of films. Yes, Supreme Leader Snoke’s days as the overarching baddie are numbered – audiences should be prepared to see him defeated at the end of Episode IX, just as Emperor Palpatine was at the end of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi – but not all seven Knights of Ren will end up shuffling off of this mortal coil at the sequel trilogy’s conclusion.
Who knows? Maybe by the start of Episode X (if, indeed, there is one), the Ren Knights will have succeeded in their (hypothetical) mission statement and will have multiplied to include hundreds – possibly thousands – of members, mirroring the Jedi of old.
4 Rey’s parents revealed
Yes, on the one hand, this prediction is a painfully obvious one; with so much build-up in The Force Awakens, revealing who young Rey’s parents are has become an obligatory narrative turn at some point across the next two films.
But, on the other, the answer of Rey’s family’s identity will open a giant can of worms, regardless of who they really are. We’re of the mindset that it’s none other than Luke Skywalker, given all the myriad parallels between her and both Luke and Anakin (growing up on a desert planet, being an accomplished tinkerer and pilot, wielding Annie’s lightsaber, etc.), and that, furthermore, the revelation will be dropped in a scene that will be the direct parallel to the infamous “I am your father” moment between Vader and Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.
(For more on the possible ramifications of such a development, be sure to check out our Should Rey Be a Skywalker? feature.)
3 There’s more to Luke’s exile
Feeling responsible for the twin post-Return of the Jedi failures – the personal one of Ben Solo becoming Kylo Ren, and the historic one of the Jedi Order being destroyed yet again – is enough for even the likes of Luke Skywalker to become defeatist. However, (apparently) calling it quits permanently is several orders of magnitude beyond this and, as such, requires more in order for audiences to buy it. After all, Luke is the last of the Jedi – the future peace and prosperity of nearly literally every single denizen of the galaxy is riding upon his actions. Failure can’t be allowed to be the final outcome.
But what else could be there to make Master Skywalker want to retire on an isolated planet? If he breaks the Jedi Code, falls in love, and has a daughter, that could be enough, in conjunction with the new Order’s fall, to make him play hermit for, possibly, the past decade or two. This, in turn, would drive his reluctance to train Rey and make a second go at restarting the Order, given that he already feels as if he’s proven his unworthiness.
Then again, there could be a whole new storyline featuring a whole new set of characters and locations that we haven’t even begun to dream of yet – making Episode VIII all the more anticipated.
2 Luke Skywalker dies
Yoda survives the Jedi Purge on Kashyyyk, a duel against Darth Sidious on Coruscant, 22 years of exile on Dagobah, and the impetuousness of young Luke Skywalker – only to leave Luke’s training incomplete and to die before knowing how his final confrontation with Lords Vader and Sidious will end (well, in corporeal form, at least). Ben Kenobi’s (Alec Guinness) character arc ends in much the same fashion two films previously, as does Qui-Gon Jinn’s (Liam Neeson) three movies before that.
If the well-established pattern holds true, don’t expect Luke to stick around (again, in corporeal form) in order to see how his new Padawan, Rey, will fare in her battle against the combined forces of Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke. In fact, we fully expect Luke to die early in Episode IX, specifically mirroring Yoda’s role in Episode VI, thereby leaving Rey – whose training, but of course, will be woefully incomplete – alone in her final quest to destroy the First Order and preserve the New Republic.
1 Rey’s ultimate fate
The whole point of the sequel trilogy – thus far, at least – is to show how, in most meaningful ways, galactic history has been treading water for the past three decades: the Jedi have yet to return, meaning that the balance of the Force has yet to be attained, which thereby allows an organization such as the Knights of Ren to emerge.
As such, we are convinced that the sequel trilogy will more or less end showing what audiences all thought would have happened in the years immediately after Return of the Jedi: the creation of the new Jedi Order. The twist here, of course, is that it will be Rey leading the charge, not Luke.
Such a move would have two interesting consequences. Firstly, Anakin would still be the Chosen One, destroying the Sith, but it will take both Luke and Rey to help bring about the second part of that prophecy, restoring balance (Luke by nudging his father back onto the right course, and Rey to oversee the Jedi’s long-awaited return). Secondly, having a novice administer the training of several thousand new recruits could lead to a disastrously shaky Jedi structure – a dramatic situation which could be fully exploited in the fourth trilogy.
Agree or disagree with our predictions? Have your own prognostications to offer up? The comments below await.