Warning - this post contains MAJOR spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi!
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi is finally upon us. The latest entry in the space saga envisioned by George Lucas over forty years ago is an epic tale of hope, identity, responsibility, and porgs. Now that everybody's seen it, one truth remains: there's only one entry left in this sequel trilogy. There will surely be an Episode X, XI, and XII, and likely onward to infinity, but before that, the current story must conclude in Star Wars: Episode IX, which is set to be released on December 20, 2019. What will happen in IX? What will become of The Resistance? Will Rey and Kylo Ren fight to the death? Will General Hux be eaten by Porgs?
The film is set to be the grand finale for the sequel trilogy, and J.J. Abrams, director of Episode VII, is returning to the director's chair to finish what he started. So, What's Episode IX Going To Be About?
Episode IX won't "close the book" on Star Wars. That story will never truly end. It might hibernate for a few years here and there, but Star Wars will go on forever. Regardless, even if further chapters (X, XI, XIII, and beyond) are planned, Episode IX is still expected to wrap up all the mysteries of this current era of Star Wars, including lingering loose ends which have been dangling since the opening crawl of Episode VII.
Most pressingly, the rise of Snoke and The First Order remains irritatingly unaddressed in The Last Jedi. There is nothing in any of the new movies which explains how the Empire, seemingly defeated by the death of Emperor Palpatine and the destruction of the Death Star II, managed to reform itself into The First Order under the leadership of Supreme Leader Snoke and amass the funds necessary to create Starkiller Base. Despite Snoke's awesome and shocking death at the hand of his apprentice, Kylo Ren, his mysterious ascent is still something which needs to be addressed. It is a necessary piece for allowing the mainline "saga" films to make coherent sense within their own framework. Audiences can make many leaps of faith and just roll with sudden and unexpected events, but Episode IX needs to provide context for the massive changes between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.
This explanation cannot be relegated to spin-offs, novels, video games, or comics; as important as they may seem, they are not central pillars which make up the core mythology of Star Wars; this issue must be addressed within the films which are the most vital part of the saga.
Kylo vs Rey
The main, numbered Star Wars Episodes all focus on the Skywalker lineage. Luke was the hero of the original trilogy, and Anakin was the doomed lead character of the prequels. The main hero of the current sequel trilogy appears to be Rey, but The Last Jedi reveals an unexpected truth: not only is she unrelated to the Skywalker family, but her parents are of no significance at all; they were deadbeat losers who sold her off for chump change. She's strong in The Force, but not a Skywalker.
Of all the new, young cast, only one of them can claim any shared blood with Anakin Skywalker: Kylo Ren. The character goes through a mesmerizing arc in The Last Jedi. Initially, he is clearly torn up inside from his shocking act of patricide in The Force Awakens, to the point where he cannot bring himself to murder his mother, General Leia Organa, and finds himself falling out of favor with Supreme Leader Snoke. All the while, he develops a connection with Rey through The Force (later revealed to be a result of Snoke's interference), and wrestles with the prospect of joining her in the Light, while he tries to convince her to join him in the Dark.
Ultimately, Kylo Ren turns away from the Light but also kills Snoke, taking his place as Supreme Leader of The First Order and even trying to kill Luke Skywalker on Crait; little does he know that Luke isn't even on the planet, but just projecting his consciousness through his unmatched strength in The Force. There is still good in Kylo Ren, the erstwhile Ben Solo. However, Luke and Rey can't force it out of him; he has to choose to embrace his good side himself, and the end of The Last Jedi indicates that he has no plans to turn away from the darkness, especially now that he has consolidated his power over The First Order.
Will Episode IX finally see the redemption of Kylo Ren? Luke's final line to Ren, "See you around, kid," doesn't convey anger or hatred, or even disappointment; just acceptance. Will Luke's Force Ghost stay with Kylo and pester him until he embraces the good within himself? Or will Rey be forced to put down the recalcitrant Ren like a rabid dog? Just because Kylo Ren has the potential for good doesn't mean the heroes of The Resistance won't still have to take him out if he can't turn away from evil.