-- Warning: SPOILERS lie ahead for The Last Jedi --
Now that Star Wars: The Last Jedi has finally debuted in theaters, we have a good idea of which characters will be returning for J.J. Abrams' Episode 9. As you well know, Rian Johnson's film has taken the world by storm with a massive $450 million opening weekend. But despite those massive numbers (and glowing critical reviews), TLJ may actually be the most divisive Star Wars movie ever. It's managed to split the fanbase down the middle, and there's more than a few diehards that outright hated it. But don't let the negative buzz fool you -- this is Star Wars we're talking about here.
TLJ may have its controversies, but moviegoers will undoubtedly show up in droves when Episode 9 rolls around in 2019. It will do so with a familiar face at the helm, as The Force Awakens' J.J. Abrams is returning to direct the project after having replaced Colin Trevorrow. He just gave his story pitch to Lucasfilm last week, and filming is slated to begin next June. (No word yet on how that meeting went, by the way.)
Episode IX is over two years away from release, so it's understandably unclear just who will star at this point. (Abrams himself might not even know for sure.) While the final cast will obviously be much larger, as of now, there are only four characters confirmed to return. Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, and Poe are all slated to make their third appearances in the franchise. Outside of the core four, however, things get a bit murky.
No big surprise here. There was no way Rian Johnson was ever going to kill off the true Last Jedi in the middle of the trilogy, so Daisy Ridley will indeed return as Rey in Episode IX. We may not have learned her last name, but the character certainly came a long way in The Last Jedi. Next time out, she'll stand as the Resistance's best chance to take down the First Order once and for all.
Given Daisy Ridley's feelings on the matter, the next Star Wars film could mark Rey's final appearance in the franchise. Be prepared to say goodbye.
Not only will Adam Driver's Kylo Ren return in Episode IX, but he'll do so as the film's main villain. With Supreme Leader Snoke out of his way, Kylo has become the new face of the First Order. It's probably not a move a lot of fans would've been thrilled about heading into TLJ (more than a few folks were underwhelmed by him in The Force Awakens), but his arc was easily one of the strongest storylines in Episode 8. Johnson choosing to position him as the trilogy's big bad by having him murder Snoke was as gutsy as it was brilliant.
Kylo's inevitable showdown with Rey will likely be the most anticipated storyline in the next Star Wars adventure.
Many of TLJ's detractors were quick to point out Finn's seemingly fruitless side plot with Rose as a weak point of the film. In perhaps the most surprising twist of all, their plan to take out the First Order's tracking abilities backfired spectacularly. After being betrayed by Benicio Del Toro's DJ, most of the Resistance escape pods were destroyed -- along with most of the Resistance. The Star Wars universe has seen the best laid plans fail before, but never quite so completely.
That said, Finn did manage to spread the Rebellion's message to a new corner of the galaxy. The child on Canto Bight (who has Force powers, no less) heard it loud and clear. Perhaps Finn could be being positioned as a recruiter of sorts in Episode IX?
If any members of the core four were going to be killed off in TLJ, it was probably Poe Dameron. Thankfully, Oscar Isaac's flyboy not only survives, but he's granted what is arguable the film's best character arc. TLJ sees Poe mature quite a bit, ultimately becoming the sensible leader the Rebellion needs. The best pilot in the galaxy should have a lot on in his plate in Episode IX. He could even be positioned as the public face of the Resistance, with Leia likely out of the picture.
And of course, his subtly teased romantic connection with Rey will be worth keeping an eye on.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019