In its rush to close out the Skywalker Saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker left a lot on the table. Pretty much everything not directly related to Rey, Luke, Leia, Ben Solo, and Sheev Palpatine was left hanging for future storytellers to resolve in comics, novels, television shows, and, yes, future films. And, as it happens, at least a few ideas directly related to them are still in the margins as well. But with so much about the other characters (and the galaxy for that matter) unresolved, it would seem there is plenty of material for a direct follow-up to The Rise of Skywalker – an Episode X, as it were.
So let’s go on a thought experiment and consider what an Episode X might look like and why it may eventually be vital for Star Wars to continue to the episode saga… if perhaps in a slightly different way going forward.
In the very early days of Star Wars success, George Lucas’ vision was very much in flux. As he has mentioned in numerous interviews, the film was the result of a massive 200-page script that more or less formed the backbone of the Original Trilogy (and, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, the eventual Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace). Early drafts also hinted at the sequels, with one revision directly telling the reader the Leia character would have a larger role in the next film.
But even as The Empire Strikes Back began to coalesce into a shooting script, Lucas and his collaborators considered a 12-episode series. That sequence was envisioned as more of a James Bond-style format, with fewer narrative ties between episodes and certain films acting more as preludes or epilogues to larger story ideas like the Clone Wars. It was abandoned in favor of a nine-episode story in which the later sequels would see Leia become “queen of her people,” Luke finding his sister (who was not initially intended to be Leia), and an Episode IX introduction of the Emperor. All of this changed as Lucas became disenchanted with Star Wars during the development of Return of the Jedi, which condensed several ideas from the later episodes into its plot.
Nonetheless, we totally expect the early references to the 12-episode cycle to become part of the Lucasfilm narrative when it inevitably announces Episode X.
And make no mistake, Episode X is inevitable.
Although inevitable, the timing of Episode X is less of a certainty. After its experiment with yearly Star Wars films proved untenable, Disney pulled back and cancelled all of its Star Wars Story spin-off pictures. A film is scheduled for a 2022 release – with a director reportedly already on board and subsequent films scheduled every two years afterward through 2026 – but it is understood this project will not continue story threads from the Skywalker Saga.
Granted, the possibility still exists that this film could be labeled as Episode X.
But presuming Disney sticks to its new plan of slightly more sporadic Star Wars film releases, an Episode X might be what people want after a decade away from the episodic saga and, seemingly, the forward momentum of Star Wars into an uncharted, post-Palpatine age.
As much as the films are about the Skywalker clan struggling to save the galaxy, the are also about the galaxy’s own failure to prevent its fall into an Empire. Even in the Sequel Trilogy, we see its influence continue and the New Republic unable to cope with those remnants coalescing into the First Order.
It leaves the galaxy with the problem the Republic faced in the infamous Phantom Menace senate scenes: the centralized government is ill-equipped to prevent its own collapse. In its final form, the Sequel Trilogy was also not equipped to address this problem; it chose to wipe out the New Republic instead. So it leaves the remains of the Resistance with a different set of questions than those the Rebel Alliance faced after the Battle of Endor. For the latter, there was a stated goal of restoring the Republic. But will the weary Resistance fighters of the Sequel Trilogy want to do that?
In lieu of a Republic, Episode X could take us into a galaxy without that central leadership. It could be an era when the hyperspace routes are patrolled by more localized coalitions with uneasy alliances and a tacit agreement not to disrupt trade. If we need some familiar faces to give it Star Wars continuity, the Trade Federation could re-emerge as a power player as it maintains security along the spaceways.
Sure, it sounds a little dry – and maybe too much like The Phantom Menace for some – but it offers a new context in which to set up a new adventure. Perhaps a core group of Resistance fighters are still trying to restore the Republic. Or, maybe, just trying to survive in this more lawless galaxy is enough motivation for heroes new and old to engage in a star war.
We’ll be honest, the only final end for the Sith and the Jedi would be a galaxy-wide repudiation of the Force itself – something it seems cannot actually happen, as the Force will always find sentient beings happy to access its power. This means the fate of the Jedi must be decided beyond the vague allusions to the future at the end of The Rise of Skywalker. And while Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) story is seemingly done with her finding an identity, the Expanded Universe has taught us – to borrow a Watchmen line – nothing ever ends.
Your desire to see the restoration of the Jedi depends entirely on how much you like their view of the Force. We’ll admit the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game and its sequel colored our understanding of their absolutism. In that light, we hope the Order can emerge in the post-TROS time period as something more gray. Both the Prequel and Sequel Trilogies seemingly call for a notion of balance as well.
But it is possible that subtext is just too unruly for a continuing series of space adventure movies. Maybe the Order just needs to be unambiguously restored with Rey and Finn (John Boyega) leading the way. An Episode X in this vein could mirror something like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, with a young adherent learning the ways of the Force and, perhaps, undergoing a trial to face their own Dark Side. While the conflict would be more personal, it would reveal an Order more stabilized than we ever see in any of the films.
And in an interesting quirk, this new Order could be filled with all of those escaped stormtroopers like Finn and Jannah (Naomi Ackie), who felt the pull of the Force so strongly that it prevented them from engaging in the First Order’s oppression. Also, for just this moment, we’ll disregard the fact a bunch of former child soldiers are learning to become warrior magicians because we’re still trying to get an unambiguous victory here for the Jedi.
In concluding the Skywalker story, Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn, and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) were left by the wayside. New characters like Jannah, Zorri (Keri Russell), and Beaumont (Dominic Monaghan) barely had a moment to establish themselves before the final iris-out. And though the actors all seem pretty burned out on Star Wars at the moment – a common occurrence at the end of these trilogies – the characters deserve better.
Giving any one of them the lead position in Episode X would lead to interesting new directions and satisfy fans of those characters – yes, they exist – who felt they all got short shrift in the resolution of Rey and Ben’s (Adam Driver) story.
And since some of them are certainly underdeveloped, Episode X could be a film in which they receive that much-needed development. An ace X-Wing pilot, a former Stormtrooper, a mechanic, and a smuggler form a pretty strong starting point in terms of character dynamics. No doubt many Star Wars RPG parties are composed of that exact mixture right now. With the burden of Palpatine and the Skywalkers off their backs, this group could go chart some of the uncharted new galaxy left in The Rise of Skywalker’s wake.
Throughout this discussion, we’ve avoided looking at a potential Episode X as the beginning of a new trilogy for a very specific reason: the format no longer works for the open-ended narrative Star Wars evolved into. The fans’ love of the EU, the success of The Mandalorian, and Disney’s investment in the property as a whole means there can never be a true conclusion. Star Wars is a suite of storytelling tools now. And though commodified by a gigantic corporation, it is the modern mythology early fans always hoped it would become. Star Wars would continue even if there wasn’t a huge monetary benefit in its longevity.
At the same time, it still needs a major storyline to anchor the various ways people interact with the mythology. Episode X could be the beginning of a new saga structure. Like the looser concept of the 12-episode cycle, new Star Wars episode films could be more complete story units on their own while furthering an overall vision of the post-Skywalker galaxy. Sure, it could become as vast and unwieldy as the old EU and its tiered canon structure, but the essential bits of Star Wars lore are for another civilization to agree on a long, long time from now. For those of us living in it, it means an almost boundless array of Star Wars ideas to call our own, while we occasionally gather together for a new episode. And that next new planet, character, or idea may be reason enough for Episode X to become a reality.