Star Wars Sequel Trilogy Overview


Introduction

The Star Wars sequel trilogy is the third trilogy of the main Star Wars franchise, an American space opera created by George Lucas.

It is produced by Lucasfilm Ltd and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

The trilogy consists of episodes VII through IX, chronologically following the prequel trilogy (Episodes I–III; 1999–2005) and the original trilogy (Episodes IV–VI; 1977–1983).

Lucas had planned a sequel trilogy as early as 1976, but had cancelled it by 1981 and produced only the first six episodes.

The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm in late 2012 and announced plans to produce the sequel films, although Lucas’s plans for the films were largely discarded.

This sequel serves as the final act of the ‘Skywalker Saga’.

The trilogy follows a 19-year-old orphan, Rey, and the plight of the Resistance against the First Order, which has risen from the fallen Galactic Empire. Rey learns the ways of the Force under Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa, and confronts Kylo Ren – the son of Leia and Han Solo, nephew of Luke, and grandson of Anakin Skywalker – who has fallen to the dark side.

Development

  • George Lucas had plans for three Star Wars trilogies as far back as 1976.
  • When Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980, Lucas had already written story treatments for all nine Star Wars episodes.
  • Author Dale Pollock revealed in a 2012 interview, that as part of his biographical research on George Lucas during the 1980s, Lucas had allowed Pollock to read these plot outlines, albeit on the condition of signing a confidentiality agreement.
    • The plans Pollock saw, however, were drastically changed after The Empire Strikes Back was released, because Lucas decided to make only one Star Wars trilogy.
    • This led Lucas to rework and fully incorporate many of the plots from his discarded sequel trilogy directly into Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983).
  • After release of Return of the Jedi in 1983, Lucas gave many hints about many of the plot elements from his discarded 1980’s script treatments for the sequel trilogy, or what would happen if he were to make a sequel trilogy.
  • While many ideas seem to have been completely or partially retained, these two particular ideas were apparently discarded for Disney’s sequel trilogy, which entered development in the early 2010’s:
    • The trilogy would deal with the rebuilding of the Republic (Lucas in 1980). Instead, the trilogy starts at a time when the Galactic Republic has already been rebuilt.
    • Luke would have a romantic relationship with a female partner (Lucas in 1988). This idea was discarded, given that within the trilogy Luke is alone in exile.
  • In 1992, Lucas announced his intentions to produce a prequel trilogy.
    • When asked, he would frequently repeat that he had no plans to make the sequel trilogy and that he would not allow other directors to make it.
  • At a press conference for the 1997 Special Edition of the original trilogy, Lucas stated, “I don’t have scripts [for the sequel trilogy]. The only notion on that was, wouldn’t it be fun to get all the actors to come back when they’re 60 or 70 years old and make three more about them as old people.”
    • Also in 1997, Lucas stated that “The whole story has six episodes…”
  • In May 2011, Lucas was in Orlando, Florida, to celebrate the opening of Star Tours – The Adventures Continue at Walt Disney World. He was invited to breakfast by Disney CEO Bob Iger, who asked Lucas if he would be willing to sell his company to Disney.
    • Lucas had begun to consider retiring, but was not ready to do so at that time.
    • Lucas considered directing Episode VII for a May 2015 release and then selling his company, but decided to leave the franchise in the hands of other filmmakers, announcing in January 2012 that he would step away from making blockbuster films.
  • By June 2012, Lucas had agreed to sell his company, provided that Kathleen Kennedy would replace him as president of Lucasfilm. Bob Iger agreed, while insisting that Disney would have final say over future movies.
    • Lucas’s final stipulations before the sale in late 2012 were that his story treatments would be used and that the number of Disney employees who could read them would be limited.
    • Lucas gave Kennedy the final draft of his story treatments during the October 2012 sale.
    • The same month, the Disney sale and production of the sequel trilogy were announced to the public.
    • Both plot outlines, the one written in the 1980’s and the one written in the 2010’s, were given to Bob Iger around the time that Disney acquired Lucasfilm.
  • In 2015, Lucas revealed (to his disappointment) that his outlines had been discarded in order to “make something for the fans”.
    • The same year, Episode VII writer and director J. J. Abrams revealed that Disney had given him a mandate to discard Lucas’s story and “start from scratch”.
    • Disney was faced with the challenge of pleasing devoted Star Wars fans more so than with the company’s other franchises.
  • The first film in the sequel trilogy was titled Episode VII: The Force Awakens and was written by Lucasfilm veteran Lawrence Kasdan, along with its director J. J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt.
    • Bob Iger’s memoirs, published in 2019, recount that Lucas was upset after hearing the plot of The Force Awakens in meetings, specifically about elements that were derivative of the original 1977 film.
    • Lucas felt betrayed by Iger and Abrams because they discarded some of his sequel trilogy ideas.
    • In 2018, Lucas revealed a few elements of his discarded pre-Disney script about midichlorians, a microbiotic world, and the Whills.
  • As announced by Lucasfilm, the sequel trilogy meant the end of most of the existing Expanded Universe, so as to give “maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience”.
    • Only Episodes I–VI would remain canon to the franchise, along with The Clone Wars animated film and series.
    • Most everything produced after the announcement would also be considered canon.

Outline

Unlike the previous two trilogies, whose films were released approximately three years apart ahead of Memorial Day weekend, the sequel films were released two years apart from each other in December.

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released on 18 December 2015, and introduces the 19-year-old orphan, Rey, who is drawn into the conflict between the Resistance and the First Order, a ruthless military faction commanded by Kylo Ren – the son of Leia Organa and Han Solo.
  • In The Last Jedi, released on 15 December 2017, Rey is trained by Luke Skywalker, the last living Jedi, while again facing Ren and the First Order.
  • The Rise of Skywalker was released on 20 December 2019, and features the conclusion of the age-old conflict between the Jedi and Sith, with Rey confronting the resurrected Emperor Palpatine.

Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

About 30 years after the destruction of the second Death Star, Luke Skywalker has vanished. The remnants of the Empire have become the First Order, which seeks to destroy Luke and the New Republic. The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, opposes the First Order. On Jakku, Resistance pilot Poe Dameron obtains a map to Luke’s location, but he is captured by First Order commander Kylo Ren – the son of Leia and Han Solo. Poe’s droid BB-8 escapes with the map and encounters a scavenger, Rey. A defecting stormtrooper, FN-2187, frees Poe, who dubs him “Finn”. The pair escape, but Poe is seemingly killed. Finn finds Rey and BB-8; the group leave Jakku in the Millennium Falcon and are discovered by Han Solo and Chewbacca. They agree to help deliver the map to the Resistance.

Episode VII began pre-production on 30 October 2012. The screenplay for the film was originally set to be written by Michael Arndt, but time management and creative differences contributed to his departure from the project. On 25 January 2013, J. J. Abrams was officially announced as Episode VII’s director and producer, along with producer Bryan Burk and Bad Robot Productions. John Williams was hired to compose the music for the entire sequel trilogy. In October, it was announced that writing duties would be taken over by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

George Lucas was set to provide Abrams with advice as a creative consultant; however, Lucas had no involvement, with his representative stating that he “ideally would love not to see any footage until he walks into the theatre next December. He has never been able to be surprised by a Star Wars film before and he said he was looking forward to it.” Production began in April 2014; it was released on 18 December 2015. In the US, the film received a PG-13 rating “for sci-fi action violence” and an M Rating In Australia, the second Star Wars film to receive that classification after Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005).

The film broke opening weekend box office records in North America with $248 million ($39 million more than previous record holder Jurassic World) and totals of $529 million worldwide, the largest opening ever. The film set another new record by becoming the first movie to break the $1 billion mark in box office sales in just 12 days. It is currently the highest-grossing film of all time in North America and the third highest-grossing film worldwide, unadjusted for inflation.

Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

After finding Luke Skywalker in self-imposed exile, Rey attempts to convince him to teach her the ways of the Force. She also seeks answers about her past and the conflict between Luke and his nephew Ben Solo (now Kylo Ren). Unbeknown to Luke, Rey starts using the Force to communicate with Kylo. Meanwhile, Leia leads the Resistance as they are pursued by the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke. Rey leaves Luke in an attempt to redeem Kylo and achieve peace. After Kylo kills Snoke, Rey is forced to choose between ruling the galaxy with him, or helping the outnumbered Resistance survive.

On 20 November 2012, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg would write and produce Episodes VIII and IX, but were later confirmed to be writing standalone films. On 20 June 2014, Looper director Rian Johnson was announced as writer and director of Episode VIII; he confirmed in August that he would direct. On 12 March 2015, Lucasfilm announced that Johnson would direct Episode VIII with Ram Bergman as producer.

In March 2015, Oscar Isaac confirmed he would reprise his role as Poe Dameron in Episode VIII. In July, it was reported that Benicio del Toro was being considered for a villain; he later confirmed that he had been cast. In September, it was reported that Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tatiana Maslany, Gina Rodriguez, Olivia Cooke, and Bel Powley were on the shortlist for two separate parts. Jimmy Vee was cast as R2-D2, succeeding Kenny Baker, who would die the next year. Some pre-production filming took place in September 2015 on the island of Skellig Michael, Ireland to take advantage of better weather conditions. Abrams revealed that the film’s script was completed in a November 2015 interview with Wired. In December, Hamill, Isaac, Christie, and Boyega were confirmed to reprise their roles as Luke Skywalker, Poe Dameron, Captain Phasma, and Finn, respectively. Kennedy announced at the 17 December London premiere of The Force Awakens that most of its cast would return for Episode VIII.

On 20 January 2016, Lucasfilm and Disney announced that the release of the film would be delayed from May to December 2017. Three days later, the release date of 15 December 2017 was confirmed, as well as the title Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Principal photography began in February 2016; additional filming took place in Dubrovnik from 09 to 16 March, as well as in Ireland in May. Principal photography wrapped in July 2016. Carrie Fisher died on 27 December 2016, but had completed filming her role as Leia. Much of the filming took place at Pinewood Studios near London. Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman were the producers and J. J. Abrams executive produced.

Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

The Rise of Skywalker is the final film of the Skywalker saga, featuring a climactic clash between the Resistance and the First Order, and the Jedi and the Sith. The film is set a year following The Last Jedi and depicts the return of Palpatine, who has been secretly controlling the First Order from the Sith planet Exegol. Palpatine orders Kylo Ren to find and kill Rey, who is revealed to be Palpatine’s granddaughter. Palpatine unveils an armada of Star Destroyers to reclaim the galaxy. Rey and the Resistance learn of Palpatine’s return and embark on a quest to find him. They eventually locate Exegol; Rey confronts Palpatine, while the Resistance attack Palpatine’s fleet.

In June 2014, Johnson was announced as writing a story treatment for The Rise of Skywalker, but later stated he had not been involved with writing the film. In August 2015, Colin Trevorrow was announced as the director of Episode IX, and he, with Derek Connolly, began writing a script. In February 2016, Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed that pre-production of The Rise of Skywalker had begun.

Following the death of Carrie Fisher in late December 2016, media outlets speculated on whether her role would be recast for The Rise of Skywalker and whether the absence of her character would affect the film’s plot. A few weeks later, Lucasfilm stated that they would not digitally recreate Fisher’s performance for the film. In April 2017, Kathleen Kennedy stated that Fisher would not be in The Rise of Skywalker, but it was later announced that Fisher would in fact appear using unreleased footage from The Force Awakens. In August, it was reported that Jack Thorne would rewrite the script.

In September 2017, Lucasfilm announced that Trevorrow had stepped down as director, and a week later, it was announced that J. J. Abrams would return to direct The Rise of Skywalker. He co-wrote the script with Chris Terrio, in addition to producing the film through Bad Robot Productions with Kennedy and Michelle Rejwan. Disney had originally scheduled the film’s release for December 2019, in keeping with the previous two sequel trilogy films, but then moved it up to 24 May, a time of the year more common to the first six Star Wars episodes. However, after Abrams’ return, its release date was moved back to December.

On 10 January 2018, it was reported that John Williams will return to compose and conduct the music for The Rise of Skywalker. The next month, Williams announced that it would be the last Star Wars film music he would compose.

On 06 July 2018, it was reported that Keri Russell was in early talks for a role in The Rise of Skywalker. On 09 July, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Billy Dee Williams was confirmed to reprise the role of Lando Calrissian. On 27 July, the official casting announcement was made, including the return of Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Billie Lourd, Mark Hamill, and Anthony Daniels, with Naomi Ackie and Richard E. Grant joining the cast. The same announcement confirmed Williams’ return and that Carrie Fisher would posthumously portray Leia Organa using unreleased footage from The Force Awakens. Lucasfilm also initially had plans to include unseen footage of Fisher from The Last Jedi, but it was ultimately not used in the film. It was announced later the same day that Russell had joined the cast. It was reported that the character Yoda would also return. Principal photography began on 01 August 2018 and wrapped on 15 February 2019. The Rise of Skywalker was released in the United States on 20 December 2019.

Themes

Rey’s journey mirrors that of Anakin and Luke in the prequel and original trilogies. According to J. J. Abrams and Chris Terrio, the trilogy’s core theme is about learning from the previous generation, akin to the Americans in the War of 1812, who preserved what was fought for in the American Revolutionary War. On the inspiration for the First Order formed “from the ashes of the Empire”, Abrams spoke of conversations the writers had about how the Nazis could have escaped to Argentina after World War II and “started working together again.”

Polygon considers that The Last Jedi’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker as a pacifist Jedi master reflects the Jedi’s beliefs as being inspired by the Buddhist religion due to the character’s inner conflict towards using a lightsaber and seeing it as a weapon of destruction. The Last Jedi features scenes recalling Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), utilising the Rashomon effect when Luke tells Rey that he considered murdering his nephew, Ben Solo, due to sensing his inevitable fall to the dark side. Later, Kylo recounts his perspective, which prompts Luke to tell a third, combined perspective of the event.

Snoke encourages Kylo Ren to kill his father – this takes him further in a reversal of the hero’s journey, which the Star Wars films are heavily patterned on. According to Adam Driver, Kylo is “morally justified in doing what he thinks is right”. The Rise of Skywalker depicts Kylo Ren having his helmet repaired following its destruction in The Last Jedi. Abrams compared the fractured mask to Kintsugi, a Japanese ceramic art of repairing broken pottery which accentuates the breakage. The fractures in Kylo’s mask represent those of his character, as opposed to its obscuration in The Force Awakens.

The final scene of The Last Jedi depicts servant children playing with a toy of Luke, with one boy using the Force to grab a broom. According to Inverse, this symbolises that “the Force can be found in people with humble beginnings,” such as Rey; she was introduced in The Force Awakens as an unknown with possible relations to previous heroes, claimed to be a “nobody” in The Last Jedi, and revealed to be the granddaughter of Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker. Ahead of the release of the last film, Terrio explained that any trilogy of films is based on “thesis, antithesis, and synthesis”, further saying:

If Force Awakens asks the question of who is Rey and where did she come from, and then The Last Jedi answered it with a negative in a certain way, hopefully The Rise of Skywalker will take those two ideas and create a third thing.

According to Inverse, the end of The Rise of Skywalker sees Rey “bury the past” and reject “any power her grandfather held over her” in a completion of the hero’s journey.

Cast

  • Harrison Ford (Episodes VII and IX).
  • Mark Hamill.
  • Carrie Fisher.
  • Adam Driver.
  • Daisy Ridley.
  • John Boyega.
  • Oscar Isaac.
  • Lupita Nyong’o.
  • Andy Serkis.
  • Domhnall Gleeson.
  • Anthony Daniels.
  • Peter Mayhew (Episode VII).
  • Max von Sydow (Episode VII).
  • Gwendoline Christie (Episodes VII and VIII).
  • Kelly Marie Tran (Episodes VIII and IX).
  • Laura Dern (Episode VIII).
  • Benicio del Toro (Episode VIII).
  • Naomi Ackie (Episode IX).
  • Richard E. Grant (Episode IX).
  • Keri Russell (Episode IX).
  • Joonas Suotamo.
  • Ian McDiarmid (Episode IX).
  • Billy Dee Williams (Episode IX).

Trivia

  • Harrison Ford agreed to reprise his role of Han Solo after being promised that the character would be given meaningful closure.
  • The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi received a positive reception from critics and a mixed reception from audiences, while The Rise of Skywalker received mixed reviews from critics and a positive reception from audiences.
  • On a combined budget of $837 million, the sequel trilogy grossed over $4.4 billion at the box office worldwide, with each film surpassing a billion dollars worldwide.
    • Unlike the previous trilogies, the sequel trilogy experienced diminishing box office returns with each succeeding film.
    • Nevertheless, it is the highest-grossing trilogy overall, with The Force Awakens ranking as the fourth-highest-grossing film of all time.
  • The trilogy was nominated for a number of Academy Awards: Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound mixing, and Best Visual Effects.

Star Wars Series

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): J.J. Abrams (VII and IX) and Rian Johnson (VIII).
  • Producer(s): Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams (VII and IX), Bryan Burk (VII), Ram Begman (VIII), and Michelle Rejwan (IX).
  • Writer(s): Lawrence Kasdan (VIII), J.J. Abrams (VII and IX), Michael Arndt (VII), Rian Johnson (VIII), and Chris Terrio (IX).
  • Music: John Williams.
  • Cinematography: Dan Mindel (VII and IX) and Steve Yedlin (VIII).
  • Editor(s): Maryann Brandon (VII and IX), Mary Jo Markey (VII), Bob Ducsay (VIII), and Stefan Grube (IX).
  • Production: Lucasfilm Ltd and Bad Robot Productions (VII and IX).
  • Distributor(s): Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
  • Release Date: 18 December 2015 (The Force Awakens), 15 December 2017 (The Last Jedi), and 20 December 2019 (The Rise of Skywalker).
  • Running time: 135 minutes (The Force Awakens), 152 minutes (The Last Jedi), and 142 minutes (The Rise of Skywalker).
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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