So the Star Wars: Episode IX teaser trailer dropped and, with it, we have our first real idea where this new trilogy is heading with its final installment. Rey is back in the desert. Kylo Ren is back to killing people with his badass laser claymore. Luke and Leia exit the stage for the last time. And… something else besides.
Probably the thing that the internet is focusing most intently on is the reveal of the movie’s name: until now a closely-guarded secret that we’ve simply been placeholding with the infuriatingly generic Episode IX monicker. And it’s for good reason too, since, in typical Abramsian tradition, it seems designed from the ground up to accomplish nothing short of melting the collective brains of the entire ‘net. Star Wars: Episode IX will be titled The Rise of Skywalker.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I love the new Star Wars movies. I love how The Force Awakens felt both fresh and familiar at the same time: just enough nostalgic elements thrown in to ground the new generation of characters into the exiting world. Despite not always landing on its feet, I love how The Last Jedi took brave risks in deconstructing the our expectations of a Star Wars movie, in exploring Old Man Luke as the kind of guy who “never really came back from the war” and cutting down the creepy, unintended eugenics subtext from the franchise by decidedly making Rey NOT a Skywalker.
Actually, that last bit reminds me a lot about Into the Spider-Verse. The point of Rey being some backwater nobody without any connection to the Skywalker lineage is that it liberates our ideas of the Force from a single familial line. It means that anybody can be a Jedi, not just the elite few born to the right parents. As Miles succinctly put it at the end of his movie, “I never thought that I’d be able to do any of this stuff, but I can. Anyone can wear the mask. You can wear the mask. If you didn’t know that before, I hope you do now.” Or, alternatively, there are the words of the late, great Stan Lee himself to go off of: “That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero.”
The point of these characters – and, more broadly, the movies that they appear in – aren’t restricted by their fandoms’ preconceived notions, but have exploded outwards into the 21st century. These stories and these characters matter not because of who they share DNA with, but because of their actions: because they can stand up against the evil empire or leap headlong off of a skyscraper, even though they’re still gripping the glass in terror. Anybody, literally anybody, can be behind the mask or gripping the lightsaber. It doesn’t have to just be one person.
Although I loved The Last Jedi, I’ll readily admit that there was some stumbling along the way. But every last sometimes-blundering step they took within its runtime was worth it because of the very last shot in the very last scene before the movie cut to the credits. There was a shot of that slave boy, far off in the galaxy, playing with his toys, pretending to be the hero of the story we just watched. And after getting yelled at, he walks away to look out at the infinite black of the night sky, broom handle in hand like a lightsaber, just waiting for the day that he could run off and join some future rebellion to save the galaxy.
Anyone can wear the mask. You can wear the mask.
So when they go and call this movie The Rise of Skywalker, don’t get your hopes up that they’ve decided to do some great retcon of The Last Jedi. Do not for one second convince yourself that they are going to make Rey a Skywalker after all or that Luke is coming back as anything except for a Force Ghost who likes weird-colored milk. Rey, Miles, that lonely little kid in Canto Bight? They’re the future of the franchises you love, and that’s okay. That’s the way these things are supposed to be.
Personally, my money’s on ‘Skywalker’ itself referring more to a group of people than any surviving member of that short-lived family. Expect to see something like Rey’s new Jedi order being called The Skywalkers. Because, after all, “Anyone can wear the mask. You can wear the mask.”