The road to Episode IX: The D23 Trailer!

This morning a new Star Wars Episode IX trailer was released. Rumours were already ride after its first showing at D23. But now we all got to see it. Here is our take on it.

If you haven’t seen it yet you should definitly see it before reading on. So here is a link to it and don’t continue before watching it.

The trailer starts out with a reminder as to what this Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is all about. After all, this episode is meant to be the end of the Skywalker Saga. And this view back on the Original trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy just reminds us what a daunting task the writers and makers of the Sequel Trilogy set themselves.

Challenges

Not only did the Sequel Trilogy need to justify why there was a Sequel story to be told at all, but it also needed to meet and exceed the expectations of such a story. The idea that the Sequels should bring a definitive close to the tale of the Skywalkers was part of that justification, but at the same time it is its greatest challenge.

We all remember how the Sequel Trilogy started out. The Force Awakens came across for many as a tribute film to A New Hope. Where the Prequel Trilogy had expanded the Star Wars Universe in an unparalleled degree, and has bled directly into Star Wars Stories such as Rogue One and Solo, while also dominating the animation-sphere with both The Clone Wars and Rebels, the Sequel Trilogy had a much lesser narrative impact with only Resistance as a support animation.

If it useful to think for a moment about what this means: The Original Trilogy has obviously spawned the Sequel Trilogy. So from the start the Sequel Trilogy sought to source its themes, its cinematography and clues in the Original Trilogy. The result was The Force Awakens and a film which, I personally, consider a lot of fun but the weakest of all so far. It was only in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi that the Sequel Trilogy started to produce and address its own themes. Rian Johnson’s Star Wars film was the first of the new films that attempted to face the challenges that the Sequel Trilogy had been facing from the outset. Although there were enough unhappy fans to make a loud online community, Luke’s inner conflict, as well as Rey’s naivete regarding the nature of redemption and the final failure of the ‘Old Rebellion’ in The Last Jedi are crucial ingredients of the path of the Sequel Trilogy in justifying why it needed to be told and in finding its own voice.

The thematic roots

The D23 trailer reminds us of that by displaying, in theatrical order, the stories that led up to it. And whether it is simply an irony of chronology, an unspoked admission on the part of Abrams and Lucasfilm, or just in the eye of the beholder is irrelevant: the Sequel Trilogy has finally come to terms with the fact that its thematic roots are deeply embedded in the Prequel Trilogy era.

Interestingly, where episodes IV through III (in theatrical order) were references sequentially, the trailer-makers chose to reference the two Sequel Trilogy instalments in an entangled manner. Add to that the closeness, chronologically, of the first two Sequel instalments and there you have the suggestion that this final instalment views Episodes VII and VIII as a single pre-text to what will become the closure of the Saga.

New footage in the D23 trailer

After the trailer has made this statement visually, it leads us into new footage from Episode IX, The Rise of Skywalker. In Abrams style this new footage is both intended to simply show us some imagery that wets our appetite, show us some puzzling stuff that makes us wonder where the story goes and some clues as to what might happen.

A gorgeous wide shot of which it is entirely unknown to us what it represents leads into an emotional punch and reminder of Leia’s role in this entire story.

It was originally planned that Episode IX would revolve much more around Leia than any of the other original three. Evidently real-world events have made that a much harder task to execute than originally envisioned. But her inclusion in both trailers so far leaves no doubt that he influence will be felt throughout The Rise of Skywalker, despite the obvious restrictions of what they can do in terms of screen-time.

We see a fully trained Rey and there is only one left who could have given her, and mentored, that training: Leia. And a formidable job she has done, if we take the footage released so far as an indication. This Rey is more than Kylo’s match.

A final battle

As already hinted at in Star Wars: Resistance, season 2, there is a final showdown between The First Order and the freedom-loving forces in the Galaxy at hand. In the D23 trailer we see Resistance ships fall out of hyperspace is a callback to Rogue One’s battle over Scariff.

We see A-wings, X-wings, B-wings, Y-wings, yup the whole Rebel arsenal … but also something with a profile which reminded me of the Ebon Hawk at first sight … although I have no reason to believe the Ebon Hawk would have anything to do with the Sequel storyline, right? Well we quickly also see a glimpse of the humongous First Order fleet.

Although it must be said that this huge fleet shows all the hallmarks of Imperial Star Destroyers rather than of First Order destroyers. The nebulous surroundings, the lightning that might remind us of the Maw in Solo, all breathes an atmosphere of unchartered territories. Are the rumours true? Did Kylo stumble across a huge renegade fleet of Imperial warships that he could conscript into service? It all promises to deliver a space battle on a scale we have not seen since Revenge of the Sith.

Surprises: C 3PO

Then we come to the first of truly puzzling images. A red eyed 3PO stares at us.

This is obviously not some mistake. Those who have seen Rebels and The Clone Wars will know that 3PO is not always the most reliable of companions. In fact, whenever there is a secret to keep, R2-D2 always keeps it first and foremost from 3PO. A duplicitous 3PO might even explain in one fell swoop why R2-D2 felt the need to shut off in order to protects his master Luke’s location in Episode VII. We know that in Episode III 3PO’s memory is wiped, unlike R2 who knows literally everything there is to know about the Skywalker Saga. And yet … 3PO has a deep connection to Anakin Skywalker … to whom he even after his mindwipe still refers to symbolically as “the maker”. It could be that we have been overlooking 3PO’s relevance for the why and how of the Sequel Trilogy’s necessity.

Surpises: Dark Rey

Probably the single biggest surprise of the trailer is the appearance of a dark-side Rey. The speculation in the fan community seems to be that this dark-side represents an encounter she has with her dark-side on some Dagobah-like occasion. But that interpretation seems odd to me as Rey already had her Dagobah-moment in The Last Jedi. But we do know that Rey is capable of seeing visions under the right circumstances, as was indicated in The Force Awakens. So this could just be a vision of what she could have been had she chosen to align with Kylo.

Yes the depiction of a dark-side Rey seems far to realistic and ‘urgent’ to be just another vision. I think there is a definite possibility that for a part of the Story of The Rise of Skywalker Rey is indeed in thrall to the dark side. The way she appeared in that final shot reminded me of another complex, female, dark-side force-user who nevertheless seeks to lead the galaxy into a form of ‘balance’ by provoking an absence of the Force. I am of course talking about Kreia.

The end of the force?

Could it be that for Anakin Skywalker to be truly the Chosen one, who brings balance, who ends the eternal feud between Jedi and Sith, Light and Dark … the universe needs a betrayer, a Darth Traya? I know that George Lucas’ greatest worry was always that Sequels and other Star Wars output would devaluate The Force, ridicule it by conceiving of ever more powerful super-powers, diminish it by turning it into some kind of ‘magic’ that would be at everyone’s disposal. In the Clone Wars series as well as in Rebels we have seen force-users of different kinds, be they the Night Sisters or the Wolves of Lothal.

Could it be that Rey‘s ultimate destiny is to end the use of the force as practised by Jedi and Sith and for Anakin to clear a path for something different. Now that would do exactly what the challenges facing the Sequel Trilogy require. Anakin’s story could represent a lasting and fundamental change in the Star Wars Universe. The events of The Rise of Skywalker could forever split the Galaxy’s history into a Post-Anakin and a Pre-Anakin era which see fundamentally different understanding and use of the Force.

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