As the final chapter in a trilogy of trilogies, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker puts a period on what fans have long known as the main story of Star Wars. It also offers a chance to look at the galaxy moving ahead and see how its conclusion compares to the previous ones.
As Rey Skywalker stood in the Tatooine sand, watching two suns set on the story of Star Wars so far, you couldn’t help but feel a little déjà vu. That’s because Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker takes the endings of the previous two trilogies, Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi, and melds them into one. It takes the Tatooine setting of Revenge of the Sith and inserts the circumstances of Return of a Jedi: a single remaining Jedi basks in the victory over an evil Empire and Emperor Palpatine, who sees Force Ghosts of mentors she loved and lost.
Fans waited over three decades to find out what happened in a galaxy far, far, away after Return of the Jedi and now we know. The Empire never really went away, it evolved. And, once again, only one true Jedi is left in the galaxy. It seems like nothing has changed at all.
That got us thinking. Did the story of the sequel trilogy leave the galaxy in a better place than it was after Return of the Jedi? Was the Skywalker Saga a successful endeavour for the universe? Let’s break it down.
Peace in the Galaxy
Return of the Jedi: Though Emperor Palpatine dissolved the Republic during A New Hope, as far as we know those people remained alive. Eventually, when the Empire fell, they and others rebuilt the government into the New Republic. A New Republic that, once again, ignored the growing threat of a sinister force, this time the newly formed First Order, only to be literally blown away by them. Thankfully, Leia Organa had formed an offshoot Resistance that was able to eventually win.
The Rise of Skywalker: If we had no knowledge of a world post-Return of the Jedi, we might have more hope for the galaxy at the end of The Rise of Skywalker. However, we know now that victory isn’t always all-encompassing. The leader of the evil group, Emperor Palpatine, has once again been defeated. His fleet, the Final Order, completely disabled. And yet, if Palpatine came back once, what’s to stop him again? We can also safely assume there are plenty of First Order cells remaining across the galaxy. The previous films, and other media, have long hammered home that the First Order is spread all over. Like Endor before, not every bad guy was on Exegol. And there’s no indication of what that defeat did to all those other people. We’d bet not only has the First Order not been wholly defeated, but there are also plenty left who’d still be willing to fight.
Advantage: Return of the Jedi. Since neither trilogy achieved complete and total victory over its adversaries, we must look at how many experienced people remained. Since Palpatine didn’t kill the Republic leaders in Return of the Jedi, but the First Order did kill at least most of the New Republic, it seems the galaxy post-Rise of Skywalker likely has less people with government experience who can help build a new system of order. Albeit short-lived, the “New Republic” seems stronger than a “Newer Republic” or whatever may be coming.
Return of the Jedi: At the end of Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker and his sister, Leia Organa, were the only two people fans knew of, in the galaxy, who had the ability to use the Force. We now know that Luke trained Leia, though she ultimately decided not to stick with it, and he trained other young Jedi, though that didn’t go too well either. Luke attempted to do what Yoda told him (“Pass on what you have learned”) but he was, sadly, very bad at it. He was so bad, in fact, that he went into exile, which almost ended the Jedi.
The Rise of Skywalker: Unlike Return of the Jedi, the sequel trilogy has made it clear that while Rey may be the last “Jedi” she isn’t the only person with Jedi potential. There’s Broom Boy, there’s Finn, and from other Star Wars media, we’ve seen characters like Ezra Bridger or Cal Kestis survive through massive events to carry on the ways of the Jedi. So there are undoubtedly others out there. And though we don’t know what Rey will do in the future, she seems to have more pieces at her disposal.
Advantage: The Rise of Skywalker. The future of the Jedi seems, at least, a little brighter with more potential Force-sensitive people hanging around to become Jedi.
Return of the Jedi: Return of the Jedi left the universe with Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca, Wedge Antilles, Admiral Ackbar—the list goes on and on.
The Rise of Skywalker: Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewbacca, Lando, Jannah, Zorii, and many others still remain to lead the galaxy moving ahead. And while there aren’t many experienced leaders remaining, that group certainly had plenty of mentorship from the likes of Luke, Han, Holdo, Leia, Ackbar, etc.
Advantage: The Rise of Skywalker. On paper, each group of survivors has a nice mix of experience and bravery. However, we also have a unique insight into what the original trilogy characters did to better the galaxy after Return of the Jedi. The answer is...not much. That doesn’t give us much hope for a new generation but a little hope is better than none. And one would hope Rey, Finn, Poe and the rest would learn from the mistakes of the previous generation.
It seems the galaxy is slightly better off after The Rise of Skywalker than it was after Return of the Jedi. Mostly though, that’s because the circumstances and endpoints are so point-by-point similar, we can only hope history won’t repeat itself. In fact, maybe that’s the whole point and the most honest thing the conclusion the Skywalker saga could have said.
Sure, it would have been interesting to have things tied up a little more cleanly or differently than Return of the Jedi—but maybe The Rise of Skywalker is saying that history is doomed to repeat itself. Nothing ever really changes. And while that’s a pessimistic interpretation, it’s not all that inaccurate. But maybe...this time things change. Or maybe they don’t. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait over three decades to find out.