Yes, you’ve heard the news that both Carrie Fisher will be returning for Star Wars Episode IX. J.J. Abrams is apparently using footage of Fisher shot during The Force Awakens to give Leia at least some kind of role in the movie that was supposed to be her showcase. Jokes about Raymond Burr’s appearance in the American cut of Godzilla aside, I guess this is better than not giving Leia any kind of exit. Although, between you and me, I would have had no issue with using some CGI replacement (think Rogue One), because I’m an adult and I imagine Fisher would have been at least a little amused at the notion.
Oh, and Mark Hamill will return too, despite Luke Skywalker suffering a slight case of death at the end of The Last Jedi. Since “Force ghosts” are already a thing in this franchise, Hamill’s return appearance doesn’t bother me all that much. I’m assuming this will be a small supporting role/extended cameo as opposed to a Kingsman: The Golden Circle or Independence Day: Resurgence-type retcon. Depending on how both films treat it, I am amused that both of 2019’s biggest live-action year-end biggies (Star Wars 9 and Wonder Woman 1984) will both have a return for characters who very much croaked last time. I promise not to be grumpy about it until we know more.
But that’s not what’s most interesting about yesterday’s press release, at least not to me. Okay, fine, the Fisher news is a surprise, but I imagine there will be at last some attempt to offer a ninth chapter that pacifies at least some of the folks who wanted more nostalgia than they got from The Last Jedi. As long as they don’t bring Han Solo back from the dead… grumble, grumble. Anyway, the press release announced that Star Wars IX will be “the final installment of the Skywalker saga.” Yes, Walt Disney and Lucasfilm are (smartly) selling this next episode as the end of the end. That’s their best bet to make Star Wars IX into a mega-event.
Yes, there will presumably be more Star Wars movies after this one, be it Rian Johnson’s stand-alone trilogy, more Star Wars Story spin-offs or something else down the line. But the biggest marketing/hype trump card that Disney has for this next installment is that it’s the end of what amounts to a nine-part Skywalker/Solo saga that will have spanned for 42 years. As I’ve said a few times, even if folks genuinely didn’t like The Last Jedi and didn’t care about Solo, they will still show up for the last chapter precisely because it’s the last chapter. They showed up for Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith, and they’ll show up for this one.
That’s part of why Star Wars trilogies tend to dip for the sequel (both Empire Strikes Back and Attack of the Clones made around 1/3 less than Star Wars and Phantom Menace) while rising 20%-25% for the threequel. If this goes accordingly, at least in North America, then Star Wars IX may earn around $755m-$775m domestic in 2019/2020. If that seems overly optimistic, what with the deluge of non-theatrical entertainment options and a very crowded year-end 2019 slate, it may be. But the best chance that Disney has at getting folks back is to sell the notion that this is the grand finale of the modern nine-part (give-or-take the recent spin-offs and animated output) Star Wars saga.
I expect to see a marketing campaign not unlike Avengers: Infinity War (which sold itself as the finale when it was really the penultimate episode), offering plenty of nostalgic content from all ten live-action theatrical Star Wars movies plus the likes of The Clone Wars and Rebels. Like Infinity War, Star Wars IX can use franchise nostalgia to sell the movie based on the past without divulging much about what happens in Abrams’ finale. What worked for Avengers: Infinity War and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part II should work just as well, relatively speaking, for Star Wars IX. Disney can and should sell the finality of this next chapter, no matter their plans are for the brand.
Sure, I would argue that The Last Jedi makes a great finale, existing as a kind of passing-the-torch installment that notes the failures of the Empire Strikes Back generation while anointing the Force Awakens generation as the hope for the future. But I felt the same way (in terms of finality) about Mad Men season six, and yet season seven still provided a solid closing arc. Here’s hoping that Star Wars IX is closer to the series finale of Alias or Scrubs than the series finale of 24 or How I Met Your Mother.
We’ll find out one way or another when Star Wars Episode IX, starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Billie Lourd, Naomi Ackie, Richard E. Grant, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams and Carrie Fisher, opens Dec. 20, 2019.