It’s been more than three years since The Rise of Skywalker was released in theaters, and since then, the big-screen future of the Star Wars universe has been shrouded in uncertainty.
As the number of streaming Star Wars series on Disney+ has rapidly increased in the wake of The Mandalorian’s successful debut in late 2019, Star Wars movies have been on the backburner. Instead of anticipating trips to midnight screenings, fans have been stuck in a seemingly endless news cycle of announcements of secretive projects with high-profile names attached to them, followed by said projects being shelved or entering indefinite development hell. But on Friday, at the start of the weekend-long Star Wars Celebration in London, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and the many stars and creatives crafting stories set in a galaxy far, far away revealed their plans to return to making feature films at last.
“I would imagine a lot of people in this room have been waiting to hear what we’re doing with Star Wars movies,” Kennedy said to the crowd gathered at the Lucasfilm Studio Showcase.
Three Star Wars films are officially on the way, but they won’t be arriving in the form of a trilogy, as was the case for each phase of the Skywalker Saga. Instead, each of the announced movies will be set during a distinct time period and helmed by a different director. Just as Marvel Studios projects sprawling timelines when it announces its future at similar showcases, Lucasfilm used a visual aid in its presentation of the upcoming films:
Star Wars Timeline— Star Wars Holocron @ SWCE (@sw_holocron) April 7, 2023
Dawn of the Jedi
The Old Republic
The High Republic
Fall of the Jedi
Reign of the Empire
Age of Rebellion
The New Republic
Rise of the First Order pic.twitter.com/4PlgzWcwGA
As you can see in the tweet above, though, this timeline doesn’t show a straightforward future in “phases”; it reflects the scattered nature of Star Wars storytelling, as the three films will be distributed across the galaxy’s distant past, the post-Endor timeline of The Mandalorian and its spinoffs, and a point beyond the events of The Rise of Skywalker, when Daisy Ridley will return to the screen as Rey to rebuild the Jedi Order.
We’ll dive deeper into all the details of the three announced films below, but the presentation led with a number of updates about the TV side of Star Wars, so let’s start there.
The Future of Star Wars TV
The biggest announcements at this year’s Lucasfilm Studio Showcase revolved around the movies, but TV has been the studio’s bread and butter over the past few years, which have brought multiple seasons of The Mandalorian, three other live-action shows in The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Andor, and animated series The Bad Batch, Visions, and Tales of the Jedi. Even with three movies on the way, there is no shortage of upcoming TV projects.
On Friday, Lucasfilm revealed that the much-anticipated Ahsoka will arrive in August, and provided a first teaser:
After making several appearances across The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, Rosario Dawson will reprise her role as Ahsoka Tano, the beloved former Padawan of Anakin Skywalker who became a fan favorite in Dave Filoni’s The Clone Wars and Rebels. The teaser provides the first extended look at two other heroes who are making the jump from Rebels to live action: Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) and Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). (Ahsoka will reintroduce a pair of droids as well, in Rebels’ Chopper and The Clone Wars’ lightsaber expert Huyang.) And fresh off her appearances in Andor, Rebel leader Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) is set to return as well.
The two-minute trailer also provides our first look at the villains who Ahsoka and Sabine will encounter as they continue their search for Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi, who’s briefly shown via holo) following the events of Rebels. Among them are two new characters wielding orange lightsabers, Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) and Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno), plus Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) in her first appearance since her defeat by Ahsoka during the second season of The Mandalorian. And, crucially, the series will feature Grand Admiral Thrawn in a major way, as the character—who is making an even bigger leap to live action, having debuted in Timothy Zahn’s 1991 novel Heir to the Empire before his animated appearances—is positioned to be the show’s main villain.
“I started hearing whispers about Thrawn’s return as heir to the Empire,” Ahsoka says in the teaser as we see a shot of the Grand Admiral from behind. On Saturday, Lucasfilm announced that Thrawn would be played by Lars Mikkelsen, who voiced Thrawn on Rebels.
Along with the Ahsoka news, there were a number of other updates on upcoming shows, several of which were accompanied by footage shown only to the fans in attendance. Here’s a quick roundup of the highlights:
- The Acolyte creator Leslye Headland shared that she pitched her upcoming series to Kennedy as “Frozen meets Kill Bill,” which is exactly what we were all expecting to hear. The show, whose production is well underway, will take Star Wars the furthest back in the timeline that we’ve ever been in live action, in a story that will feature plenty of Jedi—including one played by Lee Jung-jae (Squid Game). “It’s High Republic near the beginning of the prequels and an exciting part of the timeline,” Headland teased. “This is when the bad guys are outnumbered. They are the underdogs.”
- Skeleton Crew doesn’t have a release date quite yet, but it’s still expected to arrive sometime in 2023. Jude Law will lead what is otherwise a younger cast of characters, and the series’ star-studded lineup of directors has been revealed in full: Jon Watts (Spider-Man: No Way Home), David Lowery (The Green Knight), the Daniels (Everything Everywhere All at Once), and Jake Schreier (Beef), along with Mandalorian alums Bryce Dallas Howard and Lee Isaac Chung (Minari).
- Andor: After putting together a fantastic first season, creator Tony Gilroy and his team are about halfway through shooting the second, which is expected to premiere in August 2024. “If you know you’re ending, it really helps,” Gilroy said. “There are a lot of shows, shows that I love, and they’re trying to figure out where they’re going. We know where we’re going. It’s kind of like the escape from prison: You know where you’re going.”
The Future of Stars Wars Films
As for the upcoming Star Wars movies: The three projects will be directed by James Mangold (Logan), Filoni, and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness). No titles were shared, and there’s little indication of when, exactly, we’ll be seeing them. We do, however, know exactly when they take place in the Star Wars timeline, as Lucasfilm prepares to extend its live-action storytelling further into the past and future than it ever has.
On one end of the timeline, the film from Mangold (who directed Lucasfilm’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which also got a new trailer) will be set even earlier than The Acolyte, as it centers on the very first Jedi. Described as a “biblical epic,” it will explore the emergence of the Force itself in a movie that takes us back 25,000 years before the events of George Lucas’s original trilogy. “It’s a chance to tell the entire story of its own, the birth of the Force,” Mangold told Variety after the Lucasfilm panel.
On the other end of the timeline, Obaid-Chinoy’s movie will focus on a character who was once positioned to be the last Jedi: Rey, who is decidedly the last Jedi no more.
In the closing moments of the deeply disappointing The Rise of Skywalker, Ridley’s Rey returns to Tatooine to reject her (very sudden) familial ties to Emperor Palpatine and anoint herself a Skywalker. Now, 15 years after the events of that film, the sequel will follow Rey as she builds a new Jedi Academy. Given that this story will push us further into Star Wars canon than we’ve ever seen, little is known about this new era. (Will we witness a fourth planet-destroying superweapon built by whichever sinister regime comes next?) Whatever threat looms beyond the First Order, though, Rey will now attempt to succeed where her mentor Luke Skywalker failed, as she trains a new generation of Jedi. Her involvement ends the effective moratorium on sequel-era characters that followed the lingering bitterness about the trilogy, and it raises the possibility that some of Ridley’s former castmates will make their own returns to the franchise.
Lastly, Filoni’s first live-action Star Wars film will build on the stories he’s been crafting on Disney+ alongside Jon Favreau. The project, a crossover event first alluded to in 2020, will serve as the culmination of the narrative threads running through The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, Ahsoka, and Skeleton Crew. The film will focus on the escalating conflict between the New Republic and the Imperial Remnant, paving the way for the story told in Rey’s Skywalker trilogy. Considering the massive space that Filoni carved out for himself in the Star Wars universe through the animated medium, and the hand that he’s had in shaping this new era of live-action Star Wars TV, this film feels like something of a full-circle moment.
In the decades since George Lucas spawned a cultural phenomenon, Star Wars has grown worlds beyond the original trilogy’s scope. As we approach the 50-year mark since A New Hope’s release, Star Wars will be heading back to theaters once again (after a much briefer hiatus than those of the past), and into points on the timeline we haven’t seen on screen. Is the risk of Star Wars saturation at an all-time high? Most definitely. But soon enough, we’ll find out just how far forward and back this galaxy can go.