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Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

To say there’s a lot riding on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an understatement. Not only does it have to bring the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy to a close, it also serves as the final chapter of the Skywalker Saga, i.e. over 40 years of storytelling in a galaxy far, far away. So The Rise of Skywalker has to deliver a compelling conclusion on two fronts and has only so much ground to do it on.

But if you ask director J.J. Abrams, it’s not the ‘ending’ aspects that were the biggest challenge to making Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but striving to have the movie stand on its own. As the filmmaker put it:

We knew this movie needed to work on its own terms. It could not just be a wrap-up or a response to what came before. The balance has been the everlasting challenge.

J.J. Abrams shared this insight into the making of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker with the Disney Twenty-Three publication, and he has a point. While sequels are obviously best enjoyed when you’ve seen the previous installments, they still need to work as stories that can be enjoyed on their own merits.

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That’s easier to pull off if you’re working with a sequel to just one movie, but in the case of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, it has to follow up on the events of eight other movies, though obviously The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi take extra precedence. While I wouldn’t recommend anyone who hasn’t been on the Star Wars train before jump on with The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams and his team nonetheless had to ensure that Episode IX could shine on its own merits in addition to closing this particular Star Wars book.

We won’t know how Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker fares in this ‘standalone’ regard until it comes out next month, but Abrams and writer Chris Terrio certainly changed the Episode IX story in various ways when they boarded the project. Arguably the biggest example of this was the inclusion of Emperor Palpatine, which helps tie The Rise of Skywalker to the Prequels and Original Trilogy, but wasn’t something in place when Colin Trevorrow was attached to direct.

Set one year after The Last Jedi, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will the remnants of the Resistance clashing with The First Order once more, as well as the millennia-long conflict between the Jedi and Sith reaching its climax. We have yet to learn what’s specifically in store for the Star Wars film franchise in the next decade, but The Rise of Skywalker is unquestionably the end of an era, and fans have only several weeks to go before learning if it sticks the landing.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens in theaters on December 20, so keep checking back with CinemaBlend for more coverage. In the meantime, find out what’s heading to the big screen over the next year with our 2019 release schedule and 2020 release schedule.

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