**Caution: Spoilers For The Last Jedi Ahoy***
While Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi is busy whipping fans into a frenzy, scoring $450 million worldwide in its opening weekend and eliciting reactions of all sorts, the movie's ending has left us with a ton of questions. Now that Snoke is dead, how will the power structure between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) shake out? Is Luke truly gone, or will we get another Force Ghost Jedi (just as we did with Yoda and Obi-Wan before him)? Will Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn's (John Boyega) romance - prominently featured in The Force Awakens but downplayed in The Last Jedi due to their separation - be reignited? What giant weapon will BB-8 pilot next? We don't know.
Here's the thing: it doesn't sound like Disney knows, either, as they just heard J.J. Abrams' pitch for Episode IX this past Friday (December 15th). While it was originally rumored that Rian Johnson was writing the story for the final installment in this second Star Wars trilogy, that story's since been debunked by the director (rendering Episode VIII all the more ballsy in hindsight). Now, according to the press conference Bob Iger held regarding the Disney/Fox merger you've been reading so much about, Abrams was in over the weekend to lay out his potential plans for a galaxy far, far away, so that Kathleen Kennedy & Co. could consider them.
First off - the implications of this meeting are sort of insane. You mean to tell me Abrams was in Disney's offices on the day their latest Star Wars Episode was released in theaters, to pitch the movie that's essentially going to act as the culmination of a forty-year-old franchise? Furthermore, these plans weren't already in place while a major merger that would bring two of Hollywood's biggest studios together was occuring? That seems like a giant question mark to have hanging out there when billions upon billions of dollars are at stake (so I don't 100% buy it as a "pitch").
Financial stakes aside, J.J. Abrams feels like he has unfinished business in the Star Wars universe, as in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, he said:
“I learned so much [on Force Awakens] and I saw that this was a chance to sort of realize something that we hadn’t quite achieved.”
Abrams will direct the film and co-write the script with Chris Terrio (Argo). Fantha Tracks has revealed that Episode IX will be made under the business name of Carbonado Industries (UK) Ltd., with the working title Black Diamond. For those curious, the faux moniker for The Force Awakens was AVCO and Space Bear for The Last Jedi.
The attention to creative symmetry is interesting following the departure of Colin Trevorrow from Episode IX, with Abrams returning to finish what he began two pictures ago. However, it also makes one wonder how he's going to follow such an audacious middle segment, which killed off another beloved character (following Han Solo's death in The Force Awakens), as well as a few new ones (some of which were just introduced in The Last Jedi!).
In fairness, The Last Jedi only started filming a few months after The Force Awakens was released, meaning that Rian Johnson had his script mostly finished before Episode VII even hit theaters. But in the wake of Carrie Fisher’s death, Kennedy has said that Lucasfilm needs to go back to the drawing board in order to grapple with Leia’s absence (especially since she's very much alive at the end of Episode VIII). Though he's just presented the story details to Disney, Abrams and Terrio have been working on their final installment in the new trilogy since Trevorrow's departure, and have had time to brainstorm a solution to this dilemma.
Filming on Episode IX has been pushed back to June 2018, and the release date bumped from May to December 20, 2019. Given the finality of The Last Jedi's climax, many posit that there will probably be a time jump between the two movies, instead of picking up right where the last left off (as Johnson's did). This will mirror the gap that separates The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi (six months), and would give the filmmakers a historical chasm in which Leia's ultimate fate could fall.
Knowing that Johnson is working on his own Non-Skywalker trilogy that comes after Episode IX, it's safe to assume Rey, Finn, Poe (Oscar Isaac), and many of the other new characters are probably going to survive this final installment (though Kylo Ren is definitely the biggest wild card). So, there are numerous avenues this new story could take. Let's just hope Abrams is up to the task, as The Last Jedi is easily the best Star Wars we've seen since Empire.