After 'The Force Awakens,' Where Does 'Star Wars' Go Next? (Spoilers)

Force Awakens Sunset - H - 2015
The mysteries to be uncovered after this year's triumphant return for the space opera saga.

[Warning: This article contains plot details from the film that could be considered spoilers.]

The most likely question on the lips of most Star Wars fans after seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens is probably "But what happens next?" (That or, "How quickly can I see it again?") While the movie doesn't end on a cliffhanger exactly, it does end with a lot of threads that can be followed up in future installments — and a lot of questions that need answered. Here are just some of them.

Will Luke Return to the Fight?

So, Rey (Daisy Ridley) ends the movie having found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), but judging from his reaction to seeing the outstretched lightsaber, he didn't seem entirely eager to rejoin the ongoing war. While Hamill will inevitably rejoin the cast for a more active role in the untitled next installment, what Luke will do remains a mystery. Was he in exile through shame of not teaching Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to reject the dark side, or some other reason? Could his withdrawal from the fray have been out of a new dedication to pacifism, for example? Or will he end up accompanying Rey back to rejoin his sister in battle?

(Another question left unanswered by Force Awakens: why is Luke is the last Jedi? What happened to the other Force adepts that Luke was training at the same time as Ren?)

Who Is Rey?

The most obvious dangling thread from Force Awakens is the identity of Rey's parents. The implication is that she's a Skywalker kid (Luke's, most likely; she didn't seem to recognize Leia or Han, after all, and his exile would also answer why it was clear that her family wasn't coming back. But being Luke's daughter would also explain the connection she had to Luke's lightsaber in particular), but it's never actually outright stated in the movie itself. If, for some reason, she's not a Skywalker, then there's an entirely new storyline awaiting her at some point in a future feature.

Who Is Supreme Commander Snoke?

Let's be honest: the debut of the mysterious new leader of the First Order was a little underwhelming. He looked like Gollum on steroids, using the Emperor's FaceTime hologram account. (I did love that the hologram was so large; however, I like to imagine that he's overcompensating and that the real Snoke will be tiny, like Maz Kanata. In fact, what if he's another of Maz's race? Star Wars does like its good/evil pairings after all, so why shouldn't there be another seeming immortal out there, causing as much trouble as Maz seemed to be trying to keep under control?) That said, there was a lot to him that needs future unpacking: Why is he trying to resurrect the Dark Side of the Force? What is his plan? And, really, who is he?

When Will Leia Meet Kylo Ren?

The revelation of Kylo Ren's lineage is something that offers a lot of meat for future movies — not only the possibility that his primary nemesis, Rey, could be his cousin (or perhaps his sister, maybe possibly), but the question of what happens with he finally comes face-to-face with Leia, which feels inevitable after the events of Force Awakens. From her dialogue with Han, she rejected Ren when he first chose the Dark Side, so how will a reunion go now that he's killed her husband?

(Along similar lines, what will Han's death do to Leia in future? We've seen her retreat into the general's role when faced with Ren's betrayal, but could Han's death prompt her to finally take up her father's heritage in some way — either by embracing the Force, or perhaps giving into fear and anger and turning to the Dark Side herself? One hopes that either way, Episode VIII will have more Carrie Fisher, who was relatively unused in Force Awakens, sadly.)

The Republic Ascendant?

According to the backstory explained away in the opening crawl, the Republic — the good guys, to be simplistic about things — are still the dominant power in the galaxy at the start of The Force Awakens, and that would seem to be even more the case by the end of the movie, considering that the construction of the Starkiller Base would appear to have been a significant undertaking by the First Order. Surely its destruction would be a major setback … which offers an unusual and interesting starting point for Episode VIII. What if that movie is about the darkness growing inside the galaxy when no one is expecting it, because they think the First Order has been eradicated?

After Awakening, What? (1)

Let's assume that the title of the movie refers to Rey's discovery of her own Force powers. Why is that important — important enough, in fact, to be the title of the movie? So much of Star Wars mythology is based around the Force, but so many of the movies point to it being something that, just maybe shouldn't be used by Jedi or Sith alike, because it always leads to (Darth Vader/Kylo Ren-esque) trouble. Will Rey's emergence as a Force adept change that in some way — could she, and perhaps Ren (who is, after all, tempted by the Light Side in the same way that Anakin was lured to the Dark), finally bring the Balance to the Force that the movies have talked about for six installments already without it arriving?

After Awakening, What? (2)

Outside of the mythology of the narrative, it's worth wondering what the next movies will offer. Force Awakens successfully evoked the feel of the original trilogy, but neither the writers or the director of that movie is sticking around for what comes next. Will we see an evolution in the style of the movies, or is that something that the audience doesn't actually want? (So much of the positive reaction to the movie, after all, centers around the fact that the movie "feels like" Star Wars, in the same way that so much of the ill-will that centers around the prequel trilogy comes from those movies not "feeling like" Star Wars.)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens works as something that evokes nostalgia and excites by telling a story that's not too far removed from what we've seen already — but that's not a recipe for long-term success, with familiarity famously breeding contempt. "What happens next?" isn't just a question that the audience should be asking after the massive success of this movie; it's something that the filmmakers of future Star Wars should be really considering as well.