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Coming to 'Star Wars': Emotional end for Skywalkers, and then what?

'Star Wars,' the second-highest grossing movie franchise with more than $9.2 billion in ticket sales, began with George Lucas’ 1977 movie about farmboy-turned-hero Luke Skywalker.

(L-R) Richard E. Grant, Billy Dee Williams, Keri Russell, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Writer/director J.J. Abrams, Co-writer Chris Terrio, Producer and President of Lucasfilm Kathleen Kennedy, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran, Naomi Ackie, Joonas Suotamo and Anthony Daniels participate in the global press conference for 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' at the Pasadena Convention Center on 4 December 2019 in Pasadena, California. Picture: AFP.

LOS ANGELES – The next Star Wars movie arrives in theatres on Thursday promising an epic conclusion to three trilogies over four decades and answers to at least some of the biggest questions that have puzzled fans of the galaxy far, far away.

But one major mystery likely will linger after the credits roll: Where does the Star Wars movie franchise head next?

The Rise of Skywalker will reveal new insights about the parents of Resistance fighter Rey, more information about what drives helmeted villain Kylo Ren and the backstory of ex-stormtrooper Finn, the movie’s stars said in interviews.

“There’s a lot of joy and the ending is emotional,” said Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey. “That’s not to say it’s totally sad. It’s definitely emotional, but I think people will be uplifted when they leave the cinema.”

Star Wars, the second-highest grossing movie franchise with more than $9.2 billion in ticket sales, began with George Lucas’ 1977 movie about farmboy-turned-hero Luke Skywalker.

The new film is billed as an end to that story told in eight previous instalments. As is typical with the latest Star Wars movies from Walt Disney Co, little has been made public about the plot.

Clips show Rey wielding a lightsaber glowing red, the colour associated with the Dark Side, raising questions about whether she switches allegiances to fight the Resistance.

Adam Driver said viewers will see an evolution for Kylo Ren that was set in place when he initially discussed the role with director JJ Abrams for 2015 film The Force Awakens.

“Our first meeting, he gave me this piece of information about the character that I thought was interesting,” Driver said. “It’s six years of anticipating this thing, building toward an event.”

Carrie Fisher, the late actress who portrayed Princess Leia, also will appear through unused footage from Force Awakens.

And Finn’s past will be explained through the unveiling of a “really cool relationship,” actor John Boyega said.

Abrams said audiences should expect “great, daring swashbuckling fun” as Rey, Poe and Finn team together, a “moving” story and even “horror” at times. “Things get pretty intense and scary,” he said.

The next stop for the movie franchise is unclear.

Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger has said the company will pause new Star Wars films after Rise of Skywalker. He told the BBC in November that he believed Disney released too many movies in the franchise over a short period.

Ticket sales for 2017 film The Last Jedi reached a massive $1.3 billion worldwide but fell short of Force Awakens. Last Jedi also sparked criticism from a vocal segment of fans who did not like the movie’s tone and parts of the story. And 2018 movie Solo took in just $393 million globally.

“There’s something so special about a Star Wars film,” Iger said, “and less is more.”

Disney still has a new Star Wars trilogy on its schedule starting in December 2022, but the original writers - Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and DB Weiss - pulled out of the project in October.

In the meantime, Disney is running a Star Wars TV series called The Mandalorian on its Disney+ streaming service and plans at least two more.

“Wherever Star Wars goes,” Abrams said, “it should be filled with, I think, the kind of surprise and heart and hope that I’ve always felt with these movies.”

“That’s not to say they all should be any one thing,” he added, “but there is something about the beating heart of Star Wars, that George created 42 years ago ... that’s kind of the mothership.”