The World Between Worlds, THE MANDALORIAN, and Rebooting STAR WARS Without Nuking Sequel Trilogy
The following post contains massive spoilers for The Mandalorian, Star Wars: Rebels, the Star Wars sequel trilogy, etc. so if you don't want that, go away.
As many of you know, the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy--The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker--were quite divisive among fans. Many (including me) thought TFA was too derivative of the original film, while others disliked what The Last Jedi did to the character of Luke Skywalker. The Rise of Skywalker tried to stitch both competing narratives together, questionably. But recently there's the appearance of Luke in the Season Two finale of The Mandalorian, in which he recruits Grogu (aka Baby Yoda) for his new Jedi Order. There are even rumors of a Luke Skywalker series, either using younger Mark Hamill's image on a body double as a continuous "deepfake" or a new actor (like Sebastian Stan). Given what ends up happening to Luke's new Jedi Order before the new trilogy begins, not only is Grogu in grave danger, but if there's a Luke Skywalker series covering the new-canon events after Return of the Jedi, we know how this is going to end. The shadow of inevitable doom would be hanging over the entire concept and one wonders how viable such a TV series would be.
That said, there might be a way to avoid this--and to reboot the entire Star Wars universe while we're at it. Jack Conner, an independent fantasy and steampunk writer who blurbed my novel Battle for the Wastelands and hosted my alternative take on Rey on his blog posted on Facebook that there is an in-universe mechanism for time travel revealed in Rebels--the World Between Worlds. In Rebels, Jedi Padawan Ezra uses it to rescue Ahsoka Tano from Darth Vader. The World Between Worlds could be used on a much grander scale than that to create an entirely new timeline.
Hear me out. In the aftermath of the events of The Rise of Skywalker, Rey and one of the new Jedi she's trained (the broader SW canon states she eventually became a Jedi Master, meaning she trained a Jedi to knighthood), discover the World Between Worlds. They attempt to use it to stop all the horrors of the sequel trilogy--the Hosnian Cataclysm, the First Order takeover of most of the galaxy, the Sith cultists blowing up a planet, etc. To accomplish this, she decides the best way is to stop Palpatine's soul from escaping his body and fleeing to Exegol, where he was revived (something the Rise of Skywalker novelization describes). Although this would probably erase her from existence--she's the daughter of a clone of Palpatine created through the project--she's a Jedi and the path of the Jedi is selflessness. Or to quote Spock, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.
And in this effort she succeeds. Palpatine is permanently destroyed on the Death Star (maybe she materializes in the reactor shaft and stabs him before his soul can flee his body through the Force to Exegol) and the Sith Order is wiped out. Rey might be able to return to her own (changed) future via the World Between Worlds like Ezra did with Ahsoka, or could be killed when Palpatine's body explodes. Either way, this is a prologue to the new Luke Skywalker TV series--the next scene reveals that this is young Luke having a Force vision in which he realizes this mysterious stranger has averted a terrible calamity.
(It might also clue him into the World Between Worlds, setting the stage for future events.)
However, even though some fanboys would love this as an excuse to bring back the old Expanded Universe, there are still complicating factors. The Sith Eternal's operation on Exegol is still there, plus Palpatine being really dead as opposed to "mostly dead" won't affect the events immediately after Return of Jedi. We'll probably still have Ben Solo, Imperial die-hards embedded in the New Republic and various large corporations, etc. And, as The Mandalorian reveals, Thrawn is still out there plotting against the New Republic as of nine years after the Battle of Yavin and five years after Palpatine's fall. Without Palpatine being ultimately in control, Thrawn can seize the remaining Imperial assets in the Unknown Regions (creating a new-canon version of The Empire of the Hand), with the head of the Sith Eternal on Exegol standing in as this timeline's version of the insane Jedi clone Joruus C'Baoth.
And that in turn allows for a nice tie-in with the sequel trilogy--Dark Rey. One of the Kylo Ren comics strongly implies Palpatine's involvement in the events that ended Luke's Jedi Academy, so Luke's attempted murder of his nephew and his nephew's consequent attack on the Jedi Temple could be the result of his malevolent spiritual influence. This doesn't happen and so Ben stays good, Luke's new Jedi Order survives, etc. But the Sith Eternal cult on Exegol still plots to resurrect Palpatine and this timeline's Rey is born as a result. The Sith cultists decide that she'll do and she's raised as a Dark Jedi and groomed to be possible future leader. We can still have Reylo, only instead of canon's Good Girl Saves Bad Boy (a cultural meme that has hurt far more good girls than saved bad boys), we could potentially have Good Boy Saves Bad Girl.
(Hmm...if Rey survives going back in time to finish Palpatine and returns to neo-EU future, a love triangle between herself, Dark Rey, and Good Ben? Could be mined for laughs, especially if for whatever reason one ends up impersonating the other.)
And on that note, I'll end this with a fan film I found that seems to take place after The Force Awakens but was released before The Last Jedi.