Peter Telep knows all things Star Wars. The English instructor has been a fan for more than four decades. He’s seen every film, studied the reviews, analyzed the characters and read dozens of books and blogs on the trilogies. Again. And again.

His new Special Topics: Star Wars class debuted this fall with 60 students, all eager to boost their creative-writing abilities while immersing themselves in one of the most epic stories of all time. “Some of the students had already read the textbooks before class began,” says Telep. “There are lectures where it’s hard to get through the material because there are 15 hands up.”

Telep has already secured his tickets for the upcoming movie, The Rise of Skywalker, snagging seats for the very first showing on Dec. 19, the day before the film’s official release on the 20th. We asked him to share his expectations for the last film in the Skywalker Saga, and what the future holds for a galaxy far, far away….

Do you have a personal Star Wars memory that you’d like to share?

When Star Wars was released on May 25, 1977, my parents took me to a standalone theatre in Nassau County, New York. When we arrived, the line was wrapped around the building. We waited in line for two hours and were finally ushered inside, only to discover that the showing had been oversold. My sister and I (ages 11 and 12 respectively) sat on the floor in the aisle, along with dozens of other kids. We didn’t care. The movie was like nothing we’d ever seen before. I remember everyone bursting to their feet and cheering at the end! It was an event. A life-altering experience. After that, I started buying everything Star Wars: books, posters, T-shirts, the original Kenner action figures, you name it. I built Star Wars Lego before there was Star Wars Lego. I had X-wings hanging from fishing line in my bedroom. When The Empire Strikes Back came out, I rode my bicycle to the local theatre every weekend for months and saw the film 13 times. I memorized every line of dialogue. I was driving a car by the time Return of the Jedi came out, and I probably saw that film at least a dozen times. When I was growing up, Star Wars was life!

The Rise of Skywalker is the ninth Star Wars film over the course of three generations. For you, how does this new trilogy stack up with the previous two trilogies? 

I’m what we call an old school OT (Original Trilogy) fan, and as an OT fan we argue fiercely that the first three films will always be the best, and that of the prequel films only Revenge of the Sith is really any good. The Force Awakens is very good but let’s be honest: it’s a reboot of the first Star Wars film and an apology for the prequels. The Last Jedi has become the most contentious film in Star Wars history because the characters and story failed to live up to the promises established in the prior film. If every good story is a promise, then Jedi breaks too many promises and divided the fan base.

In regard to the upcoming The Rise of Skywalker (ROS), writer/director J.J. Abrams has been faced with the nearly impossible task of trying to placate an already disappointed fan base while tying up over 40 years worth of storylines in a single film. There’s another unique problem facing ROS: It’s called The Mandalorian. This weekly TV show on the new Disney+ streaming service has been hailed as the Star Wars we’ve all been waiting for, and fans have flooded social media with predictions that the movie will never be as good as The Mandalorian. But all is not lost. There is a strategy that can help save The Rise of Skywalker. The storytellers can draw from the characters and situations of The Mandalorianand incorporate them into their epic conclusion to the saga. This would be a genius stroke and respect the fan base’s desire for more stories drawn from the rich lore of the Star Wars universe.

Speaking of The Mandalorian, the internet is buzzing about the super cute Baby Yoda, who first appeared in the show. Will this creature make an appearance in The Rise of Skywalker?

It’s been confirmed that Baby Yoda is 50 years old and could easily be alive during the events of ROS. There are hundreds of fan theories on social media speculating on the baby’s origin, its purpose, and whether or not it will play a pivotal role in the future of Star Wars stories. I can tell you this: I want Baby Yoda to play a role in the final Skywalker story. The Mandalorian’s storyline confirms that there are others of Yoda’s species out there. It’d be incredible for Baby Yoda to rally millions of others from its home world in order to help save our heroes from the ultimate evil. That would make for an epic final showdown.

Will we learn more about the Knights of Ren in The Rise of Skywalker? Will Rey defeat Kylo Ren?

The Knights of Ren were mentioned in The Force Awakens, and fans spent two years speculating on who they were and exactly what Kylo’s past was with them (as “Master of the Knights of Ren”). None of those questions were answered in The Last Jedi (a broken promise). Now, from what I’ve read, J.J. Abrams asserts that we will learn more about them. In regard to Rey defeating Kylo, there is already some speculation that they might need to team up to defeat an even greater evil. Personally, I would like to see Kylo sacrifice himself to save Rey, even though I think Kylo is one of the most interesting and complex villains in Star Wars.

UCF Professor Peter Telep’s office is filled with Star Wars memorabilia. (Photo by Nick Leyva ’15)

Other than Darth Vader, who do you think is the best Star Wars villain?

While some fans initially dismissed Kylo Ren as a whiny brat (there’s even a Twitter account called “emo Kylo Ren”), I found him to be a fun and complex character. We’re not used to seeing dark side villains throw temper tantrums, kill their own fathers, and be torn between the dark side and the light. Kylo Ren is one of the centerpieces of the new trilogy, and without him, I doubt the stories would hold up. Marvel comics also recognizes how engaging Kylo Ren can be and is releasing a new series called Star Wars: The Rise of Kylo Ren. The comics will provide some great backstory on Kylo and the Knights of Ren. Here, take my money!

Why do you feel the Star Wars franchise has been so successful for so long?

For over 40 years the stars of the first three films have been asked this very question, and I remember Mark Hamill in an interview saying something like it’s a classic tale of good versus evil. Indeed, those tales have universal appeal and will always stand the test of time. In my Star Wars course, we dive deeper into this notion of taking heroes out of their ordinary worlds and thrusting them into extraordinary places where they are tested, challenged and eventually return home as wiser and more empowered individuals. Millions of fans have embraced this concept, relying upon Star Wars to help them escape from their mundane or problem-filled lives to go on an adventure and return much better for the journey. For some fans, Star Wars allows them to relive or actually never leave their childhoods. For others, Star Wars is cathartic, the medicine needed to make it though painful experiences in their lives. Above all, Star Wars is community and has led to meaningful, life-long relationships. Our shared love for Star Wars has permeated popular culture forever. When a franchise is able to harness that kind of intimacy among fans, it will always be successful.

Will this really be the final Star Wars film? Do you anticipate this film breaking box office records?

This will be the final film in the Skywalker story, but it will not be the last Star Wars movie. I do hope the film breaks box office records. However, this final chapter faces some considerable challenges: a divided fan base now rallying behind The Mandalorian; a prior film that broke promises and disappointed a lot of diehard fans; and, finally, rumors spread that early test screenings of ROS failed miserably with their audiences and that the film has been retooled many times during the last few months. J.J. Abrams did a fine job with The Force Awakens and I have all the faith in the world that this film will be good; however, The Rise of Skywalker will not make everyone happy. Let’s hope that we feel satisfied by the story, that promises are kept, and above all, that the filmmakers demonstrate a deep respect for a world whose characters have been our best friends since childhood.