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io9 Judges the Big Pop Culture Endings of 2019

Clockwise from left: How To Train Your Dragon 3, Avengers: Endgame, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Clockwise from left: How To Train Your Dragon 3, Avengers: Endgame, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Image: DreamWorks, Disney, Photo: HBO, Disney
Year In ReviewYear In ReviewWe look back at the best, worst, and most significant moments of the year, and look forward to next year.

While 2019 was filled with all sorts of content—television, movies, comic books, video games—that kept us busy, there were a lot of major franchises meant to wrap up some pretty epic stories this year. Did they all succeed in telling emotional tales that resonated with the fans who’ve been along with them for the long ride? Your mileage may vary; here’s what io9 thinks.

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The Skywalker Saga

If you’d told us if we’d be conflicted about how the ninth and final entry in the Skywalker Saga brought Star Wars to an end at the start of this year, we’d have called you liars. And yet, here we are, divided on whether J.J. Abrams and his team managed to effectively say farewell to Luke, Leia, Rey, Finn, Poe, and the rest of these characters and worlds we’ve been introduced to, not just recently in Lucasfilm’s post-Disney world, but over 40 years of Star Wars moviemaking.

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That’s a daunting task. So the fact that we’re mostly divided over whether or not The Rise of Skywalker brought about its end too messily, and too laden with fanservice course corrections, rather than whether or not it was an abject failure, is perhaps a suggestion that—even as divided as we are—at least some of Rise’s indulgences brought about satisfying conclusions. But, then again, this is also Star Wars, and perhaps the argument that should be made is if The Rise of Skywalker was really an end at all. We know more Star Wars is coming. One of Rise’s many excesses is just how many plot threads it hurls into the mix, leaving many open for future tie-in media—be it books, comics, TV shows, or even new movies—to pick up and continue. Can we really say it was a good ending (even despite disagreements on that) if it actually didn’t truly end?

Star Wars as we know it is over. Whether or not what’s to come feels too much like it for its own good remains to be seen.

Game of Thrones

Well, we can’t win ‘em all, can we? Especially when you play the Game of Thrones. There was absolutely no way in hell that even a near-perfect finale to almost a decade of character arcs, shocking twists, and dastardly political machinations (and the occasional dragon attack/bombed religious building/ice zombie invasion) could ever satisfy a vast majority of Game of Thrones fans. Suitably for a series that examined the messy chaos of power and how it affects people, there was never going to be a way out for HBO that wouldn’t at least piss some people off.

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That’s not what we got. We got a final season that pissed a lot of people off. With sudden character turns and long-running plotlines resolved in the blink of an eye, Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season was too short for its own good. It raced through its limited runtime at a pace that left so many threads with the potential to be interesting—even if, in the moment, they were controversial moves—if only they had been given the space to breathe and time to be established in the wider narrative. So few of the show’s most beloved characters, whether they survived the final battle for King’s Landing or not, got conclusions that felt even remotely satisfying. There just simply wasn’t the time to do that, and Game of Thrones had to try and make do with the time it had. For many fans, all it left was—as a certain Lannister once put it—like our joy had turned to ashes in our mouths.

Avengers: Endgame

Disney handed itself a Herculean task with Avengers: Endgame. This was to be the culmination of 21 movies and the adventures of hundreds of characters. It needed to harken back to years of cinematic growth while also paving the way for the next phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And they nailed it. Endgame gave us everything: near-limitless action, emotional stakes, humor. The way it used time travel to take us through previous films was a stroke of genius, showing how we’ve changed just as much as the characters have. Not every decision the movie made was the right one (*cough cough* Black Widow *cough cough*), but overall it succeeded in doing something no series had ever done before and may never do again. Plus, we finally got that dance between Steve and Peggy.

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Illustration for article titled io9 Judges the Big Pop Culture Endings of 2019
Image: Fox

The X-Men Movie Universe

For many people, Fox’s live-action X-Men films were their first experience with big-budget adaptations of comic books that took the stories and characters’ lives seriously in a way that felt true to the source material. A number of the movies were absolute trainwrecks to be sure, but for every Last Stand, there were entries like Logan and Days of Future Past that genuinely made attempts at pushing the limitations of what a superhero movie could be. In the end, as Disney set its sights on snatching back the film rights to the X-Men, Fox fumbled the ball, first with the disappointing Apocalypse, then by essentially shuttering New Mutants, and finally committing the cardinal sin of trying to do the Dark Phoenix Saga again with a story that just wasn’t well thought out. We’re almost guaranteed to get more X-Men films down the road but for now, this enormous chapter closed with a whimper.

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How to Train Your Dragon

After a five-year gap between films, the How to Train Your Dragon franchise finally finished this year with the release of The Hidden World. And while the Hidden World may have lacked a smidge of the gleeful wonder from the previous two films, the way it brought the story to a close worked incredibly well. The story saw Hiccup and Toothless finally have to end their long-standing, mutually beneficial friendship with Toothless falling in love with another Night Fury. Hiccup realized he had to be selfless, not selfish, and let his best friend go live his own life. After another huge adventure, Hiccup finally becomes the leader he was destined to be, as does Toothless, and years later, the two meet again and it’s like no time has passed at all.

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The Unbreakable Universe

In all of these end of year posts, we’ve been hammering on Glass and how disappointing it is. And, make no mistake, that’s its legacy. But here we’re talking about endings of franchises and, while most of Glass doesn’t really help the legacy set up by Unbreakable and Split, the end of Glass...kind of does? Now, granted, the ending of the film feels almost completely tacked on to the rest of it. It wasn’t, of course, but that’s the feeling. And yet, when we realize that the deaths of Mr. Glass, the Horde, and David Dunn won’t be in vain and that footage of their powers will be released to the world, it gives the franchise an ending that we wish was a beginning. Some random organization has been trying to keep the fact that superheroes exist secret for years, but it’s just been bested. And the Unbreakable Universe ends with an idea we wish Glass would have explored more before its final 30 seconds. Superheroes are among us. They look like me or you. And no one is going to stop them from living their lives.

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Mr. Robot

Hello, friend. As Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot progressed the last few seasons, it was easy to imagine how the end would roll out. Elliot Alderson had been putting in the work with his sister Darlene and others for years to take down some of the worst in corporate society. It all seemed to be coming to a head with a big Christmas Day hack that would destroy Whiterose’s machinations and change everything...and then you realized how many episodes of the final season were still left to go. Over the years the show took us to some deeply tense and emotional places but we never imagined this was how it would end. Not many series finales leave you rethinking all that’s come before but Mr. Robot did that while providing an incredible ending we won’t forget.

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A Series Of Unfortunate Events

Though it wasn’t a long-running saga, in the end, Netflix’s adaptation of A Series Of Unfortunate Events ended precisely the way it was meant to—strangely, with more than enough whimsy, and a certainty that the heroes of the story were finally going to be able to rest for the first time in their lives. Disappointing as it was to see the Baudelaires come within arms’ reach of being able to fulfill their destinies and become, you know, happy people, the show (like the book) took its time to tease that idea out in a way that made their ultimate destiny feel that much stronger.

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There were, of course, a few other big endings in 2019—Gotham, Big Bang Theory, etc.—let us know how you think they all went in the comments.

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DISCUSSION

I don’t know about anyone else but for me the biggest pop-culture ending was Deadspin (RIP), a true loss above so many. An inspiration, acts of solidarity and integrity, in the face of resounding ineptitude.

Deadspin was great!!!!