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The Ending Of Guardians Of The Galaxy Explained

The Marvel Cinematic Universe officially kicked off in 2008 with the major gamble that was director Jon Favreau's Iron Man. Even though many thought it lacked the strength to launch a shared universe, the Robert Downey Jr.-led production defied the odds and did just that. In the years that followed, the sprawling franchise got increasingly ambitious through sequels, post-credits scenes, and more, pulling no punches in making this cinematic venture work. Be that as it may, the properties Marvel chose to add into the MCU — like Captain America and Thor — were fairly safe bets and guaranteed moneymakers. Therefore, the question persisted: When would Marvel Studios take a really deep dive into the Marvel Comics catalog?

The studio's first foray into bringing some of Marvel Comics' obscure characters into the mainstream came in 2014. Guardians of the Galaxy, directed by James Gunn, hoped to be a breath of fresh air into a franchise that was at risk of becoming formulaic (even with all the cinematic ground it broke at its inception). Merging both sci-fi and comedy, the production called for an all-star cast, including Chris Pratt as Star-Lord (aka Peter Quill), Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, Vin Diesel as Groot, and Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket Raccoon. With the stars on board, the studio ready to take a chance, and an aesthetic unlike anything the MCU had ever seen, Guardians of the Galaxy was ready to roll.

The movie turned out to be a financial and critical success, and remains one of the MCU's most memorable additions to date. Even still, for those who need a refresher, or those who are giving it a first-time viewing, here's how Guardians of the Galaxy wraps up — and what it means for its 2017 sequel as well as for the rest of the MCU.

The Guardians have gone legit

After spending the duration of Guardians of the Galaxy either at one another's throat or covertly planning to betray each other, the whole gang comes together in the film's final act. With the Ravagers and the Nova Corps behind them, the Guardians lead an assault on Ronan the Accuser's (Lee Pace) ship, the Dark Aster, in defense of Xandar. It's a back-and-forth battle, with many of the planet's finest pilots and soldiers falling at the hands of the Kree warlord's minions. Try as he might, though, Ronan is unable to complete his takeover of Xandar, even with the Power Stone (more on that later) at his disposal.

The movie's final fight culminates in the iconic "dance-off to save the universe" sequence, where Peter Quill distracts Ronan with his dance moves and gives Drax a chance to destroy the Kree's war hammer. Doing so unleashes the Infinity Stone within it; Peter catches it, enduring the physical damage it inflicts upon him. What follows is an emotional scene during which the Guardians join hands and share the pain that comes from the stone's power, solidifying their status as a unified team and defeating Ronan.

To show their gratitude, the Xandarian government absolves the Guardians of their past crimes and commends them for their heroism. To cap off Guardians of the Galaxy, the crew set off into the vast expanse of space, ready to take on whatever challenges await them — not as a collection of criminals, but as a family.

Groot (sorta) lives!

In addition to the death of countless Xandarian forces as a result of Ronan's siege, the Guardians themselves took a major casualty. With the Kree warship plummeting toward Xandar's surface, the team took a moment to acknowledge their apparent final moments alive. However, Groot steps up to protect his newfound friends — growing his tree-like limbs to form a barrier around them and protecting them from the impending impact. Knowing full well he wouldn't survive, Groot uttered the tear-jerking line, "We are Groot," before giving up his life. All he left behind was a scattered few twigs.

Considering Groot was his only friend for much of his life, Rocket is devastated by the loss of his antisocial partner-in-crime. To cope, he takes one of Groot's sticks and puts it in a pot, hoping it may someday sprout. Much to his delight, it does (and develops a penchant for dancing), giving the Guardians a new Groot to take with them on their galaxy-spanning adventures. Although, as Gunn revealed in 2018 (via The Verge), this is a totally different Groot than the original. He shares no memories with the adult Groot audiences meet at the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy, and is effectively a fresh start for the character.

Groot's sacrifice is a tragically essential moment in the Guardians' story, pulling them together like never before. Not to mention, it also paved the way for the lovable Baby Groot to take the world by storm in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

We haven't seen the last of the Ravagers

The relationship between the Ravagers, their leader Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), and Peter Quill is complicated, to say the least. After abducting a young Peter from Earth and choosing to keep him instead of return him to his father, Yondu raises him in the Ravagers' ruthless, immoral ways. As he ages, Peter begins to see that running with them isn't in his best interest, so he sets out on his own once he finds the location of the Power Stone-housing orb. This enrages Yondu, who wanted the artifact to sell himself, so he puts out a bounty on Peter shortly thereafter.

Later on in Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter calls on Yondu for aid in defeating Ronan and protecting Xandar, promising him the orb once they get it back. The Ravager leader agrees and lends a hand in the fight, but never once forgets about his asking price. With Ronan defeated and the Power Stone safely secured in the orb, Yondu comes to collect, and Quill agrees. Come to find out, Peter never gave Yondu the Infinity Stone at all, instead handing it over to the Nova Corps for safekeeping. Angry but impressed with Peter's treachery, Yondu smiles at the Troll doll he unknowingly took with him, pointing to the continuation of their feud in the future.

Despite their strained dynamic, this is the start of Yondu's affection for Peter coming to the surface, thus planting the seeds for a central plot point in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

The Mad Titan and his Infinity Stones

Though he's not the main villain of Guardians of the Galaxy, the presence of Thanos (Josh Brolin) throughout the story is impossible to ignore. The Mad Titan makes it known that he doesn't fully trust Ronan to hand over the orb, nor does he expect him to succeed in finding it. Their hostility becomes especially prevalent once Ronan threatens Thanos with death after his planned destruction of Xandar, but, as mentioned before, Ronan is woefully unsuccessful. Audiences are then left to wonder what the big bad of the MCU's next steps are, and how his strained relationship with his adoptive daughters Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Gamora will play out.

Prior to Guardians of the Galaxy, moviegoers had only seen Thanos pop up in the post-credits scene of 2012's The Avengers. The scene didn't say much about his intentions, nor did it make any mention of where he would appear next. Thanos' time in Guardians opened the floodgates in both regards, alerting everyone to the existence of the Infinity Stones — the Power Stone being one of six crystals that control a key aspect of existence — and Thanos' desire to round them up. Future Avengers films went on to shed more light on his universe-decimating plan and his crusade to collect all six stones, and explain why Nebula and Gamora grew to resent him so much.

To some, Guardians of the Galaxy may appear an anomaly in the MCU, since much of the events depicted bear no weight on the Earth-bound heroes. In reality, that couldn't be further from the case, since it goes a long way in setting up the franchise's future, in more ways than one. Simply put, it's essential viewing for any Marvel binge.