Toy Story 4 - which is on course to make Disney a bucketload of money after a predictably stellar opening weekend - is inevitably an emotional affair. Much like Avengers: Endgame, it might not be an end to its franchise entirely, but it was an end of sorts and it closed a major chapter in giving Woody an ending.
In that respect, it worked better than Toy Story 3, which is lofty praise indeed. And even though the marketing suggested that this was Forky's story, the reality, as ever, is that the narrative was focused on Woody's existential crisis rather than the one confusing the new character. This entire franchise has been similarly focused and it all started with a cowboy doll and his kid.
WARNING: Incoming SPOILERS for Toy Story 4.
3. Woody And Andy
We've seen Woody repeatedly grapple with mortality anxiety, watching his friends and fellow toys falling away and leaving Andy's life before he found a new home with Bonnie in Toy Story 3. That was initially presented as a happy ending, because Woody once more found purpose - he is, after all, more than any other character in this series, driven by the idea of ownership meaning validation.
That characteristic is a key one. Previously, it had been somewhat assumed that Woody's drive was an indication of his suitability to "lead" the toys as well as explaining why he was Andy's favourite. But Woody's obsessive need to have one specific owner was revealed to be toxic to a certain extent, because it ensured that he was destined to feel rejected. The parable of Lotso was essentially a model for what he would become if he didn't let go of Andy and accept that kids move on and toys have to as well.
But there's something in Toy Story 4 that changes everything for Woody. Or at least for our perception of him and the tragedy of his existence that's never really been explored up to this point.
Since the first movie, we've all merrily accepted that Andy was Woody's owner. He never mentioned anyone else before him and you'd think that he would have if he was pre-owned (even by someone else in Andy's family). After all, Lotso and Jessie are both emotionally devastated by the rejection of previous owners, so it's not like toys simply forget and move on. In fact, in a brief moment, Toy Story 4 establishes that Jessie still struggles with abandonment issues when she's locked in a cupboard. Rejection doesn't go away and neither do the memories of previous owners.
So Woody can't have had a previous owner. He doesn't deal well with change, he's dangerously committed to his kid and Toy Story 4 repeatedly mentions the fact that he's still hung-up on Andy rather than focusing on Bonnie. At first, this is painted as him responding to Bonnie not viewing him as a favourite toy, but it's more than that really. Because Woody DID have a past before Andy and by implication it was a deeply sad one.
Just as Toy Story 2 hinted, Toy Story 4 establishes that Woody is an antique. He was made some time in the 1950s (by his own admission), which makes him the perfect target for Gabby Gabby when she looks to steal his voice box to replace her own defective one. It's not just a throw-away decision for that story element either, it's the whole crux of why Woody is the way he is.
Fundamentally, you have to ask what Woody was doing for the 40 years or so before he became Andy's favourite toy.