How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden Kingdom writer/director Dean DeBlois says that a year has passed between the end of How to Train Your Dragon 2 and the third movie, making the franchise's bold young protagonist Hiccup 21 years old when the movie begins. The first trailer for How to Train Your Dragon 3 mostly showed Hiccup looking around the same age as the previous movie, but there is one intriguing shot of an older, bearded Hiccup with Toothless.
Based on the book series by Cressida Cowell, the first How to Train Your Dragon movie was released in 2010 and introduced audiences to a 15 year-old Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III. When his story began, Hiccup was the underdog in his Viking village of Berk, being rather scrawny and not particularly keen on killing dragons. In How to Train Your Dragon 2, there was a five-year time jump that caught up with Hiccup at age 20, having ushered in an age of peace between Vikings and dragons.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Screen Rant, writer/director Dean DeBlois clarified that Hiccup is one year older when The Hidden World begins, but audiences can also expect to see an older and wiser Hiccup, since How to Train Your Dragon 3 will wrap up the trilogy:
"The main narrative of the film takes place about a year after the events of Dragon 2. So there's a five year jump from 1 to 2, and about a year jump from 2 to 3, because we wanted to focus on Hiccup's rookie run at being Chief of Berk. Bearded Hiccup is indicated in the trailer, which is a little misleading because it doesn't speak to the main narrative of the story. There will be moments in the movie where we play with the timeline a little bit. We go forward, and we also go backward. It's all about wrapping up Hiccup's journey from being one of the ne'er-do wells of the Viking tribe to being a wise and selfless Viking Chief."
How to Train Your Dragon 2 ended with both Hiccup and Toothless being elevated to positions of serious authority, as Hiccup took over as Chief of Berk and Toothless became the Alpha of the dragons. "The carefree abandon of youth has now been replaced with some fairly weighty responsibilities," says DeBlois. As a new threat to Hiccup's friends arrives in the form of the Grimmel, a villain who is "of the belief that dragons need to be eliminated or enslaved," Toothless discovers a female dragon of his own kind and (as we saw in the trailer) goes through the awkwardness of dragon courtship.
With How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World promising to wrap up Hiccup and Toothless' stories, it looks like we'll get to see the new Chief of Berk at various points in his life. But if dragons are no longer around when the older Hiccup tells his story, as the trailer's opening line portends, we're almost certainly in for an emotional farewell.