Whatever Disney lacked at CinemaCon in terms of dropping Star Wars or Marvel treats, they made up to fans four fold between yesterday’s Disney Investor Day and today’s Star Wars Celebration in Chicago which revealed the title to Star Wars: Episode IX — Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — and a kickass trailer for J.J. Abrams-directed swan song to the saga that George Lucas began with Star Wars in 1977.
Abrams (in the wake of Colin Trevorrow’s departure from Episode IX) has a tall order with project wrapping up the many threads (some controversial) set fourth by Rian Johnson’s previous chapter, Star Wars: The Last Jedi,in 2017. And the trailer looks to make good on any angst that Rian Johnson’s Last Jedi may have stirred up (with all due respect, his heart was in the project). McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America, was filled to overflowing with fans — a good number of them waving their glowing lightsabers. The panel opened with a surprise host and ended with an unexpected return by a famous Star Wars ensemble member whose character was thought long gone from the saga.
Moderating the panel today was Late Show host and devout Star Wars fan Stephen Colbert. “I just flew in from Dagobah and, boy, are my S-foils locked in attack position,” joked Colbert, who gushed that he had gotten to visit the Episode IX set. “I know things,” he said, the first of many nods to the secrecy shrouding this (or any) Abrams project, Colbert then tossed it over to Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy and Abrams.
Two big Episode IX stars not in the house today: Adam Driver and Keri Russell, who are on Broadway in the revival of Landford Wilson’s Burn This. No details were revealed regarding which character The Americans star would portray, either. Disney may be saving the duo for D23 or San Diego Comic-Con.
Kennedy said the stakes have never been higher for a Lucasfilm project.
“The thing I think about all the time is the responsibility we have,” said Kennedy, “this one in particular. This is the third act of a three act structure. We’ve immersed ourselves into everything George created…what you end up seeing, you’ll be happy with.”
Kennedy gestured to Abrams, whom she met in the 1980s (when she was Steven Spielberg’s assistant and Abrams was an amateur filmmaker given the task of restoring the fraying Super 8 movies Spielberg had filmed as a kid). “This guy sitting next to me, cares more than anybody I know.” At present, Abrams is editing and doing VFX for Episode IX.
Kennedy talked about the challenge of ending a nine-episode arc, 40 years later. “It needs to feel that it’s of its time,” said Kennedy, “we’ve taken to heart everything that George created” plus Abrams’ “inspiration.”
Abrams told fans in the room about the challenges in filling the void left behind by Carrie Fisher. It was something that scribe Chris Terrio and Abrams grappled with. He said there were scenes from Force Awakens unused, and those will be used in Episode IX. Essentially scenes were written around those. So much better than a CGI Fisher.
Last Jedi ended with the adventurers scattered and reeling, Abrams said “some time goes by” before the new film’s action takes place. This is an adventure the “group goes on together,” Abrams said, drawing a cheer from the crowd.
Abrams said he’s still doing a mix of live locations in the UK and Wadi Rum,Jordan, and sets mixed with some VFX much like production on Force Awakens.
“It was emotional and I really can’t give you details,” said Kennedy when asked about the final day of shooting by Colbert.
“Oh, I see, I was called to Chicago to ask questions and not get answers,” said Colbert.
Colbert then brought C3-PO on stage, aka Anthony Daniels. Colbert asked Daniels if he’d ever want his own C3-PO. “Things like Alexa and Siri scare me,” quipped Daniels, channeling his ever-alarmed droid. Colbert mentioned that Daniels has a book hitting shelves tomorrow, the title of which can’t be revealed today. Daniels mused about his long odyssey in the role of the droid C-3PO — which. began in the days when he was a man “with hair as black as J.J.’s.”
Then Billy Dee Williams, aka Land Calrissian, took the stage to great applause.
“I didn’t expect to be in this little adventure, but I got lucky,” said Williams, “I’ve been doing this for long time, 60 years, I’ve been doing this…but I regard this as a real highlight for me.”
“How did I find Lando again? Lando never left me,” Williams said. Abrams said that when Williams stepped on set, the air went out of the place; it was an emotional event for the production.
Williams revealed a sore subject — all the fans who upbraided him still for his character’s betrayal of Han Solo in the 1980 film Empire Strikes Back. “I get accursed all the time of having betrayed Han Solo,” Williams said with mock irritation. “Expediency,” is how Williams explained the sell-out moment, ” And by the way did anybody die? Nobody died. Nobody died.”
Colbert then pulled the whole new generation cast on stage: Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaccs, BB-8, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran, Naomie Ackie, and Joonas Suotamo. Ackie who is new to the cast said the name of her character is Jannah. Colbert said he heard rumors that she’s Lando’s daughter. Her response, laughing, “Lando is a charming man and he could have children all over the universe.”
“Is Finn the most eligible bachlor?” asked Colbert. Boyega said “Finn is single and ready to mingle,” explaining the four-way romance between Ridley’s Rey’s, Isacc’s Poe and Tran’s rebel Rose. Finn, a onetime stormtrooper, is more centered and self-aware in the new film. “The last two movies, Finn couldn’t decide where he belonged but in this film he’s a sexy young man in the rebellion.”
Isaac, who plays the hotshot pilot Poe, was greeted with chants of “305” — a reference to the area code in Miami, where the actor grew up. Colbert asked Isaac about his character’s winking approach to danger. “He’s just a human and one of the most human things you can do is find the humor and the irony in even the darkest situation.”
Ridley’s birthday was on April 10 and some folks in the auditorium sang “Happy Birthday”. “Did Rey read the books from the tree library?” asked Colbert. “It’s been a little while, I think she’s getting through them.”
Is she re-building the lightsaber that was destroyed? “The lightsaber that Rey inherited from Luke — lives,” says Ridley.
Abrams said in regards to Rey’s improved Jedi powers in this installment, “I will say this that are some extraordinary things that the character and Daisy did in this movie.”
“Kylo and Rey thing we’ll have to see,” says Ridley. As far as her romance with Finn, Boyega said that everyone “is in the middle of war.” Ridley confirmed no more half naked shots of Adam Driver’s Kylo. “When he turned around, it was surprising to the crew as to everyone,” said Ridley about that bare chested Driver moment.
Abrams said he was “thankful to Rian Johnson” for so many things in Last Jedi, but one of the most important ones was the casting of Tran.
A poignant moment came when Colbert earlier introduced Tran. Led by Boyega, the cast on stage responded to their colleague’s name with boisterous, sustained cheers. The audience joined in and Tran looked emotionally touched by the display. The context was never explained on stage or on screen but everyone heard the ovation as a sign of support for Tran who endured a savage and personal social media backlash to her performance in the film.
Colbert shared a personal story that speaks to his nerd credentials. Colbert saw Star Wars early in 1977 after winning a radio station giveaway. He spoke in awe about the captivating spell it cast over his young eyes. “We has seen the future,” Colbert said of the childhood experience with two classmates. “Anyway that’s why I’ve been a fan three weeks longer than you all.”
Abrams showed a photo of a new creature, a big slug-like guy who is a member of the Resistance, his name being Claude. Other new characters, Dio, a single wheel rolling droid with a cone for a head. He’s BB-8’s new friend, and way smaller than the orange white ball. He looks a bit like Pixar’s desk lamp mixed with an off-road unicycle.
Then Abrams ended the session what what everyone was looking for: The teaser to Star Wars: Episode IX and the new title: The Rise of Skywalker. At the end of the trailer, the crowd in Chicago got a thrill as Ian McDiarmid stepped out, unannounced, on stage. McDiarmid portrayed the Emperor, aka Darth Sidious, a character who plummeted to his (presumed) death in Return of the Jedi in 1983. With his best evil inflection, McDiarmid ordered “Roll it again!”