Even while laboring under a long-standing mandate to keep the secrets of the series, the first-ever panel for “Star Wars: Episode IX” — or, as we now now it, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” — at this year’s Star Wars Celebration still managed to unearth a handful of tidbits about the J.J. Abrams-directed film. As the first panel to be held on the marquee Celebration Stage at the Chicago event (in actuality, the Wintrust Arena, a sports arena that typically plays home to basketball games and can hold a capacity of over 10,000 screaming fans), it was arguably the biggest draw of the fan event.
The panel also introduced the film’s first teaser trailer, and while that quick hit provided its own answers and exciting elements — Rey getting into a light saber fight with an unexpected foe, Billy Dee Williams back piloting the Millennium Falcon, and the apparent return of the mega-evil Emperor Palpatine (star Ian McDiarmid even appeared on stage to demand they roll the trailer again) — the hour-long chat had its own revelations.
Host Stephen Colbert had to push and prod to get much of anything out of director Abrams, Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy and cast members Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Naomi Ackie, and Anthony Daniels, some key revelations about the much-hyped film did emerge. Basic stuff, too, from when the film is set (beyond just “a long time ago”) to what new characters might be introduced (and whom they might be related to). Here’s what we learned.
Early in the panel, Abrams revealed to Colbert and the crowd that film does not pick up immediately after the events of “The Last Jedi,” though the filmmaker wouldn’t reveal any further details about the time jump.
Later, star Ridley seemed close to letting slip more information about the exact amount of time that’s passed, and she hedged when asked if it was enough time to read all the books Luke provided her with from the Jedi Temple.
“This is an adventure that the group goes on together,” Abrams said. “One of the great things about it is the dynamic between the characters.” In a first-look photo, characters Poe, Finn, Rey, Chewie, BB-8, and C-3PO are shown standing together outside the Millennium Falcon on a lush jungle planet, looking mighty refreshed after the events of the previous film.
Another character who gets to join in the fun: Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico, who revealed that Rose has woken up from the coma she was in at the end of “The Last Jedi.” “I was grateful to Rian Johnson for so many things he did in ‘Episode VIII,’” Abrams added. “And the greatest for me was casting Kelly Marie.”
The panel featured one brand-new face: “Lady MacBeth” star Naomi Ackie, who joined the cast as an unknown character last summer. While the actress already seems hip to the tight-lipped nature of these panels, she was able to announce her character’s name and show off a first look photo.
Her name is Jannah, and there’s no doubt that the cape she wears in the first photo will inspire some major speculation as to her parentage. Asked about early rumors that Lando Calrissian might be her dad, Ackie said with a laugh, “Listen, Lando is a very charming man, so he could have children all over the universe, am I right?” That’s not a no, but based on how much Ackie kept uncomfortably laughing about the question, it seems like there might be some truth to those rumors.
How Jannah will come to cross paths with the rest of the characters remains unclear, but Ackie did say, “The original group are going on this epic, epic adventure together, and I’m so excited about where Jannah crosses paths with them. It’s wicked.”
One more new character to get excited about: D-O. Trusty droid BB-8 will get a tiny new pal to roll around with in the form of his teensy new friend, who rolls around on a single wide disk and has a cone-shaped head. Abrams showed off some early concepts that hinted at some cute inspirations for D-O, including a rubber duck.
The film will also introduce a new friend to the Resistance, a man-sized slug-like creature named Klawd. “He is a friend of the Resistance, and someone Chewie brought in,” Abrams said, introducing a photo of the new friend standing alongside Greg Grunberg’s X-wing pilot “Snap” Wexley on a wooded planet.
After the death of beloved star Carrie Fisher in December of 2016, rumors persisted about her role in the upcoming ninth installment. Would she be recast? Digitally recreated? Left out of the film entirely? Eventually, Abrams settled on a lucky fix: build a story around unused footage of Fisher from “The Force Awakens.” As he explained, the “weird miracle” of having so much to work with wasn’t just the best solution, it was the only one.
“It was impossible. There was no way. What are you gonna do? You can’t recast that part, and you’re not just going to have her disappear,” Abrams said. “The idea was what if we could write scenes around her, so she could be in the movie, and we have her performance.”
He added, “Every day it hits me that she’s not here, but it’s so surreal because we’re working with her still. She’s in scenes. .. Princess Leia lives in this film in a way that is kind of mind-blowing to me.”
Disney will release “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” in theaters nationwide December 20. Watch the official trailer below.