Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker Celebration Panel

Star Wars Celebration kicked off in Chicago today with a panel dedicated to what looks to be one of the biggest blockbuster events of all time: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (the title was revealed alongside the trailer at the end of the panel). Director J.J. Abrams and members of his cast, including returning favorites and newcomers, took the stage to share new details about the ninth and final chapter in the “Skywalker Saga.”

Here’s what we learned about this mysterious film, which has to not only close out the sequel trilogy, but cap off over 40 years of storytelling.

The Return of a Classic Ship

Early footage from a sizzle reel revealed a new ship that looks like an updated version of the Tantive IV from the original trilogy. Interestingly, it was seen in a jungle setting similar to the Rebel Base on Yavin from A New Hope. Could this be a Resistance base?

They Know This is a Big Deal

Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and director J.J. Abrams took the stage first and they made it clear that yes, this really is the conclusion of the Skywalker saga. And they went right back to the source. “We’ve immersed ourselves in everything George [Lucas] created,” Kathleen Kennedy said. But she had high praise for the filmmaker on the stage with her. “He cares more than anyone I know,” Kennedy said of Abrams.

So, how do you complete a story that began in 1977? “The context that George was working in…it’s 40 years later,” Kennedy noted, adding that they had to work hard to keep the same universe relevant to a new audience. “We’ve taken to heart everything that inspired George,” she added.

Abrams spoke to this as well. “This movie is about this new generation and what they’ve inherited, the light and the dark, and ask the question, are they prepared to face the greatest evil and the dark?” he said.

The Current Status

Filming has wrapped, so Abrams and company are deep in post-production. “We’re editing and we’re doing visual effects,” Abrams said. “Things are going pretty well so far.”

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher tragically passed away before cameras could roll on the new film. However, Abrams will make use of unused footage from The Force Awakens to give her a role in the film. Still, Abrams misses the beloved actress. “Every day, it hits me that she’s not here,” Abrams said:

The weird miracle of having had a number of scenes from Force Awakens that had gone unused and looking at those scenes and realizing that there was a way of using those scenes to continue that story. And the idea of CG, we didn’t even want to try. We thought, what if there’s a way to work around those scenes we had? Emotionally it’s every day, it hits me that she’s not here, but it’s so surreal because we’re working with her still.

A New Adventure

Early in the panel, Abrams and Kennedy shared an image from early in the film. As you can see, that’s Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewbacca and C-3PO on a forest planet, standing near the Millennium Falcon. “The movie does not pick up immediately after the last film,” Abrams revealed. “Some time has gone by.” After being split apart for much of the last film, the new film will open with the core group on an adventure together.

Practical Effects

Like any proper Star Wars fan, Abrams knows the value of blending the practical and the digital. “We did everything we could to have it in-camera,” Abrams said.

Abrams and Kennedy emphasized the use of practical locations, revealing a set image from a location in Jordan. Abrams noted that this was better for the actors and better for everyone overall.

The Return of Lando

Billy Dee Williams took the stage next and he was clearly enthusiastic about returning to the role of Lando Calrissian, which he originated in The Empire Strikes Back:

“I didn’t expect to be in this little adventure but I got lucky and I got to work with someone that I have a lot of respect for. JJ Abrams…he’s extraordinary. I’ve been doing this a long time, 60 years I’ve been doing this and I’ve been lucky to work with pretty extraordinary people in that time. But this is a real highlight in my life.”

Kennedy joked that Abrams was such a fan on set that he’d see Williams in costume again and ask “Can you believe this?”

In a highlight, Williams was asked about Lando’s old betrayal of Han. Williams noted that he was up against Darth Vader and he made the best decision he could to protect everyone. “By the way, did anybody die? Nobody died!” he said to giant cheers from the audience.

Meet Jannah

The core cast took the stage next, including new cast member Naomi Ackie. A new photo was revealed of her character along with a name: Jannah. “The original group are going on this epic, epic adventure together and I’m so excited about where Jannah crosses paths with them,” Ackie said.

But that’s all she would reveal. She wouldn’t even confirm rumors that she is playing the daughter of Lando Calrissian. “Lando is a very charming man, so he could have children all over the universe, that’s all I’m saying,” Ackie joked.

Star Wars Phasma

Captain Phasma is Dead

When asked about Finn’s old nemesis, John Boyega confirmed that the chrome-suited stormtrooper Captain Phasma is really and truly gone after their duel in The Last Jedi: “She’s gone, rest in peace. She’s gone. Got rid of her.”

Finn’s New Costume

Finn has been searching for a new identity for the past two films. However, a new outfit seems to confirm his place in the Resistance. Boyega said: “I always feel like Finn didn’t have his identity through his costume. And JJ came up to me said ‘You’re going to love this.’ And I saw the blue pants come out and thought, ‘I’m in Star Wars now.'”

Oscar Isaac Dodges a Big Question

So, who is a better pilot: Poe Dameron or Han Solo? Actor Oscar Isaac dodged the question, but did confirm that no one can pilot the Millennium Falcon quite like Han. However, he did say that Poe can pilot anything else, which makes him like a space Uber driver.

Rey’s Jedi Training

So, did Rey start reading those ancient Jedi texts that she took from Luke’s tree library? Daisy Ridley was hesitant, but it sounds like she’s been brushing up a little bit: “Those books are pretty large, she might have gone through part of them. I guess she’s getting through them.”

And what about the lightsaber, the one that was destroyed after her fight alongside Kylo Ren? “My answer is not the end of the story, but the lightsaber that Rey inherited from Luke lives,” Ridley teased.

New Force Powers

Does Rey have any incredible new powers? Daisy Ridley immediately tossed the question to Abrams, who said “There are some extraordinary things that the character and Daisy did in this movie.” That’s Abrams-ese for “Yes.”

No More Naked Kylo

Sorry, fans of half-naked Kylo Ren and his terrifying/sexy physique. “I think I can confirm: no more naked Kylo,” Ridley said. And while no one would talk about the relationship between Rey and Kylo, Boyega did crack: “It’s the middle of war, we’re trying to figure ourselves out. It’s a very distracting place to fall in love.”

Kelly Marie Tran Got a Standing Ovation

“I was grateful to Rian Johnson for so many things he did,” Abrams said. “The greatest for me was casting Kelly-Marie.” Oh, and there she is in her slick new Resistance uniform.

The Importance of Chewie

After paying tribute to Peter Mayhew, who originated the role of Chewbacca, new actor Joonas Suotamo explained the importance of the character. “Chewbacca is a duty for me at this point,” new Chewbacca actor Joonas Suotamo said. “Seeing Chewbacca for the first time [in A New Hope], there is a place for everyone. No matter how big or small, there is a place for you in this world.”

Filming in Jordan

The production spent several weeks filming in Jordan, an experience that clearly had an impact on the cast and crew. Anthony Daniels, the man behind C-3PO, shared this story:

“Jordan was a truly remarkable experience. The first day, driving out there on the set it was my wife Christine who said that this was Ralph McQuarrie’s painting, the backdrops, those stone fissures that you were looking at. I would get goosebumps every day we drove out 45 minutes from the hotel. And it was beyond a privilege to be there. And remarkable the desert put up with us. It was the most astounding setting to be in and the Jordanian people, the Jordanian army were really part of our kind of family.”

New Creatures

It wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie without new creatures. A series of new images revealed some very cool practical aliens, including a new character named Klad, seen standing next to Resistance pilot Snap Wexley in the images above. Abrams explained: “There’s a fun character who just appears. His name is Klad. He is a friend of the Resistance who it turns out Chewie brought in.”

Abrams also heaped praise upon special effects wizard and creature design Neal Scanlan: “When we did Episode 7 I thought there was no way to top what had been created in terms of creatures. When we see this movie you’ll see Neal [Scanlan] did incredible work in terms of what he built.”

Meet DIO, the New Droid

Of course a new Star Wars movie needs a new droid. So here’s DIO, a practical droid who joined BB-8 on stage.

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Star Wars: Episode 9 will open in theaters on December 20, 2019.

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