Star Wars fans from across the galaxy descended on Chicago, Illinois for the 13th Star Wars Celebration. This convention gathers vendors, cosplayers, fans, and Star Wars creators for a weekend to celebrate the films, shows, games, and other Star Wars media. Celebration first began in 1999 as a way to build up hype for the release of the first of George Lucas’s prequel films, The Phantom Menace. Since then, this fan convention became the place for breaking Star Wars news. The first full trailer for the sequel films debuted at the 2015 Celebration, held in London where much of The Force Awakens filmed. The first teaser trailer for Rogue One, Gareth Edwards’s anthology film happened at the same event. For Star Wars Celebration Chicago, the main event will be the reveal of the title and teaser trailer for the final installment of “the Skywalker Saga,” Star Wars Episode IX.
In the modern era of Star Wars productions, new projects remain shrouded in secrecy. Outside of a few leaks, fans know nothing about what to expect from this film. Helmed by J.J. Abrams after the unceremonious dismissal of Colin Treverrow, Episode IX is the capstone on all of the trilogies. Whether or not this is truly the end for this new generation of characters, Episode IX marks the end of an era. After the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi, fans hope this next film either validates the vision for this sequel trilogy or undoes what they see as blasphemy by director Rian Johnson. Along with all of these expectations, the film also must tell a complete, satisfying story. Thus all eyes are on the Episode IX panel from Star Wars Celebration, hosted by Stephen Colbert with guests from the cast and crew of the film.
J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy Meet Stephen Colbert
J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy took the stage to introduce the panel and the guests. Both of them underscored the huge responsibility that this film represents. They were cagey about the details. However, J.J. Abrams promised that this is an adventure that the entire principal cast goes on together. This hearkens back to how Return of the Jedi reunited the central characters of the original trilogy. He thanked Rian Johnson for his work on The Last Jedi, but the thing he appreciated most was the casting of Kelly Marie Tran as Rose. Carrie Fisher’s absence loomed over the production, though. “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.” Using footage shot during Episode VII, they were able to put Carrie Fisher in the story. “Princess Leia lives in this film,” J.J. said, emotion tugging at his voice. There wasn’t much in the way of specific details from the film, however we saw some production stills that evoke an epic scale for this feature.
Reuniting With Old Friends Like Lando Calrissian
Two original series cast members, Anthony Daniels and Billy Dee Williams were the first introduced on stage. When asked about his character, Daniels said, “C3PO is my best friend.” Daniels also spoke about filming in Jordan, crediting his wife for pointing out how the landscape looked like the original Star Wars concept art. “It was beyond a privilege to be there,” he said. The conditions were rough, with high temperatures and sandstorms but that didn’t undercut the beauty. Williams joked about how fans have given Lando grief for his betrayal in Empire Strikes Back and defended his character’s actions. He argued that Lando is actually the hero of that movie. Joking aside, Williams was so happy to still be involved in this amazing universe. “This has been a genuine highlight of my life,” Billy Dee Williams said. “Lando never left me.” It’s only fitting that they close out the saga with these figures from the original trilogy, though they didn’t say much after their introduction.
Meeting New Friends Like Naomi Ackie’s Jannah
Naomi Ackie is the newest member of the Star Wars cast, playing Janna a mysterious character that helps out characters played by Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, and John Boyega. She was cagey about her character’s backstory, specifically the rumor that she’s related to Lando. John Boyega said that his character gets “emotional closure,” and joked about how his character Finn is the galaxy’s most eligible bachelor. Oscar Isaac wouldn’t say if his character Poe is a better pilot than Han Solo, but he did say that Poe is the galaxy’s best “Uber driver.” Joonas Suotamo thanked the original Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew for his unique “physicality” that has defined that character. He then roared in Chewbacca’s language to the delight of the crowd.
Daisy Ridley, who just celebrated her 27th birthday, was serenaded by the Celebration crowd with the birthday song. “Never thought this would happen ever,” she said beaming. She also said that the Skywalker lightsaber, which was broken in the last film, “lives,” meaning rumors that it was repaired are true. However, she was cagey about the future of her relationship with Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. The biggest ovation, however, came for Kelly Marie Tran, who faced some harassment from angry internet trolls after the last film. The fans in that room support her and her character. Rose was shown in a production still, working with Ridley’s Rey. We also met Dio, a cute little wheel droid who will be a friend to BB-8 in the film. The practical droid was built especially for Celebration.
What the Trailer for Star Wars Episode IX Reveals
It opens with heavy breathing from Rey, standing in a desert all dressed in white. “We’ve passed on all we know,” Mark Hammil’s voice says. As she ignites the repaired lightsaber, we see Kylo Ren bearing down on her with his TIE fighter. As he closes, she leaps into the air and it cuts to black. The crowd erupted into cheers. The Han and Leia love theme plays over scenes of a new planet and the central cast looking off into the distance. Kylo Ren cutting his way through resistance soldiers and fixes his mask, which he shattered in the last film. There is also what appears to be a “new” scene of Leia hugging Rey, who sheds a tear, as they say goodbye both metaphorically and in reality.
It also appears that the plot might return to the Fourth Moon of Yavin. The final shot of the trailer appears to reveal debris from the Death Star. This could also be the Forest Moon of Endor, where the second Death Star was destroyed, but that seems like a long shot. The biggest surprise came when Hammill reiterated his line from the last film, that “no one is ever really gone.” Then the screen cuts to black and we hear the signature laugh of Sheev Palpatine, the Emperor from the original trilogy. Once the trailer ended, Ian MacDiarmid, the actor who portrays the character, stood on the stage. In his best Emperor voice, he said, “Roll it again.” Later, J.J. Abrams confirmed that the actor will reprise the role in some way.
The Title of Episode IX and Lingering Questions
Guessing Star Wars titles has become a new fan pastime. (And your humble correspondent isn’t too bad at the game!) The prevailing theories on the internet were that the title would be something like “The Will of the Force” or “A Final Hope,” as a nod to the first film in the saga. However, the title isn’t so obvious (though one fan predicted the title on Twitter in 2016, but for Episode VIII). Episode IX will be called “The Rise of Skywalker,” which comes as surprise since this is the end of the Skywalker saga. (Though take this with a bantha-sized grain of salt.) Also, since Luke became one with the Force, technically, there aren’t any Skywalkers left. Sure, Kylo Ren is technically a Skywalker, but his birth name is Ben Solo. So, it raises the question if the currently surname-less Rey will choose “Skywalker” as her name?
The biggest question, of course, comes with the sinister laugh that closed out the trailer. This more than suggests that Emperor Palpatine’s story is not quite as done as we thought. The character seemed to have met his end in Return of the Jedi. Darth Vader found the light and tossed Palpatine into a patented Star Wars bottomless pit. Yet, recent additions to the Star Wars canon, specifically from the comic books and Battlefront II, show that Palpatine’s plans were still in motion. This doesn’t necessary signify that the character lives, but he could appear via hologram, droid, or even Dark Side magic. The internet will buzz about this subtle reveal for months leading up to the release, sometime in December.
What Do You Think About Episode IX, Star Wars Rise of Skywalker?
So, what do you think about the title and the teaser trailer? Are you excited, concerned, or ambivalent? Tell us in the comments below or on social media. You can watch the full Episode IX panel above.
Updated with confirmation from J.J. Abrams about McDiarmid’s return.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.