Surprising no one, Celebration Chicago kicked off on Friday morning, April 12, with the most anticipated panel of the convention: Episode IX. The Celebration Stage and both overflow stages filled to capacity; fans also watched the panel at the Star Wars Show Live Stage on the exhibit hall floor or the YouTube livestream. As expected, the panel concluded with the teaser trailer for the film, which ended to reveal the movie’s title: The Rise of Skywalker.
With those secrets reserved for the end of the panel, director J.J. Abrams remained true to form in revealing almost nothing else about the movie beforehand. He and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy emphasized the responsibility inherent in concluding the nine-movie epic saga created by George Lucas and beloved by fans. One of the few glimpses Abrams disclosed was that heroes of the new trilogy would undertake the adventure together, a marked change from the iterative plot of The Force Awakens and the separated subplots of The Last Jedi.
Unable to delve into the upcoming film itself, panel host Stephen Colbert mostly kept the conversation directed to the cast members and their experiences participating in the Star Wars franchise. With so much fan enthusiasm for the Sequel Trilogy actors and their characters, it seemed an odd choice to begin with Anthony Daniels and Billy Dee Williams. Although Daniels has performed Threepio in all nine saga films and Williams is the latest Original Trilogy actor to return, beginning with nostalgia rather than anticipation ran against the current of excitement in the fandom. The panel became much more entertaining once the new cast joined the stage, in large part due to the irrepressible antics of John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, although Joonas Suotamo provided his fair share of laughs, as well. As the central character in the new trilogy, Daisy Ridley had to be particularly cautious in what she said – and it was especially disappointing to watch Colbert ask her innuendo-laden questions about Kylo Ren rather than Rey’s heroism and impact on the fandom. On the other hand, the reverberating cheer of “Kelly” for Kelly Marie Tran served as a repudiation of the bullying the actress had received after The Last Jedi, reminding everyone of the positive power of Star Wars. Both new participants for Episode IX – Naomi Ackie, playing Jannah, and BB-8’s new sidekick D-O – shined in their introduction to Star Wars fans. No doubt Ackie will only increase the mayhem when the press tours for The Rise of Skywalker begin in late fall.
After the trailer ran the first time, Ian McDiarmid abruptly appeared alone on the Celebration Stage to intone “Roll it again!” in the Emperor’s voice. For fans at the stages or watching the live stream, this immediately confirmed the identity of the villain cackling in the teaser’s final seconds. While the McDiarmid surprise paid huge dividends for the fans immediately aware of it, conversations on social media and elsewhere indicated that many fans who first saw the trailer on their own, independent of Celebration coverage, were left initially uncertain of the cackle’s implications. Perhaps Lucasfilm intended that divergence in reactions, but it is a noticeable difference from the defining lines in the previous two teasers – “Chewie, we’re home” and “This isn’t going to go the way you think” – that are transparent on first impression.
Unlike previous Celebrations, fans departing the Episode IX panel did not receive a poster with teaser art for the film. The t-shirts and other promotional material made available online shortly after the panel likewise included simply the title, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, in a shade of blue to finish out the yellow and red hues of the preceding films. The poster or promotional art will come later in the year, perhaps at San Diego Comic-Con or D23.
Watch the Episode IX panel here:
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