The mood at the D23 Expo panel discussion for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ricocheted between chest-thumping enthusiasm and wistfulness for the end of an era. Now, just two days after Disney released new footage onstage, the two-minute teaser has wound its way online.
In Anaheim, the movie’s writer-director, J.J. Abrams, and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy were on hand to remind the 7,000 superfans packed into the convention center’s biggest hall that this third installment in the latest Star Wars trilogy represents the culmination of a filmic body that spans over four decades and includes two spinoff stand-alone prequels. But on the heels of the toxic fan revolt that greeted 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the filmmakers’ — and later, primary cast members’ — repeated assertions that fans were going to exude joy over what they will see come December 20 when Skywalker reaches screens also seemed something of a hedge — a kind of cinematic grooming to ensure people entered theaters thinking happy thoughts.
“I’ve known J.J. since he was about 15, when he started making movies,” Kennedy said. “With bringing J.J. into Star Wars, and what he’s done for this franchise and [his being] such a fan himself, he makes the entire experience a good time. This movie is an incredibly good time.” Strong words from a film executive more renowned for firing directors than for her cheery enthusiasm.
Added Anthony Daniels, the actor who has portrayed C-3PO since the original 1977 Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope: “It’s kind of hard for me to understand that the story is ending. But what an ending. I cannot wait for you to share what we’ve all been doing all these months under J.J. — you’ll love it.”
Abrams and Kennedy were joined onstage by much of Skywalker’s primary cast: Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Billy Dee Williams, Daniels, and new cast members Keri Russell and Naomi Ackie (as well as R2-D2). The director and Russell’s working relationship of course goes back to Felicity, the late-’90s–early-’00s TV series Abrams co-created and on which Russell starred.
She revealed new details about Zorri Bliss, her character in Episode IX, about which little has been publicly known up until this point. “The main thing, my son actually thinks I’m cool now,” Russell said, as a photo of Zorri flashed on screens in the hall. “I had this amazing costume and this helmet that I loved to wear and didn’t take it off for the first two days. Zorri is very cool and a little shady. She’s kind of a criminal and sort of this old friend of Poe’s.”
Joked Isaac, who plays maverick fighter pilot Poe Dameron in the latest trilogy: “We all have a past, right? Baby, we were young. Everybody was experimenting.”
“Not everybody,” said a theatrically disgruntled Boyega.
Abrams revealed that he was “not supposed to direct the movie” but was enlisted by Kennedy to salvage Skywalker after Carrie Fisher’s death in 2016 — her Princess Leia character comprises “the heart of the movie.” “We realized we could not possibly tell the end of these nine films without Leia,” he said. “We realized we had footage from [Star Wars: Episode] VII that we can use so Carrie gets to be in the film … [When] we realized we could use the footage, we were on our way.”
The panel ended with an exclusive sizzle reel in which we discover the extent to which Ridley’s character Rey has progressed with the Force. She is shown looking characteristically fierce in a black hood, wielding a double-ended red lightsaber, and apparently now has cultivated the ability to throw her blue (single) saber like a boomerang — it slices across space and through trees only to return to her waiting grasp. The footage concludes with what is sure to be an epic saber battle between Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren atop a rusting metal jetty.