On Friday, Star Wars fans from around the world gathered in chilly Chicago for Star Wars Celebration’s main event: the Episode IX panel. Expectations were high that we’d finally learn the title of the movie (we did!) and see the first trailer (check). But, beyond that, no one really knew quite what to expect. (This panel took place in an actual sports arena, where the DePaul basketball team plays. It was very crowded.)
It was kind of a concert atmosphere. Everyone was piled in early, entertained by the opening acts, which included a C+C Music Factory playing DJ and the comedy stylings of Warwick Davis. (That’s not a joke, Davis is legit hilarious. I wish he had his own television show where he could discuss non-Star Wars related topics.)
Anyway, yes, we did, finally get our trailer and title and, we found, it was full of surprises.
Stephen Colbert hosted the festivities with Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, and most of the cast in attendance. Notably absent was Adam Driver, who just kind of seems like he’s taking the “Harrison Ford, I don’t like all this much anymore,” attitude to a new level. Like Ford, I suspect in 30 some years he’ll come around. (Jokes aside, Driver is currently starring in a Broadway show, which is the technical reason why he wasn’t there.) And thank goodness Colbert was there, because, unsurprisingly, no one said much of anything. But Colbert is great at turning these moments into at least something entertaining. (For most of the proceedings, poor Billy Dee Williams had a look on his face that read something like, “What on Earth have I gotten myself into?”)
Look, I am not a panel person. I don’t love being around crowds cheering for speeches and footage, but the whole thing won me over, even in the press section. Especially the crowd’s reaction to Kelly Marie Tran, who had such a rough time on social media with dark portions of fandom during The Last Jedi, she seemed legitimately emotional during the rousing applause. And it was classy movie for J.J. Abrams to add that Rian Johnson casting her was the best gift Johnson gave him from the previous film.
It is always weird when a new title is released. We know it’s this thing we will be saying over and over the rest of our lives, but right now it’s brand new. The Rise of Skywalker! What does it mean? Honestly, probably nothing obvious. (I still don’t believe J.J. Abrams is going to retcon one of the best scenes of The Last Jedi and all of a sudden make Rey a Skywalker. It will mean something else!)
In the trailer, not only do we see Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian flying the Millennium Falcon again (I may have made an audible noise at that point), but we also heard the unmistakable laughter of Emperor Palpatine. Okay, this I like. If the Sequel Trilogy was missing anything, it was some sort of overreaching evil that ties it all together. The First Order is just kind of “lesser Empire,” so having the evilest character back in some capacity gives this whole thing more gravitas. Plus, Ian McDiarmid has always been so great as Palpatine. And to drive this home, they put him on stage after the trailer, ordering it to be played again in his “Emperor voice.”