The story of the Skywalker family ends December 20th, and in front of a cheering, lightsaber-waving crowd at Chicago’s Star Wars Celebration convention Friday morning, director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy finally announced the title of the final film in the saga: Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. The revelation came via the film’s teaser trailer, which also included a shock: the voice of the Emperor, played by Ian McDiarmid, who showed up onstage in person at its conclusion – “Roll it again,” he growled.
The event’s surprise host, to the crowd’s delight, was Stephen Colbert. “Am I really at this panel right now?” asked Colbert, noting he was there at the request of Abrams. “Isn’t it just as likely that I’m in the lotus position on the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theater, Force-projecting myself?”
Abrams revealed that “some time has gone by” in the narrative since the end of Last Jedi, which left the Resistance greatly diminished. “It’s about an adventure that the group has together,” he hinted.
Billy Dee Williams, who will return as Lando Calrissian for the first time since the original trilogy, was on hand for the announcement, strutting to his seat despite using a cane. Colbert asked Williams how he “found Lando again.” “Lando never left me,” Williams replied, as fans roared. He also got laughs defending his character’s betrayal of Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back: “I was up against Darth Vader,” he said. “I had to figure something out.”
Also on hand were cast members Anthony Daniels, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo and newcomer Naomi Ackie – who, it was hinted, may play Lando’s daughter. (R2-D2 and BB-8 both rolled around the stage as well, along with a new droid from the film who looks like a bicycle wheel with a backwards megaphone on top.). Ridley turned 27 on the day of the announcement, and the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to her.
The movie will also star Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson and Billie Lourd, along with new cast members Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell. Mark Hamill also returns, despite the fate of Luke Skywalker at the end of Episode VIII. Abrams directed the first chapter of the new trilogy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and returned for the third, after Rian Johnson directed Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
“This movie is about this new generation, and what they’ve inherited,” Abrams said. “The light and the dark.” The movie is in the editing and visual-effects phase. “I think what you’re gonna end up seeing, you’re going to be so happy with,” Kennedy promised. As with Force Awakens, Abrams did his best to have as many real-life locations as possible, in lieu of CGI environments.
One of the most fraught issues in Episode IX is the loss of Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa, who died before the release of Last Jedi. “You don’t recast that part,” says Abrams. “And you don’t have her disappear.” He confirmed reports that the film will utilize unused scenes shot with her from Force Awakens, with scenes written around them. “She is there in these scenes, and in some scenes with her daughter. Princess Leia lives in this film in a way that’s kind of mind-blowing for me.”
Episode IX will, of course, not be the end of Star Wars movies – Disney is planning more, with other casts of characters, but has yet to reveal any details beyond the facts that Rian Johnson is working on a possible new trilogy, as are Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. The timeline is unclear, however: Disney CEO Robert Iger recently told Bloomberg that the franchise will take a “hiatus” from the big screen following Episode IX.
“We will take a pause, some time, and reset, because the Skywalker saga comes to an end with this ninth movie,” Iger said. “There will be other Star Wars movies, but there will be a bit of a hiatus. We have not announced any specific plans for movies thereafter. There are movies in development, but we have not announced them.”
Despite the big-screen break, a number of Star Wars television projects, including The Mandolarian and Cassian Andor, will debut later this year on the Disney+ streaming service.