CHICAGO (CBS/AP) — Star Wars fans not only learned the title of Episode IX — “The Rise of Skywalker” — at the annual fan convention on Friday, they also got a big surprise at the end of the film’s first trailer: Villain Emperor Palpatine is back.
Director J.J. Abrams has kept a tight lid on details surrounding the plot of “The Rise of Skywalker,” including its title, so Friday’s trailer release at Star Wars Celebration at McCormick Place was fans’ first look at footage from the final installment of the Skywalker family saga that started with George Lucas’ original “Star Wars” in 1977.
Featuring a voiceover from Mark Hammil as Luke Skywalker, the trailer focused mostly on actress Daisy Ridley’s character, Rey, the main character of the sequel trilogy that started with “The Force Awakens” in 2015, and continued with “The Last Jedi” in 2017.
In the trailer, as Rey faces off against a TIE Interceptor in the desert, Luke tells her: “We’ve passed on all we know. A thousand generations live in you now.”
The biggest surprise of the trailer, however, is the ending, as Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, C-3PO, BB-8, and Chewbacca look out over the wreckage of the second Death Star, and Luke says “No one’s ever really gone,” before the audience hears the cackling laugh of Emperor Palpatine, the villain from the original and prequel trilogies.
Iam McDiarmid, the actor who plays Emperor Palpatine, appeared on stage at McCormick Place after the trailer ended.
A couple other familiar faces also will be returning for Episode IX — Billy Dee Williams will reprise his role as Lando Calrissian, and the late Carrie Fisher will appear as General Leia Organa Solo, through flashbacks and unused footage from Episodes VII and VIII.
“Princess Leia lives in this film in way that is mind-blowing to me,” Abrams said.
Abrams was joined on stage at the event by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and actors and droids alike including Ridley, Oscar Isaac (Poe), John Boyega (Finn), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), newcomer Naomi Ackie, who plays a character named Jannah, Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and Williams.
“How did I find Lando again?” Williams said. “Lando never left me.”
“Star Wars” superfan Stephen Colbert moderated the panel, doing his best to get the tight-lipped cast and creators to reveal anything about the film. Although no one cracked under pressure, Abrams did reveal some previously known details, like the fact that “The Rise of Skywalker” will pick up “some time” after the events of “The Last Jedi.”
“This is an adventure that the group goes on together,” he teased, although he wouldn’t reveal whether or not that meant the group on stage or some other combination.
“This movie is about this new generation and what they’ve inherited, the light and the dark,” Abrams added. “As they face this greatest evil, are they prepared?”
Besides Hamill, another person who wasn’t in attendance was Kylo Ren actor Adam Driver, who as the son of Han Solo and Leia is the only known Skywalker left.
When prodded about what will happen with the complex relationship between Kylo and Rey, Ridley demurred, “I guess the Kylo and Rey thing, we’ll have to see.”
She added: “I think I can confirm there are no more semi-naked Kylos.” That’s a reference to the scenes of a shirtless Driver in “The Last Jedi” that surprised fans.
Although fans are salivating for any morsel of information, the panelists stayed as vague as possible, and kept things light-hearted debating questions like “who’s a better pilot: Poe or Han” and even taking a break so that the audience could sing an unprompted Happy Birthday to Ridley, who turned 27 on Wednesday.
Kennedy, quoting George Lucas, said however that “Episode IX” is indeed the third act of a three-act structure.
But, predictably, there are still more questions than answers when it comes to “The Rise of Skywalker,” especially what will come after.
The Lucasfilm and Disney collaboration has proved to be a lucrative one since Disney purchased the company in 2012 for $4 billion. Disney’s first two “Star Wars” films, “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” and its spinoffs, “Rogue One” and “Solo,” have already grossed more than $4.8 billion at the worldwide box office.
As of now, there is a future for “Star Wars” on the big screen, but details are sparse and dates are non-existent. “The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson is working on a new “Star Wars” trilogy and “Game of Thrones” showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are also at work on a “movie series.”
Lucasfilm is expanding its small screen universe too beyond “The Clone Wars” with the Jon Favreau-directed series “The Mandalorian,” which will be available on Disney’s streaming service, DisneyPlus, when it launches on Nov. 12, and there will be a “Rogue One” spinoff series focused on Diego Luna’s character Cassian Andor. With the company’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment properties, too, Lucas’ original trilogy and prequels will also be available on the service.
But who’s got time to think about the future when there are over two minutes of brand new footage from “The Rise of Skywalker” to dissect?
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)