The WinTrust Arena adjacent to the McCormick Place where Star Wars Celebration Chicago resides this year started filling up hours before the highly anticipated Episode IX Panel Presentation was to start this morning. The buzz and excitement from the fans and press (also fans) that populated the event was obvious, as tweets and live streaming began. After all, this is where and when everyone assumed Lucasfilm head and Star Wars producer Kathleen Kennedy would unveil a title and teaser trailer for the final chapter in the Skywalker saga, which will be arriving just in time for Christmas.
The murmurs in the press section where primarily about guessing who will fill the eleven chairs positioned across the Celebration stage. Kennedy and director J.J. Abrams are a given, but who else? Daisy Ridley? John Boyega? Oscar Isaac? Will Adam Driver and Keri Russell (one of the new additions to the cast) take a break from their Broadway production of “Burn This” for an appearance? Will old favorites, like Anthony Daniels and Billy Dee Williams, who are already here this weekend, sit alongside the rest of the cast?
Of course, there were many other Episode IX questions leading up to this presentation. We know Abrams has incorporated the late Carrie Fisher into the movie using previous Leia footage from “The Force Awakens,” but just how will that work and how will this iconic character be presented in what is presumably her last time on screen? Will Abrams talk about any changes he and co-writer Chris Terio made as they continued from Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi”? How long after “The Last Jedi” does this new movie take place – hours, months, years? How are new additions Matt Smith and Richard E. Grant playing? Will this episode definitively close out the Skywalker saga?
Those questions and more would linger as the excitement increased and fans were subjected (or entertained, depending on your point of view) to the musical musings of DJ Elliot, who threw down various EDM tunes – a highlight was playing Weird Al Yankovic’s “The Saga Begins,” which was released twenty years ago to coincide with “The Phantom Menace”.
Forty-five minutes before the actual presentation, the always entertaining Warwick Davis walked out to address us and let everyone know what else would be happening on this stage today and the rest of the weekend. Davis has graced the stage of Star Wars Celebration for twenty years now, when the convention started in Denver, Colorado. He is very gracious and quite hilarious as he goes into the audience, interacting with fans (especially children) in and out of costume, especially Ewoks.
And then the moment we all waited for arrived…after an extensive Q&A in which host Stephen Colbert discussed what he could about the new movie with the likes of Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, and Naomi Ackie (playing a mysterious new character named Jannah or is it Jana or Jannah – they didn’t spell out these new names on the screen!), along with R2 and BB-8…
Colbert closed the Q&A panel by briefly sharing how he saw “A New Hope” three weeks before any of us when he was a boy a long, long time ago. Then he handed the mic over to J.J. who asked us all if we wanted to see a trailer. Of course, he knew our riotous answer.