Star Wars Celebration's main event in underway. On Friday morning, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and director J.J. Abrams arrived in Chicago to unveil new details about the as-yet untitled Star Wars: Episode IX. Surprise host Stephen Colbert walked on stage to introduce the panel's guests.
"Hello, Star Wars Celebration!" he cried to screams of approval. He joked that he isn't actually in the room, but instead Force-projecting himself to the audience.
"40 years in, more expansive and diverse than ever... any of us can imagine being that young kid on Tatooine..." he said. He recalled how Abrams called him up and invited him to the Episode IX set, which means he "knows things" -- and that's what makes him well-suited to host this panel.
"The thing I think about all the time is the responsibility we have, and we have it with all of you and it's something that we talk about every minute that we're involved in making this movies, and this one in particular," Kennedy shared. "We've immersed ourselves in everything George [Lucas] created... We're so excited. We think what you ended up seeing, you're going to be incredibly excited, and this guy sitting next to me [Abrams] cares about it more than anyone I know."
"The thing is, at this stage, we've been in that focused cave of the editors' room," Abrams explained. He went on to say that the reality of what they're working on didn't seem real until they got to this panel.
"We're editing and we're doing visual effects," he added. "The directing doesn't stop... The process continues, and so we're editing and things are going pretty well so far."
"It has to feel like it's of its time, and I think that what we've done is that we've taken to heart everything that inspired George," Kennedy said. "I think everything J.J. has brought to it has given it depth."
"This movie is about this new generation and what they've inherited, the light and the dark," Abrams explained. He added that it will test these characters: "Are they prepared?"
As to Carrie Fisher and her recent passing, Abrams said, "We couldn't, and as Chris Terrio... we all talked about how to move on. I mean, she was the best. She was glorious. She was amazing. We all just loved her... She was the greatest. It was impossible.... You don't recast that part, and you don't suddenly make her disappear."
"The idea of having a CGI character was off the table. We didn't even consider it," he explained. "Emotionally, every day, it hits me that she's not here. But it's so surreal, because we're working with her still... She is there, in these scenes, and some scenes with Billie [Lourd] her daughter... Princess Leia lives in this movie in a way that's kind of mind-blowing to me."
"What I will say is that the movie doesn't pick up immediately after the last film. Some time has gone by," Abrams teased. "This is an adventure that the group goes on together, and it's a story that I think, one of the great things about the movie getting to work on is the dynamic between the characters. They are just the most wonderful together."
Colbert welcomed C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels to the stage. Sitting next to Kennedy, he thanked fans from all over the world for their continued support and excitement about the franchise. "Being 3PO has all sorts of parameters, but I love the guy," he joked. "I regard 3PO as my best friend in many ways, and I would want a best friend who cares for me the way 3PO does."
Colbert brought up the fact that Daniels has a memoir set to be announced tomorrow. However, his editor rejected his initial suggestion for a title. "They said you would never understand," he said, revealing that he wanted to call it Telling the Odds.
Lando Calrissian actor Billy Dee Williams then entered the stage to an explosion of applause. "You're all so sweet," he greeted the audience. "You know, I'm a very lucky person... I didn't expect to be in this little adventure. I got lucky and I ended up working with somebody that I have a tremendous regard for: J.J. Abrams. I love this man. He's a beautiful young man. He's extraordinary. I've been doing this for a long time -- I think 60 years I've been doing this, and I've been fortunate enough to work with some pretty extraordinary people in my lifetime... I regard this as a real highlight."
Asked if it was hard to find the character of Lando again, Williams said, "Lando never left me. He's still there! He's still hanging in there."
Abrams recalled Williams' first day on set. Williams entered the set during a group scene, and the whole cast fell silent at the sight of him. "Oh my god, can you believe this happening?" Kennedy recalled.
"When you're doing this kind of stuff, this acting stuff, to really have an opportunity to work with some really extraordinary people. I really enjoy it more than just make it money. Don't get me wrong, I love making money," he said with a laugh. "Just being able to hang out and play around with ideas with people like you and J.J..."
Colbert asked Williams to explain Lando's choices in Empire Strikes Back. "When you're in a situation, especially when you're up against someone like Darth Vader, and you own [what is essentially] Las Vegas... and you have this kind of threat... I have to explain this stuff to people. I don't understand why! I get sick and tired of being accused of betraying Han Solo. It's like first person singular. All of a sudden, it's like I'm talking about me instead of Lando Calrissian... but did anybody die?"
Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Naomi Ackie and BB-8 himself then took the stage.
Ackie recalled the day she got the part in Episode IX. "I was in bed. I got the call at like 7 o'clock in the morning. My best friend was sleeping downstairs and my dad was in the house and I, like, yelped... and my dad ran up the stairs... I openly sobbed... My dad telling me to shush because I was talking too loud." Of course, she couldn't tell her friend, because Lucasfilm wanted her roles under wraps.
She announced her character is called Jannah.
Colbert addressed the rumor that Ackie plays Lando's daughter. "Lando is a very charming man, so he could have children all over the universe," she said.
"I think Finn has just found his footing and his identity in the Resistance," Boyega revealed, adding that Finn is "a full-fledged, sexy member of the Resistance."
Asked if Finn would get closure on Phasma, Boyega teased, "Emotional closure, sure. I don't think about her at night and stuff... Phasma, yeah, she dead." He said Finn will be settled in his identity and his family and love.
Colbert posed a controversial question to Isaac: Is Han Solo or Poe Dameron the better pilot? x"No one can pilot the Falcon like Han. But Poe... he can fly anything. Poe is like the Uber driver," Isaac said diplomatically.
As to whether or not Poe can take anything seriously, Isaac said, "I think he takes his love for Finn very seriously. He's a human! He has no special powers. Yeah, he's a great pilot, but he's only human," he explained. As such, Poe finds humor in the darkest moments; Isaac called this his Force-like ability.
Ridley addressed whether or not she read the Jedi texts. "Those books are pretty large. She may have gotten started," she teased. "It's been a long while."
Asked about the state of Rey's lightsaber, Ridley said, "Well, my answer is not the end of the story... but the lightsaber that Rey inherited from Luke lives."
When asked if Rey will get more powers, Ridley passed the question to Abrams. "So the extraordinary things that the character and Daisy did in this movie... and some of the things, you know, we don't want to say in the moment... We had the most incredible stunt coordinator, who was just the greatest. She did remarkable work," he teased. "Some of the things you allude to, yes, there are some other things."
"I guess the Kylo and Rey thing, we'll have to wait and see," Ridley said. "I think I can confirm there are no more semi-naked Kylos."
Asked if Rose will kiss Finn again, Tran said, "Listen, all I'm going to say is Finn is a very eligible bachelor, just like John Boyega." She also offered an update on where Rose was at the end of The Last Jedi: "She was in a coma. Yeah. Asleep. Taking a rest. I would like to do that too."
Abrams praised Johnson's work on The Last Jedi and said casting Tran "was the greatest thing" Johnson did.
Suotamo thanked original Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew for paving the way for him to play the role. "For me, playing Chewbacca is sort of a duty at this point, because when I was sitting on our living room carpet, wide-eyed, and watched the saga start," Suotamo recalled. "I was sure that, in this world, there's a place for everyone... no matter how big or small you are, there's a place for you in this world."
"We had a crew there prepping for months prior to us arriving, and then we shot for about three weeks," Kennedy said of filming in Jordan.
"We had 100s of people in incredible costumes... we had incredible creates... to be there with literally 100s of people in the heat... but we got through it and finished ahead of schedule," Abrams added.
"There's a fun character who just appears whose name is Kled," he revealed. "When we did Episode VII, there was no way to top creatures that had been created... It's incredible thing, what they've made, what they've built."
"In this movie, BB-8 has a new friend. Want to meet him? This is D0. This is yet another incredible collaboration... the creature and robots team on the movie. When we had the film, we never had D0 exist quite this way," Abrams revealed. "It's amazing what Celebration makes these geniuses do. This was really built for you."
After the trailer rolled, Ian McDiarmid appeared on stage and unleashed his famous Emperor Palpatine laugh. "Roll it again," he said, and the trailer played once more.
Directed and co-written by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: Episode IX stars Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Billie Lourd, Keri Russell, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams and Carrie Fisher, with Naomi Ackie and Richard E. Grant. The film arrives December 20.