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  • Writer's pictureRich Romasanta

Star Wars Celebration: The Episode IX Panel

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Hello friends! Among the barrage of news from the Disney camp about Disney Plus, it may be easy to forget that a little event called Star Wars Celebration is going on in Chicago.

Lucky for us, I was able to attend the biggest Star Wars Convention in the world so I can share it all with you!

Star Wars Celebration isn’t held in the same place each time. Last year it was held in Orlando, Florida, London, England for the one prior and Anaheim California the year before that. This year my home town of Chicago, Illinois is playing host. So, of course, I had to go see it in the city I was born!

Celebration is a 5 day event, from Thursday April 11th to Monday April 15th. Thursday was more a preview day while Friday is the official first day.

Upon arriving we were ushered through security as we made our way to the WinTrust Arena for the first panel which was about Episode IX and sort of the kick off to the party.

In line, we were given a few surprises. One was an Episode IX beanie, because, hey, it’s really really cold.

This came in handy to help keep my hands warm because I didn’t have pockets on my jacket. Later, we learned that these were a gift from JJ Abrams himself! Further down the line, we were given these Happy Meal boxes provided by McDonlad’s. Inside was a hamburger, fries and apple slices… sadly no toy. The food was appreciated though.

Once we claimed our seats, we set ourselves in for a few hours wait. There was a DJ playing some tunes and then about 40 minutes before showtime, Warwick Davis, who many know as Wicket the Ewok, came out to greet the crowd. He wizzed around the floor greeting audience members.

After Warwick left the stage, they brought up a bunch of little girls who were sporting Stormtrooper shirts, then they brought up Samantha Alleyne who is the first Female Stormtrooper in the Star Wars films and played one in all the Disney Era Star Wars movies including Episode IX.

Next up was Showtime!

They brought up the host, Late Night’s very own Stephen Cobert! It’s no secret that Stephen is a big Star Wars fan, so it made sense.

He warmed up the crowd with his Star Wars twinged jokes and then brought up his first guests, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and Episode VII and IX director JJ Abrams.

They shared their experiences in making the movie while showing some stills from the production. JJ also spoke about incorporating Carrie Fisher into the movie using unused footage and how they built a story around those scenes.

Next up they brought up R2-D2 and Anthony Daniels, Threepio himself. Anthony has been in every single Skywalker Saga film including Rogue One playing Threepio in all but Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Next, they brought out Lando Calrissian, Billy Dee Williams, to a roar of the crowd. He definitely is still the king of smooth. We also got a first glimpse of his look in the movie which harkens back to the outfit Donald Glover wore in Solo. Was a great moment for everyone there.

After Billy charmed the crowd by letting everyone know that Lando never left him, they brought out the next gen cast members, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, and the newest castmember, Naomi Ackie… and of course BB-8!

Stephen first spoke with Naomi and asked about where she was when she got the part. She was in bed, told her dad, but had to kept her voice down so her friend who was downstairs wouldn’t hear because she wasn’t supposed to tell anyone… except her dad, which she apologized to JJ for.

We then saw a glimpse of her character while Stephen tried to confirm that her character, Jannah, is Lando’s daughter, but of course she couldn’t confirm…. But she didn’t deny it either!

John Boyega was excited that he finally felt he was an official part of Star Wars after he finally gets his own costume… and not one inherited from another character.

Oscar Isaac was asked who was the better pilot, him or Han. He answered the only way he could. No one can fly the Falcon better than Han… but Poe is a good Uber driver. He also commented on Poe’s love for Finn.

Daisy was asked about the broken lightsaber, and she did reveal that the lightsaber still lives and she confirmed that there is a good time jump between The Last Jedi and Episode IX and that Rey probably had time to flip through the pages of the Jedi texts she took from the tree. We also got to see her costume for the movie which resembles her Jakku outfit but more white and with a hood… because what is a Jedi without a hood?

She was also asked about Kylo and whether or not we have more visions of topless Kylo. She said no more semi-naked Kylo, but Oscar chimed in, only fully naked, because they had to step it up.

The next moment was really really great. Stephen started speaking to Kelly Marie Tran which caused the audience to stand up and applaud, which caused her to shed a few happy tears. JJ said that he was grateful for what Rian Johnson did in Episode VIII which led into Episode IX, but that the greatest gift was “casting Kelly Marie.”

Joonas Suotamo, straight off the Wrigley Field where he threw out the first pitch the day before, greeted us with some Shriiwook, the language the Wookies, and had the crowd give it up to his mentor, Peter Mayhew. He explained that Chewy represents the notion that anyone big or small can fit into the world. He also shared some photos of him on set with his son who was not afraid of Chewbacca.

JJ then showed off a few new aliens including a shot of his childhood friend Greg Grunberg as Snap Wexley with a slug looking creature.

Lastly, BB-8 wanted to introduce his buddy D/O. another small droid who wheeled around on stage. Looking like a cross between a unicycle and the Pixar lamp, he looked like BB-8’s pet. It as great seeing R2, BB-8 and D/0 on stage.

At this point, it was trailer time and, oh man, what a way to see it. The room got dark. There was a brief moment of silence then a roar of applause as the Lucasfilm logo came up.

You can watch it here:

The crowd went nuts… well almost the whole time, but notably.. when Rey flips over the tie fighter, Kylo’s mask, Lando in the Falcon, Leia hugging Rey, the wreckage of the Death Star, the Emperor’s cackle and of course the moment that The Rise of Skywalker was revealed in the middle of the Blue Star Wars logo.

When the lights came back up, Ian McDiarmid walked on stage. The crowd went wild and, in Palpatine’s voice, he said, “Roll it again.” And they played the trailer again

Being in that room fills you with electricity. All the negative energy that Star Wars fandom seems to exude online disappears and everyone in that arena is your family and shares your love of Star Wars. You all get emotional about the same things, you all cheer at the same moments and the joy and anticipation is palpable. While, I still think the “Chewie, we’re home” moment was slightly better during the Celebration in Anaheim a few years ago, this was a pretty close second.

Stay tuned, I’ll be bringing you some images from the show floor, some cosplayers and I’ll be cutting together some footage from the floor. Oh, and I’ll be at the Galaxy’s Edge panel about the new land in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and I’ll also be attending the Jedi: Fallen Jedi panel about the upcoming video game.

See you soon!

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