After a surprising (and surprisingly emotional) 40th anniversary panel yesterday, today Disney looked to the future — specifically “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” the second “saga film” since Disney bought Lucasfilm back in 2012 and the first since “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” made pretty much all the money in the galaxy (and made the whole world get excited about the franchise again after the abysmal prequels drained the series’ collective goodwill). Considering the fact that the movie opens in December and we haven’t gotten so much as a teaser trailer (more on that in a minute), the panel was illuminating, warm, and did much to stoke fans’ excitement. What’s also interesting is that the panel was scheduled to be 30 minutes longer, but was abruptly cut short. It’s unclear what that extra allotted time was for, but whatever it was, we didn’t see it. But hey, the Force works in mysterious ways.
1. It Was Hosted by Daisy Ridley’s #1 Troll
The panel began with a montage of Josh Gad‘s Instagram videos wherein he harasses Daisy Ridley (his co-star in the upcoming “Murder On The Orient Express“) with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” questions (a series of videos that have become more elaborate and annoying as they’ve gone on). After that, Gad took the stage, saying, “I remember skipping an entire day of school to camp out for ‘Phantom Menace.'” He also did the marathon of the films at the El Capitan theater in Los Angeles in preparation for ‘The Force Awakens.’ “We have questions, they have answers!” he exclaimed, before introducing director Rian Johnson and producer Kathleen Kennedy. Later, when Ridley finally took the stage, he launched into a fresh series of attack questions: “Are you and Luke related by blood? Are you a Skywalker? Is your name Rey Skywalker? Is your name Rey Kenobi?” That last one, she noted, was a popular theory.
2. Kathleen Kennedy is Thankful for ‘Rogue One’
Obviously the shooting of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the first standalone film in the series’ history, was a huge pain in the ass, with script difficulties, tonal issues, massive reshoots, and multiple rewrites. But the movie is fucking good. And Kennedy seems galvanized by the response. “First of all, I want to say we took a big risk last year when we did ‘Rogue One,'” Kennedy said, before anything else. “And I want to thank every single one of you for showing up and really showing us a lot of love. It gives us the confidence to keep going in that direction.” That was heartening, given the clear battles that took place on that film, and the generally weirder direction ‘The Last Jedi’ is presumed to take under Johnson’s direction.
3. Rian Johnson’s Interaction with Fans Helps Soothe His Nerves
When asked about taking something like ‘The Last Jedi’ on, Johnson admitted, “It’s really scary.” But what has helped is his interaction with the huge fan base. Last night, he met with fans who were camped out overnight to get into the panel, winding his way through the massive line and shaking people’s hands. “Feeling the positivity, feeling the encouragement, just meeting you guys and getting to know you a little bit…” He concluded by saying: “Thank you. This is the best fan family in the world. Thank you.”
4. ‘The Last Jedi’ is Almost Done
When asked about how far along in the process he is, Johnson said that he’s moving well enough along. “We’re in post-production,” he explained. “We’re still editing, but we’re very far along.” In other words, barring some unforeseen calamity, don’t expect any post-production horror stories like the ones that plagued ‘Rogue One.’
5. Everyone Loves Rian Johnson
At the end of the panel, you got the impression that a) the movie is going to be very, very good; and b) everyone on this production loves Rian Johnson. Earlier in the panel, Kennedy said that he’s “on his way to being one of the best filmmakers I’ve worked with.” In particular, she praised his ability to write female characters. “He writes amazingly fierce and independent women,” Kennedy gushed. “And he’s got a great sense of humor, which is really important to ‘Star Wars.'” (Johnson demurred, whispering loud enough for his microphone to hear, “Thank you, Kathy. That means so much.”) Later, when Mark Hamill took the stage, he was even more effusive. “Rian came out to my house to discuss the script and we spent several hours. I said, ‘We had a beginning, a middle, and an end, I don’t want to tempt fate. We can’t catch lighting in a bottle over again,'” Hamill said. “I said I was terrified and he said, ‘So am I.’ And I knew that was a director I can love.” Hamill went on: “With this experience, he’s rocketed to the top of my list of all-time favorite directors. He was my seeing-eye dog. All I knew was, if Rian’s happy, I’m happy. I turned my performance over to Rian. I knew if he was satisfied I got it right.” From the footage of Hamill we saw in the trailer, it looks like Johnson was very happy.
6. Carrie Fisher is Very Much a Part of This Movie
When Kennedy mentioned Johnson’s ability to write strong female characters, it was clear that she was referring to both characters that were introduced in this movie (more on those in a minute) and those that were already a part of the franchise, chief among them General Leia (played by the late, great Carrie Fisher). “Carrie is remarkable in the movie. What Rian wrote and the performance she ends up giving, I think you guys are going to find that an amazing tribute to her talent,” Kennedy said. Johnson seemed genuinely choked up by having to talk about her. They seemed to form a tight bond while making the film. “I love her so much,” Johnson said. “I connected with her first and foremost as a writer. She’s a brilliant writer, has an incredible mind, and I’d go to her house and sit on her bed and go for hours going through the script. It was like free jazz. I would scribble on my script everything she said. And she remembered it all.” Fisher was an incredible writer and Johnson bringing her into the process on this movie is heartening indeed.