The latest trilogy of Star Wars films will conclude with Episode IX which brings back director J.J. Abrams to close out the latest arc of the iconic sci-fi saga after helming 2015’s franchise-relaunching Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens. He directs from a script he co-wrote with Academy Award winner Chris Terrio (Argo, Justice League). The sequel trilogy’s final chapter is scheduled to hit theaters December 20, 2019. Here is everything we know so far.
A bittersweet beginning
Abrams commemorated the August 1 start of production on Episode IX with his first post on Twitter, which acknowledged the absence of franchise veteran Carrie Fisher on the set and thanked Episode VIII director Rian Johnson and Star Wars creator George Lucas for getting the saga to this point.
Bittersweet starting this next chapter without Carrie, but thanks to an extraordinary cast and crew, we are ready to go. Grateful for @rianjohnson and special thanks to George Lucas for creating this incredible world and beginning a story of which we are lucky to be a part. #IX pic.twitter.com/FOfnGwVut5
— JJ Abrams (@jjabrams) August 1, 2018
On July 27, Lucasfilm’s official Star Wars page listed the major cast list, including the big names returning and those joining anew the latest film in the franchise. And yes, that means Billy Dee Williams will officially return as the iconic Lando Calrissian, as will Mark Hamill which, for reasons we won’t specify here, may come as a surprise to some. Follow below for the official cast list:
Officially returning for Episode IX are Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, and Billie Lourd.
Joining the cast for their first Star Wars experience are Naomi Ackie (Dr. Who), Richard E. Grant, and Keri Russell. In addition, veteran Star Wars actors returning include Williams (as promised), Hamill (Luke Skywalker), and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO).
But those aren’t the only familiar faces coming back. The announcement states that the late Carrie Fisher’s character, Leia Organa, will also return for the film “using previously unreleased footage shot for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” This may come as a surprise to some following news that no CG version of Fisher’s character would be used for Episode IX (seemingly implying Leia would not return). However, Episode IX director J.J. Abrams made a statement to alleviate concerns.
“We desperately loved Carrie Fisher,” Abrams said. “Finding a truly satisfying conclusion to the Skywalker saga without her eluded us. We were never going to recast, or use a CG character. With the support and blessing from her daughter, Billie, we have found a way to honor Carrie’s legacy and role as Leia in Episode IX by using unseen footage we shot together in Episode VII.”
The decision to use previous footage obviously wasn’t an easy one to make, in a situation with no perfect way out. The film’s producers were seemingly still struggling with the decision as recently as April, when Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy indicated in an interview on Good Morning America that Fisher was no longer expected to appear in Episode IX.
A tricky new title
Star Wars films are notorious for using working titles to throw off the public and keep production costs low in terms of locations and services. Episode VI — Return of the Jedi was shot under the guise of a horror movie called Blue Harvest. Meanwhile, Episode II — Attack of the Clones poked fun at the negative response to prequel trilogy’s Gungan leader with the title Jar-Jar’s Big Adventure.
Sometimes the production title can offer clues, though they may not make sense until after the film is released. Fantha Tracks has reported that the working title for Episode IX will be trIXie. The site claims that “the same research methods and public sources were used by the same team to uncover the production names of every Disney-era Star Wars film to date.”
The Force Awakens was shot under the title AVCO, which Bleeding Cool reported was the name of the theater in Los Alamos where a young J.J. Abrams saw the first Star Wars film. So what does trIXie refer to, if anything? It appears to simply be a way to get the roman numeral for the number 9 in the title, but there could be more to it, and we will circle back when we have more information.
Following in the footsteps of the Star Wars trilogies that came before it, the current three-part story arc had its main characters separating in Episode VIII — The Last Jedi, the middle chapter of the saga (much like the characters did in Episode II — Attack of the Clones and Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back). As with those previous trilogies, though, they’re expected to reunite in the third chapter — at least, that’s what franchise actor John Boyega seems to think.
Asked about Episode IX during a convention in Washington, D.C., Boyega said he expects the film to bring together his character, Finn, with Daisy Ridley’s character, Rey. The pair has been separated since the events of Episode VII — The Force Awakens, but that period apart could be nearing its end.
“I haven’t read the script for Episode IX,” he said (via SlashFilm). “But Daisy did shoot me a text saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I just heard from J.J. [Abrams], and we’re back together.’ That’s what I’m really excited about, is Finn and Rey back together again.”
Different endings, same result?
While discussing the differences in working with Star Wars directors J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, Hamill revealed how the creator of the sci-fi saga, Lucas, planned to handle the later years of his iconic character, Luke Skywalker.
“I happen to know that George didn’t kill Luke until the end of [Episode] IX, after he trained Leia,” Hamill told IGN. “Which is another thread that was never played upon [in The Last Jedi].”
Although most of Lucas’ plans for a sequel trilogy were reportedly scrapped when Disney took over the franchise, The Last Jedi did get to a point with some of its main characters that has a lot in common with those early outlines. Luke’s death occurred one episode earlier, and Leia (Carrie Fisher) did show some aptitude with The Force in Johnson’s 2017 film.
“George had an overall arc — if he didn’t have all the details, he had sort of an overall feel for where the [sequel trilogy was] going — but this [sequel trilogy] is more like a relay race,” Hamill said of the current saga, which appears to be letting its creative teams take the over-arching events in some unexpected directions, too. “You run and hand the torch off to the next guy, he picks it up and goes.”
The rich get richer
Whatever your thoughts about Episode VIII, most can agree that it was a visually spectacular film. Scenes like the throne room saber battle and Vice Admiral Holdo’s lightspeed strike were breathtaking, thanks to some excellent art direction and production design. Now, the team for Episode IX has a new, distinguished member: Paul Inglis, who served as art director for the excellent (and gorgeous) Blade Runner 2049.
Thanks to a report from Omega Underground, we know Inglis has been tapped as the supervising art director for Episode IX, where he will work alongside Abrams and the production team to define the film’s aesthetic. Inglis’ previous credits also include Skyfall, Game of Thrones, Prometheus, and Children of Men.
A different kind of ship
Some Star Wars fans saw Rey (Ridley) and Poe (Isaac) meet in The Last Jedi and started hoping it was their meet-cute. The single scene was enough to fuel shipping rumors — so much so that Ridley had to answer a question about it during a promotional event in China. Redditor Niamor89 posted a video (via Sleemo) showing the actress discussing the two Resistance fighters’ possible romantic future. Put simply, she doesn’t really want them to have one.
“It’s wonderful to have relationships that are not romantic,” Ridley said. “I don’t think in films you always need a romantic relationship. I think friend relationships can be romantic in their gestures and their intimacy and all of that. So I think, hopefully — you know, if Rey and Poe get to have some scenes together and stuff — that there will be intimacy, but I think, for me, it doesn’t have to be romantic love.”
If that breaks your heart, know that Ridley hasn’t spoken to Abrams about it yet, so it is still possible that he has other plans.
Location on loch
The next installment of the Star Wars franchise might be headed to the highlands — the county of Argyll in the Scottish Highlands, to be precise.
A report in Scotland’s Daily Record indicates that a new Star Wars movie will begin filming in the western Scottish county of Argyll in June, with shooting expected to place in the historic mountain pass known as the Rest and Be Thankful. Although the initial report suggests that it’s Johnson’s spinoff trilogy that will be filming in Argyll, there’s almost no chance whatsoever that cameras will begin rolling on the first film in that series during 2018 — so if a Star Wars movie does indeed begin shooting in Argyll, it’s likely to be Abrams’ Episode IX.
Parent problems, redux
Although The Last Jedi seemed to offer some resolution regarding the mystery of Rey’s lineage, Johnson indicated in an interview with Huffington Post that fans might not have heard the end of that particular identity crisis.
“Anything’s still open, and I’m not writing the next film. [Abrams and Terrio] are doing it,” said Johnson while discussing the revelation about Rey’s parents that has become one of the most polarizing aspects of the film.
Their story will go on
Don’t let the description of Episode IX as a “concluding chapter” mislead you: The stars of the sequel trilogy aren’t going away.
In a November 2017 interview featured on The Star Wars Show, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy indicated that many of the main characters introduced in Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens will continue their stories in Episode IX and beyond the sequel trilogy.
“We’re sitting down now, we’re talking about the next 10 years of Star Wars stories, and we’re looking at, narratively, where that might go,” Kennedy said. “Future stories beyond Episode IX with these new characters — Rey, Poe, Finn, BB-8 — but we’re also looking at working with people who are interested in coming into the Star Wars world and taking us places we haven’t been yet. That’s exciting too because it’s a vast galaxy far, far away.”
Going back to the beginning
After original Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow exited the project in September 2017 due to creative differences with the studio, it didn’t take long for Disney and Lucasfilm to find a new filmmaker to helm the movie — and he was a familiar face to fans of the franchise.
Abrams was named the new director of the film just a week after the post was vacated, with the film’s new co-writer Terrio was also announced at that time.
“With The Force Awakens, J.J. delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for, and I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy,” Kennedy said in a statement on StarWars.com.
Given the success of Abrams’ franchise-relaunching sequel The Force Awakens, the decision to bring him back for Episode IX seems like a safe bet for the studio.
Released in 2015, The Force Awakens went on to break a slew of box office records, earning $936.6 million in U.S. theaters and more than $2 billion worldwide. It’s currently the highest-grossing movie of all time domestically, and in third place on the all-time worldwide box office charts (after Avatar and Titanic). The film also received overwhelmingly positive reviews from professional critics and fans alike, and currently ranks third (after Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strike Back and the franchise-starting Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope) and among the best-reviewed films in the franchise on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes.
Release date, updated
Not too long after Abrams was announced as the director of Episode IX, the film also received a new release date.
Star Wars: Episode IX will officially hit theaters December 20, 2019, several months later than its original release date of May 24, 2019.
The new release date has the film arriving in theaters just a week after the sequel to Wonder Woman, and on the same weekend as a live-action feature based on the popular Broadway musical Wicked. It also allows the film to carry on the tradition set by the two serialized installments of the Star Wars franchise that immediately precedes it, Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens and Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi, which were both assigned December premieres.
Updated on August 1: Added JJ Abrams’ tweet announcing the start of production on Episode IX.