Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams discuss Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’s title, that big trailer surprise

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Finally, after months of using Episode IX, we finally know what the next Star Wars movie is going to be called and boy it’s a doozy! Revealed with the awesome first trailer at Star Wars Celebration last Friday, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will be the final chapter in the Skywalker saga started with creator George Lucas back in 1977 before Star Wars movies go on a bit of a hiatus. With the production being as secretive as it is, the title has already sparked huge debate online as fans try to unearth any clue they can.

For some though, the title is kind of crap, as it appears to imply possible undoing the work of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. In that film we saw the fall and death of Luke Skywalker after the former Jedi Master failed Kylo Ren, we saw Kylo aka Ben Solo (Han and Leia’s son) ascend to the head of the First Order on his own terms rather than as a Darth Vader wannabe, and we also Rey discover her parents were nobodies instead of the big reveal that she was secretly a Skywalker that some had been expecting. Exactly which of these Skywalkers will be rising and why?

Entertainment Tonight had these exact same questions and outright asked director/co-writer JJ Abrams about the title and why they picked something that alluded to so many controversial decisions.

Well, the title feels like it’s the right title for this movie. I know it’s provocative and asks a bunch of questions but when you see the movie you’ll see how it was intended and what it means. But in the flow of titles this title had a very big responsibility, it had to be the end of not only three movies, but nine movies. The idea of incorporating the movies that come before strangely is the story of the movie. It’s the characters in the film inheriting everything that’s come before in previous generations, whether it’s the sins of the father or the wisdom that they’ve acquired, and the question is, is this new generation up to the task, can they stand up to what they have to. So in a way, we came to this movie having inherited a lot, and the question can we do it is a question we ask ourselves everyday.

Chatting to Yahoo Entertainment’s Kevin Polowy, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy echoed Abrams’ sentiment, saying that the title “doesn’t answer anything”.

It’s provocative, it asks questions, and it could mean a lot of different things and I think that’s what was important to us. We didn’t want to have a title that felt like it was telling you the story. At the same time, it needs to feel emotional, which is a challenge to try to figure out what that might be. And I think the word Skywalker, it’s captured all 40 years of what’s gone before.

Of course the title reveal wasn’t the only big surprise at the end of Star Wars: Episode IX panel as an iconic laugh played out in the closing seconds of the trailer. That laugh belonged to none other than Emperor Palpatine, with actor Ian McDiarmid appearing on stage after the trailer finished rolling confirming that somehow the Emperor was back even though we had seen him die on screen nearly 40 years ago in Return of the Jedi. And according to Kennedy this has been in the works for quite some time now.

This has been in the blueprint for a long time, yeah. We had not landed on exactly how we might do that, but yes, it was always [to be in Episode IX].

What’s rather interesting about Kennedy’s claim though, is that it runs a bit counter to what Abrams himself has said on previous occasions, which is that there wasn’t a big, carefully laid, overarching plan for the film trilogy. Each filmmaker handling each of the respective chapters had their own ideas which they would just hand off to the next person in the line to take in their own direction. Abrams wasn’t even supposed to helm Episode IX originally, as Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow had been tapped for the gig originally. It was only when Trevorrow’s other films tanked hard and he started looking less and less like an appealing choice that Abrams was brought back and had to pick up where Rian Johnson left off.

Though it could be that when Abrams, Kennedy and the rest of the Star Wars Story Group originally brainstormed a new trilogy back before the release of The Force Awakens in 2015, they had the vague idea of possibly bringing in the Emperor, which fits in with Kennedy’s statement here. Either way, he’s back… somehow. As for why though, Abrams kind of answered that while speaking to IGN. Well, at least why they included the character in this final chapter.

This movie had a very, very specific challange, which was to take eight films and give an ending to three trilogies, and so we had to look at what was the bigger story. So we had conversations among ourselves, we met with George Lucas before we started writing the script. These were things that were in real… not debate, but looking at the vastness of the story, and trying to figure what is the way to conclude this.

But it has to work on its own as a movie, it has to be its own thing. It has to be surprising and funny. And you have to understand it. You can’t assume anybody has watched eight movies before this one. And yet, I want a kid to watch episodes one through nine and see that one story.

It actually makes sense and gives the entire saga a cohesive narrative connection to have the Emperor be this ultimate evil throughout the whole affair. On that level, I’m very stoked to see his return. Just please, don’t let those wild fan theories from years back that Rey is a secret clone of the Emperor he created through the Force.

Abrams also said it was “kind of amazing” that McDiarmid’s work on The Rise of Skywalker didn’t leak out at all before the reveal. We’ll have to wait until 20 December to see if his actual presence in the film will match that sentiment.

Last Updated: April 16, 2019

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