Here’s what we learned from the Star Wars: Episode IX casting announcement

On Friday, Lucasfilm announced the official cast list for Star Wars: Episode IX, which begins filming on August 1.

The most notable news was, understandably, the revelation that Carrie Fisher will reprise her role as General Leia Organa in the film posthumously via the use of unreleased footage shot for The Force Awakens.  It is definitely the best possible solution that Lucasfilm and director J.J. Abrams could have come up with given their nearly impossible situation.

But while that news – as well as the return of iconic characters Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill) and Lando Calrissian (played by Billy Dee Williams) – has for good reason taken the spotlight, let’s not miss the other things worth noting from the casting announcement to see what we can learn about the final installment of the sequel trilogy… and of the Skywalker saga.

The final film of the saga?

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A statement in the official release that is really easy to miss comes near the beginning, as we read that, “J.J. Abrams returns to direct the final installment of the Skywalker saga. Abrams co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Terrio” (emphasis mine).  Later, in Abrams’ quote about Carrie Fisher’s role, he says, “Finding a truly satisfying conclusion to the Skywalker saga without her eluded us” (emphasis mine).  In other words: Lucasfilm and J.J. Abrams are not at all trying to hide the fact that they view this film as the final installment of the Skywalker saga, a story that spans three trilogies.  This is, of course, nothing new: last fall, Abrams said that he views Episode IX as the final film of the saga, while noting that the future is nonetheless still in flux.

As Yoda would say, “always in motion is the future.”  We can never say for certain whether this film will in fact be the final one of the saga, or whether many years from now Lucasfilm will decide to revive it – like was done for the prequel trilogy, and then was done again for the sequel trilogy.  At times it felt like the conclusion of the previous trilogies would be it for the Skywalker saga, but a notable difference is that there was always a concept in George Lucas’ mind of nine films, whether or not they ever got made.  This time, though, it doesn’t appear as if Lucasfilm even has ideas about any potential films in this vein down the line.  There will certainly be plenty more Star Wars to come, but not in the main saga.  And either way, whether or not we ever get more in the Skywalker saga, it is incredibly important to keep in mind that J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm are approaching Episode IX as the last one.  That means that it will likely try to tie in and tie up all three trilogies in a satisfactory way.

And if they’re really committed to this one being a definitive ending to the Skywalker saga?  Well then good luck, Ben Solo.

Hello, what have we here?

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This news would have been a massive reveal had it not leaked earlier, as the news of Billy Dee Williams’ involvement was first reported by Fantha Tracks with other indications following after.  And it’s all true: Billy Dee Williams will in fact be returning as Lando Calrissian.

Williams has been eager and willing to return to the role in recent years, as he voiced the character in Star Wars Rebels, various LEGO Star Wars films and TV shows, The LEGO Movie, and in Star Wars Battlefront and Star Wars Battlefront II.  After playing the character in live action in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, however, Williams was not brought back in the first two films of the sequel trilogy.  He will make his triumphant return in the finale, however, giving fans the chance to see him one last time as the legendary smuggler.  We of course most recently saw the character of Lando Calrissian in a prominent role in Solo: A Star Wars Story, portrayed wonderfully by Donald Glover.

The question that many have wondered is how Lando gets involved, and there are certainly a ton of options.  He could be an ally of the Resistance who arrives to help Leia’s cause after hearing about her struggles on Crait and about Luke Skywalker’s heroic appearance.  Or he could get involved through connections with Maz Kanata.  Or any other host of possibilities.  In other words: there won’t be a problem bringing Lando back into the mix in Episode IX.  One thing that does make a lot of sense, though?  Having Lando pilot the Millennium Falcon once more, for old times’ sake.

Return of the Jedi

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This one isn’t a surprise whatsoever, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less awesome: Mark Hamill returns as Luke Skywalker in Episode IX, marking the sixth time he has played the iconic character in the Star Wars franchise.  This isn’t at all surprising and was explicitly hinted at in The Last Jedi (Luke tells Ben “see you around, kid”), but it’s nonetheless good to get announced right away because, well, you know the internet.

There had been people wondering about Hamill’s beard, whether he would actually appear in the film, etc. – because, you know, people love to speculate based on hardly any evidence – so it’s really nice that Lucasfilm got it out of the way and announced it officially.  Mark Hamill is back.

Of course, some people who aren’t paying attention will inevitably use this as an argument that J.J. Abrams is going to undo everything Rian Johnson did, but the only rebuttal necessary to that argument is to tell them to watch The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and/or The Last Jedi to get a hint as to what Mark’s role will be.  A hint?  We’ll be seeing Luke Skywalker more powerful than we could ever imagine.  He will be one with the Force, almost surely appearing as a Force Ghost (whether in conversations with Rey, Ben, or both).  And given what we saw from Yoda in The Last Jedi, it is possible that we don’t even fully know all that Force Ghosts can do yet, so it will be interesting to see.  But it’s also possible that Hamill could play Luke Skywalker in a flashback scene(s), which was a method used in The Last Jedi to fill in some of his backstory with Ben Solo’s rebellion.  Given that this is the final film of the trilogy, it would make a lot of sense to use Hamill in more flashbacks to further fill in details and provide new revelations.  So we may be getting to see Luke Skywalker both as a Force Ghost and in flashbacks, but make no mistake: Abrams isn’t going to be backtracking on Johnson’s decisions about the character.

A couple of notable absences (not really)

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You may notice a couple of names not included in the casting list: Andy Serkis or Gwendoline Christie.  This shouldn’t really come as any surprise, since both of their characters – Supreme Leader Snoke and Captain Phasma – were killed off in The Last Jedi.  Nevertheless, there have been plenty of crazy fan theories about how Snoke and/or Phasma actually could have survived TLJ and will be brought back in Episode IX as J.J. Abrams tries to reverse what Rian Johnson did.

That always seemed like laughably far-fetched wishing from those who couldn’t bear to enjoy The Last Jedi, so this shouldn’t really even have to be noted, but it doesn’t appear as if Snoke or Phasma survived.  Go figure.  I will add that, if Abrams did intend on bringing either character back, it would be unlikely to be in the official casting announcement, but the lack of inclusion here indicates that they surely won’t have significant roles whatsoever.  At most, I could see Serkis being brought back for a small cameo via a flashback to help explain some information, but I really don’t see that happening either.  Why?  Because Snoke’s backstory isn’t crucial to the sequel trilogy (just like Palpatine’s wasn’t to the original trilogy).  Kylo Ren is the Supreme Leader now, and Episode IX is going to focus more on his continued development than about explaining all of your Snoke theories.

One last thing to note here is that Benicio Del Toro is also not included in the casting announcement, which holds more significance since his character, “DJ,” never died in TLJ.  But this also isn’t that surprising, as it was never presumed that his character would be back.  His role in TLJ was to play the function of getting Finn and Rose onto the Supremacy, but more importantly it was to help Finn’s character grow the way he needed to.  D.J.’s not a major player in this trilogy.

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet

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Now seems like a good time for this friendly reminder: don’t believe everything that you read on the internet.  Let me explain.  Over the past several months, I have seen a variety of things postulated by fans (or supposed insiders) that, unfortunately, many people have taken as true… and this casting announcement is a shot to a number of them.  Remember when Episode IX was supposedly shooting last week?  It begins filming August 1.  Remember when there was concern that Mark Hamill wasn’t going to be in it?  He’s officially in, as expected.  Remember when some people said Meryl Streep was going to be cast as Leia Organa?  That was ridiculous all along.  Remember when people thought that J.J. Abrams would undo Rian Johnson’s decisions and bring back Snoke and Phasma?  There’s zero evidence to support that.  And remember when people claimed that there wasn’t interest in Episode IX?  Well, it’s hard to measure ‘interest,’ but the amount of attention and excitement over the announcement about Carrie Fisher certainly seems contradictory for a movie that lacks following and excitement, doesn’t it?

One other thing that’s important to note: just because a small percentage of the fan base couldn’t stand The Last Jedi and wanted to ruin it for everyone else, including by harassing Kelly Marie Tran, doesn’t mean that Lucasfilm is going to bow to their wishes.  Guess who’s back?  That’s right: Kelly Marie Tran as Rose.  That’s good news, and it’s confirmation of something that was suspected but not totally certain.  It means that Rose did in fact survive the events of The Last Jedi and that she’ll be in Episode IX, though what role she’ll have remains to be seen.  Will she still team up with Finn, or will she get a new role with new adventures?  Either way, it’ll be great to see Kelly Marie Tran back in this film.

Konnix appears to have a much larger role

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When Carrie Fisher signed on for the sequel trilogy, she wanted to know whether there was a part for her daughter.  And what started little more than a few cameos in The Force Awakens led to a much bigger role in The Last Jedi for Billie Lourd, and it seems that her role will deservedly be even larger in Episode IX.  That’s because, for the first time, Billie Lourd is listed among the cast in the official announcement, signifying something more than a background role and possibly a significant player in the film.

This makes a lot of sense considering the trajectory of her character, Lieutenant Kaydel Ko Connix.  She was recruited to the Resistance and stationed on D’Qar in operations for the Fleet Command, but following the destruction of Starkiller Base she was promoted to the rank of lieutenant by General Leia Organa and tasked with overseeing the evacuation of the base.  She also was part of the group Poe Dameron rallied together for his mutiny and accompanied him to the bridge before Dameron was subdued.  Given Connix’s rise already in the ranks of the Resistance, coupled with the fact that Poe Dameron obviously trusts her a great deal (and that he’ll likely be leading the Resistance at least partly in Episode IX), it should be no surprise that Lieutenant Connix will have an even bigger role.  It is certainly implied with the casting announcement that she’ll have much more of a presence in the film, and I think that’s pretty awesome.

The newcomers

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As was reported earlier this month by Variety, Episode IX features three significant newcomers to the cast, including Keri Russell.  The newcomers listed in the casting announcement are Naomi Ackie, Richard E. Grant, and Keri Russell.

We really don’t know anything about their roles, or even if they’re going to be allied with the Resistance, the First Order, or more neutral.  Details on these roles are being kept pretty under wraps, but the only nugget of information that we do have is from Variety’s initial report about Russell’s involvement: that it was for a role that includes “action-heavy fight scenes.”  That’s certainly quite interesting, and it has led to plenty of speculation as to who she might be playing.  One theory is that she’s playing Mara Jade (and while I think she’d be a great choice for the role and that it’d be really cool, I highly doubt it), while another (more believable) theory is that she’s playing one of the Knights of Ren.  That’s pretty much all we know about the roles of these newcomers, though, which isn’t surprising for the initial casting announcements but which certainly leads to plenty of intrigue.

Enjoy it while it lasts!

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In wrapping things up, there’s one last thing that stands out from this casting list: the number of beloved names featured.  There’s Mark Hamill back as Luke Skywalker, Anthony Daniels back as C-3PO, Billy Dee Williams back as Lando Calrissian, Carrie Fisher back as Leia Organa, and John Williams back as the greatest composer in the galaxy, along with the newer but yet still beloved faces.  And it’s a reminder, especially as Lucasfilm approaches Episode IX as the final film in the saga, to enjoy it while it lasts, because this may be the last time that we have this special group working on a Star Wars film together.

Included in that is that this will likely be the final Star Wars film for John Williams, who outside of George Lucas is as responsible for the magic of the franchise as anybody.  His music is nothing short of legendary, and his work in the sequel trilogy has been magnificent as always.  He hasn’t scored the standalone films (though he did compose the theme for Solo), but he will have scored all nine saga films by the time Episode IX is done.  With the conclusion of the saga will likely come Williams’ retirement from the franchise, and the same will likely be true of many others as well.  So please, friends, enjoy it while it lasts.

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