ORLANDO, FLORIDA — "I only know one truth: It's time for the Jedi to end," a haggard-looking Luke Skywalker says ominously at the end of the Star Wars: The Last Jedi teaser trailer, which screened at Star Wars Celebration on Friday (April 14). At that moment, the riotous crowd in attendance was stunned into silence.
Of course, the trailer was then met with rapturous applause from thousands of screaming Star Wars fans, many of whom had camped out overnight at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando just to be at the anticipated Last Jedi panel. Director Rian Johnson, who had spent four hours talking to those dedicated fans in line late the night before, was on hand to introduce the first trailer for the next film in the Star Wars saga and a beautiful new teaser poster.
Before dropping the footage, Johnson was joined by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, as well as Episode VIII stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, and franchise newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, to talk about the film in a panel moderated by Star Wars superfan Josh Gad, who documented his numerous (failed) attempts to get Ridley to spill Jedi secrets on the set of their upcoming film, Murder on the Orient Express.
"I am here because Daisy Ridley forced my hand," Gad joked, before showing a throwback photo of him and a friend dressed as Darth Maul and "something resembling Yoda" ahead of a Phantom Menace showing in 1999.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is currently in post-production, Johnson said, adding, "We're still editing, but we're very far along." While filming The Last Jedi at Pinewood Studios in London, a "mythical" place the director compared to Camelot, Johnson kept his personal Leica camera on his arm to capture candid behind-the-scenes moments for his own archives. The director shared some photos with fans at Star Wars Celebration, including one black-and-white photo of Oscar Isaac (Poe), Boyega (Finn), and the late Carrie Fisher (General Leia) between takes in what looks like the Resistance base on D'Qar.
"I love her so much," Johnson said of Fisher. "I connected with her first and foremost as a writer. She's a brilliant writer — just an incredible mind. I'd go to her house and we'd sit on her bed for hours going through the script. We'd have these stream-of-consciousness, ad-lib poetry jam sessions.
"Every six hours, there'd be four lines of dialogue that would be a distillation of that," Johnson added.
At the center of The Last Jedi — and continuing the legacy founded in part by Fisher and Hamill 40 years ago — is Rey (Ridley), the lightsaber-swinging, Force-sensitive Chosen One from Jakku. At the end of J.J. Abrams's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey finds a reclusive Luke on Ahch-To. And in the new film, according to Ridley, Rey's going to learn very quickly that there's a reason the former Jedi Master didn't want to be found.
"In The Last Jedi, we go deeper into Rey's story," the actress told the screaming crowd. "What is very apparent from where we left off in The Force Awakens and where we pick up in The Last Jedi is Rey has a certain expectation of [her future] ... As everyone knows, it's difficult to meet your heroes because they might not be what you expect."
Hamill didn't have much to add about Luke's mindset in Episode VIII — much of his story is still being kept under wraps — but Kennedy did confirm that Luke Skywalker is "so significantly important" to The Last Jedi.
Still, the last scene in The Force Awakens is so fraught with emotion, as Luke sees the first new Jedi in a generation approaching him with his own lightsaber, and Rey makes a decision to truly embrace her destiny. For Hamill, it was important to fill in the gaps of what Luke had been up to since Return of the Jedi.
"In [Episode VII], you discovered Luke is a hermit on this island. There's so much unsaid about where he's been and what he's done. Actors like to write their own backstories," he said. "But I realized that wasn't really important to the story in Force Awakens."
"It's not Luke's story anymore," Hamill concluded, adding that Luke's "mystery" is a major plot point in the film.
Meanwhile, Boyega's fan-favorite character Finn is at a crossroads following the injuries he sustained from his lightsaber battle with Kylo Ren. "The Last Jedi is a test for all the characters," specifically for Finn, Boyega said. The film will delve further into finding out what Finn wants, whether that's joining the Resistance or merely continuing to run away from the First Order.
As for that pesky First Order, Johnson said that following the destruction of their Starkiller Base, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) are more galvanized and aggressive than ever in The Last Jedi. After all, the First Order may have lost their weapon of mass destruction, but they did manage to take out the seat of the Republic — and that’s "thrown the galaxy into chaos."
"They’re making some big moves at the start of the film," Johnson said. "Things are going to get dire."
Boyega also added that post-injury Finn is "not playing this time." And for fans hoping for more adventures with Finn and his pilot buddy Poe Dameron (Isaac) in Episode VIII, fear not. "Poe's my boy," the actor said. "There's always a new adventure for us to go on." And BB-8, whom Johnson referred to as the Buster Keaton of The Last Jedi, will definitely be along for the ride. (Fun fact: Johnson said the best advice he received going into this whole process was from Abrams's editors, who told him, "You can never have enough BB-8.")
But perhaps the most exciting addition to the panel was Tran, who out of all the new characters has the "biggest new part" in the movie. (The fans in the room instantly adored her.) Tran is playing Rose, a maintenance worker in the Resistance who becomes an unlikely hero when she teams up with Finn.
According to Johnson, Rose is neither a soldier nor is she looking to be a hero, and that's what he loves so much about her character. Rose, like Luke before her, gets pulled out of the mundanities of everyday life and into an adventure "in a big way" with Finn. One of the most valuable lessons of Star Wars is that anyone can be a hero: a maintenance worker, a young farmer from Tatooine, and even a scruffy-looking smuggler.
Tran, whose part was so secretive she had to tell her parents she was filming an indie film in Canada, also described the personal responsibility she felt becoming part of such a celebrated franchise. "It’s incredible," she said. "So many people tell you what this is going to feel like, and you just hear so much excitement and so much love for this thing, and you just want to do it justice."
Given the action-packed new footage in the trailer — Rey's Jedi training with Luke, Poe’s ill-fated X-Wing, the Millennium Falcon in flight, a crushed Darth Vader mask, and what appears to be a significant space battle between the Resistance and the First Order — and the philosophical debate at the center of the film (why must the Jedi end?), Star Wars: The Last Jedi could very much be the Empire Strikes Back of this new saga that fans have been waiting for.