Thursday, December 7, 2023

Star Wars Celebration 2023: Lucasfilm Showcase Panel Breakdown

The annual mega event known around the galaxy, “Star Wars Celebration” has kicked off its 2023 edition at the London ExCel in full swing, and Lucasfilm/Disney didn’t hold anything back when it comes to major news, announcements, and reveals to keep the fanbase talking and leaving them excited for what’s to come.

The panel began by bringing out Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, who not only thanked the fans in attendance for their presence and continuous support & love for the franchise and its characters but also the teams of creators and producers at Lucasfilm, Disney, Pinewood and everyone in between both in front and behind the camera for bringing these stories to life.AndorFrom here, the first presentation focused on “Andor” bringing out creator/writer/showrunner Tony Gilroy as well as members of the cast including Diego Luna, Adria Arjona, Kyle Soller, Denise Gough, Genevieve O’Reilly, B2EMO, and others including Andy Serkis, who incited the crowd to chant “ONE WAY OUT” uproariously. Given that the series is still halfway through shooting, half of the presentation’s focus was geared towards celebrating the first season’s accomplishment before the audience was finally given some details in regards to the upcoming second and final season of the series: shooting will continue until August, leaving one year of work for the post-production team and VFX artists to bring the new stories to life for an implied August 2024 release. To close things out, attendees were given a small glimpse of what’s to come, and while this is a teaser in every way, shape, and form, the intensity, gravitas, and tone that made the first season such a success permeate through every shot. Not much is made clear in terms of a plot. Still, “Andor” seems to be embracing Luthen Rael’s acquired tastes for disguise, embracing the James Bond-ness of being a spy journeying to plant the seeds of rebellion throughout the galaxy as the Empire tightens its stronghold on its citizens. In contrast, Syril Karn can be briefly spotted wearing more lavish and well-tailored garbs, alluding to the fact that his mission to be hired and embraced by the Empire seems to be bearing fruit.

From here, Gilroy and the cast say goodbye, and the presentation on “The Acolyte” begins: writer/creator/showrunner Leslye Headland (“Russian Doll”) is welcomed to the stage by Kennedy. It discusses her love and relationship with the 45-year-old mega-franchise as well as her influences in creating the show: citing Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, “The Hidden Fortress,” and wider Japanese influences that firmly guided George Lucas in his original creation of the franchise. Furthermore, we learned that there would be a Wookie Jedi Master played by Joonas Suotamo, who picked up Peter Mayhew’s mantle as Chewbacca in the latter films of the Sequel Trilogy. Headland also indicated that her pitch for the series was: “Frozen” meets “Kill Bill,” a perplexing yet exciting description.

The time period was also revealed, and the series will take place at the end of “The High Republic Period” before we find ourselves in the time period where the “Prequel Trilogy” takes place. It is a time of prosperity, where good thrives amongst the people of the Galaxy, but much like poetry, it rhymes, and patterns repeat themselves, such as the slow but sure emergence of Evil. The trailer begins with a gorgeously lit temple class where several Padawans learn under the guidance of a Jedi Master, played by Lee Jung-Jae. Soon enough, we encounter another Jedi Master, played by Carrie-Anne Moss, fending off a ninja-like assassin, played by Amandla Stenberg. Again, the trailer doesn’t reveal too much about its story; more so alludes to it. But what lingered in fans’ minds was every shot with Jedi Masters in it, and there is a lot of it, so it seems this oft-forgotten period in the “Star Wars” timeline will finally live its glory days on the big screen. The trailer’s biggest mark is how it leaves fans with one final shot of eight Jedi Masters all lighting up their lightsabers in unison, giving life to one glorious image never before seen on screen.The MandalorianFrom here: Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, and Rick Famuyiwa took the stage to discuss “The Mandalorian,” the latter having been promoted to a creative executive producer in the show’s current third season. The presentation, for a time, focused on celebrating their laurels so far until Giancarlo Esposito’s booming voice from backstage made the audience explode in cheers and applause. Esposito was quickly joined by fellow cast members Katee Sackhoff, Emily Swallow, and Carl Weathers, who all brought joyous life and energy to the stage. It seems this presentation would not bear any meaningful fruits until the creators revealed that fans were about to be treated to the cold opening of the upcoming seventh episode of the currently-airing third season of the series. This cold open is some of the darkest and most chilling storytelling the series has delivered up to this point, and while nothing will be spoiled here: it teases big things to come for the season’s climax and the rest of the “Star Wars” live-action series being pulled together. It was only after this tiny sneak peek that the creators revealed later this same day that fans who were present at the panel would have access to an exclusive screening of this upcoming week’s seventh episode later in the day. Having now seen the episode: it might very well be the best episode of “The Mandalorian” ever brought to life. It’s chilling and focused, showcasing how fun the series can be. Great storytelling, characterization & development, real weight, and stakes; it’s also thankfully one of the longest episodes of the series, but so tight in its goals and how it accomplishes them. Many highlights will be taken away from it, so be careful not to have it spoiled by one of the 4500 people who were lucky enough to see it at the event; the seeds planted through the season finally begin to come together, leaving fans with a cliff-hanger going into a climax which promises to be as important as it is exciting.

The penultimate television-focused presentation was “Skeleton Crew,” shepherds of the “Star Wars” television-verse Favreau and Filoni remained on stage as showrunner Jon Watts is currently at ILM in-production of the series. Star of the show Jude Law was welcomed to the stage and brought out fellow stars: Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Kyriana Kratter, and Robert Timothy Smith, who play the title “Skeleton Crew.” Not much was said or elaborated on from here, where the creators even failed to mention a proper time period for the series, but it was described as an Amblin-style story of childhood discovery, except in the world of “Star Wars.” The teaser that followed for the attendees displayed exactly such Spielbergian sensibilities: showing how a group of young children yearning for adventure finds themselves lost in space surrounded by unknown dangers after stealing a ship they don’t know how to pilot; on one side, we see the worried parents desperately in search for their sons & daughters, even reveal Kerry Condon (“The Banshees of Inisherin“) will star in the series as well. Not much is seen of Jude Law until the very end, where he is revealed to be a Jedi, to the shock of the title characters.AhsokaWhile this was the least exciting and perhaps even least clear presentation, the final one changed its focus to the upcoming fan-favorite series “Ahsoka,” which saw Rosario Dawson take the stage and express as much excitement as fans in the audience. Favreau and Filoni tried to keep things steady before the main event of the presentation, gifting fans a first-look poster that revealed an August 2023 release date for the series. From there, the first glimpse at live-action Sabine Wren was revealed, which brought Natasha Liu Bordizzo (“The Voyeurs” & “The Society”) onto the stage to join Dawson. The pair was quickly followed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who revealed she would be playing fellow Ghost Crew Rebel Captain Hera Syndulla in the series. The excitement in the room was palpable, coming from both the audience and the stars/creators on stage, which gave way to what became the most talked about trailer of the celebration and one simultaneously released online for a worldwide audience.

The trailer sees Ahsoka traversing the galaxy, encountering antagonistic droids and long-buried Jedi temples before she makes her way to Lothal so she can recruit Sabine for a mission, who now seems to live in Ezra Bridgers’ home world, having adopted a local lothcat. Ahsoka offers a premonition regarding the hidden menace known as Grand Admiral Thrawn, who we are only provided a brief glimpse of from the back of his head. Ahsoka claims he is returning as the Heir to the Empire, referencing the original Timothy Zahn book trilogy in the new “Star Wars Legends” canon of stories. Ray Stevenson narrates over the trailer and is revealed to be playing a Sith; he can also be seen squaring off against Ahsoka in a location that looks to be the world-between-world, which was first seen in “Star Wars Rebels” that granted access to any point in the “Star Wars” timeline and even brought Ahsoka and Ezra face-to-face with Palpatine. 

The narrative for the series seems to be clear: With the galaxy lacking a strong sense of leadership and protective force, the remnants of the Empire seem to be ready to strike mercilessly, leaving only the beloved ragtag group of heroes that brought the Rebellion to life left to save the galaxy once more.

Kathleen Kennedy joined the loud applause but soon changed the tone in the room: in an honest and refreshing acknowledgment of how the focus has so much been on television and the franchise seems to be overall in limbo despite the franchise having been birthed on the big screen; she assured fans the future of “Star Wars” movies is secure and now clear. This gave way to the biggest surprise of the day and probably the entire event. Rey - Star WarsKennedy revealed the wide-scoping timeline of the “Star Wars” saga: from the “Dawn of the Jedi” to the “Rise of the First Order.” This is when James Mangold, Dave Filoni, and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy were brought to the stage and revealed as the shepherds of the upcoming movies, each set-in different eras of the “Star Wars” Saga. Mangold will direct a film 25 thousand years in the past, exploring the original Jedi and how his/her connection to the Force was established, titled (at least for now): “Dawn of the Jedi.” Filoni will continue to focus on the present as he brings Din and Grogu’s story to an end, culminating the stories of the “Mandoverse” in a feature film to end this era of stories while also making his feature directorial debut.

Finally, Obaid-Chinoy’s movie will take place 15 years after “The Rise of Skywalkerand reveals a hidden chapter in the timeline called: “The New Jedi Order.” She cheekily asked the fans if they wanted to know who was taking us on this journey to a brand-new era: Daisy Ridley took the stage, embraced by the fans as we learned that Rey Skywalker would be the one responsible for rebuilding the Jedi Order in the future. Ridley thanked the fans not only for their support but for so warmly welcoming her back. It was the absolute best note to end the presentation on, and while it is no secret that the movie side of the Saga has been less than consistent, it genuinely felt different as this wasn’t just a string of announcements stating a director would be taking on some project. A strategy was laid out with specificity in terms of its plans, how they tie together, and how they influence and are influenced by the already existing chapters of the franchise.Dial of DestinyTo end the large panel for the event, the presentation shifted its focus outside of “Star Wars,” keeping Mangold on-stage and welcoming Mads Mikkelsen and Phoebe Waller-Bridge to join him and discuss “Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny.” Fans were treated to a brand-new, gorgeous Drew Struzan-style poster for the upcoming Cannes-debuting blockbuster and were also given some small details in regards to the stars’ roles in the 5th installment of the pulp adventure classic: Mikkelsen will play Jurgen Voller, an old acquaintance of Jones who is back to rectify what he considers to be an unjust defeat. While Waller-Bridge will play Indy’s long-estranged goddaughter, whose daughter she is, isn’t made clear about and will be kept a secret.

Finally, fans were not only given a new trailer (also released online) but exclusively to the audience a classic Indiana Jones chase scene through the streets of Morocco. The scene sees Indy and Helena (Waller-Bridge) chasing after Voller for some kind of trinket. Presumably, with the title Dial Of Destiny and John Williams’ score will be firing on all cylinders, the man is the maestro of maestros, after all. The adrenaline, physical stunts, and even physical comedy are spectacularly done. While the film may not be finalized when it comes to post-production, it needs to be acknowledged how there are a bit too many CG backgrounds through this chase scene, noticeable to a fault given how this franchise has always excelled at being fun and gritty, heightened but have a real sense of physicality. Hopefully, the final product can better disguise its faults to enhance what (and who) is on screen.

“Star Wars Celebration” Day 1 launched the event on a high note, and the future of “Star Wars” seems as bright as the neon-lit streets of nightly Coruscant, so we can only hope to see these stories brought to life. More to come all through this weekend, and we will have the news here as they break on Next Best Picture. What was your favorite piece of news from the first day? Please let us know in the comments section below or over on our Twitter account.

You can follow Renato and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @RenGeekness

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