Update: Lucasfilm has since added Keri Russell to the official Star Wars IX cast list.
The official Star Wars: Episode IX cast list includes Mark Hamill, and filming is set to begin on August 1. As difficult as it is to believe, the Skywalker saga's sequel trilogy started less than three years ago with the release of The Force Awakens. Now, the story is nearing its conclusion. J.J. Abrams, who replaced Colin Trevorrow as director last fall, aims to finish not just the narrative he started - but possibly the saga as a whole. Lucasfilm has Episode IX set for release in December 2019, where it will ideally replicate the box office success of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
A lot has changed in the Star Wars landscape since Abrams was last at the helm of one of these movies. Last Jedi polarized audiences and debates rage on to this day. Additionally, May's Solo: A Star Wars Story tanked at the box office, becoming the franchise's first full-blown failure. There was always going to be a lot of pressure on Episode IX, but it's arguably in a more challenging spot due to the current state of affairs. Now, Abrams and his team have started their long journey.
Lucasfilm announced today that Star Wars 9 will begin production in August. They took the opportunity to unveil the main cast, after there were rumors about new roles being added. Series veterans Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Anthony Daniels, and Billie Lourd will be joined by newcomers Naomi Ackie and Richard E. Grant. There will also be a heavy presence from some original trilogy favorites. As previously reported, Billy Dee Williams will reprise Lando Calrissian, and both Skywalker twins will appear. Mark Hamill is back as Luke, and the late Carrie Fisher will posthumously appear as Leia via unused footage from Force Awakens.
Abrams and Lucasfilm have carved out reputations for being quite secretive in regards to future projects, so it's refreshing to see them be so upfront about Luke and Leia in Episode IX. In the case of Hamill, many presumed Luke would show up as a Force ghost to share some additional wisdom with Rey (or, in an amusing twist, haunt Kylo Ren). The filmmakers very easily could have kept Hamill's role a secret, similar to Yoda in The Last Jedi. However, that would have unnecessarily dragged out a mystery; there will surely be plenty of other surprises in Star Wars 9. And the transparency about Leia should only benefit the production, especially since everyone was curious to see how Abrams would handle that sensitive situation.
Those who have been following the Episode IX beat will notice Keri Russell is not among the actors listed. At one point, she was reported to reunite with Abrams in what was described as an action-heavy role. It's difficult to say for now, but perhaps Ackie (who, up to this point, was known for television roles) landed that part instead. As for Grant, it would be safe to assume he'll play a First Order officer, boosting their ranks. The Resistance seems set (especially with Leia returning), but the villains need some extra hands after losing both Supreme Leader Snoke and Captain Phasma in The Last Jedi. It'll be interesting to see how it all comes together, and the rumor mill will surely be revving up in the near future.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019