Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker director J.J. Abrams (seriously) claims the film's marketing campaign isn't all that secretive. By now, viewers are well aware Disney takes a very measured approach to promoting the modern Star Wars movies. Dating back to the original Force Awakens teaser trailer from November 2014, the studio's advertising materials are largely absent of any concrete plot details, relying more on nostalgia, atmosphere, and theory-generating out-of-context shots to sell the upcoming projects.
Many would agree Disney took their penchant of playing things close to the chest to the next level when it came to The Rise of Skywalker. The film's official title wasn't revealed until Celebration Chicago back in April, which was when fans first learned of Emperor Palpatine's surprise return. Even now, three weeks until The Rise of Skywalker's release, much about the movie's story is squarely under wraps. From an outsider's perspective, it all seems like a very calculated attempt to preserve the narrative's biggest twists and turns, but Abrams believes he's been open with viewers.
In an interview with Uproxx, Abrams discussed his infamous "mystery box" storytelling and offered his two cents on the Star Wars 9 marketing to date. In the director's mind, this time around he's avoiding "smoke and mirrors" and being "a little more open" than usual:
"I feel very confident about what the movie is. And I feel like we’ve found a way to do something that doesn’t need — and I don’t feel the need — to do smoke and mirrors at all on this. I feel we have a story that’s pretty huge in scope. While I don’t want to tell the whole movie to people and ruin it and I don’t want to spoil things, I feel like we need to be able to have a conversation about how, yes, Carrie Fisher appears in this movie. And I’m happy to talk about how we did it, in so much as, people know, it’s really her. We didn’t do a digital Carrie. Yes, Palpatine is in this movie. I don’t want to talk about what that is and how."
At first glance, Abrams' comments are curious, considering how little is known about The Rise of Skywalker. But, from a certain point of view, the Star Wars 9 marketing demonstrates a bit of growth on his part. It wasn't that long ago Star Trek Into Darkness unnecessarily hid the fact the Enterprise crew was going up against Khan, initially selling Benedict Cumberbatch's villain as a generic terrorist named "John Harrison." That handcuffed the film's marketing team for no real reason, and it's a decision Abrams went on to regret. On The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams was upfront in confirming it was Palpatine coming back. That's all fans need to know at this stage; the circumstances behind Palpatine's return are best saved for the premiere. And it was nice to see Lucasfilm be transparent about how they were incorporating Leia into The Rise of Skywalker, which was an area of concern following Carrie Fisher's untimely passing. The studio even announced Mark Hamill's return as Luke at the start of production, sparing fans from enduring months of speculation regarding the actor's possible role.
Conversely, there are those displeased with The Rise of Skywalker marketing, arguing the final trailer was the weakest of the bunch and criticizing promotional materials for being too opaque in regards to the plot. Nobody's saying a Star Wars 9 preview needs to spell out the narrative's complete trajectory, but there might have been better ways to go about it. The onus will be on the film to prove this promotional strategy was warranted. Abrams' mystery box has gotten him into trouble in the past, but if his words are anything to believe, he's learned some lessons and has legitimate reasons for keeping certain aspects close to the chest.