The Death Star plans aren’t going to steal themselves – it’ll be up to Felicity Jones as the leader of the Rogue One crew, revealed this week at the Official Disney Fan Club D23 Expo, to take that critical step in the fight against the Empire. Jones joins Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Jiang Wen, and Donnie Yen in the main ensemble, plus Ben Mendolsohn, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen and Alan Tudyk as a CGI character. The film, produced by Kathleen Kennedy and directed by Gareth Edwards, will open in theaters on Dec. 16, 2016.
Looking ahead to Star Wars Episode IX, Colin Trevorrow of Jurassic World will take the director’s chair. The final film in the Sequel Trilogy, following Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII, will be released in May 2019. Trevor’s role was also announced at D23.
D23 also brought us the first official poster art for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a classic Star Wars-style illustration by Drew Struzan which puts Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, and Han Solo in the spotlight. This isn’t the theatrical poster: instead, it’s a limited collectible that was available only at the Disney expo.
Speaking of Kylo Ren, Entertainment Weekly had a wealth of new The Force Awakens images and some more information about the characters this week, including some of Kylo Ren’s history. Befitting the ragged look of his cross-shaped lightsaber, Kylo is a Darth Vader enthusiast – and like that previous Sith Lord, he doesn’t bear his original name. Kylo Ren is a pseudonym (or nom de guerre?) and the “Ren” moniker draws from the dark Force user’s time with the mysterious Knights of Ren.
Entertainment Weekly also talked to J. J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, and Lawrence Kasdan about how the question “Who is Luke Skywalker?” convinced Abrams that he should be the one to tell the story of Episode VII. Kennedy discussed how she approached telling the story of a younger Han Solo in one of the upcoming Star Wars stand alone movies as well.
Other material gave us glimpses at the world after Return of the Jedi, too. The official blurb for the novel Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed was revealed, telling us about Rebel soldiers who find an unexpected ally while retreating from the Empire’s forces. None of the characters were named in the blurb, but we’ve already been introduced to Hazram Namir, Charmer, Gadren and Brand in the 2015 Star Wars Del Rey Sampler.
Becoming immersed in the galaxy far, far away through books is great, but what about stepping into the closest approximation of that world? After years of rumors and speculation, Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger announced that Star Wars-themed lands will be coming to both Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. and Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. There isn’t any information yet on when the parks will begin to be constructed, but each will be a 14 acre space, including a never-before-seen planet and an out-of-the-way trading port. Both will have two major attractions, one of which puts fans in control of the Millennium Falcon.
Before those lands are ready, more Star Wars attractions will open in both Disneyland and Disney World. The Star Wars Launch Bay is an interactive exhibit featuring elements from the first seven Star Wars films, and Season of the Force puts a Star Wars spin on classic Disney experiences like the fireworks show in Hollywood Studios and Space Mountain in Disneyland. Season of the Force is scheduled to begin in early 2016. Even sooner, in late 2015, the Star Tours ride at both parks will begin to incorporate a new adventure from The Force Awakens.
Finally, fans can get in on the excitement in their own way with Art Awakens, an officially sanctioned fan art contest that asks creators to put their own spin on characters and imagery from The Force Awakens and the rest of the Star Wars saga. Participants can submit art to the Art Awakens official tumblr page to enter. Five winners will have their art included in a Star Wars: The Force Awakens exhibit to be held at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles this November, and will have the opportunity to be flown to the gallery for the show. On of the five winners will also receive the Innovative Use of Technology prize, an HP notebook computer.
Megan Crouse is a journalist from the New York City area. She covers Star Wars for Den of Geek, is a panelist on the ForceCast, has written for FangirlBlog and writes This Blog is Full of Words.