ORLANDO, Fla. — The waiting room at the Orange County Convention Center to get into the enormous ballroom where the new “Star Wars” trailer would be unveiled was more like an aircraft hanger. And the line to get into the ballroom itself was less a line than an unending snake of humanity that, the night before, wound through Orlando itself; by morning, much of the line was inside and sleeping bags padded the concrete floor; and by unveiling time, the line, curled around and around and around, resembled not acres of “Star Wars” T-shirts and lightsabers but a vast expectant chicken coop.
“It’s Christmas morning,” one said.
“Christmas morning in April,” said another.
On the second morning of Star Wars Celebration 2017, the semi-regular Lucasfilm-organized “love letter” to “Star Wars” fans, the big present was the first look at “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” the eighth installment of the ongoing Skywalker family saga, now pushing 40 years old. Lucasfilm was expecting about 40,000 to attend the convention on Friday alone, but 40,000 people cheerfully anticipating something felt like far more. (Indeed, in the middle of the night, Santa Claus, so to speak, was played by “Last Jedi” filmmaker Rian Johnson, who brought boxes of pizza then hung around for four hours.)
The brisk, hourlong unveiling — a very warm thing, considering it was a party thrown by a corporation for itself — felt akin to a post-championship sports team, the players not really saying thing special but most everyone in the room leaning forward anyway. Think LeBron James about to announce his new team, except with host Josh Gad, pressing Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy: “What happens next? What does it all mean?”
Old cast members bounded out; new cast members were introduced: Actress Kelly Marie Tran, playing a space maintenance worker named Rose, was said to be the most significant new character in the next film. Johnson flipped through black-and-white production stills, of fighter pilots and lounging Stormtroopers. And this audience hung on every drip of information and photo and hint and faux-hint: Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker, introduced Daisy Ridley, who played Rey in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” as “My daugh—”
Gad asked her: “Is your name Rey Skywalker? Is your name Rey Kenobi? Who doesn’t know their own last name?”
Mystery seems to be at the heart of this next installment of “Star Wars” A couple of years ago, when the trailer for “Force Awakens” debuted at Celebration in Anaheim, Calif., the overall tone was assurance, that in a post-George Lucas Lucasfilm everything you love about “Star Wars” is still here. Now that “Force Awakens” is the third highest-grossing film of all time (internationally), the mood has turned contemplative and even quizzical. The only thing Ridley would say of substance was that, in terms of her relationship with Luke Skywalker, you should never meet your heroes might be relevant.
When the trailer finally began, phones went down and the room went almost supernaturally still. A woman typed on her keyboard until the woman in the seat beside her slapped the lid shut. The cast, which itself hadn’t seen the trailer yet, stepped aside.
“The Last Jedi” looks serious, a dark “Empire Strikes Back” to the light “Force Awakens.” Spaceships skimming across planets and Rey swinging her lightsaber at the edge of a seaside cliff and Stormtroopers marching through fire and, at the end, Hamill in full Jedi regalia, bedraggled and bushy, asking if perhaps now the time for the end of the Jedi? (The first time his character has spoken since 1983, mind you.)
“NO!” a young girl blurted.
The lights came up. Tears were wiped. Then the lights went down and the trailer was shown again, and when lights came up for the second time, Steve Sansweet, a longtime “Star Wars” archivist (and former Lucasfilm executive), smiled quizzically: “I’m curious … “
Victoria Torres of Virginia, looking speechless, said: “I’m speechless.”
Tommy McLeod of Alabama, looking lost, said: “I got emotional. But it was intriguing, and it wasn’t that big of a surprise if this story turns deeper and darker thematically.”
In the hallways, fans had already dropped into huddles and began arguing. “It was everything I wanted,” said Debora Correa of Virginia. “Almost,” said Elizabeth Siwica of Orlando: “Almost everything. I could always use more of a look at Luke Skywalker.”
Within minutes of the trailer’s debut, Skywalker’s last words were even being debated: Did he say the Jedi is dead? The Jedi is over? The Jedi should be dead? The Jedi must die? “There was so much going on in that trailer,” said Jack Rhodes of California, carrying his pillow from a long night’s camping. “The question is, where is this headed?”
If the reaction at Celebration 2015 to the”Force Awakens” trailer was pure joyous ecstasy, the reaction to “The Last Jedi” trailer was elation alongside definite unease.
A “Star Wars” movie for our times.
“So many questions,” said Whitney Wickham of Chicago, who was dressed as Rey. “They pointed to the Jedi Code. Are they going to be playing with the code of the Jedi? I don’t know but I cried. I did. It wasn’t because of the trailer — it was because … I’m here, with these people, at this convention, and now there’s another ‘Star Wars’ coming out.”
As Hamill put it: “Maybe they should just print ‘To be continued … ’ on my forehead.”