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Detailed Breakdown of New Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker, Black Widow, Frozen II Footage From D23

August 27, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Star Wars Rise of Skywalker Daisy Ridley Rey, Colin Trevorrow Image Credit: Lucasfilm

D23 Expo continued over the weekend on Saturday and Sunday. 411mania was on hand for major events, such as the Walt Disney Studios panel and also the Disney Theme Parks & Products panel. With the Walt Disney Studios panel, Disney showcased some of its upcoming projects that are currently in the works. Disney Theme Parks offered a look at what’s to come for the company’s theme park efforts. Here’s my overall recap of the Friday and Saturday panels:

Walt Disney Studios Panel

Now, at previous D23 Expos, Disney would separate the live-action presentation and the animation presentation. Instead, they just smooshed everything together here as just one big panel featuring live-action and animation. Personally, I think they were better broken up, so the panels had different themes. The panel was rather long as is, so having them split in two could’ve balanced things out a little more.

This year, Disney kept all the big material upfront with Star Wars for Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios. Rather than a behind-the-scenes featurette like with Star Wars: The Last Jedi at D23 2017, Lucasfilm provided attendees with some actual, brand-new footage for the upcoming film, along with the latest poster (see below). It was good to see the main cast there, including longtime franchise veterans, Billy Dee Williams and Anthony Daniels. It’s great that Lando is finally back for a live-action film as Williams has gotten the chance to appear as Lando again in games and animated projects, but not the films again, until now.

The new footage definitely ended with a big, surprising moment. There was footage of what appeared to be a very evil looking Rey. She was wielding a red Sith or Dark Side lightsaber. It ignited and then folded out into a double-edged blade. What does this mean? Is this a vision? Is it a Force-induced vision? Is it a dream? has Rey been possessed by a dark force? Has Rey been evil all along? Has she been Sith all along, and we never knew it? Hey, maybe she never knew either. It’s hard to quantify what this means for the franchise.

The way the footage was shown was almost sort of reminiscent of the Infinity War footage reel from the 2017 D23. It started with footage of the previous films and built up to the new material. The footage on its own looked good. However, the shots that were shown lacked context. It’s hard to have a true opinion about “Dark Rey” or “Darth Rey” without knowing what’s really going on. The image of Darth Rey could be some type of visual con or JJ Abrams pulling a Jedi mind trick on the crowd. Now, maybe it would make sense if Rey turned out to be some sort of long-game plan or contingency by Emperor Palpatine that went into action after he “died.” I don’t want to make too many assumptions about Palpatine, since we still don’t even know his true role in all of this. And considering how everyone’s fan theories majorly hurt The Last Jedi it’s bet not to get too caught up on that.

So, on their own. The shots and footage looked good. But there’s still not a good sense of the story and what will happen here. We know this is the end of the episodic Skywalker saga, whatever that means. And let’s be frank. Studios make these types of promises all the time and go back on them. It’s not isolated to just Star Wars. Look at how The Matrix is set to continue now with a fourth installment, with Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss both returning in some capacity.

The footage did seem to support the notion that that there will be an angry or more aggressive version C-3PO. It looks like Rey volunteers to go on a dangerous mission, but Finn and also Poe ultimately join her. This seemed to be the implication from that earlier footage shown on Day 1. Keri Russell’s appearance during the panel offered a bit more insight into her masked character, Zorri Bliss. She’s a crime-lord and an “old friend” of Poe Dameron’s the heroes go to for help. Hopefully, that turns out better than the DJ business. I’m not sure if the “old friend” thing means she’s an old flame of Zorri Bliss, but the reactions during the panel from the actors and the audience suggested that could be the case.

I’m not going to say Star Wars definitively hit a homerun this weekend, but I think it’s good they brought actual footage to the D23 Expo rather than a featurette. Additionally, there was the great trailer reveal for The Mandalorian, which looks utterly fantastic, and the Obi-Wan Kenobi show announcement. Even if you aren’t a fan of the sequels, it looks like there should be some show or spinoff coming out you can enjoy.

Up next was Kevin Feige for Marvel Studios. The main focus here was Black Widow. The footage reel that was played at Comic-Con was shown again here, though, I’m told it had some new material in it featuring David Harbour as Red Guardian. Still, since I missed the Marvel panel at Comic-Con, I was happy to see this. I’m curious to see if Florence Pugh’s presence as the second Black Widow, Yelena Belova, is a way to set her up for future films due to “certain events.”

Taskmaster being in this movie is great. Taskmaster is a villain Marvel has avoided using for a long time. He’s a character I’m crazy about and even wouldn’t mind seeing star in his own series. I’m glad he’s here. He looks like Taskmaster, and he looks like he has the same abilities. However, if he ends up just being a one-note character who can fight and copy moves and never talks, I will be unhappy. With a character like Taskmaster with his particular abilities, there’s that aspect that he could just be used as the competent henchman who can fight real well and never talks. I hope Taskmaster isn’t relegated to that role and will get an actual character arc or, at least, the potential for one down the line.

Also, David Harbour looks like a fun addition here. And they are actually giving him his Red Guardian costume too. It gives me hope that Moon Knight will get his costume in his show, since it will have Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios’ film division involved.

Just a day before this panel, news broke from Deadline that Kit Harington was cast in the MCU in an unknown role. And just a day later, Kevin Feige confirmed that Harington will in fact play Dane Whitman in The Eternals.

Now, here is my problem with the way this news was rolled out. The Kit Harington announcement at Comic-Con came off like an afterthought. Playing devil’s advocate, it’s possible this deal just came together, and maybe there wasn’t enough time to really create more fanfare around the news about his casting. But it feels like Harington should’ve been there to help build some buzz and really get people talking.

So, he’s playing Dane Whitman in the MCU. Whitman is better known as the Black Knight to Marvel Comic readers, and he’s playing Whitman in a supporting role for The Eternals. On a casting level, I think this makes sense for Harington. Fans were already fan-casting him as Wolverine, which really makes no sense to me. I like Harington as a performer fine, but I do not see any of Wolverine in him. Black Knight/Whitman being his first big post-Game of Thrones role seems like a big fit. And since he’s only a supporting character in The Eternals it puts a lot less pressure on him. If Marvel is setting up Whitman or the Black Knight for future films or a TV series on Disney+, this is a way to ease Harington in and let him build up as the character and build his confidence.

However, we’re also not clear in what capacity Whitman is appearing at all in The Eternals. The villain of the story isn’t even clear. Regardless, it seems like Marvel Studios could’ve made a bigger deal about his casting for the D23 presentation.

Also, Marvel finally confirmed Black Panther 2. Ryan Coogler is coming back to write and direct it, and it’s coming out on May 6, 2022. Well, that’s a bit of a long wait to one of the most successful Marvel films to date, and the first one to receive a Best Picture nomination. The good news is, the sequel is coming, and Coogler is involved. The bad news is that it will be a four-year wait from the first movie. While I’m slightly encouraged that Coogler wants them to take their time to get it right, it seems like this should’ve come together to be out by 2021 rather than 2022.

I was not all too excited about the Jungle Cruise before D23 Expo. At least now, I sort of want to see it, and I’m willing to give it a chance. It looks like it could be a fun, little feature that will at least be elevated by the charisma and interaction between Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt. They both got to have a fun little skit of sorts for the Jungle Cruise presentation and each showing their own cuts of the trailer. I will be curious to see if that gimmick plays into the actual narrative of the movie. Basically, Jungle Cruise looks a lot like The Mummy with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, which if you’ll remember, that franchise gave The Rock his big break with The Mummy Returns.

For Pixar, I’m quite excited about Onward. The setting and premise look like something fun and different. I like the idea of a fantasy realm that has basically evolved into modern-day Los Angeles. The denizens are elves and mythical creatures, but it seems most of the magic of the world has gone, and it looks like there will be a good personal story involving the two brothers Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt). And both Holland and Pratt were there to promote the film, which was good. Holland even indirectly commented on the news about Spider-Man and Sony Pictures that came out just days before D23 expo, saying how “It’s been a crazy week.”

The D23 footage showed Ian and Barley receiving an heirloom from their mom (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) that was left by their late father who died before Ian was born. It’s a magic staff and instructions for a spell that can bring back a loved one, but only for the period of one day. While Barley is the magic and fantasy-quest enthusiast of the family, it seems Ian is the only one who has innate mage powers. He is able to activate the spell, but the crystal that powers it disintegrates before it can be finished. So, they only manifest the lower torso of their father. He can’t even hear them, but is able to respond by feet tapping and such. Now, the group has to go on a “quest” to find a new gem to power the staff and finish the spell before the 24-hour time limit runs out.

The second clip showed Barley and Ian running out of gas. Barley wants Ian to grow his spare tank of gas, since it’s nearly empty since it means more gas. Unfortunately, it backfires, and Ian shrinks Barley by accident. Basically, Ian and Barley will be getting into a lot of shenanigans in order to see their dad before the time limit is up. Octavia Spencer will portray a Manticore character in the film, which arrives on March 6, 2020.

Raya and the Last Dragon also looks it could be a great film for Disney Animation. I like that directors Paul Briggs and Dean Wellins and writer Adele Lim have created a new fantasy realm, Kumandra. Based on the presentation, they’ve given quite a bit of thought into this realm, the world building, its inspirations from ancient Asia and the various lands and peoples therein. I love when fantasy stories sell those world-building elements, so I hope that’s the case here.

D23 Expo - Raya and the Last Dragon

The story follows the eponymous Raya (Cassie Steele), a lone warrior who is on a quest to save her kingdom from a mysterious threat. Her quest leads her to find the last mythical dragon, after the others have gone extinct or been lost. The last dragon is Sisu, voiced by Awkwafina. The clip shown during the presentation shows Raya and her young male sidekick searching some ruins before they stumble upon Sisu, who is only seen very briefly.

The presentation did show Sisu’s fully revealed design, but also the fact that Sisu can shape-shift and take a human form. Raya it seems will also form a ragtag band of heroes who will aid her in her quest. This almost seems like a mix of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Big Hero 6, but with a fantasy setting that’s inspired by and rooted in ancient Asian myth and legend. The film opens in theaters on November 25, 2020.

The Disney panel finished off with a nice look at Frozen 2. I’m glad that the original team of Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck are back for the sequel. Obviously, a sequel for Frozen 2 is not that surprising. It was more than likely inevitable. That being said, there were quite a few unanswered questions left by the first film, and it seems this film was based around answering those questions and solving those mysteries. They also said that both films can be seen as a complete story.

The sequel involves Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven traveling to an enchanted forest. The look and tone of the movie seems to almost have this autumn type of feel to it. It comes across through the forest as well. Queen Iduna will have a prominent role in the film, voiced by Evan Rachel Wood. A flashback scene was shown with Iduna singing a lullaby to young Anna and Elsa.

The other new character introduced for the sequel is Lt. Destin Mattias. Mattias is a soldier of Arendelle, but at one point he was trapped in the film’s enchanted forest, where he’s been for more than 30 years. Mattias is voiced by Sterling K. Brown. One clip was shown with him and Anna (Kristen Bell), where he talks about his father and not taking the safety of Arendelle for granted. I dunno, considering what was done with Hans in the first movie, it wouldn’t surprise if this seemingly kind and noble soldier turns out to be the bait-and-switch villain. Disney Animation does like themselves some bait-and-switch surprise villains as of late.

The third clip showed Elsa, Anna, Olaf, and Kristoff gathering for a game of charades. However, in the middle of the game, Elsa starts hearing a voice singing out to her like a siren’s song. At this point, Elsa’s kingdom has accepted her and she works to be a good queen, but she’s still wondering why she was born with magical powers. She feels like the answers are calling for her out “Into the Unknown.”

The D23 footage eventually leads to a great musical number for Elsa, voiced by the amazing Idina Menzel, singing “Into the Unknown.” The sequence looked complete and finished. It basically looks like this film’s version of “Let It Go.” Some of the lyrics give off the sense that Elsa feels like she doesn’t belong in Arendelle and might have to leave. Like something is calling her to do something else that might take her away from Anna. I could be wrong, but we shall see.

At some point, Elsa’s quest will lead her to the enchanted forest where there is also a threat against Arendelle. That’s where she will encounter Lt. Destin Mattias. The enchanted forest and dark seas where Elsa is looking to venture lie outside Arendelle. I think this is good because the fate of Anna and Elsa’s parents was very vague in the first movie. I mean, can we even be certain they died at sea? It seems there’s room for that to be left open to interpretation.

D23 Expo - Frozen 2

Trusted reindeer Sven and curious snowman Olaf (voice of Josh Gad) are up for an adventure in “Frozen 2.” They join Kristoff, Anna and Elsa on a journey into the unknown in search of answers about the past. From the Academy Award®-winning team—directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, producer Peter Del Vecho and songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez—Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Frozen 2” opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 22, 2019. © 2019 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

For Kristoff, it looks like he’s going to spend most of the movie trying to propose to Anna. His first attempt is comedically waylaid as he misreads the atmosphere while Anna is concerned about Elsa. Obviously, Olaf and Sven are along for the ride as comic relief.

The Frozen 2 main cast all made a big showing onstage for the end of the D23 presentation to sing another one of the film’s musical numbers “Some Things Never Change.” They all performed live. Considering I got to see the Frozen Sing-a-long back at D23 Expo 2015, I was happy to see some live singing performances for the cast.

Disney Theme Parks

One of the bigger reveals during the D23 Disney Parks and Products panel was the new preview for the Rise of Resistance attraction/ride coming to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland this year and Disney World next year. The new preview gave a better sense of what’s going on with the ride. It looks like park guests will be in a trackless vehicle as they try to infiltrate a First Order base after receiving intel from Vi Moradi.

I’m still not exactly clear on how the attraction will work, but it looks like you might encounter Kylo Ren during the mission. Personally, I think Disney should’ve waited to launch Galaxy’s Edge when Rise of the Resistance was ready. At least at the Disneyland park. It seems having that second attraction will round out the Galaxy’s Edge experience a little bit more, considering from what I’ve read, some of the more unique ideas for the park immersion were ultimately left aside.

The other big sell at D23 was the new Marvel Universe-themed Avengers Campus that will be coming to Disney’s California Adventure Park and Disneyland Paris. It took a while, but there’s finally going to be a Marvel theme park expansion at Disney. So, the first attraction will be a Spider-Man ride where some Spidey WEB drones have gone haywire and escaped and are running amok. Guests board a prototype web-slinger vehicle to assist Spider-Man to sling up these drones to keep them from escaping and causing trouble.

The new Spider-Man ride looks like it might be aimed at a more younger age set. It doesn’t look like it will be quite as exciting as the Spider-man ride at Marvel’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando. However, it also looks like there will be a new Avengers-themed Quinjet ride that’s in the works at the park, and that looks like it will be a real hot-ticket attraction.

Additionally, Epcot Center in Orlando is going to receive a new attraction themed around the Guardians of the Galaxy, which is also good news. The other new attraction that will be coming to Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim is Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

Now, as a big fan of the Cirque du Soleil shows, I’m very excited about the new Cirque show that’s themed around Disney Animation. This show is being created for Walt Disney World. I’m not sure if it will be an average full-length Cirque show, or if it’s being pared down for park attendees. But it sounds like a great idea as it will mix classic Disney animation with Cirque acrobatics and take attendees on a journey through Disney Animation history. I look forward to the results.

Overall, it was a good D23. That being said, if there are some more changes I would like to see, I would appreciate more individual panels and spotlights on specific shows for future D23 Conventions. Thank you to the Walt Disney Company for having us again at this year’s D23 Expo.