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9 Things We Learned from STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER’s VANITY FAIR Cover Story
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Since the days of the Star Wars prequels, it has been a running tradition for Vanity Fair to run covers dedicated to the new saga films in the months before they’re released. We’ve gotten full spreads for the newest films in the Skywalker series, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, so it was no surprise that we’d be getting them for The Rise of Skywalker, too.

Well, here they are, and holy cow are these things breathtaking. Annie Leibovitz has done it again.

But we didn’t just get new covers. We also got a feature from Lev Grossman that reveals a number of new things about the plot of The Rise of Skywalker, along with several character reveals. Here’s everything we learned from the Vanity Fair cover story.

The new desert planet is called Pasaana

No, that’s not Tatooine or Jakku or even Jedha. The desert planet where we see Rey and most of the cast in the new images is actually called Pasaana and was filmed in Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert.

The Jedi and Sith will be a major focus

Grossman doesn’t elaborate on this point, but states that “sources close to the movie” say that it will “bring to a climax the millennia-long conflict between the Jedi Order and its dark shadow, the Sith.” This will likely be in the ongoing conflict between Rey and Kylo, but we also know Luke is back, and given his voiceover in the teaser trailer, he will be guiding Rey (or Kylo) on how to grow the legacy of the Jedi to defeat ultimate evil.

The film was written around Leia’s deleted scenes from The Force Awakens 

Director J.J. Abrams teased this bit at Star Wars Celebration Chicago earlier this year, but he elaborates to Grossman. Because he needed the late Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia to tell the story, but didn’t feel right using CGI or recasting, he instead used cut and unused footage from his first Star Wars film to bring her back to life in the film. That meant fitting Leia’s would-be dialogue from that film into a new context.

Because of this, Fisher will once again share the screen with her real-life daughter, Billie Lourd, who plays Lieutenant Connix. “There are moments where they’re talking; there are moments where they’re touching,” Abrams says. “There are moments in this movie where Carrie is there, and I really do feel there is an element of the uncanny, spiritual, you know, classic Carrie, that it would have happened this way, because somehow it worked. And I never thought it would.”

Keri Russell and Richard E. Grant’s characters were revealed

Yes, we finally know who Russell and Grant are playing! The former is a sleek bounty hunter (or “masked scoundrel,” as the magazine calls her) Zorri Bliss, and the latter is playing the First Order’s Allegiant General Pryde.

There’s a new snow-dusted planet called Kijimi

The planet we see briefly in the first teaser trailer for the film, where snow is lightly dusting parts of the surface, has a name: Kijimi, which is also home to a place called the Thieves Quarter, where we find Zorri Bliss. It seems possible someone heads there to recruit Zorri for some kind of mission, but that’s just speculation for now.

Rey’s training is “almost complete” in the film

Because “about a year” has passed since the events of The Last Jedi, Rey in The Rise of Skywalker has grown into a mostly fully fledged Jedi. That means it’s up to her to reinstate the Jedi Order in the film and continue the legacy. But will she do it alone?

Finn and Poe are Resistance leaders now

Finn struggled with finding his place in the first two films of the sequel trilogy, but by the time The Rise of Skywalker rolls around, we’ll see him fully steeped in the role of a Resistance officer. Likewise is Poe, who has always been dedicated to the cause, but who will have a new leadership role in the next film. “There has been a bit of shared history that you haven’t seen,” Oscar Isaac told VF. “Whereas in the other films, Poe is this kind of lone wolf, now he’s really part of a group. They’re going out and going on missions and have a much more familiar dynamic now.”

There are new space aliens 

Speaking of Finn, we learn from the article that Naomi Ackie’s character Jannah is a “new ally” of the Resistance. She’s pictured with Finn atop long-faced, horse-like creatures called orbaks. On the Jordanian desert planet, Pasaana, there is also a race of aliens called the Aki-Aki, who were played by locals.

The Knights of Ren are in the film

One of the coolest behind-the-scenes photographs from the article shows Abrams conversing with the fabled Knights of Ren, who first appeared in The Force Awakens but have remained offscreen since. Who are they and what do they represent? We don’t know much, but the article says that they are “elite fearsome enforcers of Kylo Ren’s dark will.” They’re shown on the Pasaana set.

The movie is less traditional than The Force Awakens

Abrams told Grossman that he wasn’t so adhered to classic Star Wars style this time around. “On seven, I felt beholden to Star Wars in a way that was interesting—I was doing what to the best of my ability I felt Star Wars should be,” Abrams said. But this time, that feeling changed. “It felt slightly more renegade; it felt slightly more like, you know, F*** it, I’m going to do the thing that feels right because it does, not because it adheres to something.” He says he used different camera angles, lighting, and story choices than are typical for Star Wars.

Images: Disney, Lucasfilm