Anaheim, CA -- While day one of the D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center focused on content from Disney Animation, Pixar and Disney Live Action, the inner (and outer) nerd in all of us was especially excited for what was to come from the studio presentations the following day: Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios and 20th Century Studios. While some Disney-affiliated networks and streaming platforms had interactive exhibits, like the Disney Bundle Pavillion featuring Hulu, Disney+ and ESPN content, some of the biggest spaces were dedicated to Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm -- and for good reason. Both studios combined released nearly two dozen titles since the last D23 Expo in 2019 and will release almost as many before the next expo in 2024.
A massive screening space was dedicated to showing behind-the-scenes featurettes of Thor: Love and Thunder and the Disney+ series Loki, with costumes on display from recent MCU titles including Moon Knight, WandaVision and Ms. Marvel. The Lucasfilm exhibit also had clips from its projects playing on screens around illustrious costumes on display from The Mandalorian, Indiana Jones and the upcoming Disney+ series Willow. 20th Century Studios ended up surprising fans with a massive interactive exhibit, but we'll get into that below.
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Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, whose extensive resume includes the Indiana Jones, Jurassic ParkandBack to the Future franchises, introduced the latest Lucasfilm project, Andor, a spy thriller series that serves as a prequel to 2016's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It's the story of fan-favorite rebel Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna, who also serves as executive producer. After the debut of the series' final trailer before its September 21st release on Disney+ Luna and Kennedy were joined onstage by Genevieve O'Reilly, reprising her role of Mon Mothma from 2005's Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, along with Kyle Soller and Adria Arjona.
Next up was the magical fantasy-adventure series Willow, introduced by the title sorcerer himself Warwick Davis, who first entered the Lucasfilm family in 1983's Return of the Jedi as Wicket, and portrayed several other characters throughout the franchise. Among the ensemble cast is Joanne Whalley, returning as Sorsha from the 1988 film, and -- much to the surprise of fans -- Christian Slater, whose involvement was announced during the presentation. The series will premiere November 30th on Disney+.
On the animation side, long-time Lucasfilm collaborator and executive producer Dave Filoni shared an exclusive image from the second season of Star Wars: The Bad Batch, with voiceover legend Dee Bradley Baker returning to voice each of the clone troopers from the title squad. Also announced was Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi, a six-part series of animated shorts that takes place during the prequel trilogy and explores the backstories of such characters as Ahsoka Tano and Jedi-turned-Sith lord Count Dooku, originally played by the late Christopher Lee.
Director, executive producer and actor Jon Favreau (Iron Man, The Mandalorian) joined Filoni onstage to share more about the next live-action series in the ever-expanding universe. Ahsoka stars Rosario Dawson, reprising the role of the exiled Jedi turned lone warrior first seen in a live-action setting in The Mandalorian and later in The Book of Boba Fett. Another live-action series announced was Star Wars: Skeleton Crew, created by Jon Watts, director of the MCU Spider-Mantrilogy, and his long-time collaborator, producer and writer Chris Ford. The adventure series will center on four kids lost in space trying to find their way home and will star Jude Law.
Last on the Star Wars side of Lucasfilm was the highly anticipated third season of The Mandalorian, which picks up after the climactic battle in The Book of Boba Fett. Frequent director of the series Rick Famuyiwa will be part of the producing team as executive producer for the third season. He joined Favreau and Filoni onstage, along with the Mandalorian himself Pedro Pascal, as well as Katee Sackhoff, Amy Sedaris, Giancarlo Esposito and Emily Swallow. Esposito shared his excitement regarding the third season. "Great storytelling, great action, great characters who are involved in something that is real and with purpose," he said passionately. "It is the hero and the heroine's journey that matters. It's a wonderful place to be in the child-like wonder of this franchise."
Wrapping up the Lucasfilm presentation was an announcement that earned one of the loudest eruptions of cheers from the audience -- the return of Indiana Jones. The crowd only got louder when the crusader himself, Harrison Ford, joined Kennedy and director James Mangold (Logan) on stage, along with his co-star Phoebe Waller-Bridge. When the film premieres in 2023, Ford will have been playing the iconic character for a total of 42 years across five films, a record bested by his Star Wars co-star Mark Hamill who has portrayed Luke Skywalker for 43 years. Ford was very moved by the response from the crowd and got a bit choked up when addressing the fans. "Thank you for making these films such an incredible experience for all of us," he said. "These movies are about fantasy and mystery, but they're also about heart … [and this] movie will kick your ass."
It seemed like there were dozens of announcements from Marvel Studios President and producer Kevin Feige. But first, a musical number! A spectacular cast of singers and dancers burst onto the stage and into song. Feige described it as "the first, and maybe the last, Marvel musical sequence." The ensemble performed "I Could Do This All Day" as seen in the Disney+ series Hawkeye from the fictional Rogers: The Musical, written by Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award-winning composer Marc Shaiman.
Fans were then treated to an exclusive first look at the upcoming film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, with director Ryan Coogler and cast members Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright and Winston Duke reprising their respective roles of Queen Ramonda, Shuri and M'Baku. MCU newcomer Tenoch Huerta plays the role of Namor, ruler of Talocan, changed from the Sub-Mariner comics' Atlantis and instead focusing on the cultural legends of ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations. The film will premiere exclusively in theatres November 11.
Picking up after the events of Wakanda Forever is Disney+ series Ironheart, executive produced by Coogler and starring Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams, a young inventor who builds armored suits similar to the Iron Man suit. Coogler shared that the series will incorporate and show the dynamics between both technology and magic, the latter thanks to Parker Robbins aka The Hood, played by MCU newcomer Anthony Ramos. Another Latino actor joining the MCU is Gael Garcia-Bernal who will star alongside Laura Donnelly in the first-ever MCU special presentation this Halloween, Werewolf By Night, inspired by the horror specials of the Golden Age of Hollywood and described by Feige as "fun-scary."
Kicking off Phase 5 of the MCU is Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and amping up the crowd were the actors who portray the title duo, Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly, respectively, along with Jonathan Majors, reprising his role of Kang, first seen in Disney+ series Loki as the mysterious "He Who Remains." The film will hit theaters in February 2023 and follows the Ant-Man team entering the Quantum Realm, a place that bends the laws of reality. Feige shared that the film will directly connect with Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.
Next up were two Disney+ series that will feature Don Cheadle returning as James Rhodes aka War Machine. The first was Secret Invasion, also starring Nick Fury himself Samuel L. Jackson who, after his first run-in with the shape-shifting Skrulls in Captain Marvel, is on the hunt for a faction of Skrulls who have been infiltrating human society and hiding among us. The series features an all-star cast including Olivia Coleman, Emilia Clarke and Kingsley Ben-Adir and also sees the return of Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill and Ben Mendelsohn as the Skrull Talos. The second series is Armor Wars, which Feige described as the series as "based in part on a very popular comic series involving Stark armor getting into the wrong hands. There's one man standing who can help us with that, and that's Jim Rhodes." The series goes into production in 2023.
And then came Loki, the first MCU series to receive a second season order. The villain everyone loved to hate and now loves to root for, Asgardian trickster Loki is back with none other than Tom Hiddleston reprising his role. Hiddleston joined Feige onstage, along with returning co-stars Sophia Di Martino and Owen Wilson and their new co-star Ke Huy Quan (Everything Everywhere All At Once). "Is this not the Indiana Jones panel?" he joked. (Quan made his feature film debut in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as Short Round.) After the presentation, Quan posted a backstage selfie with Harrison Ford, with the caption "I Love You, Indy -- Indiana Jones and Short Round reunited after 38 years" on his Instagram.
In other news, Feige announced that WandaVision director Matt Shakman would be directing Fantastic 4. Hawkeye spin-off Echo, which recently wrapped production, will be the first MCU property with an Indigenous actor in a leading role and a nearly all-Indigenous cast, with Alaqua Cox in the title role alongside Devery Jacobs (Reservation Dogs), Academy Award nominee Graham Greene, Cody Lightning and -- reprising the role of villainous Wilson Fiske from Hawkeye and Daredevil -- Vincent D'Onofrio. After an exclusive first look at the series, the cast left the stage while D'Onofrio lingered and asked Feige, "Aren't you supposed to talk about my show?" to which an off-stage voice replied, "Don't you mean my show?"
Cheers and applause erupted from the audience as Daredevil himself, Charlie Cox then joined his co-star onstage. After the cancellation of the many Marvel series on Netflix, the fate of those characters were left up in the air. But Cox reprised his role of Matt Murdock in Spider-Man: No Way Home while D'Onofrio returned in Hawkeye. The series has yet to begin production so there was no first look for Daredevil: Born Again, but they did share a clip from his guest appearance in an upcoming episode of She-Hulk: Attorney At Law where we see Cox back in his Daredevil costume for the first time since 2018.
Next was the announcement of the fourth Captain America film Captain America: New World Order which sees the return of Anthony Mackie as Captain America, with Danny Ramirez reprising his role of Joaquin Torres from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, presumably as the new Falcon; Carl Lumbly as Isaiah Bradley, the Black super soldier we met in the aforementioned series; and Tim Blake Nelson, who first appeared in the second MCU film The Incredible Hulk, and now officially plays The Leader, first teased in that 2008 film.
Thunderbolts follows a rag-tag team of super soldiers and enhanced individuals working for Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It was first teased in Falcon and the Winter Soldier when Valentina recruited U.S. Agent (Wyatt Russell) to join a team she's assembling. Next, we saw her recruit Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh). The rest of the team was announced at D23. They include Yelena's adoptive father Red Guardian (David Harbour); Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who first appeared in Ant-Man and the Wasp; Black Widow antagonist The Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko), and lastly, Sebastian Stan returning as Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier. The film is set for a theatrical release July 26, 2024.
Marvel Studios wrapped things up with an exclusive first look at The Marvels which reunites Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) with a now grown-up Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) who we met in WandaVision, and Avengers superfan Kamala Khan -- aka Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) -- all of whom joined Feige onstage, along with the film's director Nia DaCosta (Candyman) who has become the youngest person to direct a Marvel film, a title previously held by Ryan Coogler. It's crazy to think that DaCosta was still a teenager when the MCU kicked off in 2008 and now she's directing her own film 14 years later.
20th Century Studios
Wrapping up the three-hour long presentation was a special look at the long-awaited Avatar: The Way of Water. Executive Producer and Director James Cameron appeared on screen from New Zealand where he was still working on the film and its planned sequels. Then cast members including Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver (who plays a new role after her character's death in the 2009 film) and producer Jon Landau appeared in-person on the Hall D23 stage.
The Avatar team surprised fans with the announcement that they were about to enjoy a fully immersive experience, the first of anyone worldwide -- and in a matter of minutes Hall D23 was converted into a 3D theater. Dolby 3D glasses were handed to each audience member to get a full feel of what the theatrical experience would be like when the film opens this December.
As I said in my previous D23 recap, it truly is amazing to see how much diversity there is among these titles. As this presentation made clear, there's a whole new class of Black, Latinx, Asian and Indigenous actors joining the ever-expanding Star Wars and Marvel Cinematic Universes.
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