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February 15, 2019

Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac may have just taken their last steps in a larger world.

Director J.J. Abrams on Friday announced that Star Wars: Episode IX, which is being billed as the conclusion of the franchise's Skywalker saga, has officially wrapped production. "There is no adequate way to thank this truly magical crew and cast," Abrams wrote, posting a photo of the film's main three stars hugging on set. "I'm forever indebted to you all."

Boyega wrote that this is "the end to a chapter of my life that I couldn't be more thankful for," also thanking Abrams for "making my dreams come true."

The photo is only the second glimpse of Episode IX, following a picture taken in the Millennium Falcon that Abrams tweeted when production began in August. The photo posted Friday reveals that Episode IX will feature scenes on a desert planet, perhaps Luke Skywalker's home, Tatooine, or Rey's home, Jakku. The photo also shows Rey and Finn sporting new hairdos, while Poe seems to be rocking some suspenders.

With 10 months to go until Episode IX is released, Lucasfilm still hasn't yet revealed the film's official title, but that announcement could be imminent. The title of The Force Awakens, after all, was announced shortly after production wrapped in 2014. Then again, the title of The Last Jedi wasn't announced until six months after production wrapped.

In addition to the returning cast, Episode IX will feature Billy Dee Williams reprising his role of Lando Calrissian, as well as a posthumous appearance by Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa using footage shot for The Force Awakens. The film hits theaters on Dec. 20. Brendan Morrow

May 24, 2019

The Supreme Court has blocked lower court rulings that required Ohio and Michigan's electoral maps to be immediately redrawn, NBC News reported Friday.

Previous court rulings had determined Ohio's map of congressional districts, and Michigan's map of congressional and state legislative districts, needed to be redrawn ahead of the 2020 election due to unconstitutional gerrymandering, in both cases favoring Republicans. But the Supreme Court on Friday put these orders on hold.

The justices are currently reviewing two gerrymandering cases, one concerning North Carolina and one concerning Maryland, during which they will decide whether the court has a role in such a matter. Verdicts are expected to be reached in these cases by the end of next month. Read more at The Washington Post. Brendan Morrow

May 24, 2019

Missouri's governor signed into law a strict abortion ban on Friday, adding it to the list of states that would have a dramatically different abortion landscape if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

The law, which bans abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, follows in the footsteps of four other states that have passed fetal "heartbeat" laws, as well as two states that have limited abortions to the middle of the second trimester, reports Axios.

At least six other states are currently considering restrictive abortion bills, as a nationwide momentum has led more bills to state legislatures. Six states have included "trigger laws," which are currently inactive but would go into effect banning all abortion the moment Roe is hypothetically overturned, reports CBS News.

But while Roe v. Wade remains a hot-button topic, experts say it's unlikely to be overturned — especially any time soon.

"The court just doesn't operate that way … This idea that you're going to force them to reconsider Roe v. Wade is just absurd," Pro-life lawyer James Bopp Jr. told Politico. "There's a lot of ill-informed hype on both sides about these measures … They'll never go into effect."

Caroline Fredrickson, with liberal legal group the American Constitution Society, told Politico that Chief Justice John Roberts would "probably prefer" the issue not be brought to the Supreme Court in the middle of an election. Marianne Dodson

May 24, 2019

The University of Oklahoma has been supplying false information to U.S. News & World Report for the last 20 years, reports CNN.

U.S. News & World Report, which creates the annual Best Colleges rankings, says the university has given "inflated" numbers on its alumni giving rates, of all things. Oklahoma will now be unranked in the 2019 rankings.

The university inflated its alumni giving rate by more than 4 percent, incorrectly claiming it was 14 percent instead of 9.7 percent. The alumni giving rate makes up 5 percent of the rankings formula, as it "measures student satisfaction and post-graduate engagement," reports CNN.

The school said it noticed the error in reporting in 2018 and immediately gave the accurate information to U.S. News. OU was ranked 97th in 2018 among both public and private institutions.

The revelation marks the second time in two years that a college has provided false information to U.S. News for several years, following Temple University's admission it had inflated information about its online M.B.A. program, per Inside Higher Ed. Marianne Dodson

May 24, 2019

Adam Levine has turned his chair for the final time.

The Maroon 5 frontman announced season 16 of The Voice would be his last as a coach, revealing the decision in an Instagram post Friday morning.

Levine has been with the talent competition show since its premiere in 2011 and is one of two judges, along with Blake Shelton, to remain as a coach during the show's 16 seasons. Levine and Shelton struck up a friendship and rivalry during the show's tenure, which has been credited as bolstering the show's success, reports People.

"Our friendship is and always will be one for the books," Levine wrote about Shelton on Instagram. "Whatever this whole surreal experience was, [I'm] just happy I got to experience it with you."

Levine ends his run on The Voice with three wins to his name, half of Shelton's six.

The Voice host Carson Daly told The Today Show that Levine's replacement would be former coach Gwen Stefani, who is dating Shelton. Marianne Dodson

May 24, 2019

After the Department of Health and Human Services announced on Friday that it would scrap an Obama-era policy that expressly forbade health care providers from discriminating against transgender patients, advocacy groups and lawmakers alike began criticizing the move as damaging to a vulnerable group of Americans.

The pending change reverts regulations back to prohibiting discrimination solely based on sex, not gender identity. "When Congress prohibited sex discrimination, it did so according to the plain meaning of the term, and we are making our regulations conform," HHS Director of the Office for Civil Rights Roger Severino told The Washington Post.

Democrats who are running for president in 2020 wasted no time in decrying the Trump administration.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) pointed out another aspect of the HHS change: As Axios reports, the rolled-back nondiscrimination policy could also let adoption agencies reject same-sex couples, leaning on new religious exemptions.

The National Center for Transgender Equality has vowed to fight the proposed change — once the policy is rewritten it will surely face several legal challenges, something many 2020 Democrats suggested is necessary. Summer Meza

May 24, 2019

The live-action Sonic won't be arriving in theaters as fast as expected.

Sonic the Hedgehog, the new live-action movie based on the hit video game franchise, has been delayed until February 2020 from its original release date of November 8, director Jeff Fowler announced on Friday. This comes after the decision was made to redesign the character amid widespread criticism. Fowler on Twitter suggested this delay will take some of the pressure off the movie's team of animators, as was a concern when the redesign was announced.

Fowler's tweet also seemingly teases one of the changes to Sonic's look: in the drawing he posted, Sonic's wearing a white glove like in the video games, whereas the version of Sonic shown off in the film's trailer just had white hands. The creator of Sonic himself had previously criticized that choice by saying he would "prefer it if they'd put some gloves on," Kotaku reports.

The reception to the live-action Sonic was almost universally negative after he was revealed in the film's official trailer last month, with fans objecting to, among other things, the character's weirdly human teeth and muscular legs. In a fairly unprecedented move, the team behind Sonic decided to respond to this criticism by actually going back and changing the film. Originally, they had just six months from that announcement to the release date, but another three months has just been added to that timetable.

Sonic is now set to be released on Valentine's Day 2020, one week after a Peter Rabbit sequel and Warner Bros.' Harley Quinn-centered Birds of Prey, as well as the same day as the next Kingsman. But considering fans had plenty of other problems with that initial trailer that had nothing to do with how Sonic looked, we'll find out next February whether this extraordinary effort was even worth it. Brendan Morrow

May 24, 2019

Weed is thriving in the stock market, but companies will need to hash out some legal issues if they want to reap the benefits in the U.S.

The stock market has given several marijuana companies valuations as high as $20 billion, but these stocks are listed with the caveat that they are unable to operate in the U.S. due to federal restrictions, reports Markets Insider. Under current laws in the U.S., the production, possession, and consumption of marijuana remains a criminal act.

Despite these restrictions, weed stocks are "astronomically valued" when compared to the tech, alcohol, and tobacco sectors, per Markets Insider.

Support for the legalization of marijuana is at an all-time high in the U.S., and 11 states have made the drug fully legal. But despite some states' support, weed companies cannot be listed in the U.S. market without violating federal law. Marianne Dodson

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