For all of its success at the box office around the world ($1.3 billion and counting), Avengers: Age of Ultron couldn’t escape criticisms for overloading on characters and lacking some focus as it attempted to setup many facets of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Making this massive ensemble epic was a grueling experience for writer and director Joss Whedon, so much so that he couldn’t hide his issues over creative control with Marvel HQ while promoting the film – something that made it clear why he’s already said he wouldn’t be back to direct Avengers 3 & 4.

For Marvel’s other team-up brand getting a sequel, the situation couldn’t be more different. Writer and director James Gunn just finished the first draft of the Guardians of the Galaxy 2 script and after having a “blast” making the first film, he couldn’t be more excited about his story and plans for the followup. Why is his situation so different?

In another half-hour Periscope session this evening, James Gunn fielded all sorts of questions from fans and opened the discussion by emphatically stating that on a scale of 1-10, his excitement is “72” for the Guardians of the Galaxy 2 script. And it’s because it’s entirely his, using characters that are entirely his to tell a new story that’s entirely his.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 isn’t forced to fit in puzzle pieces from other creators nor is it required to serve as setup for Avengers: Infinity War. It’s the most standalone series Marvel has, and on top of that, since Marvel doesn’t actually own a significant portion of the film rights to its cosmic characters, the Guardians movies couldn’t even tell many of the stories the way they’re told in Marvel Comics anyway.

With Avengers: Age of Ultron, Joss Whedon needed to adhere to a dozen films that came before, while simultaneously laying the groundwork for Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, and more Avengers movies. It needed to bring back an ensemble, give its members a fair share of screen time, and then somehow add more to it. With Guardians, Gunn is in the opposite sort of situation and the sequel is squarely focused on delving deeper in the main characters introduced last time around (and getting to know them emotionally). That’s why Chris Pratt teared up when Gunn shared the pitch to him.

Responding to news of Pratt’s tears, Gunn explained:

“It’s a very moving script. Listen, one of the main things with Guardians of the Galaxy is not to add a bunch of characters, not to make it bigger in that way but to go deeper with the characters. And yeah, there’s going to be the big things we’ve come to expect from those big battles and action sequences and things like that, big colorful locations and beautiful set pieces, and wonderful designs by visual effects artists and all of us, but what really matters to me is going deeper into the characters and getting to know them more emotionally. And I think we have a story that’s really, truly true for everyone and it just happens to be about aliens.”

And there’s no better way to emphasize that idea than the sequel surprisingly featuring less characters than the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

“People ask for so many characters to be in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and they ask for so many actors who they want to be in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 but we actually have less characters in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 than we have in Guardians of the Galaxy 1 because everything is just getting too sprawling and too crazy for me in these superhero comic book movies. And also in superhero comics in general. There’s just too many characters so you can’t concentrate on one and really get to know that character, and I really want to get to know the characters that we know better, and yeah, we will be introducing a new character…”

He later addressed the topic again, agreeing with viewers that having a smaller cast can be a good thing. He raises the issue of fandom today always looking ahead and focusing on which characters can be introduced here and there, and where they go next, more than the movie itself. Gunn wants to focus squarely on Guardians 2 and making that the best and most emotional it can be. Lucky for him, he was allowed to do just that. And they even dropped a key character to make it work, honoring the idea that sometimes less is more.

“I did not get any help with the first draft of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 other than I wrote a scriptment which I’ve been working on for nine months, and I wrote that very, very in-depth scriptment which is a 70-page combination of a script and a treatment and it goes through every beat of the movie, everything, and I’ve been going through that and showing that to [Marvel Studios Boss] Kevin [Feige] and getting feedback and seeing what worked and what didn’t, what characters work, what didn’t. I mean, people will be disappointed – at some point I’ll release – but I had another big character in my original draft and it was just getting too busy. I took that character out. And it’s a character I like a lot and hope to work with in the future but I just didn’t have room for that person, that character.”

So, we now know there’s one main new character and that there was a second key player who probably won’t show up until Guardians of the Galaxy 3. We can safely assume that said newcomer is joining the team roster, and if previous hints and our theories are on the right track, one familiar non-Guardian may join the team too.

Director James Gunn at Guardians of the Galaxy World Premiere

Gunn reiterated that the core five members from the first film are returning alongside Yondu (Michael Rooker), Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). There’s no word on whether or not Nova Corps will be a factor in the sequel’s story and Gunn has not mentioned Glenn Close or John C. Reilly yet. Start sharing your theories on who the new Guardian is and who Gunn had to remove from the script, and in the meantime, some other tidbits from the live chat:

  • Whether or not Gunn will be involved in Guardians 3 depends on how he feels after the next one.
  • He likes the new Howard the Duck comic.
  • “We do not have Captain Marvel yet,” referring to casting.
  • As a wrap gift for finishing GOTG, Marvel gave Gunn the orb and the Infinity Stone that came in it which was originally red in color (it’s purple in the movie).
  • Doesn’t have a whole lot of interest in Infinity War.
  • For the comic readers, Star-Lord’s guns are not element guns.
  • Doesn’t know who’s playing Star-Lord’s dad yet.
  • If it were up to Gunn, Squirrel Girl would be in the MCU.
  • Scott Chambliss (Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness) is the production designer on GOTG 2.
  • All the songs for Awesome Mix Vol. 2 have been chosen and are built into the script.

More: Casting Already Underway For Guardians of the Galaxy 2

James Gunn is writing and directing the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel with returning stars Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel.

Ant-Man releases July 17 2015, Captain America: Civil War on May 6 2016, Doctor Strange on November 4 2016, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on May 5 2017, Spider-Man on July 28, 2017, Thor: Ragnarok on November 3 2017, Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 on May 4 2018, Black Panther on July 6 2018, Captain Marvel on November 2 2018, Avengers: Infinity War – Part 2 on May 3 2019 and Inhumans on July 12, 2019.

Header art by Jenny Harder