In 1979, Ridley Scott brought the Xenomorph (which would become one of the most famous and horrific science fiction monsters of all time) to the big screen in his film Alien. James Cameron took over for the sequel Aliens, ramping up the action and introducing Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to Colonial Marine Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn) and Newt (Carrie Henn), a child who survived an alien attack on her colony.
Biehn has been rumored to reprise the role in Alien 5, joining Sigourney Weaver in director Neill Blomkamp's upcoming entry in the series. The character was thought to be dead at the beginning of Alien 3, when the escape ship carrying himself, Ripley and Newt crashes and Ripley is pronounced the only survivor. That decision has long been derided for ending Hicks' storyline too abruptly, and the concept art released by Blomkamp seems to confirm the director agrees: Hicks' story isn't over.
The most recent concept art released online by Blomkamp (see below) clearly features Hicks alongside Ripley. In continuity, the photo must take place after the events of Aliens, as Hicks' face was disfigured at the end of that film by the Xenomorph's acidic blood.
The biggest question about the decision to include Corporal Hicks in the film is how the continuity of the universe is laid out. In the beginning of Alien 3, Hicks is said to have died in a crash landing. However, the events of the 2013 video game Aliens: Colonial Marines revealed that Hicks was never in the crashed ship. Instead, he had been awoken from stasis to help fend off an attack from Weyland-Yutani mercenaries. During the ensuing battle, Ripley and Newt are accidentally ejected from the ship, crashing onto the planet Fiorina 161, the planet where Alien 3 takes place.
It seems unlikely that Blomkamp is going to want to include events from the game in his story, considering the poor critical reception for Colonial Marines. Still, the game does set a precedent for the character's survival in the series. It seems that Alien 5 may also re-examine the crash and reveal that Hicks was never killed in the first place. After the franchise's recent lackluster offerings, it's hard to imagine any fans would complain if Hicks was brought back with minimal backstory.
Blomkmap has previously gone on the record stating that he considers his film to be a successor to Aliens - calling it "the genetic sibling of Aliens" - and as such the timeline would be "Alien, Aliens, and then this movie." However, with the obvious aging of the characters, it would be hard to imagine that this film somehow took place between Aliens and Alien 3. He's also told media outlets like AlloCiné that he doesn't want to undo the events of the last two Alien movies:
"My favorites are the first two movies, so I want to make a film that's connected to 'Alien' and 'Aliens'. That's my goal. I'm not trying to undo 'Alien 3' or 'Alien: Resurrection.' I just want it to be connected to 'Alien 1' and '2'."
Hicks has been repeatedly showing up in the concept art for Alien 5, so it's more likely than not that we'll be seeing him in the upcoming film. While Blomkamp can't remove Alien 3 from continuity, the safest bet is that Hicks will be ret-conned to have survived the crash that begins the film. There are certainly other possibilities (some kind of cloning experiment a la how Ripley returned in Alien: Resurrection?), so feel free to share your own theories below.
Alien 5 does not have an official release date. We'll keep you updated as more information becomes available.