Though Star Wars: The Force Awakens will feature the long-awaited returns of original Star Wars trilogy heroes Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia Organa, the new movie is not going to be their story - in fact, Mark Hamill has confessed that the primary focus will be on the newcomers to the franchise. As a result, young faces like Finn, Rey, and Kylo Ren have been thrust into the spotlight during the marketing campaign, with glimpses of the old veterans few and far between.
The Force Awakens promotional materials have also cast a thick veil of secrecy around the project, and outside of basic character set-ups (i.e. Rey is a scavenger on Jakku, Finn is a stormtrooper gone AWOL, etc.), the juicy bits appear to have been saved for the movie's premiere. As fans count down the days until The Force Awakens is released, they've spent a lot of time speculating about the new guard - and how (or if) they're connected in any way to the characters we already know, including the protagonists of Star Wars: Episodes IV-VI.
Rumors about Skywalker familial ties have been swirling ever since the project was announced, and they've never really cooled down in the years since. There've been rumors that none of the new heroes are a Skywalker or a Solo, yet most fans remain convinced that we'll be seeing the offspring of Luke, Han, or Leia trying to save the galaxy, following in the footsteps of their parents and becoming legends in their own right. As exciting as that may seem, is there a limit to how many new Star Wars characters should be related to returning ones? Is there a line that J.J. Abrams shouldn't cross when launching this new era of Star Wars on film?
Let's take a look at the big picture and see if there's a "right" answer...
Continuing the Skywalker Saga
Let's get this out of the way now. Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy has come out and confirmed that the three installments of the sequel trilogy are in fact continuations of the Skywalker saga, going as far as to call it a "generational story":
“The Saga films focus on the Skywalker family saga. The stories follow a linear narrative that connects to the previous six films. The Force Awakens follows Return of the Jedi and continues that generational story. The Anthology films offer opportunities to explore fresh characters, new storylines and a variety of genres inside the Star Wars universe.”
The wording here heavily implies that at least one of the new faces will be a direct descendant of the famed Skywalker family. And honestly, this makes a great deal of sense for the Episode VII narrative. The two previous Star Wars film trilogies have placed a Skywalker as the main protagonist and followed his journey during a specific period in the galaxy's history. You can make the case that it wouldn't be a Star Wars saga movie without the presence of a young Skywalker (the Anthologies are a different story), and that the main character of these new films should be a part of that clan. In fact, many people would be shocked if none of the young characters were related to someone from the original trilogy.
The larger issue here is how far the filmmakers go with the "X is the child of Y" device when introducing the new characters. Nobody's suggesting that having one new Skywalker would be a bad idea. But that infamous J.J. Abrams mystery box has given some fans plenty of reasons to be concerned.
Making the Universe Small
A few months back, Abrams made headlines when he opened up about some of the Force Awakens characters. Noteworthy items included that the "Ren" of Kylo Ren symbolizes his allegiance to the Knights of Ren (meaning his true identity has yet to be revealed), and that the surnames of Finn and Rey are purposely being withheld until the film comes out. Anyone familiar with the director's shaky history of keeping character names a secret (see: Harrison, John) are sure to raise a few eyebrows, and it calls into question how many of the film's twists and big reveals will rely on "shocking" revelations about character relations.
One of the reasons why Star Wars sequels have so much potential is the fact that the franchise takes place in a vast galaxy far, far away with a plethora of individuals and worlds at its disposal. It would seem like a wasted opportunity then, if all the new aspects of the upcoming films had a direct connection to something that's come before (instead of being something truly new). The prequels received a fair dose of criticism for associations that seemed forced (Anakin built C-3PO!) - and since Abrams appears to be trying to distance the franchise from that trilogy of films, it would be counterproductive if the sequels fell into the same trappings.
It's important to keep in mind that there could be other reasons why some character names are being kept secret. It was recently rumored that "Finn" is simply a nickname derived from Finn's stormtrooper call signal FN-2187 due to Finn having no recollection of his time before the First Order. From that, it's plausible that a major part of his character arc will be uncovering his past and learning about where he came from. That doesn't necessarily mean Finn is related to an original trilogy hero, it's just that his birth name is a mystery for the character (so it should also be for the audience). His last name could be anything, but it would induce at least a few eye rolls if it turned out to be Calrissian or Windu.
Still, there's a very strong chance one (or perhaps two) of the new faces will be related to someone from the old guard, so the key is to find a balance. Many fans would be accepting of Rey Solo, but what if General Hux turned out to be a descendant of Grand Moff Tarkin (as some have speculated)? What if Captain Phasma is the daughter of Boba Fett? What of the rumor that Rian Johnson is looking to cast Han Solo's daughter for Episode VIII? This is the line the filmmakers have to be wary of. In a continuation of the Skywalker saga, the main character should be from that bloodline, but supporting characters should largely have no ties to the previous films. It's a big universe out there. Have fun with it.
Benefits of Having Children
Of course, featuring the offspring of classic trilogy characters in the sequel trilogy has the potential to be a very interesting aspect, which is why striking that balance is so vital. Making Han, Leia, or even Luke a parent would allow us to see people we've known for years in a different light and present them with a new set of personal challenges. It would make things feel fresh. New angles to explore (especially with fan-favorite characters) would arguably have The Force Awakens feel like an organic next step instead of a run-of-the-mill followup. Instead of just showing "old Han Solo," it's an elderly Captain Solo whose top priority in life is looking after his kid and doing what's best for them.
This would also be a nice way of honoring the discontinued Star Wars Expanded Universe (now dubbed Star Wars Legends), which was one of the most controversial aspects of Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm. The old EU had a large following, and was famous for telling stories about Jacen and Jaina Solo (Han and Leia's twins) and Ben Skywalker (son of Luke). A lot of people were upset by the Mouse House wiping out the EU to make way for the new canon novels, comic books, and films and it could be a nice compromise if the spirit of that long history was carried over into the new movies. We've already seen via the First Order's new super weapon that Abrams appears to be taking some inspiration from the EU, so that could extend to character dynamics.
Again, though, they need to be smart about they way they handle this. For all intents and purposes, The Force Awakens is a new story set in the Star Wars galaxy that shouldn't be dependent on pre-existing material for its narrative. If it makes sense for the film to have Rey or Kylo Ren be the next Skywalker to have a major impact on the universe, that's fine. But Abrams and his co-writer Lawrence Kasdan should not (or, given where we are now should have not) let fan service dictate what they do with the new characters. When developing the screenplay, they started with a clean slate and wide imaginations - so fingers crossed they came up with something that illustrates the scope of the Star Wars galaxy, while also logically continuing the saga of the Skywalkers.
Though nothing has been officially confirmed just yet, there's a substantial amount of evidence pointing towards at least one of the new characters being related to someone we've met before. Merchandise has given us plenty of tantalizing teases, as everything from trading cards to talking action figures hint at possible connections between characters. Also, months ago it was rumored that Kylo Ren has emotional ties to the Millennium Falcon, suggesting a childhood of fond memories flying around with a certain Corellian smuggler and a loyal Wookie. Abrams may be holding things back to preserve the experience of watching the film, but audiences won't be surprised if parental revelations prove to be part of The Force Awakens' game-plan.
Some fans have become discouraged by Lucasfilm's apparent lack of vision when devising stories for the standalone Anthology films. Despite having endless avenues to tell a multitude of stories in the franchise, the studio seems intent on keeping things overtly familiar (Rogue One is about stealing Death Star plans; a young Han Solo film) instead of truly expanding the series' horizons. That's not to say these movies can't or won't feature their fair share of characters and locations, but they do in essence make the universe smaller. The sequel trilogy is a real opportunity to grow and show off the expansiveness of it all - something Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow hopes to do.
So in the end, how many of the new Star Wars characters should be related? As long as Abrams and Kasdan kept it limited to one (or, at the most, two), there shouldn't be too many complaints. Since The Force Awakens does serve as the next step of the Skywalker story, it makes sense to see the next generation of that family in this film. However, moving forward, the filmmakers would be better served getting creative with how they introduce the other characters we're sure to meet in the next two installments. Give fans things that are new and fresh instead of connected for convenience.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.