Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens is the biggest movie event of 2015, and along with the film come the hopes and expectations of millions of fans all over the world.
Everybody has their own preconceived notion of how The Force Awakens should tell its story, and where the Star Wars universe should go from this point forward. Having sifted through thousands of fan comments, on hundreds of articles, for the last few years now, we feel like we've gotten enough general consensus to come up with a list of at least 10 things that we (and a lot of other fans) want to see in Episode VII. So let's discuss in the list below - and if the Force be with us, we'll end up getting at least some of what we want when the film hits theaters on December 18th.
10 Great New Characters (Not Just Diversity)
The Force Awakens has been something of a lightning rod for its casting choices - particularly when it comes to the three new heroic leads, Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Poe (Oscar Isaac). Debate rages (as it seems to throughout cinema, these days) about whether these casting choices are representative of demographics that have been previously underrepresented in the Star Wars universe, or if they simply represent an attempt to pander to a wider fan ba$e.
Whatever the reasoning by the powers that be, we know that in the cases of Boyega (Attack the Block, 24: Live Another Day) and Isaacs (Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina) we're getting two fine, up-and-coming actors to lead this new Star Wars movie; and even as a relative unknown, there's been nothing so far to suggest that Daisy Ridley (Silent Witness) won't hold her own. All that's left is for J.J. Abrams and writer Lawrence Kasdan to have scripted quality characters in Finn, Rey and Poe, so that fans come away with three worthy new heroes to follow - and not just PC-approved echoes of our heroes from A New Hope.
9 Great New Aliens
One of the great things about the Star Wars Original Trilogy was the fantastical galactic world it offered, with the filmmakers using makeup, prosthetics, animatronics and puppetry to create a diverse range of alien species - some of whom have become iconic to the franchise despite having just a blip of actual screen time. When it came to the theatrical re-release of the OT trilogy in the '90s, Star Wars fans found that the alien creatures were now being created by CGI - an approach that pervaded the Prequel Trilogy, angering much of the fan base in the process. That's not to mention the prequels' unfortunate penchant for using alien characters as canvases for broad ethnic stereotypes (see: Jar Jar, Boss Nass, Nute Gunray, Watto, etc.) - a practice that hopefully ended with the prequels.
With The Force Awakens, we're hoping to see some new and interesting alien species on the silver screen. We already know that J.J. Abrams is making a return to practical effects like puppetry, prosthetics, and animatronics in order to bring his alien menagerie to life - hopefully, working from the concepts of iconic Star Wars artist Ralph McQuarrie has also inspired some creative designs for new creatures (and if rumors prove true, they have). With thirty years between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, the galaxy far, far, away has had plenty of time to broaden its extraterrestrial horizons.
8 Return of the Dramatic Duel
The Star Wars Original Trilogy stands up there with The Princess Bride in terms of knowing how to take something like a battle or duel (whether between swords, ships, or wits) and turn it into a rich scene of dramatic development. Whether it was Obi Wan Kenobi's duel with Darth Vader, or both of Vader's duels with Luke Skywalker - the raid on the Death Star (pt. 1), the Battle of Endor - these conflict moments weren't just filled with spectacle: they contained pivotal dialogue and character development that were integral to the larger narrative of the trilogy.
The Prequel Trilogy offered some enhanced action thanks to advances in both stunt choreography and visual effects; but as fun as it was seeing Yoda finally pop a lightsaber and go ninja on Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones, that spectacle (and many like it in the prequels) lacked the rich substance of simply seeing Vader and Obi Wan have a conversation while trading lightsaber swipes in A New Hope.
With The Force Awakens, we definitely want to see some big galactic battles and lightsaber duels - but we also want to those sequences to be enriched by meaningful development for the characters and story.
7 New Force Powers
The Force and its wielders (on both the good and evil sides) have always been one of the main attractions of the Star Wars universe. The Zen knight code of the Jedi, the easy compromises of emotion that lead to the darkside - those philosophical musings are great, but seeing how Force users actually use their powers is what viewers pay to see.
The Original Trilogy made special moments out of learning about The Force and the ways to use it; the prequels, by comparison, just poured on more of what the OT offered, ironically to muted effect. With The Force Awakens, we hope to see use of The Force expanded into new areas. And not just new tactics used for battle, but also, perhaps, more of the mysticism and magic that was explored in Yoda's Empire Strikes Back teachings, or in the Clone Wars animated series - or extensively in the unofficial Star Wars Expanded Universe. Given the title of the film, we need to see The Force re-awaken with a few new tricks up its sleeve.
6 New Darkside Mythology
Following closely with our hopes to see an expanded use of The Force in The Force Awakens, comes our earnest wish to see more of The Darkside in this new chapter. In the Original Trilogy, the conflict between the light and dark sides of The Force not only created a strong mythology around the Jedi - it also provided a lot of narrative weight and tension, as we watched Luke Skywalker battle against something most heroes never have to worry about: their own thoughts and emotions. In the prequels, the interesting philosophical quandaries of the OT were reduced to a more basic good and evil divide, and Anakin Skywalker's conversion to the Darkside was arguably the biggest missed opportunity for complex and layered storytelling.
The notion that just one wrong compromise or loss of perspective could lead one down a path of evil still resonates in our daily lives, so with The Force Awakens, we want to see the Darkside returned to a place where its philosophies feel frighteningly seductive. Force Awakens trailers are openly telegraphing the connection between villain Kylo Ren and Darth Vader, so there is question as to what Kylo and his fellow Knights of Ren are doing with their Darkside abilities. Are they all for conquer and evil? Or is Kylo's proclaimed mission to 'finish what Vader started' somehow a reference to the prophecy that Anakin/Vader would bring balance to The Force?
There's a lot of room for J.J. Abrams and Co. to play with the new mythology and mantra of The Darkside; we just hope they did so smartly.
5 Luke Skywalker: The Big Reveal
Star Wars fans were giddy when they learned that the OT cast was returning for The Force Awakens. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) - even sidekicks like C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) - are all coming back for this new Star Wars adventure, but there's one highly-anticipated returning hero that we have yet to see: Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill.
J.J. Abrams has already made it clear that Luke Skywalker being left out of trailers, posters and other promotional material for the film is no accident. Abrams has been super secretive about even the most minute details of The Force Awakens - let alone the secret of what Luke Skywalker has been up to since the end of Return of the Jedi, and why The Jedi have become myth since that time.
Some fan theories about Luke's whereabouts are pretty wild, so we just hope that when The Force Awaken's big reveal of Luke Skywalker finally comes, it's totally worth the wait.
4 New Vehicles & Thrilling Aerial Battles
Star Wars didn't become a phenomenon just because it had flashy laser swords and Eastern-themed warrior codes; George Lucas went outside the studio system and used his innovate filmmaking to create an impressive sci-fi adventure that wowed audiences. Before it was ever subtitled A New Hope, audiences were forever changed by Lucas' version of outer space warfare, featuring vehicles like the X-Wing and TIE fighters, which have gone on to become iconic staples of the Star Wars franchise, and sci-fi in general. For all the criticism it gets, the Prequel Trilogy also managed to introduce a lot of vehicle designs that proved memorable (podracers) - especially if you saw them shine in the Clone Wars animated series (Anakin Skywalker's Delta-7B and Eta-2 interceptors).
In terms of design PT had the challenge of scaling back the iconic vehicle designs of the OT, creating earlier models that were less advanced technologically, but still visually captivating and fun. The Force Awakens (and subsequently this entire sequel trilogy) has the challenge of advancing the OT designs 30 years, and from what we've seen so far (see pic above), Abrams and his design team may actually have a hard time branching out into new enough territory (see: that third Death Star weapon) - especially since they're drawing from the past for inspiration. Still, when that past involves the designs and concepts of a great like Ralph McQuarrie, how wrong can things go?
3 (New) Classic Musical Moments
John Williams' name is almost as synonymous with Star Wars as George Lucas' is, and Williams' themes for Luke Skywalker and The Jedi, The Empire, etc. are now the melodies of legend. The iconic composer continued with some great work for the Star Wars Prequels, putting down new classics like "Duel of the Fates" and the "Anakin vs. Obi Wan" fight theme.
With The Force Awakens bringing Williams back to once again provide a sonic guideline to our journey through a galaxy far, far, away, we're hoping our ears will be collectively rewarded with a mix of old melodies we cherish, and some new songs that once again leave us with goosebumps. In fact, the best possible merchandise to come out of Episode VII will hopefully be the new tunes we have stuck in our heads, long after seeing the film.
2 Measured Use of CGI
If there is one central argument that has reigned above all others in the great Star Wars 'Original Trilogy vs. Prequel Trilogy' debate, it's whether or not the PT represent Lucas compromising his own filmmaking values. The OT was full of innovative practical effects and old-school movie-making magic; by comparison, the PT was a hollow experience of green screen environments and CGI characters, which fans felt were a pale, pixelated, imitation of the OT's rich creativity.
In making The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams and his crew have openly expressed a commitment to take things back to the more practical and tactile filmmaking approach of the OT, while still using the filmmaking technology available today to make sure Episode VII is cutting edge, in terms of visual spectacle. We hope that Abrams and crew have struck a well measured balance between what is practical craftsmanship and what is CGI - but like with The Force, balance is a tricky thing to maintain. From motion-capture characters to big CG battle sequences, we hope The Force Awakens doesn't overdue it the way the Prequels did.
1 Strong Shared Universe Connections
When Disney purchased LucasFilm, one clear and immediate change in the game plan was that Disney wanted to follow the blueprint of its other big acquisition in recent years (Marvel), and launch a streamlined shared universe, able to house multiple Star Wars projects in one canonized timeline.
As such, the Star Wars canon pretty much goes like this (my best guestimate as of writing this):
- Episode I - The Phantom Menace
- Episode II - Attack of the Clones
- Clone Wars (animated series)
- Darth Maul - Son of Dathomir (comic book)
- Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
- A New Dawn (novel)
- Star Wars Rebels (animated series)
- Han Solo Movie (coming in 2018)
- Rogue One - A Stars Wars Story (coming in 2016)
- Episode IV - A New Hope
- Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
- Episode VI - The Return of the Jedi
- Episode VII - The Force Awakens
- Episode VIII
- Episode IX
Like with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the key to this Star Wars Shared Universe is going to be consistency. With the Expanded Universe and the many Star Wars spinoffs on various media platforms (comics, books, video games) now pruned, The Force Awakens is set to push the saga ahead into places that could reverberate throughout Star Wars canon - past, present and future. We just hope there's the type of smart planning and synergy that will one day make Rebels feel inseparably connected to A New Hope; or that Han Solo movie feel weighty and relevant to the events of Force Awakens, etc.
In short: If we're going to be getting Star Wars on the screen every year from now 'til the foreseeable future, we just hope the overall saga being woven is a rich tapestry, rather than a convoluted and disjointed mess.
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.