Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the first theatrically-released Star Wars live-action movie to not involve George Lucas in any significant creativity capacity, with Star Trek alum J.J. Abrams serving as director and co-writer instead. However, Abrams' collaborator on the film's screenplay is Lawrence Kasdan - a fellow very much versed in old-school Star Wars cinema, having written The Empire Strikes Back and co-penned Return of the Jedi, more than thirty years ago.
The majority of the Force Awakens is expected to focus on three younger characters: Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). However, there are a number of "original trilogy" characters who will show up along the way, with a number of the actors behind them (Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford among) having not visited a galaxy far, far away on the big screen in more than three decades, similar to Kasdan.
Kasdan, during an interview with Vanity Fair, said that writing for thirty years older version of characters like Luke (Hamill), Leia (Fisher), and Han (Ford) was fun since they're all relatively close to his own age - and thus, "You get to infuse them to the extent that you can with your experience of 30 years on." The interviewer then noted that a fair chunk of Kasdan's post-Return of the Jedi has been about looking back on the past and the passage of time (see: The Big Chill), prompting the following response from the writer:
I think everything that I’ve ever directed and written is about that in one way or another. And I’ll tell you something, I’ve got three grandchildren now and that theme just comes up every day. How am I affecting them? Is my experience of any use to them? Do they give a s**t? I’ve just been reading a lot of Dennis Lehane. He’s obsessed with the same things that I am: fathers and sons and passing on wisdom; the inability to gain wisdom, which is really what interests me; and death, which defines all our life.
It's worth nothing this since there are a number of spoiler-y Force Awakens story rumors that indicate the film ought to contain similar themes to what Kasdan is describing here. Mind you, that's not to say those ideas will be explored in exactly the ways the rumor mill's claiming, but even the Force Awakens trailer points to characters such as Luke and Han being mentors who help and guide the film's younger protagonists on their adventures - having accrued much more wisdom and experience, over the three decades since last we saw them. (And this isn't the first time fans have had fair reason to wonder if all of the OT players will make it out of Abrams' Star Wars installment alive...)
Force Awakens is now well into post-production, so at this point the challenge - from a storytelling perspective - has shifted from putting together a narrative to determining what plot material should remain in the film's final cut - and what material ought to be left on the (figurative) cutting room floor. Kasdan discussed that a little, during his talk with Vanity Fair:
And this new movie, first of all, it’s turning out really great. J.J. directed it so beautifully, and it’s so exhilarating and everything. It’s a big movie. It’s full of wonderful stuff, incident and character stuff and jokes and effects. One of the things that we always refocus on from the get-go was that it not be one of these very long, bloated blockbusters. A lot of very entertaining movies lately are too long. In the last 20 minutes, you think, why isn’t this over? We didn’t want to make a movie like that. I mean, we were really aiming to have it be—when it’s over you’ll say, “I wish there’s more.” Or, “Wait, is it over?” Because how rarely you get that feeling nowadays, and I think we’re headed there. But it means that there will be constant critical looking at it from now to the end, saying, “Do we need this? Do we need that? Is it better if this comes out, even though we love it?” Killing your darlings.
It's worth noting that Abrams' previous blockbuster directorial efforts (Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness) were all between 120-135 minutes long even with end credits, so it's reasonable to think that he and Kasdan are aiming for a similar running time with The Force Awakens. There are certainly cases of recent big-budget features where the prolonged running times was justifiable, but there are certainly other tentpoles that fell on the bloated side (we'll name-drop The Lone Ranger, since that's an easy target). However, with all films the key is getting the runtime just right, and so much will be true here too.
Last, but not least, Kasdan stated matter of factly that Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) will not make a surprise appearance in Force Awakens, before he gave Vanity Fair the following tease - indicating the silver-tongue scoundrel may return one day:
Right now, there’s no Lando Calrissian in this movie. But Lando I don’t think is finished in any way, shape, or form.
Williams has, in the past, hinted that he might reprise as Lando on the big screen one day too, but it's not clear yet if there's any definite plan in place - like, saying Lando playing a role in Rian Johnson's Star Wars: Episode VIII. It's also worth noting that Lando has already shown up on the animated Star Wars Rebels TV series (with Williams providing his vocals), and he could easily return on that show in the future too. Meanwhile, the fan-favorite character will also be headlining his own Marvel comic book series in the months ahead.
The short of it: Lando isn't guaranteed to show up in future "Episode" quite yet, but there are certain signs pointing in that general direction - and at the very least, the character will continue to be some part of the Star Wars multi-media universe moving on forward, in some form or another.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in U.S. theaters on December 18th, 2015; Star Wars: Rogue One follows on December 16th, 2016; and Star Wars: Episode VIII (subtitle TBD) on May 26th, 2017.
Source: Variety Fair