It's that time again. There has been a re-awakening. All across the world, fans of all ages are once again Catching Star Wars mania, in anticipation of the release of Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams' continuation to George Lucas' Star Wars saga.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has generated a massive swell of buzz thanks to the launch of an official poster and the recent debut of Star Wars 7 trailer #3, which gave us our best look yet at the story details and possible implications of this latest chapter in the Star Wars saga.
But while there are millions of hardcore Star Wars fans geeking out about every known (or rumored) details of Episode VII, there are also just as many fans who are only now learning about the film. For those not yet in the know, here are The Most Interesting Things to Know About Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens.
It takes Place 30 Years After Return of the Jedi
The premise of The Force Awakens is that 30 years after the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi, The Empire didn't just end with the death of Emperor Palpatine; on the contrary, the war goes on. With two new factions taking up the fight (more on them later), the galaxy far, far, away is still ripped apart by warfare, with many still living under the threat of super weapons that could wipe out their existence in the blink of an eye. Moreover, it seems that even after Luke Skywalker's defeat of the Emperor and resurrection of the Jedi order, the ways of The Force have somehow fallen to myth, as has the existence of its disciples (The Jedi and Sith Lords).
Why It's Interesting: This particular way of continuing the story not only poses interesting questions about the state of characters we know and love from the Original Star Wars Trilogy - it's also an interesting parallel to real-world context. A continuing war, the threat of sudden disastrous attack; a faction of radical extremists (The Knights of Ren) - for better or worse, Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan (Empire Strikes Back) have worked in some modern-minded metaphors into their fantastical sci-fi adventure.
The Factions Are Different; The Battle Is Not
Cleverness points for the double entendre up above; Star Wars: The Force Awakens is truly a double case of new factions continuing an all-too-familiar battle.
In the film's storyline, the old warring factions of The Rebellion and The Empire are no longer what they were. In their place we meet The First Order and The Resistance; the former seeks to complete the vision of The Empire, under the evil leadership of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) - the latter serves as the new group that old heroes like Leia Skywalker and Han Solo now lead. The First Order has a massive super weapon called the Starkiller Base, which is located on an ice planet. In terms of The Force: the status of the Jedi is unknown at this time, but the Darkside has a faction called the Knights of Ren, which operates within the banners of The First Order.
Behind the scenes, there is a new faction at work: Disney purchased LucasFilm and the Star Wars property from George Lucas in 2012, with super-producer Kathleen Kennedy now in charge of the brand. After re-launching Star Trek in theaters, director J.J. Abrams was picked to direct The Force Awakens, and has come to the project with a mindset to recapture the magic of the original trilogy (read: practical effects), while still utilizing the full-scope spectacle of modern film technology (read: IMAX 3D).
Why It's Interesting: On a story level, it seems Star Wars 7 will basically attempt to retell much of the same story as the original Star Wars movie, A New Hope, only in modern context. Behind the scenes, it seems Abrams is doing much the same thing: taking a lot of old material (like original costume, vehicle, and character designs by iconic Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie), and attempting to balance it with modern filmmaking techniques (CGI).
What's going to be interesting is seeing if A) Abrams can achieve the sort of balance between classic and modern that he's aiming for, and B) If Abrams hits his mark, will audiences appreciate that balance more than the CGI-rampant prequels. As for the story: There are already some who feel the setup for Force Awakens is too close to that of A New Hope. Will Abrams' nostalgia prove to be a detriment, if audiences come away feeling like they've seen a New Hope remake?
The Old Cast Is Back (For Now)
One of the biggest things that Star Wars 7 has going for it is the nostalgia factor. J.J. Abrams has definitely used the magic and goodwill towards the original Star Wars movies to slowly but surely rekindle the spark in older fans, while luring new fans to the theater. And fostering that nostalgia has meant bringing back those who inspired it in the first place: the original Star Wars cast. Episode VII won't just bring back the big heroes like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) - even the original actors who played side characters like Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) are coming back to the screen.
Why It's Interesting: Seeing old friends come back to the screen is always nice - but if an era of remakes and reboots has taught us anything, it's that in some ways you never truly can go home again. It'll be interesting to see how actors like Hamill, Ford and Fisher - who have all aged gracefully and actively within the biz - do, stepping back into their most iconic roles. It will also be interesting to see how long they hang around; from health issues (Mayhew) to fading concern with the limelight (Hamill, Fisher), this could be one final "passing of the torch" moment for the Original Trilogy players, before leaving Episode VIII and Episode IX to some new heroes.
The New Heroes Are Diverse (But Familiar)
The Force Awakens may feature the classic Luke-Leia-Han trio, but it will also introduce a new heroic trio into the mix: Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Poe (Oscar Isaac). Finn starts out as a stormtrooper who defects from The First Order and ends up wielding a lightsaber; Rey is a scrap scavenger on the desert planet Jakku who falls in with Finn; and Poe is a hotshot pilot in The Resistance. However, even though Finn, Rey and Poe are new characters in the Star Wars saga, there's a definite tweaked and remixed similarity to original Star Wars heroic trio and their character arcs.
Why It's Interesting: Aside from once again raising the question of whether The Force Awakens is trying too hard to emulate A New Hope, the casting of this primary trio is not without note: Boyega is black, Ridley is female, and Isaac is Guatemalan/Cuban; Girls actor Adam Driver (white) plays the villain, Kylo Ren. The diversity of the principle trio is noticeable enough to have sparked a Twitter campaign, #BoycottStarWarsVII - for those who feel the film is pushing an "anti-white agenda." In terms of the characters (not the people playing them): it'll be interesting to see if rumors of these new characters possibly sharing lineage with some of the OT characters turn out to be true.
... And of course, we'll need to see if these new leading actors actually hold their own headlining the beginning of new a Star Wars trilogy.
Big Talents Play Supporting Characters
This is nothing new for the Star Wars saga, but it's good to see that in modern times, the brand is still strong enough to draw in a number of top-talent actors, even for supporting roles. The Force Awakens will feature the likes of Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings) as evil Supreme Leader Snoke; Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) as militant Captain Phasma; Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) as Force-sensitive Maz Kanata; Domhall Gleeson (Ex-Machina) as the mysterious General Hux - and even screen icons like Warwick Davis (Willow) and Max von Sydow in as yet-unrevealed roles.
Why It's Interesting: It's good to see that the Star Wars name still has enough pull to draw some of the biggest icons and/or newest talent in the business - even for smaller bit roles. However, what's interesting is seeing the sort of names being featured in the film - Serkis, Christie, Gleeson in particular - and the looming question of how big of a role each of them may play in this new Star Wars trilogy. The Force Awakens may not feature them in major arcs - but then again, we didn't meet major OT characters like Emperor Palpatine or Yoda until a Star Wars sequel came along, so there's room for growth.
There's a New Super Weapon (or Two)
The parallels between The Force Awakens and A New Hope continue to grow when you look at the recent revelation that Episode VII will feature a plotline in which the imperial First Order threatens the galaxy with a new superweapon - one that is bigger and badder than The Death Star. The new weapon wielded by The First Order is called "Starkiller Base" and it can be seen in the latest Star Wars 7 trailer, and is possibly illustrated on the official Episode VII poster. The Starkiller Base is actually a weapon built into an ice planet stronghold - though how it functions remains a mystery. In fact, whether or not the 'Death Star-esque' structure on the poster is in fact the Starkiller Base - or a second superweapon possibly wielded by The Resistance - is a major Episode VII mystery we're waiting to see revealed.
Why It's Interesting: The notion of both The First Order and Resistance having devastating super weapons has been one of the more interesting Episode VII rumors to come along. Such a development would indeed paint The Force Awakens in shades of deeper gray than A New Hope ever did with its Nazi/Allied Forces metaphors. The Starkiller Base name is interesting in that it is an ode to the original name for Luke Skywalker (used on a later character from Star Wars video games). The base itself (depending on the functionality and details) is possibly an additional head nod to the novels of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, in which a new super weapon call "Sun Crusher" could cause stars to go super nova, thereby wiping out entire star systems. If Starkiller Base is anything like that, it will be yet another interesting way that J.J. Abrams has possibly filtered big EU storylines into this film.
There's a New Darkside Gang
Fans of the Star Wars movie saga by now know 'the rule of two' when it comes to the Sith Lords of the darkside: There are only two Sith Lords at a time, a master and an apprentice. As the mythology of The Sith has grown in the time since the Original Trilogy, so have the convoluted rules about who wields the darkside of the force, and how.
The Clone Wars and Rebels animated series have explored other users of the darkside (witches, Inquisitors), and Star Wars: The Force Awakens will add a new faction to the darkside: The Knights of Ren, who seem to be Sith Lord sycophants obsessed with finishing the work of the Sith. The bad guy featured in trailers (all black, Vader-style mask, red lightsaber with the crossguard handles) is "Kylo Ren," and he seems poised to be the spiritual successor to Darth Vader, in this new story.
Why It's Interesting: Kylo Ren's crossguard lightsaber has gotten plenty of press and inquiry - but ironically we know very little about the villain himself, or his faction, The Knights of Ren. It'll be interesting to see how J.J. Abrams and his Star Wars universe braintrust fit these new darkside wielders into the mythology - namely what their powers and goals are - and how The Knights of Ren compare to Vader and the other forces of the darkside we've met in the saga. Finally, if certain rumors prove true about his parentage, then Kylo Ren (and actor Adam Driver) could have quite the epic arc in this new trilogy.
The Jedi Are a Myth
One might expect that after the events of a film titled Return of the Jedi, the galaxy far, far, away would by now be repopulated with those lightsaber-swinging Zen knights in robes we all know and love. However, when The Force Awakens begins, the Jedi have NOT in fact returned; as seen in the latest trailer, new characters like Finn and Rey actually have to get confirmation about the Jedi's existence from an actual hero of the war against the Empire: Han Solo.
Why It's Interesting: One of the most interesting questions in regards to how the filmmakers are approaching Episode VII is: What's happened to the Jedi in the last 30 years? From the film's title, to the story angle (discovery of a lightsaber causing a galactic quest/chase), it's clear that the role of The Jedi is going to be as pivotal and important as ever in The Force Awakens (hence the title). It's even crazier that Luke Skywalker's (Mark Hamill) return hasn't even been revealed in any trailers or posters to date; what has Luke been doing for 30 years? Where are the Jedi? And what role will the Jedi of the past play in shaping the Jedi of the future? These are all questions we are really interested in seeing answered.
There's a New Official Story Canon
When Disney purchased LucasFilm and put producer Kathleen Kennedy in charge, there was a clear plan to streamline all of the Star Wars properties into one shared universe, a la Marvel Studios. That goal was easier said than done, as for decades now, George Lucas has allowed the Star Wars mythology to be expanded by fans, aspiring writers and third party media entities (like comic book and video game publishers) - resulting in a dense, convoluted, and sometimes contradictory mythos. But that's no longer an issue: As of Fall 2014, the Star Wars story canon was rebooted and streamlined, in order to be built up into one consistent shared universe.
Why It's Interesting: Officially, the Star Wars saga now includes the six (about to be seven) movie "episodes"; two tie-in animated series (Clone Wars & Rebels); with official tie-in novels (A New Dawn) and comic books (Darth Maul) starting from 2014 onward. Any other Star Wars spinoff project is no longer considered canon, but can still be freely enjoyed by fans under the unofficial Star Wars "Legends" banner.
An Entire Star Wars Universe is Already in Production
Up until now, Star Wars has been the epitome of "event entertainment." With three years between each movie episode's release, and decades between the OT and Prequel trilogies, it's easy to see why the release of a Star Wars movie was consistently looked at as a major cultural event (for fans, not just advertisers). But soon we'll see big event film episodes released one year, followed by spinoff films the next years (like 2016's Rogue One), with new animated series helping to fill in gaps, and plans for more shared universe TV series, video games etc. to constantly keep the brand relevant and flowing. It's all being planned by a Star Wars "brain trust" or "story group," which includes Kathleen Kennedy, producer Simon Kinberg, and creative talent like Abrams, Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), Rian Johnson (Looper) and Lawrence Kasdan (Empire Strikes Back).
Why It's Interesting: Seeing Star Wars trying to emulate Marvel's shared universe saturation success is only semi-interesting, considering that Disney owns both companies (same team, same gameplan). What will be interesting is seeing how that one keyword: "saturation" affects the Star Wars brand. Will it be too much? Or can you never truly get enough? And will having one coordinated storyline across all platforms truly be better than the open facet of creativity and exploration (if not convolution) that was the former "Expanded Universe?" Debates will likely fill comment threads for years to come....
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.