As many Star Wars fans know by now, the Disney era of the galaxy far, far away has seen the creation of a new cohesive franchise canon, in which all pieces of Star Wars media (with the exception of LEGO content) are part of the same continuity. This means that all the films, TV shows, novels, comic books, and even video games are connected in some way. Lucasfilm has been smart about maintaining accessibility across all platforms thus far, and any references to the canon are minor enough that they do not detract from the experience. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is crafted in a way that anybody can enjoy it, not just those who are familiar with the supplemental material.
It will be interesting to see if that remains the case as this initiative moves forward. Arguably, the first novel that could be considered required reading for viewers was just published: Star Wars: Bloodline. Set six years before the events of Episode VII, it covers a lot of the questions that fans had after seeing Force Awakens. In addition, Star Wars: Episode VIII director Rian Johnson contributed some story ideas, making Bloodline the most intricately connected book to the movies thus far. There are a lot of fascinating revelations in the pages of the latest Star Wars novel, ones that conceivably could enhance how one watches The Force Awakens. We've compiled a list of some of the most noteworthy ones. MAJOR SPOILERS for Bloodline follow.
The Political State of the Galaxy
One of the common criticisms of The Force Awakens was that it did not dive too deeply into the politics of the post-Empire universe, perhaps a conscious decision by the filmmakers afraid of replicating the political-heavy prequels. Even those who loved the film felt Star Wars 7 was scarce on this aspect and would have liked a better understanding of the way things are. For those who felt Episode VII was too light in the political field, Bloodline has you covered and then some.
In the absence of a great compromiser like Mon Mothma (who is ill in the book), the New Republic has divided itself into two factions, Populists and Centrists. The former (including Senator Leia Organa) feel that the planets should maintain their own authority, fearful of what a single ruler is capable of. The latter believe in a strong, centralized government so the galaxy can exist with some form of order. The gap between the sides grows by the day, as their debates go nowhere (leading to the introduction of a First Senator position to act as the overseer of the New Republic). Gray is smart with the way she portrays the Populists and the Centrists. Like Captain America: Civil War, neither party is "right" or "wrong," as the pros and cons of each are discussed equally. The new character of Centrist senator Ransolm Casterfo is a perfect illustration of that.
The State of Ben Solo
In The Force Awakens, it's evident that Ben Solo's turn to the Dark Side of the Force was what shattered the Skywalker family and effectively ended the friendship of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. What the film does not reveal is when exactly Ben went bad and sent everything to hell. While he can hardly qualify as a supporting character in Bloodline, Ben is mentioned periodically throughout, and he is with his Uncle Luke in an unknown part of the galaxy seemingly undergoing Jedi training. Six years before Episode VII, the son of Han and Leia is still on their side. This is perhaps the most eye-catching detail of Bloodline, given the implications it has on the feature films.
Kylo Ren's age has never been mentioned in canon material, though Lucasfilm's Pablo Hidalgo (as official a source it gets) has mentioned he is around 29 or 30 years old during The Force Awakens (making him 23 or 24 in Bloodline). What's most interesting here is how that impacts Rey, who isn't name-dropped at all in the novel. The Force vision sequence in Episode VII shows Rey being left on Jakku at age 5, and she is 19 during the main events of the film. This means she was abandoned well before Ben went dark, and obviously wasn't hidden to protect her from the emergence of the new villain. Even more questions about the scavenger's backstory are now raised. Several theories about Rey may have taken a hit, so it's back to the drawing board.
The State of the Skywalker Family
With Ben still learning the Light Side, the Skywalker family is "together," but only in the vaguest sense of the word. They've all gone their separate ways following the Battle of Endor. Leia is firmly entrenched in politics, serving as a senator in the New Republic. Han is now involved in a galactic ship racing league, traveling from planet to planet training new pilots. As mentioned earlier, Luke is with Ben, though their activities are unknown. There are only brief clues peppered throughout the book; Luke is said to be on a "strange quest for the lore of the Jedi" and has been out of the public eye for so long, he's slowly but surely fading into myth. It's never stated if Ben is his only pupil or if there are more students.
Oddly enough, Chewbacca is no longer by Han Solo's side. As strange as it is for fans to envision the dynamic duo apart, Chewie has settled into a domestic life on his home world Kashyyyk. In the six years between Bloodline and The Force Awakens, the Wookie obviously reunites with his lifelong friend, but what serves as the catalyst for that isn't revealed. It's also hinted that the two are no longer in possession of their beloved Millennium Falcon, which given the timeline is probably with Unkar Plutt on Jakku. Though everyone's still on good terms, it's obvious the situation is taking a toll on people - especially Leia.
Leia's Dark Secret
Most moviegoers are aware that Luke and Leia are the offspring of Darth Vader, but in the Star Wars universe, it's a fact that only a few individuals know. It's a secret that Leia keeps buried in her personal vault, only telling Han after hearing the truth from Luke. Even Ben Solo doesn't know his complete family history well into his 20s. It's repeatedly said that Han and Leia did that for his benefit, but it obviously backfired in every conceivable way. And chances are, the future Kylo Ren learned of his heritage in a truly agonizing manner that may have only fueled his eventual turn to the Dark Side.
In Bloodline, the entire New Republic senate learns of the Skywalker twins' biological parentage when Centrists broadcast the information publicly in an attempt to undermine Leia's growing political power. It's news that spreads like wildfire across the galaxy and emotionally wrecks Leia. While some loyal allies stand by her side, there are many who shun her. Others are literally physically repulsed by the revelation. In a rushed attempt to make things right, Leia records a message for Ben confessing the truth, without knowing if it will ever reach her son. Theoretically, Ben learned of this through a public holo broadcast. From the sound of it, his parents were too preoccupied with their own interests to pay him much attention. Finding out you're the descendant of pure evil and your loved ones kept it a secret for so long is probably the straw that broke the camel's back.
Lando Calrissian Is Still Alive... Probably
He's appeared in Star Wars Rebels, but Lando Calrissian has curiously been absent from any post-Return of the Jedi canon materials, despite being a key figure of the original trilogy. The old smoothie isn't even mentioned in The Force Awakens, a frustrating development for fans of the character curious to see what he's been up to since the Battle of Endor. Lando does get a mention in Bloodline, sending Leia a message of support following the Vader scandal. No details about Lando are revealed, only that he was one of a handful of friends that reached out to Senator Organa.
Still, it was nice to see that Lando remains part of the Star Wars lore and hasn't been forgotten by Lucasfilm. Hopefully, he did not meet a tragic end at any point between Bloodline and The Force Awakens and is alive during the time of the sequel trilogy. It's unknown if he will ever return in the live-action films, and Billy Dee Williams was not part of the official Star Wars 8 cast. Fingers crossed that the studio has a surprise in store and give viewers a real opportunity to catch up with Lando at some point. If there's no room for him in a future movie, a Lando novel wouldn't be a bad idea.
Creation of the Resistance
The crux of the Bloodline narrative revolves around Leia and Casterfo investigating the rise of an underground criminal operation led by Nikto Rinnrivin Di. His cartel is revealed to have connections to the Amaxine warriors, who are a paramilitary group led by someone with strong ties to the old Imperials. Leia discovers that the Amaxines are planning a strike on the New Republic, building a giant military force in secret on a faraway world removed from the watchful eyes of authorities. Though Leia eliminates the threat of the Amaxines by the novel's end, she remains convinced that there are others like them out there in the galaxy and asks her fellow Senators to take charge. When they don't, Leia decides to take care of things herself.
Without the sanction of the Republic, Leia organizes what will become the Resistance, bringing together the few allies she has left to form a force dedicated to do the right thing. Admiral Ackbar is among the recruits, as are some X-wing pilots - including Force Awakens characters Snap Wexley and Ello Asty. In Episode VII, it's clear the at least portions of the New Republic support the Resistance, leading to the destruction of the Hosnian system (where the Senate is located). Not everyone approves of an offshoot military operation, which is why Leia views herself as a "political pariah" in Force Awakens, but she does have some members of the Senate on her side. Whether that changes now that Hosnian Prime is gone remains to be seen.
Origins of the First Order
The opening text crawl of The Force Awakens simply mentions that the First Order rose from the ashes of the Galactic Empire. Bloodline gets into the formation of the organization. The First Order is the brainchild of Lady Carise Sindian, a Centrist senator from the planet Arkanis. She is the one who established contact with officers of the old Empire and other sympathizers to their cause (leading to them discovering surviving ships of the Imperial fleet) and used the Rinnrivin Di cartel as a front to train the Amaxine warriors for combat. Even after the Amaxines fell, they had earned enough money from their dealings with criminals to begin to rebuild the forces. Once a Populist senator is assassinated, throwing the entire Republic into further chaos, Carise and her Centrist co-conspirators (some of whom openly admire Palpatine's reign) plan to break from the Republic - a process that will take a while to complete.
While this is all juicy material (the First Order was part of the New Republic), there is unfortunately no mention of Supreme Leader Snoke, and it's unlikely any of the new characters featured in the novel are one of the candidates for his "true" identity. How he rose to power is still a mystery, and is something being saved for a future film. However, what influence he has came together relatively quickly, as in just five years, he's already in charge. Snoke's backstory is most likely something Luke will relay to Rey (and the audience) in Episode VIII, so it probably won't be long until we know more.
Rian Johnson's Ideas
Many fans were interested in Bloodline when it was revealed Star Wars 8 director Rian Johnson contributed story ideas for the book. His involvement wasn't further detailed until after the novel came out. A tweet from Pablo Hidalgo stated it was Johnson who came up with the notion of Centrist and Populist parties in the Republic, as well as the shocking "napkin bombing" incident that's a critical set piece in the plot. He obviously couldn't tell if these concepts will be included in Episode VIII, but there's a good chance they will if Johnson himself brought them to the story group.
The rumor mill around Star Wars 8 has been relatively quiet, but there has been a decent amount of speculation about Laura Dern's character. From the (unconfirmed) reports, it seems like she's being set up as a political opponent of Leia's and has an antagonistic relationship with Poe Dameron. With the First Order striking from Starkiller base and eliminating the center of the Republic, those against the Resistance have only more evidence for their reasoning, and Leia will most likely have to deal with the consequences of her actions in the next movie. Now more than ever, the galaxy needs someone in control.
Like most of the canon materials, odds are Bloodline won't be absolutely necessary to understand what's happening in Episode VIII. Continuing the stories of the new generation (Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, etc.), things will conceivably be set up in a way that it's easy to follow for those who never got a chance to read the novel (which would be smart). That said, there's no denying that Bloodline does a great job of fleshing out the pre-Force Awakens universe and moviegoers who are familiar with it before Star Wars 8 will likely appreciate what's going on even more. That would be a win-win for Lucasfilm and an ideal illustration of how the new canon can work together.
These are just some of the biggest revelations we saw in Bloodline. Be sure to include some of your favorites in the comments below and let us know which (if any) elements you think will show up in a new film!
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters on December 16th, 2016, followed by Star Wars: Episode 8 on December 15th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode 9 is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.