In case you hadn’t heard, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” arrived across the world this weekend, and the roll out for J.J. Abrams’ seventh installment in the beloved franchise couldn’t have gone much better. Reviews were stellar (95% positive on Rotten Tomatoes, more than most Oscar contenders this year), and audiences seem to have gone wild for it, breaking the record for both domestic and global box office opening weekend.
It also means that, after several years of wild speculation, Abrams’ Mystery Box has been opened, and the secrets of how George Lucas’ saga has been revived and rebooted are being revealed. And with Rian Johnson‘s ‘Episode VIII‘ less than eighteen months away (and the franchise’s first ever spin-off movie, Gareth Edwards’ “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” hitting in between), it certainly doesn’t seem too early to start thinking about what’s in store for the future. So let’s get talking about ‘Episode VIII’ and more. Spoilers, obviously, are ahead.
To recap: ‘The Force Awakens‘ ends with the Republic seemingly in tatters after a number of its constituent planets are obliterated, but the Resistance claws back a victory of sorts with the destruction of Starkiller Base. Luke Skywalker has been found, and Rey, who now realizes she has the power of the Force at her fingertips, has offered his lightsaber to him. Finn’s been figuratively Carbonite-d, lying in a coma after being slashed in the back by Kylo Ren. And Kylo appears to have rejected the pull of the light side within him, killing his father, Han Solo. Poe Dameron continues to just be awesome.
This leaves plenty of unanswered questions and plot threads for Johnson to pick up, only some of which we can expect to be followed up on in the movies. How C-3PO got his red arm, for instance, will be answered in a one-off comic book to be published in February. And we imagine Poe Dameron’s timeline between crashing on Jakku and getting back to the Resistance base, and the question of how Maz Kanata obtained Luke’s lightsaber, will be answered in books or comics —that new canon needs feeding, of course.
But there’s more we can expect Johnson to capitalize on, so we’re going to break it down, character by character:
Finn: We assume he’ll come out of that coma, though there’s a question of how long he’ll be there (don’t forget several years passed between ‘A New Hope‘ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back‘ in continuity, and it’s possible that the next movie will do the same), and how he’ll feel to discover that Rey has gone to a distant planet. There’s certainly suggestion of Finn’s romantic interest in Rey in ‘The Force Awakens,’ though it’s less clear if it’s reciprocated (semi-requited pining is a regular Abrams trope: think of Bradley Cooper in “Alias” or Scott Foley in “Felicity”).
His own path is less clear. Greg Rucka’s set-up novel “Before The Awakening” hints that Finn, while still in stormtrooper training, might have some force sensitivity, but it doesn’t seem that the movie’s setting him up to be a Jedi in future. So what will he be: heroic Resistance leader? Han-style smuggler? Something else entirely? And of course, Finn was taken from his family at a young age, which suggests that they’re still out there. Lazy suggestions that he could be Lando’s son sound off base (surely Han and Leia would know if their old friend had a child kidnapped?), but the search for his family could form the backbone of Finn’s story in ‘Episode VIII.’
Poe: Given that we now know that Poe was originally going to die in early drafts of the movie, we’re just delighted to have gotten as much of him as we did. Oscar Isaac’s greatest-pilot-in-the-galaxy doesn’t really have an arc in the first movie —he’s firmly a supporting character, one whose purpose is mostly to be super cool— and we don’t expect him to move to the center in future movies (anyone looking for information into his family should check out the “Shattered Empire” comic: he’s a second-generation Resistance fighter, as it turns out). These films look to be the stories of Rey and Finn and Kylo, but we’ll be grateful for any more Poe we get.
Luke: The hero of the three original films is, essentially, a MacGuffin in the new one (though Michael Arndt, the first screenwriter on the project, did try to make him a more active character in early outlines), but if the final sequence is any indication, we’ll be seeing much more of him in future movies. The assumption, if Johnson’s film follows ‘Empire Strikes Back’ as closely as ‘The Force Awakens’ followed ‘A New Hope,’ is that he’ll serve as a kind of Yoda figure, training Rey in the ways of the Force.
But what this article presupposes is… what if he isn’t? It seems significant that Abrams cuts away to credits while Rey has offered Luke his old lightsaber back, but before he takes it. Will Luke (who, after all, went into hiding after failing to prevent Kylo from falling to the dark side) be prepared to train someone again, given what happened last time? And what’s happened to his mind (and his Force powers) in the decade since he vanished?
Leia, Chewie & Co: The two people hit hardest by Han’s death (aside from millions of men in their forties) are his estranged lover Leia and his long-time partner in crime Chewbacca. As the leader of the Resistance and the mother of Kylo, we’re sure to see Leia continue to play a significant role in future. Can she be the one to get through to her son? Or would she be doomed to suffer the same fate as his father if she tried? Meanwhile, Chewie looks to be staying on in his old role as the co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon. Will he be hanging around during Rey’s training? Is he out for vengeance against Kylo?
Kylo: The angriest man in the galaxy is even more furious by the end of the film —emotionally in turmoil, conflicted, and prone to tantrums, he’s killed his father, he was fought to a draw by some young upstart girl, he still doesn’t know where Luke Skywalker is, and he even has a big new scar on his face (at least he has a reason for the mask now, beyond his fanboy-style worship of his grandfather).
Like Rey, it looks like the artist formerly known as Ben Solo Skywalker will be in training between movies, not with Luke, but with the enigmatic Snoke. Given that he’s arguably the most powerful Force user we’ve yet seen, that’s something to be worried about. But given that he feels the pull of the light, are we likely to see his arc mirror that of his grandfather in the original trilogy, eventually redeeming himself? Or will he be an inverse of Luke, who felt the pull of the dark but resisted it? Or is there something else at play? Also, what’s up with these Knights of Ren (glimpsed, seemingly, in Rey’s vision?)
The First Order: We’ve still yet to meet Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke in the flesh and know little about him beyond, “he looks a bit like Voldemort.” The First Order’s aims remain somewhat nebulous beyond ruling the galaxy, but does Snoke have something more interesting in mind? The recently-released “Visual Dictionary” states that Snoke is interested in Ren because he’s an embodiment of both the dark and light sides of the Force, which intriguingly plays into what Serkis told EW last month: “Supreme Leader Snoke is quite an enigmatic character, and strangely vulnerable at the same time as being quite powerful. Obviously he has a huge agenda. He has suffered a lot of damage… Without giving too much away at this point, he has a very distinctive, idiosyncratic bone structure and facial structure. You could never have done it [in real life.]”
The rivalry between General Hux and Kylo should also continue. That Nux’s “let’s build a giant moon laser despite the last two getting blown up” plan failed doesn’t appear to have hurt his standing too much, and if nothing else, he seems to have the upper hand for now. According to Kathleen Kennedy, we can expect to see more of Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma: hopefully she’ll be less rubbish as a character next time out.
Rey: We’ve left the big one for last: Rey is clearly our new lead of the series (the movie almost literally passes the torch to her), and the biggest unanswered question of the new movie relates to her. We know that’s she’s unusually Force-sensitive (given that she was able to pull Luke’s lightsaber to her even when Kylo was trying; she’s potentially even more powerful than him), is handy in a fight and has been the one to find to Luke.
What we don’t know, and what Abrams has clearly set up as the franchise’s biggest mystery going forward, is her parentage: she was abandoned on Jakku at a young age on her own, left to fend for herself, for reasons not yet revealed. There are a few popular theories flying around, either that she, like Kylo, is the child of Han and Leia, or that she’s the daughter of Luke himself. We’re not sure we buy either.
Most fans seem to be on board with her being another Solo-Skywalker progeny, and there is some evidence in that direction. Han certainly serves as a surrogate father to her once they meet (even offering her a job on board the Falcon), with Ren later taunting her about that. And there’s that maternal look that Leia gives her near the end. As for Luke, she seemingly dreams of his island hideout (Kylo mentions the image she focuses on to sleep during the interrogation), she has a connection to his lightsaber, and it could be argued her presence brings R2-D2 out of his coma. Let’s not forget that second teaser trailer uses re-recorded Luke dialogue (“The force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. My sister has it. You have that power too”), which suggests some kind of Skywalker genes in Rey.
But for a number of reasons, we’re not convinced. The idea that Rey could be Kylo/Ben’s sister seems to in part come from the old Expanded Universe, where Han and Leia had twins, Jacen (a boy) and Jaina (a girl), with Jacen turning to the dark side and becoming the evil Darth Caedus. Given that those stories have been jettisoned from canon, it would be weird for the new filmmakers to end up following them so closely.
But not as weird as it would be for Han and Leia to talk about one child they lost (crucially, while it’s just the two of them, and there was no reason to lie or obfuscate), and never mention another. Vox’s Todd Van Der Werff has a theory involving everyone being mind-wiped, but while it’s well thought out, it seems like a huge stretch and frankly something of a let-down. As for Luke, you’d think that someone might have mentioned his own child at some point (and the flashbacks seem to suggest Rey was abandoned by both parents, not just one). Furthermore, it might be a bitter pill to swallow for an audience, that their beloved hero Luke could abandon a child on a desert planet (and one, oddly, where he didn’t even know anyone —at least Obi-Wan was around to keep half an eye open on Tatooine).
We certainly wouldn’t rule anything out. Both Abrams’ “Star Trek Into Darkness” and recent Bond flick “Spectre” have shown that, sometimes in the modern blockbuster era, the most obvious and disappointing answer can also be the one that filmmakers take. And Kathleen Kennedy did stress in an interview with Slashfilm that “the Saga films are primarily the soap opera centered around the Skywalker family,” which perhaps suggest there’s more than one offspring of the younger generation.
But what if she’s related to another character from the original film entirely? A Hollywood Reporter piece from the beginning of last year, once casting was underway but before production, said that “Abrams and Lucasfilm are now searching for a twentysomething female actress who is either of mixed race or black. The rumor is that Obi-Wan Kenobi had a daughter or granddaughter.” The piece is otherwise correct in many respects —this was the first time Adam Driver’s name emerged as part of the casting— and though Daisy Ridley is obviously white, this was at a time when Jesse Plemons was the front-runner to play the role that we now know as Finn. Once John Boyega was cast, did they rethink their plans for Rey?
Obviously, Rey couldn’t be Obi-Wan’s daughter: they were never alive at the same time, assuming Rey is in her early twenties. But George Lucas did reveal back in the day that, as seen in ‘Attack Of The Clones,’ that while Jedis are forbidden to form love attachments, they’re not necessarily chaste. “Jedi Knights aren’t celibate,” he told the BBC. “The thing that is forbidden is attachments and possessive relationships.” So it’s not impossible for Obi-Wan to have fathered a child, who then went on to have a daughter of her own, who for reasons we haven’t yet seen went on to abandon them on Jakku. And as Abrams revealed over the weekend, we hear the voices of both Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness in Rey’s vision when she touches the lightsaber.
Or perhaps, with Han and Leia’s child having turned to the dark side, Rey’s parentage will be the opposite, and she’s actually the daughter of an evil character. Snoke, perhaps? Or maybe, and this is our favorite theory of all, she’s not the child of anyone we know at all. Maz tells her, after all, that her family aren’t coming back for her, suggesting they’re dead.
And in a key quote that many have overlooked, Abrams seemed to hint in an interview with Slashfilm that your parenthood isn’t necessarily the key element in being adept with the Force. The site asked him about whether he’d be adhering to the idea cemented in the prequels that you were born into being a Jedi, and Abrams, diplomatically replied, “To me, Star Wars was never about science fiction —it was a spiritual story. And it was more of a fairytale in that regard. For me when I heard Obi-Wan say that the Force surrounds us and binds us all together, there was no judgement about who you were. This was something that we could all access. Being strong with the Force didn’t mean something scientific, it meant something spiritual. It meant someone who could believe, someone who could reach down to the depths of your feelings and follow this primal energy that was flowing through all of us. I mean, that’s what was said in that first film! And there I am sitting in the theater at almost 11 years old and that was a powerful notion. And I think this is what your point was, we would like to believe that when shit gets serious, that you could harness that Force I was told surrounds not just some of us but every living thing. And so, I really feel like the assumption that any character needs to have inherited a certain number of midi-chlorians or needs to be part of a bloodline. It’s not that I don’t believe that as part of the canon, I’m just saying that at 11 years old, that wasn’t where my heart was. And so I respect and adhere to the canon but I also say that the Force has always seemed to me to be more inclusive and stronger than that.”
Is Abrams’ plan with the new movie to start to return to the idea that anyone can be a Jedi? That a girl abandoned on a desert planet can turn out to be a powerful user of the Force, one who might be the universe’s best hope against an aristocratic villain, the son of a princess? That he trusts an audience enough to invest in the struggle between a good girl and a bad guy without them having to be related to each other? We hope so.
New characters: As ever, details remain under lock and key on the next movie, but we do know a few things. For one, there’s one confirmed casting, Benicio Del Toro, who told USA Today that he’ll part of Johnson’s movie. He’s widely assumed to be a new villain, but the actor was careful not to confirm anything, saying “That’s just something people are saying. I don’t know whether it’s good to contradict it or feed it, because I don’t know.”
There’s also another cast member joining: Collider reported last year that “Belle” and “Beyond The Lights” star Gugu Mbatha-Raw had beaten the likes of Tatiana Maslany, Olivia Cooke and Gina Rodriguez to a new role in ‘Episode VIII.’ Her casting hasn’t yet been confirmed, but there are few bigger fans of “Beyond The Lights” than Johnson, and notably, Mbatha-Raw is being replaced by Gemma Arterton for the London West End transfer for the play “Nell Gwynne,” which she starred in at the Globe Theater, which was set to take place in February, when “Star Wars” shoots, suggesting her calendar got busier… Little is known about the role, but The Wrap reported that the actresses in contention were chemistry reading with Boyega. Are we about to get a love triangle of some kind?
Meanwhile, Lawrence Kasdan has been quoted as saying that Johnson’s “going to make some weird thing… you know it’s not going to be like anything that’s ever been in ‘Star Wars.’ ” After a part seven that hewed rather too closely to previous templates, this sounds like a good thing. Johnson also revealed a while back that he’d been screening a couple of movies to his crew: wartime bombing-raid movie “Twelve O’Clock High,” and Mikhail Kalatozov’s “Letter Never Sent,” about a group of geologists trapped in a forest fire. Interesting…
Either way, Johnson’s one of the most talented folks in film, and we can’t wait to see where he takes the saga and its characters when the movie opens on May 26th, 2017.