Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens – eight key questions
Will one of the original cast members die? And has Luke Skywalker fathered a hero or a villain?
The countdown for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens has begun after the UK release date was brought forward.
The film will be released in the UK on 17 December, a day earlier than previously planned, meaning British audiences can see it 24 hours before fans in the US. It will be released even earlier in France, on 16 December.
Trailers for Star Wars 7 have offered glimpses of characters old and new. Set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens will see the return of Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker, as well as new characters such as rebellious stormtrooper Finn, played by John Boyega, and scavenger Rey, played by Daisy Ridley.
Excitement over the first instalment of the new trilogy hit fever pitch on Force Friday, when new Star Wars toys were unveiled around the world. Details on the back of merchandise helped to flesh out some of the new roles, but plenty of questions remain…
Why is the force reawakening?
The title of Episode VII implies that the Force has gone through a long period of dormancy, perhaps because the last remaining Jedi Luke Skywalker has been lying low. One trailer reveals: "There has been an awakening… The dark side and the light." So what or who has caused the resurgence?
Who has the force?
In one trailer, Luke can be heard saying: "The Force is strong in my family. My father has it... I have it... My sister has it... You have that power too." But who is he talking to? Finn has been seen with what appears to be Anakin's missing lightsaber, fuelling the theory that he is on a mission to return it to Luke or Leia. Meanwhile, fans paying close attention to the speaking Star Wars toys have noted that villain Kylo Ren is "immune to the light", suggesting he may be full of the dark force.
The Kylo Ren toy also says: "Together, we will destroy the resistance and the last Jedi." Some have taken this to mean Luke, but others suspect he could be referring to more than one Jedi Knight. The footage of Finn with a lightsaber has led to speculation that he might have the force. However, Nerd Reactor points out that it is "entirely possible that lightsabers could have been slowly reaching people from scavengers, especially since hundreds, if not thousands, of Jedi were killed at the hands of Darth Vader and Darth Sidious". Other characters rumoured to be "force sensitive" include Daisy Ridley's Rey, Domhnall Gleeson's General Hux and Lupita Nyong'o's CGI character Maz Kanata.
Who is related to whom?
Star Wars's reputation for lineage twists has prompted much speculation about which characters will turn out to be related in The Force Awakens. Is Finn the son of the smooth-talking Lando Calrissian? And could Kylo Ren be related to Han or Luke?
One rumour has it that Gleeson's General Hux is the son of Luke and is responsible for reawakening the force. Star Wars fans were said to be furious after toy trading cards appeared to reveal one massive spoiler. Rey, whose second name has not been released, has long been rumoured to be a Skywalker and the daughter of Princess Leia and Han Solo. The official Top Trumps style cards for Star Wars: The Force Awakens appear to support this claim. The cards feature "Power-Up Link Symbols" to indicate each character's abilities and affiliations, such as Rebel or Sith. Rey has the Rebel and Jedi symbol on her card – a huge spoiler if it is revealed to be true. Finn, who is seen wielding a lightsaber in one trailer, does not have the Jedi symbol on his card – although Screenrant points out that "this doesn't necessarily mean that Finn is not a Force sensitive individual; he just may not have started his training yet". The website adds: "It's true that some of these new merchandise items could be embellished by the manufacturers since so little is known about the Force Awakens plot. Still, some of the details seem oddly specific to simply be the creation of a company." Another possibility, which might frustrate fans, is that any next-of-kin revelations might not even emerge in Star Wars VII. After all, it wasn't until Episode V that Luke learnt about his own family ties.
What has happened since the fall of the Galactic Empire?
The original trilogy of films ends with the liberation of the galaxy as the evil Emperor Palpatine is killed by his own general, Darth Vader. So what has happened in the 30 or so intervening years between that moment and The Force Awakens?
An entire plot synopsis for the forthcoming film has been sketched out by one dedicated Star Wars enthusiast who stitched together all the rumours into a coherent whole. It suggests that when The Force Awakens begins, the Galactic Empire has been replaced by a new enemy named the First Order.
Fan site MakingStarWars.net has been attempting to work out the allegiances of the main characters in the new film. Recently released collectors' cards seem to indicate that Finn will be aligned with an organisation called The Resistance, the future of the Rebel Alliance. Meanwhile, new villain Kylo Ren is being associated with a shadowy group known as the Knights of Ren. Few firm details are known about how Ren's group connects to the First Order.
Did Leia and Han make it?
Discounting the slightly uncomfortable flirtation between Luke Skywalker and his estranged sister, the main love story underpinning the original trilogy of films was between Han Solo and Princess Leia. The two finally appeared to be together at the end of Return of the Jedi and seemed on course to live happily ever after. But rumours suggest that when The Force Awakens opens the pair have become estranged.
So what has come between the feisty princess and her loveable rogue? Some have suggested that the hot-headed duo never really got together. Others say that they married and then were driven apart. All will be revealed when the film is released in December.
Will Han Solo die?
The rumour that Harrison Ford's Han Solo might be killed off in Star Wars Episode 7 has resurfaced again. Film insiders have apparently told the Mail on Sunday's diary editor Charlotte Griffiths that the "Space Cowboy will sadly be no more come the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens".
One fan site claimed earlier this year that a scene has been filmed at Berkshire's Pinewood Studios in which Han confronts villain Kylo Ren, who "silences the conversation forever". Han is apparently "never in a scene after this" and Chewbacca is said to let out a "barrage of angry roars and laser blasts".
Han has escaped death numerous times: he was nearly crushed to death in a garbage compactor on the Death Star, survived a snowstorm on the ice planet Hoth and was even sealed in carbonite and lived to tell the tale. According to George Lucas, Ford was desperate to be killed off in The Empire Strikes Back, but the director told him he needed him for the next movie. So will he really get his wish in Episode VII? All will be revealed in December.
Will there be ewoks?
Adults may have hated them, but 80s kids loved them, so will the furry inhabitants of Endor be making a return in Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
Rumours began to circulate online when one keen-eyed Star Wars enthusiast noticed that actor Christopher Ang's IMDb page listed him as playing a "green ewok" in the forthcoming film.
Discussions ensued over whether the six-foot martial arts expert would be able to play a diminutive bear-like creature, with some speculating that Abrams is planning to use similar techniques to those Peter Jackson employed in his Middle earth films to turn regular-sized adults into three-foot Hobbits.
"The most puzzling is that Ang is not a little person," MakingStarWars.net notes. “Ang is 6ft, 180lbs. That isn’t who generally perform as Ewoks classically. If this listing has any legitimacy, perhaps Ang is puppeteering an Ewok?
"Ang has been as much of a stunt performer as an actor. Many puppeteering styles like the ones used … in Return of the Jedi required a lot physically intense work for the puppeteer as they had to lay on their back with their arms extended into the air for hours.
"Perhaps a stunt performer with acting skills was chosen to operate a green-cowled Ewok for this reason?"
The rumours gradually began to subside after MakingStarWars.net contacted Ang's agents to ask whether the actor filmed anything for The Force Awakens and got a one line reply: "He did not and we don’t know why it is on there."
Can it beat the original trilogy?
Nearly two thirds of Star Wars fans are expecting The Force Awakens to be the best in the franchise, according to a new poll. A third of respondents said it was the advanced CGI technology that was fuelling their excitement, while others cited director JJ Abrams, the cast and the new plot. A quarter of those surveyed said they expected it to be "more true to the Star Wars series" than the second prequel trilogy, released 22 years after the first film A New Hope.
Episode 7 is widely expected to shatter box office records. Despite being released just a fortnight before the end of the year, it is predicted to be the highest grossing film of 2015 and has been the bookies' favourite – ahead of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World and Spectre – since the first teaser trailer was released in November last year. A second survey put it among the most highly anticipated films ever, although it failed to beat Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, coming out in November.
"Considering the fact that all we have to go on are two teasers and small snippets of footage here and there, it may be worth waiting to see the movie before walking the slippery slope of calling it the best Star Wars movie ever," warns Inverse. "Even the trailer for The Phantom Menace makes it look like the greatest movie of all time, and we know how that turned out."
Star Wars 7: why Princess Leia bikini scene was 'boring' for C-3PO
The legendary Star Wars scene starring Princess Leia in a gold bikini was actually "boring" to film in real life, according to Anthony Daniels, the actor behind the aristocratic protocol droid C-3PO.
Daniels has opened up about his return to the sci-fi franchise ahead of Episode VII: The Force Awakens and has revealed that the famous scene – in which Carrie Fisher's Leia is enslaved by the grotesque villain Jabba the Hutt – took three long days to film.
Her iconic gilded two-piece from 1983's Return of the Jedi is being auctioned in California later this month. It is expected to go for between $80,000 (£52,380) and $120,000 (£78,570).
Daniels said the cast "actually got bored and quite tired of looking at Carrie in her gold bikini". He explained that "she was very uncomfortable" but that she "didn't complain because she's a professional".
Daniels also claimed the years between the original series and the new trilogy have been kinder to some of the cast members than they have been to others.
Harrison Ford, who plays the original trilogy's lovable space smuggler Han Solo, has gone on to have a stellar Hollywood career and still has the same magnetism he did when he was in his thirties, Daniels said.
"Harrison was just brilliant, he just made me smile – I'm smiling at the memory. He's 72 but he's still got the charm, the charisma."
The last year has been difficult for the veteran actor though, Daniels conceded – first he broke his ankle during filming at Pinewood Studios and then he had a plane accident that almost cost him his life. "He's had some bad times – first his ankle and then the plane. But he's back on good form."
According to Daniels, Ford's co-stars have fared rather less well than Ford in the intervening years. Carrie Fisher, who first played Princess Leia at the age of 19, continues to act, but has struggled with bipolar disorder since she and Daniels first met in the 1970s. And the decades have also not been easy on Mark Hamill, who played the handsome young hero Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy.
"Poor Mark," Daniels said. "He was a young lovely looking lad when he was first Luke Skywalker and now... well..."
In his interview with the Daily Mirror, the C-3PO actor also opened up about his feud with Kenny Baker who played the mischievous droid R2-D2.
Baker, 83, previously declared Daniels to be the "rudest man I've ever met."
Daniels responded: "He's been saying unpleasant things about me. I just don't comment," but added that Baker may be credited on the new film but had hardly anything to do with it.
"He's not actually on the set," Daniels said. "I haven't seen him for years. His name is on the credits as a sort of... I don't know, a good luck charm, a courtesy. He's a talisman."
Earlier in the month, Daniels also spoke about Star Wars's new owner Disney, which he likened to the Kremlin.
During an interview with The Guardian, he said that Disney's obsession with secrecy around Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens was "ludicrous".
"For heaven's sake, it's a movie. When I got the script, it was typed in black on paper of the deepest red so you couldn't photocopy it. I got a hangover just reading it," he said.
Daniels also said that he has been instructed to take down a tweet after he had mentioned meeting an actor on the set of the forthcoming film.
"I said that I'd met so-and-so. An actor who plays a … thing in the film. A character. Immediately I received a message from Disney: 'Remove the tweet! You're not allowed to say that!'
"Honestly. It's a kind of Kremlin attitude. Look, I know perfectly well not to tell you now what I'm giving you for a Christmas present because it would spoil the surprise. And these films are all about opening the box on Christmas Day."
Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens opens in cinemas between 17 and 19 December worldwide.
Star Wars: Irish government accused of 'going over to the dark side'
Stars Wars is to return to Skellig Michael, the Unesco World Heritage Site in Ireland's County Kerry where scenes from The Force Awakens film were shot last year. The news that the film's sequel, currently only known as Episode VIII, will also feature the remote uninhabited Irish island has been praised by the Irish Government.
"The return of Star Wars to Sceilg Mhichíl is another win for Ireland and the Irish film industry, which is a growing and dynamic sector of our economy," said arts minister, Heather Humphreys, in a statement this summer.
"Skellig Michael is one of our most dramatic and beautiful islands and it is very easy to understand why its stunning scenery has caught the attention of the makers of one of the world's biggest film franchises," she said.
Not everyone shares her enthusiasm. The Guardian reports that the heritage officer for the Irish National Trust, Ian Lumley, has accused the Irish government and tourism industry of a lack of transparency about the nature of the filming. "In terms of transparency the government has gone over to the dark side," he said.
Lumley also says that the film is unlikely to boost tourism to the island because there are restrictions in place to preserve the island's heritage. "False expectations are being created about this film project," he said.
"Only 180 people per day are allowed onto the island to visit it – weather permitting of course. And these visits are very well controlled and supervised with a dedicated pathway for the tourists while more sensitive areas are closed off to the public. So how can any more tourists be attracted to the Skelligs if there are restrictions on numbers?
Lumley has also highlighted the trust's environmental concerns. "There will be helicopters flying overhead near the roosting birds on the island and we don't actually know how many flights have been allowed over Skellig Michael," he says.
Locals who earn their living from tourists appear to be in favour of the filming.
One guesthouse owner in Kerry, the closest part of the mainland to the island, said: "You ask any locals what they think of Star Wars being down here and they will tell you they think it's great for advertising this part of Kerry all around the world. Our bookings were well up this year and I can tell you many new people who stayed with us said wanted to go to the Skelligs after reading about Star Wars being filmed down here."
The Irish Tourist Board is hoping the Star Wars connection to Kerry will prove as lucrative as Game of Thrones has for Northern Ireland – recent estimates suggest the HBO series has brought an extra £110m to the country's economy.
Star Wars 7 Force Friday: what have we learned about Kylo Ren?
Force Friday is in full swing, with non-stop live reveals of new product lines for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Those wishing to steer clear of Star Wars VII spoilers have been advised to unplug their computers and stay offline until the film comes out in December, as many of the toys and products reveal the names of new characters, planets and weapons. Those who are keen to know more can read on to find out what we have learned about the new episode's villain, Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver…
'Immune to the light'
Ren has not talked in any of the trailers so far, but this week he has spoken for the first time – in the form of a Star Wars toy that's about to go on sale. The Kylo Ren figure recites several lines, including "I've been waiting for this for a long time", "I feel it too", "I'm immune to the light", "That weapon is mine" and "Together, we will destroy the resistance and the last Jedi".
After analysing the lines in depth, IGN reporters think this might mean that Ren is full of the dark force with "nothing salvageable", has his sights set on Anakin's lightsaber, and is on a mission to kill Luke Skywalker.
Behind the mask
Following the release of the second trailer, fans immediately pointed out similarities between Kylo's mask and that of Darth Vader. Director JJ Abrams has confirmed that was of course deliberate. "The movie explains the origins of the mask and where it's from, but the design was meant to be a nod to the Vader mask," Abrams told Entertainment Weekly. "[Ren] is well aware of what's come before, and that's very much a part of the story of the film." The similarities were pointed out again this week when the new toy came out:
— Taylor Landine (@TaylorLandine) September 3, 2015
What's in a name?
Kylo Ren is not the character's real name, Abrams revealed. Ren, it appears, is the surname given to members of the Knights of Ren, which keen observers will note is not too dissimilar from the idea of Sith Lords taking on Darth as a title. Ren's real name remains one of The Force Awakens' big mysteries. One observer on Reddit believes Ren will turn out to be the son of Hans and Leia Solo, while HitFix thinks that he could in fact be Revan from the Star Wars computer game series 'Knights of the Old Republic'.
Another Luke Skywalker?
The director also touched on Ren's origins, claiming they were not too dissimilar from Luke Skywalker's in A New Hope. In the 1977 film, Skywalker was an uninitiated farm boy who eventually became a Jedi Knight and battled the Empire. Abrams hinted at something similar for Ren, saying: "I think that what makes Ren so unique is that he isn't as fully formed as when we meet a character such as Darth Vader. And I think that there are two sides to the Force. Both sides, arguably, would see themselves as the hero of their story, and I think that applies here."
More than meets the eye
"Kylo Ren is not your prototypical moustache-twirling bad guy," according to Abrams. "He is a little bit more complex than that, and it was a great joy to work with Adam Driver on this role, because he threw himself into it in a deep and remarkable way." Fans will have to wait a little bit longer to see just how different a villain Ren is, but according to IGN's Chris Carle, perhaps they shouldn't be so shocked if they actually find him somewhat familiar. "What I find so utterly captivating about [Ren] is he's a huge fanboy," says Carle. "He's a guy who is really, really into Darth Vader and will stop at nothing to know every last detail, every shred of knowledge he can glean. He's me. And you, perhaps."
Familiar perhaps, but still unique
Although Star Wars fans may recognise something of themselves in Driver's character, they are still likely to encounter a villain unlike any who have preceded him, says Star Wars screen writer Lawrence Kasdan.
"I've written four Star Wars movies now, and there's never been a character quite like the one that Adam plays," Kasdan told EW.
"He's full of emotion. No matter how we express ourselves in the world, whether we hide it and act very calm or whether we're very out there and demonstrative, everybody's roiling with emotion. And you want your characters to be that way, too. Then they have to deal with their emotions as best they can, with what they are. I think you're going to see something that's brand new to the saga."
He is not as mysterious as Supreme Leader Snoke
Feverish speculation about Kylo Ren has overshadowed the other main villain of the forthcoming film, Supreme Leader Snoke, played by Andy Serkis.
No confirmed images of the mysterious motion-capture baddie have yet appeared, although his voice can be heard in the Star Wars trailer delivering the opening line: "There has been an awakening. Have you felt it? The Dark Side and the Light."
Some speculate that Snoke will be the arch manipulator who oversees Kylo Ren and his army of foot soldiers similar to how the Emperor directed Darth Vader in the original trilogy of films.
Star Wars Episode 7: lightsabers at dawn in new teaser
The Star Wars publicity machine rumbled back into life yesterday as Disney released a new 15-second teaser trailer on social media, featuring glimpses of the hotly anticipated film's new heroes and villains.
Four months ahead of its release, the new characters from the forthcoming film are already becoming household names from their appearances in trailers and magazine articles alone.
New hero Finn, played by British actor John Boyega, appears yet again in the new teaser – a 15-second affair that was released yesterday on the official Star Wars Instagram account.
In the clip, Finn is seen brandishing a lightsaber for the first time – and it's blue. It's a hint, perhaps, that although he previously appeared wearing Storm Trooper armour, he's in fact one of the goodies of the piece.
In Star Wars mythology, lightsabers can be many different colours, but in the original trilogy of films, Jedis from the light side of the force were more commonly seen carrying blue or green lightsabers and villains carrying red.
New baddie Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, certainly appears happy to stick to that colour convention. In the new trailer, the hooded villain is seen once again igniting his red lightsaber with its distinctive cross guards.
Ren also appears in front of a rally of stormtroopers while the same sinister voice from the last teaser trailer says: "There's been an awakening. Have you felt it?"
The trailer ends with an orchestral fanfare from composer John Williams's new score.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be released in cinemas worldwide on 18 December.