By Michael Pearson
(CNN) — It’s one of the most anticipated films of recent memory, a long-awaited return to the galaxy far far away that’s expected to move millions in ticket sales, toys and other merchandise.
As the December 18 debut of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” draws ever closer, more and more is being revealed about the movie, its characters and its plot.
Here are some of the highlights of what’s been revealed:
Written by J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan — the latter of whom co-wrote “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” — “The Force Awakens” is Disney’s first entry in the movie franchise since purchasing the brand in 2012. Abrams, who directed the film, has promised to take Star Wars fans back to the story’s roots, going back to actors in alien suits, real sets and other “practical effects” after a period of reliance on computer-generated effects in the three prequels.
It’s set about 30 years after “The Return of the Jedi,” but little officially is known about the plot. Though Episode VI’s celebratory end sequence seemed to suggest the end of the Empire and conflict in the galaxy, new officially sanctioned novels and the first two trailers from the film show that this isn’t the case.
The trailers show masses of stormtroopers in formation, X-Wing fighters, TIE fighters and even the Millennium Falcon in combat, and a sinister-looking character named Kylo Ren wielding a homemade lightsaber and preparing to battle John Boyega’s character, Finn.
We know there’s an entity called the First Order that could be a successor to the Empire of “Return of the Jedi” times. And there’s something called the Resistance. It’s not clear whether that’s part of (or successor to) the New Republic — which, according to the novel “Star Wars: Aftermath,” succeeded the Rebel Alliance — or a separate group entirely.
As for where all this takes place, we know that a planet called Jakku plays a significant role. Glimpses of its desert locales can be seen in both trailers and in a new 360-degree video created for Facebook.
According to game maker Electronic Arts, which is behind the “Star Wars: Battlefront” game due out this fall, Jakku is a “remote desert planet” and the site of a pivotal battle “where the New Republic confronted key Imperial holdouts.” It’s during this battle that the giant spaceship seen in the background of the second trailer crashed, according to EA.
It’s a blend of new and old. Some old-school “Star Wars” fans were reduced to blubbering when Harrison Ford said, “Chewie, we’re home” at the end of the second trailer. In addition to Ford’s Han Solo, Carrie Fisher returns as Princess Leia, and Mark Hamill reprises his role as Luke Skywalker.
Among the newcomers, Boyega’s Finn and Daisy Ridley’s Rey have gotten most of the screen time so far. Oscar Isaac plays a resistance pilot named Poe Dameron. Gwendoline Christie, of “Game of Thrones” fame, will play a First Order character named Captain Phasma, Domhnall Gleeson plays General Hux, and Andy Serkis breaks out his motion-capture skills to play Snoke, Supreme Leader of the First Order. Ren will be played by Adam Driver. Little has been revealed about Lupita Nyong’o’s character, Maz Kanata, another computer-generated character, beyond the fact that she’s a pirate and the owner of a castle. Warwick Davis, Max von Sydow and Simon Pegg are also slated to appear.
In the first trailer, a creaky voice says, “There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?” Who, or what, is waking the Force, and why?
The second teaser features slightly edited language from a “Return of the Jedi” scene in which Luke tells Leia they’re siblings: “The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. My sister has it. You have that power, too.” What’s the significance of this line in the context of the new movie?
Is Finn Force-sensitive? In a poster revealed by Boyega in August and in a clip posted to Instagram in September, he’s shown wielding a blue lightsaber in the same dark forest where we see Kylo Ren light his ragged red saber.
The second trailer, released in April, shows someone holding Darth Vader’s charred, partially melted helmet. What does this portend? The officially sanctioned novel “Star Wars: Aftermath” features a small plotline involving a trio of characters calling themselves the Acolytes of the Beyond who buy a lightsaber rumored to have belonged to Vader. They tell the seller they want to destroy the saber “so that it can be returned to its master in death.” Those details have fueled speculation about efforts to raise Vader from the dead or otherwise harness his power.
Then there’s Ren’s mask, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Vader’s and which Abrams told Entertainment Weekly “was meant to be a nod to the Vader mask.”
Who exactly are Finn and Rey? Is Finn really a stormtrooper or merely pretending? And why don’t we know their last names? Are they kin to major characters from earlier films? “I will only say about that that it is completely intentional that their last names aren’t public record,” Abrams told EW.
CNN’s Henry Hanks, Todd Leopold, Breeanna Hare and Lisa France contributed to this report.
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