We don't have to wait for hindsight's benefit to know an absolute truth about Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The filmmakers have done a remarkable job at keeping details about the movie secret.
Contrast that to the last time Star Wars went on hiatus. The Phantom Menace hit theaters on May 19, 1999. But a few weeks before that, "Weird" Al Yankovic recorded "A Saga Begins." The brilliant parody of Don McLean's "American Pie" nailed the plot, characters and events of the first prequel.
"The song was entirely based on Internet rumors," Yankovic later told TheForce.net, a source on which he relied. "I gathered all the leaked info I could about the movie from all the various Star Wars websites … and was able to piece together the basic plot of the movie."
We're past that timeframe now for the next Star Wars trilogy. What do we know today, in 2015, on the precipice of a reinvigorated franchise and a future that will bring us a Star Wars every year until we get good and sick of them? Not much.
Only a day out, and we know next to nothing that The Force Awakens' creators don't want us to know. But that doesn't mean we know nothing.
Disney and Lucasfilm have spent the last year rekindling interest in Star Wars and building anticipation for The Force Awakens. We're at the tail end of what Disney CEO Bob Iger called a "very carefully designed marketing plan" in May. Part of that plan was to keep things secret. Another part was to fill in the gaps.
This is a primer on two things.
First, we'll recap the weird, convoluted, feelings-hurting, screenwriter-firing, story-ditching, teenager-trashing, mind-changing journey to new Star Wars movies.
Then, because Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes place three decades after the events of the last chronological Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi, we'll tell you what we've learned about the events that transpired between the last frame of the original trilogy and the first frame of a new chapter in a galaxy far, far way. Read on, and you'll know the official accounts, the broad strokes and how you can find out more.
To be clear, these aren't spoilers, at least in the sense that were deliberately constraining our coverage to the official sources. It's entirely possible that story details have leaked on some dark and spoiler-friendly places on the internet. That's fine, but that's not our purview.
What you'll learn here isn't based on rumors or speculation. These are the canonical stories that Disney and Lucasfilm released during the ramp up to The Force Awakens' release to get fans ready for what's to come.
But if you'd rather not know backstories or where characters came from or what happened the day after the Battle of Endor, then stop when you reach that section. Come back after you've seen The Force Awakens. We'll be right here, waiting for you.
The path to making The Force Awakens is more than three years in the making now. The dust appears to have settled, and things seem to be running as smoothly as the hull of a J-type 327 Nubian royal starship. But it wasn't always so. At various points, there have been good reasons to be worried and hopeful.
Lucas' plans for Star Wars have always been in flux. Depending on when he was talking about his space opera, Star Wars was always going to be nine parts, unless it was supposed to be 10 parts, except that it was always really going to be three parts, but seriously six is the real, final number — just check the September 2011 Blu-ray release, which bundles Episodes I - VI and calls it "The Complete Saga." How much more definitive can you be?
A lot more definitive, it turns out.
In 2012, the year after the big Blu-ray release, Lucas was increasingly thinking about retirement and what would happen to his empire — including the companies he owned and franchises like Indiana Jones and Star Wars — in his absence. He wanted to make sure that they were well taken care of.
Though nobody knew it at the time, the public beginning of his succession plan arrived when he hired Kathleen Kennedy to run Lucasfilm in 2012.
"When Kathy came on, we started talking about starting up the whole franchise again," Lucas told Bloomberg in 2013. "I was pulling away, and I said, 'Well, I've got to build this company up so it functions without me, and we need to do something to make it attractive.' So I said, 'Well, let's just do these movies.'"
At one point, he planned to make them. He changed his mind. Again.
October 2012 Disney purchased Lucasfilm. The official announcement was as much about Star Wars as it was about acquiring LucasArts, Lucasfilm Animation and the plethora of subsidiaries that $4.05 billion bought.
But Disney didn't just announce a purchase. It announced Episode VII, "with more feature films expected to continue the Star Wars saga and grow the franchise well into the future." Star Wars, in other words, was coming back. And that was a surprise. Sort of. Mostly.
Though he sold the conglomerate he founded, George Lucas would remain available after the transition "serving as creative consultant." If someone had a question about Star Wars, they were free to call him up. He'd be there if they needed him, but not involved in the script or the day-to-day production of the movies.
But he didn't leave Lucasfilm and Star Wars with just a legacy. He have them a blueprint for the future, too. Disney now owned his story treatments for Episodes VII - IX. When Disney announced Episode VII in 2012, it was talking about George Lucas' movie.
That would become something of a problem. But Lucasfilm and its new president had another problem to solve first.
The creation of a new trilogy set after Return of the Jedi forced Lucasfilm to make a decision with wide-ranging ramifications for the Star Wars universe, as it existed in 2012 and beyond. It had to clean up a bit of a mess that had accumulated for the better part of four decades.
In 1978, a year A New Hope movie hit theaters, Del Rey published the first original Star Wars novel. Originally conceived of as a stealth story for a low budget Star Wars movie Lucas could make if A New Hope wasn't a huge success, Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye tells what feels like an odd story, given how history transpired. Han Solo and Chewbacca don't appear, and Luke dismisses the rogue as if he's meaningless. Also, Luke and Leia get a bit romantic.
Of course, A New Hope was an enormous hit, and The Empire Strikes Back followed to more enormous success.
Star Wars novels appeared in the years that followed the films, until trickling out. Everything changed in 1991, when Bamtam Spectra published Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire, which was the novel that told of events after Return of the Jedi. That is not happenstance. It happened with Lucasfilm's blessing (which means with George Lucas' blessing) because, in the early '90s, Lucas knew he wouldn't ever make movies set after Jedi.
Heir to the Empire was a critical and commercial success, paving the way for nearly countless Star Wars novels that followed in the ensuing decades, under the Expanded Universe umbrella, which hewed to a continuity of their own.
One simple truth remained, throughout: If you wanted to know what really happened, then you needed to acknowledge that Star Wars canon began (and nearly ended) in the theaters. The movies were the definitive stories, their tie-in novels a close second. Expanded Universe authors worked within the constraints that appeared in theaters and that Lucasfilm set when blessing each book.
If there was a dispute, Lucasfilm settled it. It controlled the universe. Authors were just working within it.
That was the state of the Star Wars universe for a very long time. Those of us who grew up loving that galaxy far, far away were pretty sure that we'd gotten all the movies we were ever going to get. The EU novels were a reliable way to satiate our desire for more Star Wars because Lucas was done.
Except that he wasn't. In 1999, Lucas released the first in a new trilogy of prequel movies, set before the events of the original trilogy. Authors, with Lucasfilm's blessing and under its control and guidance, wrote stories in all timelines, telling stories before, between and after the movies, continuing the adventures of characters like Luke Skywalker.
Anyone who's followed Star Wars since the Special Editions of the original trilogy (which predated The Phantom Menace by a couple years) knows that George Lucas, long the boss of the bosses at Lucasfilm, was at peace with changing his mind and revising his movies. That had an effect on the entire multiverse.
Here's Zahn, writing in the 20th anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire about Kashyyyk, the Wookiee homeworld, which appears in the book:
This was the description of Kashyyyk that I was given: immensely tall trees with Wookiee cities perched on them, with a layered ecology that got more and more vicious as you traveled down toward the ground below. Sort of an organic version of the tall, layered cityscape of Coruscant, now that I think about it. I was really looking forward to getting a glimpse of that world when I heard it would be featured in Revenge of the Sith. I was also curious as to the kind of tactics the Wookiees would use against the Separatist forces on such a battlefield. But either the planet had been redesigned when I wasn't looking, or else George simply chose to use a ground-level area of the world for that scene.
Maybe someday in a special edition …
Kashyyyk appeared for the first time on film in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. It was portrayed entirely differently than it had been in novels — at Lucasfilm's behest — for years. Thus, the movie depiction became canon. This is what you get to do if you own the universe.
It cut both ways, though. Zahn invented the word Coruscant for the city the size of an entire planet that served as the Republic's homeworld. When Lucas made The Phantom Menace and brought characters to the seat of the Republic for the first time, he called it Coruscant, too.
Weird, sure, but cool. Lucas was done. Again. No more Star Wars movies. Again. Except he wasn't.
In 2012, Lucas sold the lot to Disney, and Episodes VII-IX were really real this time. Lucas was stepping down. His hand-picked successor, Kathleen Kennedy, was in charge. And she had a problem to solve. The host of products that told stories set after Jedi created a canonical crisis within the Star Wars universe. What do you do with all of those stories?
In April 2014, Kennedy announced the formation of a story group that would oversee Star Wars canon that spans comics, games, TV, films and more. Lucasfilm rebranded the Expanded Universe under the "Legends" title. In short, Lucasfilm wasn't going to pretend that those works didn't exist. They'd still be available. They weren't wiping them from existence. But the future of Star Wars wasn't going to be beholden to the stories told in the Expanded Universe, written throughout decades when everybody thought there would never be more Episodes.
Instead, Lucasfilm would to create a new canon — the first, official story of what happened after Return of the Jedi, starting with Episode VII. The story group also made what was assumed, official: The six Star Wars films serve as the universe's canon. The animated Clone Wars series became official canon, too. Everything else was up for grabs. And the story group would be in charge of keeping track of it all.
In July 2015, Lucasfilm announced a new initiative, The Journey to The Force Awakens. Spanning more than 20 books, comics and more, the stories in Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens are part of that newly codified canon, consistent with the events of the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, the Clone Wars cartoon, the upcoming trilogy and its spin-off Anthology films.
And every single one of them ties into The Force Awakens in some way.
These are the best, official sources of information about the upcoming movie. We've taken the journey. We've read what there is to learn. These are the most interesting and important things.
In November 2012, not long after Disney acquired Lucasfilm, the latter company announced that Academy Award-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) would write Episode VII. "Kathleen Kennedy and George Lucas have begun story conferences with Arndt," a post on the official Star Wars website said.
In January 2013, Lucasfilm announced that J.J. Abrams would direct Star Wars: Episode VII. Things seemed to be going well.
At some point that year, Kennedy and Disney "decided they should consider other options," Abrams said earlier this year, referring to Lucas' treatments. Setting their new course took the filmmakers somewhere between six and eight months, Abrams told io9 just this week — the bulk of 2013, in other words.
With the release of Episode VII pegged for 2016 — a date announced alongside Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm — Arndt was running out of time. He said he needed 18 months to finish the script. He had six.
In October 2013, just shy of a year after the acquisition announcement, Lucasfilm said that Arndt was out. Bad! He'd be replaced by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi). Good!
Meanwhile, people kept asking George Lucas about Star Wars. And his answers were often strange.
"The ones that I sold to Disney, they came up to the decision that they didn't really want to do those," Lucas told Cinema Blend earlier this year. "So they made up their own. So it's not the ones that I originally wrote."
Lucas' answer makes a lot more sense, given what we now know.
"Despite my absolute, burning desire to direct a script that Michael Arndt had written," Abrams told io9, "I realized I didn't have that time. Kathy [Kennedy] didn't have that time. Disney didn't have that time. And so I sat with Larry [Kasdan] and I said, 'Look, there are things about the story that I know are right. And I believe we could actually answer the questions that we still need to be answered if we wrote this together.'"
Lucas' treatment, according to Lucasfilm, centered on teenagers. Lucas' oblique references to "Darth Vader's grandchildren" give every indication about it. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo would be supporting characters in Lucas' Star Wars: The Next Generation. Given the prevalence of Han Solo in The Force Awakens' trailers and TV spots, it seems likely that Abrams and Kasdan flipped Lucas' script.
Given that, the timbre of Lucas' comments during the last few years — including his recent comments after having seen The Force Awakens — it's easy to read them as complementary but a bit tepid.
That's where we are. That's where we'll be in a few days, and the years that spin out after them. This is what Lucasfilm thinks you should know.
Up until a few months ago, the last things we knew for certain were that, during the Battle of Endor, Luke Skywalker helped defeat Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, who are now both dead. The Rebel Alliance dealt what appeared to be a crushing blow to the Empire — including the destruction of the second Death Star — and every one of our heroes celebrated their victory among the ferns and sequoias and Ewoks. But then what?
Answers began arriving in Chuck Wendig's Star Wars: Aftermath, the first, full-length, canonical novel in the Journey to The Force Awakens initiative. Released in September 2015, Aftermath's express purpose was to begin filling in the 30-year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.
For a variety of reasons, the novel was … less than well received, barely able to muster more than two stars out of five on Amazon. Despite its flaws, Aftermath does one very important thing: It sets up the state of the universe post-Jedi. And it does that with its very first words:
Today is a day of celebration. We have triumphed over villainy and oppression and have given our Alliance — and the galaxy beyond it — a chance to breathe and cheer for the progress in reclaiming our freedom from an Empire that robbed us of it. We have reports from Commander Skywalker that Emperor Palpatine is dead, and his enforcer, Darth Vader, with him.
But though we may celebrate, we should not consider this our time to rest. We struck a major blow against the Empire, and now will be the time to seize on the opening we have created. The Empire's weapon may be destroyed, but the Empire itself lives on. Its oppressive hand closes around the throats of good, free-thinking people across the galaxy, from the Coruscant Core to the farthest systems in the Outer Rim. We must remember that our fight continues. Our rebellion is over. But the war … the war is just beginning.
— Admiral Ackbar
In a sense, Aftermath is a treatise on a universe in transition. The Empire is crumbling, but is hasn't turned to dust. The New Republic is ascending to replace universal dictatorship.
As the Empire attempts to regroup and the New Republic attempts to form a new government, the war continues to rip families apart, like the American Civil War, brother against brother.
Some strains of the Empire still exist, refusing to die. They move through the vacuum of space, still commanding Star Destroyers, still trying to carry on Vader and Palpatine's legacy, as they see it. Without its leader, Emperor Palpatine, and his enforcer, Darth Vader, the Empire is fractured, but not entirely defeated. Parts of the galaxy — including the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk — remain under Imperial control.
Theirs is a deflated Empire, though. Only one Super Star Destroyer remains, the Ravager, commanded ostensibly by Rae Sloane. We later learn that even Sloan has a mysterious master.
In Aftermath, disagreeable Imperials vie for power among themselves and the stars. Imperial remnants gather on the planet Akiva to determine the Empire's future. Some want to fight, others to retreat and regain their strength first.
It's clear to us as moviegoers that Palpatine and Vader were Sith Lords, bathed in the dark side of the Force. But the Imperials assembled don't generally give that much weight. In fact, they don't believe the tales that Palpatine was a Sith lord. They think it's a rumor, a way for Palpatine to bolster his power.
That's important, because it establishes an escape route for The Force Awakens, which has to come up with a reasonable answer why anyone would think back to the days of the Galactic Empire wistfully.
To us, as viewers, the original trilogy is an unambiguous story of good triumphing over evil — of redemption, ultimately. In that universe, though, the Emperor's route apparently isn't about the Dark Side. It's about tactics or mistakes (many blame both Death Stars as enormous tactical errors). And if we set the triumph of light over dark aside, then it gives others a reason and a path to rekindle the dark flame.
The Empire in Aftermath isn't all monolithic evil, though. Others, though still loyal to the Empire, are a bit more introspective.
"We are the ones who built something called a Death Star under the leadership of a decrepit old goblin who believed in the 'dark side' of some ancient, insane religion," General Jylia Shale tells an assembled group of Imperials.
It's true, for all that it matters. It's honesty about horrible things within the context of wanting to reconstitute the Empire that did horrible things. It doesn't make a ton of sense, but it at least establishes that there are those who are loyal and will work for the glory of the fallen Empire.
That line also echoes Han Solo's "ancient religion" line from A New Hope. The only way I can figure a way out of this logical pretzel is that Palpatine and Vader had reputations, but few had proof of their powers. And if that's true, then the dismissal seems plausible.
Yupe Tashu disagrees with Shale's assessment. A one time adviser to Emperor Palpatine, he believes what others don't.
Here's Wendig, attempting his best explanation:
Amid the Empire, the presence of the Sith was less a fact and more a myth: A few spoke of it as being possible, but most believed it to be concoction. Palpatine would not be the first ruler to invent stories of himself as if he were of cosmic import: The history 'crons say that a regent of the Old Republic, Hylemane Lightbringer, claimed he was "born in the dust of the Typhonic Nebula" and "could not be killed by mortal weapons." (A fact proven untrue when he was indeed killed by a mortal weapon—bludgeoned by a chair, apparently.) Palpatine's legend extended, too, to his enforcer, the brutish Darth Vader. Sloane believes their powers to be real, though perhaps not as omnipotent as Palpatine would have preferred everyone believe.Admiral Ackbar from Return of the Jedi
"You chastise the dark side as if it is an evil path, laughable for its malevolence," Tashu says. "But do not confuse it with evil. And do not confuse the light as being the product of benevolence. The Jedi of old were cheats and liars. Power-hungry maniacs operating under the guise of a holy monastic order. Moral crusaders whose diplomacy was that of the lightsaber. The dark side is honest. The dark side is direct. It is the knife in the front rather than one stuck in your back. The dark side is self-interested, yes, but it is about extending that interest outward. To yourself, but then beyond yourself. Palpatine cared about the galaxy. He did not wrest control simply to have power for himself—he already had power, as chancellor. He wanted to take power from those who abused it. He wanted to extend control and safety to the people of all worlds. That came with costs. He knew them and lamented them. But paid them just the same because the dark side understands that everything has a cost, and the cost must always be paid."
Tashu's argument, in short, is to embrace the dark side, continuing the work that Palpatine started.
"Palpatine felt that the universe beyond the edges of our maps was where his power came from," Tashu says. "Over the many years he, with our aid, sent men and women beyond known space. They built labs and communication stations on distant moons, asteroids, out there in the wilds. We must follow them. Retreat from the galaxy. Go out beyond the veil of stars. We must seek the source of the dark side like a man looking for a wellspring of water."
The Emperor has been undone, but not all of his work has. Whether or not the assembled Imperials agree with Tashu or follow him is immaterial. What really matters here are two things: There are those who still embrace the dark side, and the Emperor left unfinished work for them to do.
Many of Aftermath's most interesting moments take place outside of the story proper, in what Wendig calls interludes. In one, we learn the shape of the New Republic, the successor to the Galactic Empire.
After Return of the Jedi, Mon Mothma runs things. In the movies, she was the Rebel leader who gave the "many Bothans died" speech at the end of A New Hope. In Aftermath, her most defining characteristic is that she's scarred by the horror of war. That informs her plans for a successor government.
Her plan is simple: Demilitarize the New Republic. She wants to cut the military by 90 percent. The remaining 10 percent will exist as a peacekeeping force, which echoes the purpose of the Jedi in the Republic before it became the Empire.
In Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, Palpatine created the Republic's massive clone army — using the separatist movement he secretly controlled — as an excuse. That war is over, Mon Mothma reasons, so that army isn't necessary.
Under her proposed new structure, defense will be a collaborative effort shared by Republic systems, not the centralized effort of the Republic's twilight and the Empire. Mon Mothma sees this as a way of ensuring that a conflict the likes of the battles that toppled the Empire never happens again.
Other characters, like Hostis Ij, to put it mildly, disagree.
The Senate, which we saw much of in the prequel trilogy, but which the Emperor disbanded during the events of A New Hope, reconvenes for the first time during Aftermath.
When it does, Mon Mothma will propose two things. First, that the emergency powers granted to Emperor Palpatine and de facto transferred to his successor be revoked. Second, she's going to cut the military down to next to nothing.
Hers is an … odd argument that oscillates between coherency and irresponsibility. Wendig presents her as the calm, wise center of the galaxy. Because she's the hero, he tends to present those who oppose her as huffing, puffing warmongers. But if we can see her point, we should be able to see her opposition's point, too.
It's as if she's blaming the symptom — the Republic's standing army — instead of the disease — Palpatine. Those who oppose her strategy see her as moving too quickly to demilitarize, given that the war isn't over.
Put differently, while it may be true that a tiny standing army could prevent aggressors within the New Republic from launching an offensive war, it's also true that a standing army the size that Mon Mothma proposes could leave the New Republic vulnerable to attack from an existential threat, say, three decades later.
In another interstitial scene, though it's not clear who's involved or why, someone claims to have Darth Vader's lightsaber. And someone buys the a relic on a planet called Taris.
"What are you?" the seller asks. "You're no Jedi."
"We are adherents," she hisses. "Acolytes of the Beyond."
It's not clear whether she's saying that they are acolytes of what they refer to as the Beyond, or part of a group called the Acolytes of the Beyond. If we cross reference that with what Tashu, the one-time Palpatine adviser who believes the best course of action is to embrace the dark side, said in another interlude, the word beyond seems to swell with importance.
"Palpatine felt that the universe beyond the edges of our maps was where his power came from. Over the many years he, with our aid, sent men and women beyond known space. They built labs and communication stations on distant moons, asteroids, out there in the wilds. We must follow them. Retreat from the galaxy. Go out beyond the veil of stars. We must seek the source of the dark side like a man looking for a wellspring of water."
Or if she's making it all up. With the transaction complete, the seller asks a question of the buyers, not far from graffiti that reads VADER LIVES.
"What do you plan on doing with that thing?"
The woman says, simply: "We will destroy it."
He laughs. "Why would you do that?"
"So that it can be returned to its master in death."
They scurry away. Outside, the sounds of Taris: a bleating horn, someone yelling, a speeder bike backfiring, distant blaster fire.
Vermia says: "Was that really Vader's weapon?"
The Kubaz shrugs.
"Who knows. And really, who cares?"
Aftermath doesn't provide answers to the questions the brief interlude raises, but it certainly sets up the strong possibility that there are those who not only miss Darth Vader, but the Siths generally. And there's an awful lot of red lightsabers in the official footage that's been released.
In several Force Awakens trailers, too, we see Darth Vader's old helmet, mangled from the funeral pyre's flames at the end of Return of the Jedi. It may be that those who purchased the red lightsaber are part of the same organization as Kylo Ren, who makes vows to Vader's helmet in promotional materials.
Another interstitial scene never quite admits that it involves Luke Skywalker, but it sure implies it.
Perhaps the most important part, though, is that it sets up a program that the Empire ran, in which it would train children — including orphans — for a life of military service.
That's not a direct link to The Force Awakens, but it is an implied one. In the final trailer for the movie, Finn (John Boyega), says, "I was raised to do one thing. And I've got nothing to fight for."
We know next to nothing about Finn, including his last name, and certainly not his backstory. But it doens't seem like much of a leap to wonder if, perhaps, Finn the Stormtrooper is a product of these Imperial training grounds.
There's one more interstitial scene that's worth mentioning, primarily because it takes place on Jakku, the desert planet that features so heavily in The Force Awakens promotions. We know little about Jakku, except that it evokes the same kind of desolation that Tatooine, another desert planet, did. Aftermath doesn't have much more to say about Jakku, but what it says gives readers a sense of what to expect.
The interlude begins with a thought: This is a dead place. That's Corwin Ballast, a tiny character in the novel who spends most of his few pages trying to get drunk in a makeshift bar. The bartender says that few people come to Jakku on purpose, and that "Most folks … just end up here. Jettisoned like so much worthless cargo. Dropped like waste."
If you're unlucky enough to find yourself on Jakku, you might be able to survive finding work in the mines. Others just scavenge in packs. There's also a monastic group that the bartender calls "anchorites."
The one thing that might be fun to do on Jakku is attend the Wheel Races north of the bar, an obvious analogy to Tatooine's pod races.
Marvel is publishing several Star Wars comics, but perhaps none draws a line more directly to The Force Awakens then Star Wars: Shattered Empire, written by Greg Rucka and penciled by Marco Checchetto.
It begins the day after Return of the Jedi ends, on the forest moon of Endor. While several characters from the movies appear, Shattered Empire primarily follows Shara Bey, an accomplished Rebel pilot, and Kes Dameron, a skilled warrior.
They're married. They barely see each other. They have a son. They see him even less than they see each other.
In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is set about 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, Oscar Isaac plays Poe Dameron.
In four issues that cover a few post-Jedi months, sergeant Dameron teams up with Han Solo and Chewbacca to take down some Empire strongholds. Bey shows her skill as a pilot, then gets some rest transporting Leia on a diplomatic mission to Naboo.
Aboard a Star Destroyer, a mysterious figure dressed in red robes appears with orders from the Emperor, playing what looks to be a video of the emperor through the red helmet the messenger wears. When someone suggests that he's dead, the Star Destroyer captain says talk like that is tantamount to treason.
So, yeah, it's still the same old, lovable Empire. And it's a place where people are afraid to even question the idea that the Emperor is dead. Palpatine has plenty of power after death.
Princess Leia and Bey travel to Naboo in to convince the queen to back the nascent New Republic. Just as soon as the queen agrees, there's a communication disruption, which as we learned in The Phantom Menace, can mean only one thing: invasion.
Dameron, Chewbacca and Solo infiltrate an Imperial base and discover that Operation: Cinder is in full effect. Enacted at the Emperor's death, it targets several planets. Among them, Naboo.
In short, just as in Aftermath, the universe following the victory at Endor is full of diplomacy and war.
The final episode is where it gets really interesting, if not understandable. Luke Skywalker shows up and needs a pilot — and another person to impersonate an Imperial officer. Bey's a pilot. Off they go.
He says that Palpatine stole something a long time ago from the Jedi temple on Coruscant. They recover it — in fact, two its. They are small trees from the temple, and they appear to be imbued with the Force.
Through her conversation with Luke, Bey makes peace with leaving the New Republic. She's done her duty, and she and her husband find a home on a lush green world that also includes temples. We won't see much of it, but it evokes a few shots from a certain trailer.
Oh, and she arrives there with the second tree. Luke gave it to her.
This young adult oriented story is set on Jakku, the desert planet that isn't Tatooine. The author, Landry Quinn Walker, describes it as "a planet filled with scavengers and pirates and thieves."
It stars Constable Zuvio, who it appears we'll meet in The Force Awakens. The short story involves a bank heist, a rogue droid and the constable who hunts him. It takes place around a city called Niima, and it's basically an Old West story told within the Star Wars universe. Nothing that transpires seems of the utmost importance, but it gives Jakku a little color beyond beige sand.
It's proof of what I've always argued: The Star Wars universe is interesting in and of itself. You can tell good stories in it. High Noon on Jakku is part of a larger series of young adult novels that tells the backstories of characters from The Force Awakens.
Star Wars Battlefront includes free downloadable content set on Jakku. Its loading screen offers a clear picture of the desolate planet's importance:
Following the destruction of the second Death Star, the still mighty Imperial Fleet has gathered at full strength over their weapons facility on Jakku.
Rebel intelligence, however, has revealed the location of this base and is preparing an assault that may turn the ides of war once and for all.
There is good reason for hope, rationale for optimism for the future of the Star Wars universe.
The real world drama that transpired over the last three years seems to have been resolved in a series of ever increasing good fortune. George Lucas, the creator of the universe, is in some sense marginalized. That's weird. But it could also mean that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will jettison the childishness of the prequels like an escape pod. Those behind the movie lost their preferred writer. But in his place stands Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote The Empire Strikes Back, which is widely regarded as the space opera's pinnacle.
Even the fiction that preceded The Force Awakens is logical. It resets and expands the universe with deliberateness, with rules and order designed to keep Star Wars coherent.
And this is only the beginning. One day (but hopefully not Thursday) there will be a bad Star Wars movie. Hey, even the first new novel wasn't so great. But that's not cause for too much concern. There's bad everything. It's the natural state of things to ebb and flow, for the pendulum to swing from good to bad and back again.
More than anything else, Star Wars: The Force Awakens signifies A New Hope for a franchise beloved to millions. We won't have to wait long to find out, but there's every reason to believe that we are on the verge of A New Hope.