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Star Wars: The Force Awakens –- everything you need to know

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Star Wars

With mere days until Star Wars: The Force Awakens is finally unleashed, we have scoured the galaxy to gather all the information on Episode VII we could find – including trailers, our exclusive interviews with the cast and crew, and the latest dirt on BB-8. There has been an awakening...

Director: J.J. Abrams

Jumping ship from the rebooted Star Trek to, arguably, the franchise he was always more at home with. Previously behind the cameras for Mission: Impossible III and Super 8, and the producer of Cloverfield. For television, the creator and showrunner of Alias and Lost.

I want them to leave the theatre feeling anything is possible.

Abrams told Empire: "The truth of it for me is that I would love for people, notably younger people, to see this movie and feel like they see themselves in it... I want them to leave the theatre like I did when I was young, feeling anything is possible".

Writers: J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan

Kasdan comes from extremely strong Star Wars stock – he co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi, as well as Raiders Of The Lost Ark. He also directed The Big Chill, Silverado and Wyatt Earp and co-wrote the upcoming Han Solo origin story with his son, Jon.

Stormtroopers

Cast

John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Max von Sydow, Gwendoline Christie, Iko Uwais, Simon Pegg, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Warwick Davis.

Release Date

The UK release date is December 17, 2015. It first opens on December 16 in a few lucky countries like France, Denmark and Bahrain. For most countries – including the US – it is out on December 18.

The Story (So Far)

There’s still nothing like even a cursory official synopsis. Character details are more revealing (see below), but broadly speaking all we know is that the film is set 30 years after Return Of The Jedi, and the galaxy far, far away is still not at peace. The First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire; the Rebellion has become the X-Wing-centric Resistance; and somewhere in the middle are the mysterious Knights Of Ren.

Could The First Order exist as a group that actually admired The Empire? Could Vader be a martyr?

The First Order, while equipped with Stormtroopers, TIE Fighters, Star Destroyers and similar Imperial accoutrements, aren’t necessarily the same Empire that was unseated at the end of Jedi. “That all came out of conversations about what would have happened if the Nazis all went to Argentina but then started working together again?’” Abrams revealed. “Could The First Order exist as a group that actually admired The Empire? Could the work of The Empire be seen as unfulfilled? And could Vader be a martyr? Could there be a need to see through what didn’t get done?”

As a side note, while there are hundreds of “expanded universe” novels set before, during and after the original films, none of those stories or characters will be making it to the screen as they’ve all been declared non-canon. So don’t expect to see Admiral Thrawn or Mara Jade turn up.

Music

The legendary John Williams, of course, is writing the orchestral score. He has described the process as "a bit like riding a bike that you haven’t been on since you were ten years old".

Filming

Shooting has taken place in the UK at Pinewood Studios; at RAF Greenham Common; and in Scotland. Three days shooting took place at Skellig Michael Island off the coast of Ireland’s County Kerry, and there have also been locations in Abu Dhabi, New Mexico, and the Krafla volcano in Iceland. Plus there’s been some work underway at Abrams’ Bad Robot facility in Santa Monica.

John Boyega is Finn

John Boyega as Finn

Attack The Block’s Moses is playing a First Order Stormtrooper, although he’s likely questioning that affiliation by the time we meet him. "When we find Finn, he's in incredible danger,” says Boyega, “and the way he reacts to this danger changes his life, and launches him into the Star Wars universe in a very unique way." LucasFilm describes him as “a trained warrior desperate to escape his past, Finn is plunged into adventure as his conscience drives him down a heroic, but dangerous, path.”

Daisy Ridley is Rey

Daisy Ridley as Rey

Rey is a scavenger on the junkyard planet Jakku. Newcomer Ridley says “she’s completely self-sufficient and does everything for herself, until she meets another character and an adventure begins.” It’s safe to assume that character is Finn.

Adam Driver is Kylo Ren

The cloaked figure you see in the trailer with the red crossguard lightsaber. Ren is a user of the Dark Side and something of a Darth Vader obsessive, styling himself after the 30-years-dead Sith Lord, down to his almost-familiar mask. “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 EW. “Ren is well aware of what’s come before, and that’s very much a part of the story of the film.” He’s described as the sort of Dark Side equivalent of Luke Skywalker, a man who came from nothing and ends up having a huge impact on the galaxy far, far away.

He is not your prototypical moustache-twirling bad guy.

"As you see in the best of storytelling, and no doubt the best of Star Wars, these are tales in which an every person has to step up. And 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,” says Abrams. “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.”

Ren’s origins are mysterious: Kylo Ren is a name he adopted later in life, and his parents were some part of the original trilogy. “He is a character who came to the name Kylo Ren when he joined a group called the Knights of Ren,” says Abrams, demurring to say anything further about that particular order. “He is not your prototypical moustache-twirling bad guy. He is a little bit more complex than that.”

Oscar Isaac is Poe Dameron

“The best frickin’ pilot in the galaxy,” is Isaac’s own description of Resistance X-Wing flyboy Poe. His story is set in motion when he’s given a mission by “a certain princess”, which we’re going to assume means Leia. On that quest he encounters Finn, and, again according to Isaac, “their fates are forever intertwined”. Finn seems to be the nexus for a whole lot of plot.

BB-8

Star Wars

Already the breakaway star of the movie, BB-8’s popularity is partly down to his extraordinary practical effect, as revealed onstage at the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim. And partly because this little droid is just so damn cute. A working BB-8 replica toy is already this year’s hottest stocking filler.

Andy Serkis is Supreme Leader Snoke

Snoke is, we’re led to believe, the power behind Kylo Ren’s throne. But nobody knows what he looks like, or much of his back story. We know it’s a mo-cap character. We know it is Serkis’ voice hear in the trailer intoning about “an awakening”. According to Abrams he is “a powerful figure on the Dark Side of The Force.”

There is a strange vulnerability to Snoke.

Speaking to Empire, Serkis seemed to imply that the character would be 25 feet tall: “My first day was basically standing on a 25-foot podium doing Lord Snoke without the faintest idea what he looked like... or in fact who he was!" He also let slip that they used “a sort of ‘Kongolizer’ method of having sound come out of speakers to give a sense of scale and distance for the character”. Despite his apparent scale, “there is a strange vulnerability to him”. “Supreme Leader” sounds Imperial and implies that Snoke is heading up the First Order. Is he the new trilogy’s equivalent of the Emperor?

Domhnall Gleeson is General Hux

Domnhall Gleeson

Leader of Starkiller Base, the First Order’s primary military installation. “I’m evil,” said Gleeson at Comic-Con. “I mean, I’m British [in the film], so yeah.” His stern get-up recalls Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin from the original film

Gwendoline Christie is Captain Phasma

Game Of Thrones’ Brienne is plays Captain Phasma, the leader of the new-look Stormtroopers for the First Order, and sports her own rather nifty chrome armour, with added cape. “Being in that armour meant investigating the character in a different way”, Christie told Empire. “She is something of a Boba Fett-style character.”

Lupita Nyong’o is Maz Kanata

Lupita Nyongo as Maz Kanata

Another mo-cap character, possibly the one seen in the trailer handing somebody a lightsaber. She’s been described as a pirate who lives in a castle, and the desert chic of the riff-raff that live with her suggests she might hail from Jakku.

The character was originally going to be a puppet. But, as JJ Abrams explained, “Maz needed to look and feel and be just like one of those creatures. And given her mobility, and given the role that she played, it became clear that that was one creature where we should use the tool of CG,” Abrams explains. “But the performance was all Lupita. She was there on set, and we did capture sessions afterwards as well, and I can’t say enough about working with her.”

Harrison Ford is Han Solo, and Peter Mayhew is Chewbacca

Harrison Ford as Han Solo

Everyone’s favourite scoundrel will return, seen in the second trailer with his faithful companion Chewbacca, in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, uttering the immortal line: “Chewie, we’re home”.

Speaking to Empire, Ford was his usual grizzly self. He acknowledged that “Han Solo is a great character, I recognise his virtues... But revisiting him was not an automatic jumping into the fray. I wanted to be convinced that through Han I’d be able to bring something more to the project overall.” Ford’s temperament could not have been helped by dislocating his ankle and breaking his leg during an on-set accident, which took him out of action for six weeks.

Carrie Fisher is Princess Leia

Leia

Or, as she is now known, General Leia. JJ Abrams recently revealed her new moniker, to reflect her senior rank in the Resistance, though one particular character still refers to her as ‘Princess’. No prizes for guessing who. “Nothing has changed except the hair", says Fisher of her iconic hero, who she considers a part of her. “I am Princess Leia. Princess Leia is me,” she told Empire. “It’s like a Möbius strip.”

Mark Hamill is Luke Skywalker - but where is he?

Anakin’s son has been conspicuous by his absence: of all the trailers, posters, TV spots, and merchandise, there has been no trace of Luke Skywalker. The internet has been ablaze with theories, as evidenced by the hashtag #WhereIsLuke. Is he dead? Missing? Evil? Is he the man beind the Kylo Ren mask? (On that last one: definitely not.)

There’s lots of surprises in this movie. You’re going to love it.

Some unscrupulous bookmakers even offered odds that he would not appear in the film at all. Ignore them: he definitely is. Various photos have shown Hamill at Pinewood sporting a very smart, Jedi-like, Obi-Wan-esque beard. As many have noted, Hamill is now the same age as Alec Guinness was when he filmed the original film. Keeping his cards diplomatically close to his chest, Hamill told Empire: “Obviously you’re seeing him at a very different time in his life. There’s lots of surprises in this movie. You’re going to love it.”

Anthony Daniels is C-3PO, and Kenny Baker is R2-D2

Star Wars

BB-8 may be the new kid on the block, but everyone’s favourite old-school droids will return. We don’t see much of either in the few trailers we’ve been offered, except for a robotic arm (Luke’s?) resting on Artoo’s head. C-3PO, meanwhile, appears to be sporting a new, red arm, as shown on Empire’s latest subscriber cover. Anthony Daniels told us: “the energy at the first read-through was extraordinary. I remember just looking across at Harrison and beaming.”

Plus a bevvy of new characters

This unsavoury-looking character, as Empire exclusively revealed back in November, is Constable Zuvio, a "vigilant law officer on a mostly lawless world” who “keeps order in a frontier trading post”. He's one of a raft of new supporting characters, and like most of the characters, will be utilised with advanced puppeteering and make-up, rather than CGI.

It’s more practical than digital

Eschewing the digital format of George Lucas’ prequels, Abrams and his cinematographer Dan Mindel opted to shoot The Force Awakens on 35mm film, the better to channel the aesthetic of the original trilogy. Abrams has also been a passionate advocate of practical effects where possible, so there’s been plenty of scale model work and engineering wizardry. At 2015’s Comic-Con, a beautifully-made sizzle reel (below) highlighted the emphasis on practical effects.

The posters are pretty cool

Star Wars The Force Awakens Rey Finn Character posters

Five gorgeous character posters debuted in November, featuring Han, Leia, Finn, Rey, and Kylo Ren, with all except Leia holding a weapon over their eye – leading many to speculate whether our heroes were at some sort of Galactic Optician.

Meanwhile, this rather lovely one-sheet, from legendary Star Wars designer/illustrater Drew Struzan, was an exclusive freebie for attendees of Disney's D23 celebration.

SW-TFA-D23-Poster

There are several new planets

As we exclusively revealed in our special Force Awakens issue, there are several new planets in the Star Wars universe. Joining Tatooine, Endor, Naboo and the already-revealed desert planet of Jakku are Takodana, D'Qar and Hosnian Prime. Little is known of these mysterious orbs. Takodana will, if LEGO’s tie-in kits are to be believed, be the site of a major battle in the movie, while rumours have D’Qar as a resistance base. Hosnian Prime? Well, that’s a mystery to all.

Also out there, lurking in the galaxy’s darker recesses, is the Starkiller Base, home of the First Order. The map pinpoints its origin point in the Unknown Regions. Expect it to move somewhere more happening.

Star Wars will go on forever

Episode VII is the first of a brand new generation of Star Wars movies. When Disney bought LucasFilm in 2012 for the hefty pricetag of $4 billion, they announced their intention to release one new movie a year. That remains on schedule, with The Force Awakens this year, the first ‘anthology’ movie, Rogue One, due in 2016, plus Episodes VIII and IX in development. There are also plans for anthology films around Han Solo and Boba Fett, and no doubt Episodes X, XI and XII not far off. It is, as LucasFilm described it, a “forever franchise”. Strap in, nerf herders. We’re in this for the long haul.