Chances are you saw The Force Awakens over the weekend. Chances are you have lots of burning questions about what transpired in the movie, or the events leading up to Episode VII. Have no fear. After multiple screenings of the film and hours spent poring over the freshly released canonical material — The Force Awakens official novelization by Alan Dean Foster, The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary by Lucasfilm’s Pablo Hidalgo, the YA novel Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka, The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens edited by Phil Szostak, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Incredible Cross Sections by Jason Fry — we attempt to answer the big ones below.
Warning: Major spoilers will be discussed.
Republic, Resistance, First Order… Help?!
That’s an easy one, thanks to the new The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary. After the fall of Emperor Palpatine and the destruction of the second Death Star, the Rebel Alliance (technically the Alliance to Restore the Republic) adopted the name the New Republic. The government secured a systems-wide peace treaty called the Galactic Concordance and focused on creating a democratic senate, overseen by Chancellor Mon Mothma. As the New Republic tried to carve out a viable political structure, the staunchest ex-Imperials regrouped in the most remote sectors of the Outer Rim to build a new, formidable war machine, which grew into the First Order. When Luke Skywalker’s new generation of Jedi was destroyed by the treachery of his own nephew, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, sending the last Jedi Master into parts unknown, the First Order made its move.
Princess Leia, who had eschewed the Jedi lifestyle and opted to focus on the political realm, recognized the threat and assembled her own private force: the Resistance. She handpicked trusted leaders and talented veterans from the Galactic Civil War, like Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb.
What’s different about the Star Destroyer, TIE fighters, and X-wings in the new movie?
In the 30 years since the end of the Galactic Civil War, the technology has improved (except on the various ships’ targeting displays). Kylo Ren and Hux’s flagship, the Finalizer, is double the length of the vintage Star Destroyers. According to the Visual Dictionary, it was the first Resurgent-class ship constructed in open violation of the Galactic Concordance. It is populated by a full legion of Stormtroopers, 100 assault craft, and two wings of next-gen TIE fighters.
Special Forces TIE from ‘The Force Awakens: Incredible Cross Sections’ (DK Publishing/Lucasfilm)
The single-pilot TIE/fo is based on the design of the ships from the original trilogy, but with upgraded systems. The red-swathed model that Poe and Finn hijack, known as a TIE/sf, accommodates two, a pilot and a gunner. The Resistance meanwhile, flies T-70 X-wings, whose main visual difference from the Incom T-65 models of the original trilogy is that the newer vessels have interlocking wings that present a sleeker, more aerodynamic profile than the overlaying wings of the originals. Like many of the characters and vehicles in The Force Awakens, the T-70s are based on Star Wars designer Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art from the 1970s.
Who is Max Von Sydow’s character and how did he wind up with the missing map to Luke?
His name is Lor San Tekka, and he has been aiding the New Republic and Resistance for decades before retiring to the Jakku village of Kelvin Ravine. An adherent to the Church of the Force, an underground religion based on the tenets of the Jedi, he is a keeper of Jedi knowledge, and therefore knows about Luke and his attempts to revive the Order — and how it was defiled by Ben Solo/Kylo Ren.
A quick geography lesson, please: What were all those new planets that we saw?
Jakku is the Tatooine-like desert planet that kicks the story in motion. It was the site of a huge confrontation between the Rebel Alliance and Empire about a year after the Battle of Endor, resulting in a huge debris field known as the “graveyard of giants.” Because it’s so remote and inhospitable, it is considered a good spot for folks to hide out — or abandon young kids on.
Related: A Field Guide to ‘The Force Awakens’
Takodana is the forested frontier planet Maz Kanata calls home, a spaceport frequented by pirates, bounty hunters, thugs, and ne’er-do-wells. Because the world has maintained neutrality in the various galactic skirmishes, it has been untouched by war… so far.
‘The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary’ (DK Publishing/Lucasfilm)
Another lush world, D’Qar was first mentioned in the novel Lost Stars, where it was scouted by the protagonist Thane Kyrell as a possible rebel base. Now it’s home to the Resistance.
Hosnian Prime eventually replaced Coruscant as the seat of power once the New Republic took over (the capital rotates among systems every several years to reinforce the democracy). In The Force Awakens, several of the Senate politicians, along with Leia’s envoy Korr Sella (the woman the camera lingers on), watch in horror as the incoming fatal blast from Starkiller Base approaches, eventually wiping out the entire Hosnian system. (The planets are turned into pocket novas, per the novel.)
The name of the watery planet where Luke Skywalker is holed up — and the site of the original Jedi Temple — is Ahch-To, according to supplemental material (including the official WGA script as well as the junior novelization by Michael Kogge) and confirmed by Lucasfilm’s Pablo Hidalgo.
We do not know the location of Snoke.
Who the heck is Snoke?
Supreme Leader Snoke runs the First Order like the Wizard ran Oz. We only see him in ginormous holographic form from his shadowy repose, and it isn’t pretty. He is an aged, battle-scarred practitioner of the Dark Side, who favors the cloaked look of the various Darths (his appearance draws on old McQuarrie designs for Darth Sidious, a.k.a. Palpatine). He’s definitely not, as fans of Timothy Zahn’s 1990s Star Wars books had hoped, an incarnation of Grand Admiral Thrawn, nor does it seem logical that he’s Palpatine’s mentor, Darth Plagueis (whom Palpatine claimed to have slain), as others have postulated. But Snoke did rise to power following the fall of the Emperor, as the radicalized First Order built its war machine on the Outer Rim.
In the novelization, it’s made clear that Snoke targeted Ben Solo because he embodies both light and dark sides of the Force, making him a potentially powerful weapon. Leia tells Han that Snoke was always watching Ben “from the shadows, in the beginning, even before I realized what was happening, he was manipulating everything, pulling our son toward the dark side.”
Who are Rey’s parents?
Perhaps the biggest riddle going into The Force Awakens was how the new heroine was related to the Skywalker clan, if at all. The question remains unanswered, but one major theory has been debunked: that Rey was the daughter of Han Solo and Leia Organa. While Rey eyes Han as a father figure, both he and Leia are utterly fixated on rehabilitating their son, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, from his Vader-wannabe ways. Some tantalizing clues suggest she still might have Skywalker DNA, however: She has uncanny mechanical and piloting skills, like Luke and Anakin; her poor-kid-on-desert-planet act is a familiar Star Wars trope; she is “called” by the Skywalker saber in Maz’s castle and her subsequent vision includes a greatest hits of Anakin and Luke’s lives; and parts of two musical motifs directly linked to Luke from A New Hope, “Binary Sunset” and “Burning Homestead,” play under Rey in the film, including during her final duel with Kylo Ren. In the novel, when Rey uses the Force to pull the saber to her, Ren has a moment of recognition, uttering, “It is you” — a suggestion that he encountered her before, perhaps while training with Luke.
‘The Force Awakens: Incredible Cross Sections’ (DK Publishing/Lucasfilm)
And while Luke has no known love interest in the current canon, we all remember how Anakin was conceived. If the Force needed to restore balance, then it created one kick-ass vessel in Rey. (For what it’s worth, director J.J. Abrams says he left it up to Episode VIII helmer Rian Johnson to figure it all out.)
[UPDATE: There has been increasing chatter positing that Obi-Wan Kenobi is Rey’s father. This is pure bunk. Plain and simple, the math just doesn’t work: the novel establishes Rey’s age as 19, which means Obi-Wan had been dead for more than a decade before her conception. As for those who suggest Rey could be Obi-Wan’s granddaughter? Well, aside from a momentary flirtation in an episode of The Clone Wars, there is no canonical evidence that Obi-Wan ever had a romantic relationship to continue the Kenobi line. Even by Star Wars standards, we just can’t make the leaps of logic required to make the Kenobi-Rey connection.]
Who are Finn’s parents?
Another much debated pre-release topic was the parentage of FN-2187, otherwise known as Finn. Finn was abducted at a young age and pressed into service as a First Order grunt and doesn’t know his parents. Speculation centered on him somehow being related to the other two most identifiable black men in the Star Wars saga: Mace Windu and Lando Calrissian, but both seem a real stretch. Mace died more than five decades before Finn would have been born. While we can imagine Lando spreading little Calrissians around the galaxy, we doubt he’d knowingly let some Imperial pretenders get their grubby mitts on his progeny. No, we like think that in the vast, multicultural systems of this galaxy that Finn is his own man, finding his own way, and — unlike Rey — the question of his provenance can remain a mystery going forward without impacting the story.
How did the Millennium Falcon wind up on Jakku?
Once Han Solo fell back into his roguish ways — after his relationship with Leia fell apart post-Ben’s trip to the Dark Side — in the decade or so before The Force Awakens, he lost his ride to a criminal named Ducain, who also happened to put a bounty on Han’s head. Ducain lost it to the equally despicable Irving Boys, who also had no love of Solo. By the beginning of the film, Jakku slug Unkar Plutt has obtained the vehicle from the Irving Boys, through underhanded means. But Plutt understands the value of the ship; although locals regard it as garbage, Rey makes it clear in the novelization that he has made modifications to the craft and that she has snuck inside on numerous occasions. One side note via the Visual Dictionary: Despite losing his ship to a series of scoundrels, Han managed to hold on to the sabacc dice that hung from the Falcon’s dashboard and was visible throughout the original trilogy, the same dice he used to win the vessel from Lando Calrissian.
How did Anakin’s lightsaber wind up at Maz Kanata’s? How did Kylo Ren get Darth Vader’s helmet?
Last spotted tumbling down a trash chute in Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back, the blade built by Anakin and passed to Luke resurfaced 30-plus years later in a curio chest in Maz Kanata’s castle, where it “called” to Rey. According to the supplemental materials, “someone salvaged it from the city’s industrial depths,” but how it got from that unnamed person to Maz’s place remains unexplained and will possibly be filled in by a future film or book. As for Vader’s charred helmet, which was engulfed by the flames of his funeral pyre following the Battle of Endor, there’s likewise no explicit path from the Ewok land to the Finalizer.
But in the novel Aftermath, set immediately following the events of Return of the Jedi, we’re introduced to the Acolytes of the Beyond, who fetishize Vader relics and may have recovered the helmet. Perhaps Ren came into contact with them (or may have even been a member)?
What did that Stormtrooper use to counter Finn’s lightsaber attack?
That telescoping weapon is called a riot baton or shock staff, a melee weapon used by Riot Troopers specially engineered to block lightsaber strikes. In the novel Before the Awakening, FN-2187 spars with one during his trooper training, foreshadowing his encounter in The Force Awakens. [UPDATE: Lucasfilm has now confirmed that the “Traitor”-yelling trooper is indeed FN-2199, the same dude that Finn faces off with in Before the Awakening.]
Speaking of sabers, what’s the deal with Kylo Ren’s?
If the crudely constructed cross-guard saber seems as unstable as its owner, that’s because it is. The weapon is powered by a cracked kyber crystal, requiring the side vents on the hilt, and resulting in its unrefined operation, according to the Visual Dictionary.
How did C-3PO get that red arm?
Alas, we won’t get the exact details until February, when Marvel releases the one-shot comic C-3PO. The publication was supposed to arrive this month to coincide with the film’s release, but reportedly got held up in the approval process. What we do know from the Visual Dictionary is that Threepio doesn’t like to talk about the origins of his new appendage because it involved another droid’s unspecified “sacrifice.” Speaking of Goldenrod, the protocol droid has been boning up since we last saw him in Return of the Jedi; he’s now fluent in more than 7 million forms of communication, a million more than he knew during the original trilogy. In the novel, it’s also revealed that the droid has been implanted with a “humility circuit,” but that doesn’t really seem to work.
What happened to R2-D2?
In the film, it is implied that Artoo went into low-power mode because he was somehow saddened by the disappearance of Luke. There’s a little more to it, according to the novelization and the Visual Dictionary: The droid, whose memory has never been wiped, is doing what we all should do with overloaded hard drives — defragging. “As R2-D2 recuperates in his self-imposed low-power mode, his diagnostic systems are attempting to organize the vast trove of information in his databanks from over seven decades of uninterrupted operation. The defragmenting of millions of exanodes within his memory is causing R2-D2 to ‘dream’ many of his greatest adventures.”
Did Kylo Ren get his hand chopped off during his showdown with Rey?
Star Wars has a nasty habit of dismembering characters, from Darth Maul to Count Dooku, Luke to Darth Vader, Wampa to Walrus Man. But The Force Awakens breaks the amputation trend. Yes, Rey knocks away Kylo Ren’s saber, but, aside from a nasty facial scar, his body remains intact.
Will Finn live? Did Kylo Ren, Hux, and Captain Phasma escape Starkiller Base before it exploded?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes. There is no way we’re going to go through an entire second film with Finn in a coma. In the book, Hux does retrieve the defeated Ren — and no doubt relishes seeing his rival humbled in battle. Phasma’s fate is less clear (having been resigned to a trash compactor), but there’s no way she was defeated so easily. (Christie, Gleeson, and Driver are all contracted for Episode VIII.) And we’d bet lots of credits on seeing more of the Knights of Ren in the next installment.
Will Han return as a Force ghost?
Don’t bet on it. Han Solo will never be confused for a Jedi Master, who are the only ones we’ve ever seen return in spectral form. Besides, Ford seems delighted to be free of Star Wars and as much as we fans would love to believe Han is immortal, his arc is over. Of course, we still have that Han Solo prequel movie coming to help make up for his tragic death.
We know about Daniel Craig’s cameo as a Stormtrooper — any other notable folks appear in the film?
Craig was on the wrong end of Rey’s Jedi mind trick during her escape from Kylo Ren’s torture chair on Starkiller Base. But the Bond star wasn’t the only famous person Abrams recruited.
—Ewan McGregor, in his best Obi-Wan Kenobi voice, recorded a single line — “These are your first steps”— for Rey’s lightsaber-induced vision, which J.J. Abrams mashed up with a snippet of Alec Guinness saying “Rey” from an archival recording of the actor speaking the word “afraid.” The phrase echoed Obi-Wan’s statement to Luke in A New Hope (“You’ve taken your first step into a larger world…”). Abrams also included a bit of Frank Oz’s Yoda from the Dagobah scenes in Empire Strikes Back (Oz had recording original material for Abrams that ended up unused), as well as the only Mark Hamill word we hear spoken in the film—“Noooooo!”—from Empire’s big reveal.
—Simon Pegg was under the latex suit of Unkar Plutt, the cheapskate trader on Jakku who dispatches his thugs to get BB-8 from Rey.
—BB-8’s vocalizations included contributions from SNL alum Bill Hader and Parks and Recreation’s Ben Schwartz.
—Michael Giacchino, the Oscar-winning composer of the Up and an Emmy winner for his Lost music, is under the helmet as FN-3181, one of the Stormtroopers who grabs the Force-frozen Poe Dameron during the opening sequence on Jakku.
—Ken Leung, best known as Miles in the Abrams-produced TV series Lost, was Admiral Satura, one of Leia’s advisers who helps plot the attack on Starkiller.
—Harry Potter alum Warwick Davis, who famously embodied the Ewok Wicket in Return of the Jedi, is Wollivan, a diminutive alien spotted at Maz’s castle.
—Judah Friedlander, the cap-sporting slacker writer on 30 Rock, is also among the patrons of Maz’s bar.
—Heroes star Greg Grunberg, a longtime pal of Abrams who has popped up in several of the filmmaker’s TV shows and films, appeared as ace pilot Snap Wexley, a character originally introduced as a teenager in the Star Wars novel Aftermath by Chuck Wendig,
—Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Maze Runner, Game of Thrones) played First Order Petty Officer Thanisson. Jessica Henwick, who plays Nymeria Sand in Game of Thrones, was X-wing pilot Jess Pava, one of the featured pilots riding in formation with Poe in the attack on Starkiller Base.
—Martial-arts maestros Yayan Ruhian and Iko Uwais, known for their work in the acclaimed Indonesian action films The Raid: Redempton and The Raid 2, served as Rathtar bait, playing Tasu Leech and Razoo Quin-Fee of the Han-hunting Kanjiclub Gang.
—Carrie Fisher’s daughter and Scream Queens actress Billie Lourd played a character identified on IMDb as Lieutenant Connix and by the Visual Dictionary as Kaydel Ko, a Resistance officer seen in the war room.
—Dr. Kalonia, the understanding medic who patched up Chewbacca at Resistance HQ, was played by Harriet Walter, better known to Downton Abbey aficionados as Lady Shackleton.
—Grammy-winning Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich also played a trooper, No. FN-9330, according to the credits.
—Hamilton mastermind Lin-Manual Miranda doesn’t appear on screen, but the Tony winner’s vocals are heard during the two songs performed in Maz Kanata’s castle, which he co-wrote with Abrams.
Where was that action figure I bought on Force Friday?
Hasbro leaned on some deep background characters for its first waves of toys, among them Sarco Plank, Ello Asty, and Constable Zuvio.
Sarco, a world-hopping scavenger whose backstory involves an ill-fated battle with Luke Skywalker (in the novel The Weapon of a Jedi), is seen on Jakku in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment. Asty, an X-wing pilot with an awesome origin story, participates in the final battle on Starkiller, where, sadly, he bites it. Zuvio, considered by many collector’s to be the biggest peg-warmer of Hasbro’s toy figures, is described as “a vigilant law officer on a mostly lawless world” Based on an entry in the Visual Dictionary, he was supposed to appear at Jakku’s Niima Outpost, but apparently was cut out before the film hit screens — we have yet to spot him after multiple viewings, although if you want your Zuvio fix, he does star in the tie-in short story “High Noon at Jakku.”
‘The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary’ (DK Publishing/Lucasfilm)
Meanwhile, the new First Order snowtroopers and snowspeeder, featured in toys by Hasbro and Lego, didn’t make the film. However, footage featuring the cold-weather soldiers was filmed; both the troopers and their ride appear in the Visual Dictionary and Incredible Cross Sections, and the novelization includes an interlude on Starkiller Base where Kylo Ren and his troopers discover the snowbound Millennium Falcon before his faceoff with Han Solo.
Subsequently, the snowtroopers chase Rey and Finn before they make it back to the base in time to see Ren slay Han. Presumably these scenes were among several chopped for time.
Got anything else?
You bet. Did you know it was Steven Spielberg who came up with the idea for the “steelpecker,” the vulture-like avian creature we see rummaging through the scrap metal on Jakku? That tidbit comes from the Concept Art book.
The novelization, which is based on the shooting script and includes extended segments approved by Lucasfilm, has several extra details. For instance, while there were tons of Easter eggs for both casual and hardcore Star Wars fans in the final film, we don’t get Abrams’s goof on his other space franchise, Star Trek. In an extended sequence where the Falcon gets caught in a tractor beam by a ship believed to be a First Order freighter, Rey and Finn go through their rapidly shrinking options. “What do we do?” asks Rey. “There must be something…” To which Finn replies sardonically, “Sure. We could run — if the engines could be powered up. We could try and fight — if the blasters would function. We could step into the matter transporter — if such a thing existed.”
We get a passage detailing Poe’s escape from the TIE crash, explaining how his jacket got snagged on equipment, requiring him to shed it. He suffers a concussion in the landing and takes a while to get his bearings. Then he hitches a ride, gets involve in a speeder chase, before he finds transit off Jakku and back to the Resistance.
There’s also more background on Leia’s frosty relationship with the New Republic, necessitating her sending her emissary Korr Sella to Hosnian Prime to seek action against the First Order. The scene underscores the fraught politics behind the film and also makes the destruction of the Hosnian system more impactful.
Finally, there’s much more to the sequence at Maz Kanata’s castle. Unkar Plutt has tracked the Falcon and has a confrontation with Rey. Chewie steps in and when Plutt pokes the Wookiee in his bandaged arm and taunts the furry fellow, Chewie responds by ripping off Plutt’s arm and throwing it across the bar (there’s your dismemberment!). During Rey’s saber-induced vision, it’s more clear that the image she sees of the Knights of Ren are tied to the destruction of Luke’s Jedi temple. And at the end of the battle, we have a more satisfying closure for Maz, who reappears and assesses the situation. “Looks like I’ve got some cleaning up to do, hmm?” she says to Finn, adding, “Oh wow… I see something else now. I see the eyes of a warrior.”
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