This article contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and many of the books and comics.
When Star Wars: The Force Awakens released last December, I went to see it three times, obsessively picking apart each viewing in the process. While I like to think I did a pretty solid job of finding answers to many of my questions, there’s an inescapable problem with the latest Star Wars film—and the universe, in general: the movie seems to go out of its way to not answer any questions. You might call this good plotting, as it sets up the mysteries for the rest of the Sequel Trilogy, but it’s actually evidence of Lucasfilm’s unwillingness to commit to any answers at all.
Sure, The Force Awakens serves as the A New Hope for a new generation of heroes, but it leans on that connection a little too much. The very first Star Wars film sent us on a grand adventure across the galaxy, painting epic caricatures of hero and villain archetypes, without really explaining anything. Because we had enough to go on. After all, this was the very first chapter in a still-brewing thread of stories that would capture the imagination of viewers and readers for the next three decades. We could accept that a very green Luke Skywalker could already use the Force midway through his first adventure because we didn’t really know how the mystical energy worked. All we knew was good guys vs. bad guys, and that the characters who wielded the Force were the titans for each side. That was enough, because George Lucas smartly wove together stories, characters, and settings we had all subconsciously seen before.
The Force Awakens doesn’t get that luxury. It carries the weight of a long history it chooses to ignore, even after Lucasfilm went out of its way to erase the old continuity (now known as Legends). Mind you, I don’t care about continuity at all. I grew up with Legends stories, series like The New Jedi Order and Knights of the Old Republic, that are still important to me (and should be to you) regardless of their status in current continuity. What matters is a great story, and The Force Awakens‘ prudishness towards solid answers prevents it from being one. At best, it provides a skeletal outline for most of its characters’ backstories, as well the factions they fight for and the places they travel to. Which doesn’t make sense when your at the tail end of a 66-year fictional history.
Of course, The Force Awakens only had 135 minutes to tell its story. (The film was actually cut down in a way that created even more ambiguous story elements.) Some of the blame absolutely goes to the new EU, spearheaded primarily by Del Rey and Marvel, which takes a very risk-free approach to setting up the film. For one thing, the Marvel books released before Dec. 2015 pretty much had nothing to do with characters or plots introduced in The Force Awakens, taking place instead between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. And books that promised to finally reveal some post-Return of the Jedi secrets, such as the Aftermath novel and the Shattered Empire comic, did so by introducing extremely marginal aspects of the story or teasing things that still weren’t answered in the movie. Surprisingly enough, Claudia Gray’s YA romance novel, Lost Stars, gave us the most consequential moment in current Star Wars EU by showing us the Battle of Jakku.
Luckily, pretty much everyone in the galaxy has seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens by now, and Lucasfilm can start (or it should, anyway) unlocking the gates to a lot more of the post-Return of the Jedi timeline. In 2016, we’re getting Bloodline (formerly New Republic: Bloodline), Aftermath: Life Debt, a Poe Dameron ongoing comic book, and a C-3PO comic special about how he got his red arm (because fans want to know, apparently). And there are quite a few more questions that the Expanded Universe should answer while we wait for Episode VIII to arrive in 2017. Or else, why should we care about the new EU at all?
Here’s a list of questions the Expanded Universe should answer about The Force Awakens:
How does the New Republic actually work?
While A New Hope spent nowhere near as much time with political subplots as the Prequels did, it did enough to establish how the film’s oppressive government worked. There was an Emperor, and up to about 30 minutes into the movie, there had even been a Senate. Grand Moff Tarkin’s announcement that the Senate had been disbanded and that fear would keep the galaxy in line was enough for us to know that we were dealing with a tyrannical government.
In comparison, we know that the New Republic exists in the movie—or existed before it was blown up by the First Order—and not much else…
Aftermath revealed that the New Republic had a Senate, that the capital was on Mon Mothma’s homeworld of Chandrila before it eventually moved to Hosnian Prime, that Mothma was the first chancellor, and that she eventually disarmed the military. If you own the Visual Dictionary for the movie, you also know that the chancellor at the time of the First Order attack was Lanever Villecham, a male Tarsunt, who died on Hosnian Prime.
It would have been nice to see the New Republic a bit more fleshed out before the movie. Who were its major players, both at the Senate and behind the scenes? What were its flaws—besides a debilitating inability to see an impending threat?
In a big way, the New Republic was the Original Trilogy’s ultimate endgame, the result of all the fighting. Without a clear picture of this government, we don’t really get to see what the heroes earned from their struggles. Even if their utopia didn’t quite turn out the way they wanted, that in itself is an emotional story worth telling, but The Force Awakens doesn’t quite hit that pressure point.
Claudia Gray’s Bloodline, which focuses heavily on Leia, will probably flesh things out a bit more.
What did Luke’s new Jedi Order look like?
I do think that this was one mystery worth keeping for the film. It’s logical character progression for Luke to become a mentor to a new generation of Jedi, and equally captivating to see him fail at it. But now that we know it happened, the EU should at least give us a few more bits and pieces of what Luke’s failed Order looked like.
We’ll probably learn a lot more about his startup Jedi Order and what the first Jedi Temple has to do with it in Episode VIII. I don’t see Lucasfilm revealing any of Luke’s post-RotJ adventures in the meantime, beyond that Force tree story in Shattered Empire #4, but maybe they’ll give us a few more glimpses, even if he makes an appearance in a book or two.
What is Luke’s connection to Lor San Tekka and the Church of the Force?
Lor San Tekka is one of the film’s more bewildering characters, if only for the simple fact that J.J. Abrams cast a legend like Max von Sydow for a ten-minute scene. But Tekka’s lack of backstory is also frustrating, especially since he’s the person that basically sparks the entire adventure with his piece of the Skywalker map. Actually, we don’t actually learn the character’s name in the movie…
The film novelization and The Visual Dictionary reveal that Tekka was a member of the Church of the Force, an underground religion that followed the ideals of the Jedi Order and sought to protect Jedi lore from the Empire. Apparently, Tekka even helped Luke search for certain secrets of the old Order after Return of the Jedi. Did Tekka help Luke find the first temple of the Jedi? If so, I want to see that adventure.
What was Snoke up to before the events of The Force Awakens?
I don’t have such a big problem with the mystery surrounding Supreme Leader Snoke. There’s always another villain lurking in the shadows in any fictional universe, especially one called Star Wars. My only issue is that, without some kind of background, the character will ultimately exist as a throwaway villain archetype. The all-encompassing evil.
Sure, the Emperor was only introduced to the screen in Return of the Jedi, which didn’t really bother to flesh him out, but he was really only there to push the plot along and enable Darth Vader’s redemption. Vader and Luke’s relationship was the real emotional center of the duel on the Death Star II. The Emperor was just a cackling demon.
Having been around since before the rise of the Empire, the scarred Snoke has an evident history. The EU could begin to explore that in order to set up further revelations in the next movie.
What was Maz Kanata up to before the events of The Force Awakens?
There was a scene apparently cut out of the finished film where we see Maz Kanata use her Force powers to take down some Stormtroopers during the attack on her castle. Earlier in the film, Han tells Rey and Finn that Maz had been running her hideaway for pirates, bounty hunters, and scum for a thousand years. On top of that, she somehow acquired Luke’s first lighstaber after he lost it on Bespin.
Who is this character and how does she have such a strong knowledge of the Force? One big way the EU could tell us more about Maz’s backstory is by showing us how Han Solo met her in the first place. There’s definitely a story there. Maybe Chuck Wendig will put that in Aftermath: Life Debt?
Why did Ben Solo turn to the Dark Side?
While I absolutely love Kylo Ren (and Adam Driver’s performance), he also posed the biggest problem for me in terms of story. The reveal that he was Han Solo’s son midway through the film was meant to elicit gasps from the audience, but that wasn’t my reaction.
I wonder how the reveal would have been more shocking if Lucasfilm had set up this character before the release of the film. I’m not saying that we needed a big Ben Solo adventure. A mention that the character existed, or perhaps a scene of him as a boy would have sufficed. Then the emotional impact of Ben’s fall to the Dark Side would have really hit home.
Why did Darth Vader’s revelation that he was Luke’s father pack such a punch? Because we had already seen Luke’s adoration for the dad he never knew and his willingness to follow in the “hero”‘s footsteps. His father’s real fate was a heart-shattering twist.
In comparison, we don’t know anything about Ben’s relationship with his parents, except that he ran away to join the Knights of Ren. How did Han and Leia fail him as parents? How did Han disappoint his son? Knowing some of this stuff would have made for a much stronger reveal.
I suspect Bloodline will introduce a young Ben Solo and maybe show early signs of how the Solo family would eventually tear itself apart.
How did Temmin Wexley find his way to the Resistance?
This is a minor one, but considering the fact that he was one of the main characters in Aftermath and one of the Resistance members with the most screen time in the film, we should probably get to see a few more of his adventures. And what happened to his mother, Norra?
How was the Millennium Falcon stolen?
This just sounds like a fun story I’d like to read. It’s mentioned in the film novelization that a gunrunner named Gannis Ducain, who was first introduced in the novel Smuggler’s Run, is the guy who stole the Falcon from Han and Chewie before the events of the movie. How did he slip away with Han’s most prized possession?
Where is Lando Calrissian?
It’s pretty unfair that everyone’s other favorite scoundrel is nowhere to be seen in the Sequel Trilogy, especially when dudes like Admiral Ackbar returned for another adventure. Lando was a vital part of the Original Trilogy and continues to be a popular character with fans today. His appearances in the Rebels animated series have been very well received, and his solo Marvel comics series is the company’s best work on Star Wars so far. So why no Lando?
Unless Rian Johnson is planning a secret cameo for the character in Episode VIII, the EU should at least bring us up to date on what the former General has been up to since blowing up the second Death Star. It would be fun to see him up to his old tricks. I suggest an ongoing comic!
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Is Mon Mothma dead? If not, where is she?
Seriously, is she already dead by the time the First Order blows up her beloved New Republic? Because we don’t actually know what she’s up to at that point. Mothma has always been the most prominent galactic figure on the edge of real importance to fans. No one actually cares about Mothma, right? But it would at least be nice to know she didn’t have to watch the First Order blow up the peace she fought so hard for.
Seeing more of her time as Chancellor of the New Republic might also help illustrate the flaws of the new government. Mothma spearheaded the disarmament of the military and the peace accords with the Imperial Remnant that allowed the remaining villains to retreat to the edges of space and rebuild their war machine. What kind of kickback did she receive? What politicians tried to undermine her? Did her choices actually doom the fledgling New Republic?
What did the post-Concordance Empire look like? How did it turn into the First Order?
One of the things that the Legends continuity did really well was show how the Empire continued to evolve after its defeat at the Battle of Endor. Like in new canon, the Imperial Remnant was forced to retreat to a sector on the edges of space, where it held dominion and continued to rebuild itself in order to attack the New Republic time and time again. Eventually, though, the Imperial Remnant struck a sort of peace with the New Republic and even joined forces to fight off common threats later in the timeline.
We know that after the Battle of Jakku in new canon, the Empire was forced to surrender, signing the Galactic Concordance on Coruscant, which severely weakened the faction but allowed it to retreat into the far reaches of space. Those Imperials eventually formed the First Order.
It couldn’t have been easy, though. As Aftermath shows, there were many people vying for control of the Empire, all with different ideas for what the future of their faction should look like. Surely, there was some in-fighting involved during the Empire’s re-organization and re-branding.
The forming of the First Order could be a really fun story to read, one that focuses on the villains. As Marvel’s Darth Vader series has shown in the last year, those are often the most fun.
Who are the Knights of Ren? Do they have anything to do with the Acolytes of the Beyond?
We get exactly one shot of the Knights of Ren in The Force Awakens, and that’s part of the flashback in Maz Kanata’s castle. How come they’re not around to kick Resistance butt in the movie? Supreme Leader Snoke doesn’t sound like the kind of malevolent leader who holds back. After all, he did blow up the entire New Republic in a single scene.
But more importantly, who are the Knights of Ren? Are they meant to be the successors of the Sith, a new cult of dark side users? Interestingly enough, the one shot we see of the Knights assembled reveals that only Kylo carries a lightsaber. There’s one guy carrying a staff and a few equipped with rifles. Along with a little bit more background on Snoke, it would be cool to see how he began recruiting his force of shadow operatives.
In Aftermath, there’s mention of a group called the Acolytes of the Beyond, who are obsessed with collecting Sith artifacts, such as Darth Vader’s lightsaber. Seeing as Kylo has acquired Vader’s helmet by the time of the movie, could the Knights of Ren have been formed out of the Acolytes? This remains to be seen.
What happened to Rogue Squadron?
The galaxy’s elite fighter squadron is nowhere to be seen in The Force Awakens. Instead, we got Poe Dameron’s Black Squadron. Is Rogue Squadron exclusive to the Rebellion or did a new incarnation serve the New Republic? The Resistance now boasts the greatest fighter pilots in the galaxy, so ideally, we would have seen a new Rogue Squadron in the movie.
I’d like to know why they’re not around anymore. Due to the continuity wipe, the squadron only really boasts one appearance in the new timeline—the Battle of Hoth—but that doesn’t mean there weren’t more adventures. The EU can’t go wrong with new Rogue Squadron stories, especially when they were such a big part of the old continuity.
What were Poe and Finn up to before The Force Awakens?
We’re getting a bit of the Poe story from Marvel in April, although that ongoing only takes place a little while before the events of the movie. There’s also a bit about Poe’s mission to find the Skywalker map in Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka. But what was Poe’s life like before the war? We know from Rucka’s book that Poe originally flew for the New Republic’s Rapier Squadron, protecting trade lanes from pirates. Like those aforementioned new Rogue Squadron stories, maybe we could get some Rapier Squadron stories or more Black Squadron stories for that matter.
Finn’s past is harder to track, especially since he was taken from his home by the First Order before his life really started. He’s been a Stormtrooper since pretty much day one. Even his earliest chronological appearance sees him training to become a First Order soldier. So his homeplanet and family remain a well-kept secret for the time being, and the answers won’t come until Episode VIII or IX, but a few more hints couldn’t hurt.
How did Captain Phasma become the coolest-looking Stormtrooper ever?
Serving as the faceless villain of the Sequel Trilogy, Captain Phasma is meant as a callback to the days of Boba Fett and the very few minutes of screentime that launched him into superstardom. Whether Phasma will reach that same height of popularity remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: there’s a story behind her chrome armor. According to The Visual Dictionary, Phasma’s armor was salvaged from a Naboo yacht once owned by Emperor Palpatine. This implies that Phasma was such a badass warrior that they even melted down Palpatine’s yacht in order to make her look more intimidating.
Her rank is also a bit misleading. Even though she’s a captain, Phasma is actually an equal to General Hux and Kylo Ren, as they oversee the First Order as a triumvirate under Supreme Leader Snoke. A few EU entries on the galaxy’s top-ranking Stormtrooper could go a long way to solidifying a new strong female character for the franchise.
How did General Hux rise to power?
Hux was one of the more cookie-cutter villains in the movie. He was pretty much just a scowling evil dude whose only mission was to destroy the New Republic and the Resistance. And that might actually be it for the character…But it could be interesting to see him as a key figure in the earliest days of the First Order. His father was an Imperial officer, and Hux grew up hearing stories of how the Empire brought “peace and order” to the galaxy after the Clone Wars. So there must be more to the character’s motivations than just blowing stuff up. Maybe he wants to make his dad proud. And how does he feel about being a revolutionary, someone who has to attack from the shadows, relegated to the role of rebel scum? It must bother him a little.
How did the First Order build Starkiller Base?
I can’t be the only one wondering how the heck the First Order turned an ice planet into a mobile superweapon that could destroy entire star systems! Sure, this Death Star-like doomsday machine did pose plenty of problems for the third act of the movie, but the concept itself is incredibly interesting. I’d love to read about the fake science (and the secret operation) required to build it. It might even make for a pretty great Star Wars spy book.
Why isn’t Rae Sloane part of the First Order?
This could be considered another minor one since a major chunk of fans probably don’t even know who this Imperial is. Rae Sloane has been a recurring character in the new timeline, first appearing in the earliest days of the Empire, when she was just an Imperial cadet, and last seen in Aftermath as one of the Remnant’s most powerful admirals. In fact, she was my favorite part of Wendig’s book because she wasn’t portrayed as an all-out evil Imperial who just wanted to make people suffer. Instead, she is a soldier who believes in her cause and the order the Empire brings to the galaxy. To her, the fall of the Empire leaves the galaxy tumbling into chaos. Most importantly, she’s not really cut from the same mass-murdering cloth as Tarkin and Vader. She’s a soldier trying to win a war, even if she’s supporting the wrong cause.
So why don’t we see Rae Sloane at the head of the First Order table? Did she change her mind along the way? I can’t imagine the First Order’s mission statement wasn’t appealing to her. Oh, and there’s still the matter of who her mysterious superior was at the end of Aftermath. Was that actually Snoke’s first appearance? Either way, we should get some answers, and I bet Wendig’s working on it.
Why is Jakku suddenly the most important place in the galaxy? Or is that Ahch-To?
Like Tatooine in the Original Trilogy, Jakku is now the most important desert wasteland in the galaxy, forever fated to be the point on the star chart where a new Skywalker adventure began. It was also the most talked about new planet—the only one fully revealed, anyway—in the days before the movie came out. Abrams first unveiled the planet at Celebration Anaheim 2015. Aftermath included an interlude that took place on the planet, which Wendig cryptically described as “a dead place,” and Lost Stars featured the fateful Battle of Jakku that saw the final defeat of the Empire. Star Wars Battlefront even let fans play through that battle.
So why’s Jakku so important? Why was Rey abandoned there? Ben’s reason for taking Luke to Tatooine was the Lars family, but there’s no clear explanation why Rey was brought to Jakku. I’m guessing we’ll find out more about that in Episode VIII.
Ahch-To sounds like the new Dagobah, the place where a Jedi Master will train a new hero. And like Yoda’s place of exile, it has a history with the Force. The first temple of the Jedi is one of the most intriguing Star Wars concepts put to paper, and it’s crying to be explored. This will not happen until Rian Johnson’s movie, folks, but maybe the EU could build up more of its legend and treat it like this galaxy’s own mythical Shangri-La. If Ahch-To turns out to be anywhere near as cool as Legends’ Valley of the Jedi, I’ll be a very happy camper.
Who’s in charge on Tatooine? What happened to Coruscant?
Hear me out. Tatooine was such an important part of the first two trilogies that it appeared in five out of the six movies. Yes, that’s way too many desert scenes, but it doesn’t change the fact that we don’t know much about the planet’s fate after its story was up in Return of the Jedi. Did another Hutt take over for Jabba or did a new faction step up to assume control of the planet’s criminal underworld? Might Tatooine even be enjoying a period of peace under a benevolent leader? Ha! Probably not. But the planet is worth revisiting, if only for some closure, now that all the Skywalker drama is over. An interlude section in Aftermath teases that there might even be some sort of law and order on the planet now.
Coruscant was the capital of both the Repubic and the Empire throughout the first six films. What’s happened to it since the fall of the Empire? The New Republic took the planet back during the Galactic Concordance, and it was decided it would not be the capital of the new government in order to show the galaxy how things would be different this time. So what’s life like on the planet that’s no longer number one?
The Force Awakens correctly excluded these planets from its story, but that doesn’t mean the Expanded Universe has to.