Star Wars fans across the galaxy let out a cheer at a very unexpected announcement in late 2012: George Lucas had sold the ownership of Lucasfilm and all its properties, including the rights to the Star Wars franchise, to Disney. And Disney is already working to produce a film that will continue the story set 30 years after the point where 1983's Episode VI: Return of the Jedi left off.
Of course, fans are clamoring for every morsel of information they can get — but Star Wars being Star Wars, the internet chatter on Episode VII has grown so deafening that it can be hard to keep track of what we actually know about the sequel. So here, a helpful guide:
1. Star Wars: Episode VII will hit theaters in December 2015
December 18, 2015, to be exact. That's a month after Mockingjay: Part 2 will mark the end of the Hunger Games franchise, and a week before Mission: Impossible 5 is scheduled to hit theaters.
2. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher will appear, along with several other actors from the original Star Wars
As soon as Star Wars: Episode VII was announced, fans pounced on the next logicial question: Would Luke, Leia, and Han Solo appear? Though all signs pointed to Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher reprising their roles in the sequel, the studio refused to confirm the presence of anyone but R2-D2, though a March 2014 press release teased "some very familiar faces."
In April 2014, the studio finally confirmed that Hamill, Ford, and Fisher would return as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo. They'll be joined by several actors who will also reprise their original characters: Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca).
3. Episode VII will star John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and more
In March 2014, Disney announced that the film will star "a trio of young new leads." Who could they be? According to a wide variety of reports, the director met with almost every young talent you can think of for the roles, including Saorise Ronan, Michael B. Jordan, and Lupita Nyong'o. (When asked to confirm if she had auditioned, Ronan said yes, but "so did everyone.")
In April 2014, Disney finally confirmed the main cast in a press release that included a picture of the table read for Star Wars: Episode VII. The full list includes John Boyega (Attack the Block), Adam Driver (HBO's Girls), and Oscar Isaac (Inside Lllewyn Davis). They'll be joined by an eclectic list of actors that includes screen legend Max von Sydow, motion-capture guru Andy Serkis, and relative newcomer Daisy Ridley, whose most recent screen appearance was in an episode of Mr. Selfridge.
What roles will the newcomers be playing? The press release doesn't say, but Variety reported in February 2014 that Adam Driver was close to accepting a role "in the vein of iconic villain Darth Vader." As for everyone else: it's been widely rumored that the children of the original characters would play a role in the story (and Daisy Ridley does bear a striking resemblance to a young Carrie Fisher) — but for now, nothing has been confirmed.
4. Kathleen Kennedy is producing, and J.J. Abrams is writing and directing
Star Wars: Episode VII will be produced under the watchful eye of Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, whose decades of production credits include beloved films like E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, Back to the Future, and Jurassic Park, as well as more recent and somewhat less-beloved films like War Horse, The Adventures of Tintin, and Lincoln.
Kathleen Kennedy's biggest coup was convincing Star Trek director J.J. Abrams to franchise-hop over to Star Wars. When the film was announced, Abrams was one of the first names thrown around in media reports as a possible contender, but Abrams himself rejected the idea. "I am looking forward more than anyone to the next iterations of Star Wars, but I believe I will be going as a paying moviegoer," he said in November 2012. Kennedy says she came to Abrams with a simple and convincing pitch: "Please do Star Wars." By January 2013, Abrams had officially signed on to direct. Principal photography is slated to begin in May 2014 at London's Pinewood Studios.
Hiring Abrams as director also meant a shift in the story of Episode VII. Right out of the gate, producers hired Michael Arndt, whose writing credits include Toy Story 3 and the upcoming The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, to pen the script for Episode VII. But Arndt's treatment was eventually discarded in favor of a script by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, who also co-wrote both Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
5. George Lucas will serve as "creative consultant"
Though series creator George Lucas ceded all control to both the Star Wars franchise and Lucasfilm when he sold the company to Disney, he remains a "creative consultant" for Episode VII. What exactly does "creative consultant" mean? According to Lucas himself, his job is "helping out with the script," though his role will be far, far more hands-off than it was for previous films. This time, he'll merely grandfather the series and offer input when necessary. "That's all my job is, to be the keeper of the flame," adds Lucas.
6. The story will take place 30 years after Return of the Jedi — and will be totally original
Though Episode VI: Return of the Jedi represented the end of the Star Wars series on film, the story has been continued by numerous other writers in novels, comic books, and video games. The March 2014 announcement that Episode VII will take place "roughly 30 years" after Return of the Jedi would seem to offer plenty of opportunities to adapt popular elements from the series' Expanded Universe.
But according to numerous sources, even the so-called "canonical" Star Wars universe, which includes popular entries like Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy novels, has been thrown out of the new official story continuity. An April 2014 press release confirmed that the new films "will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe," though "story elements" may occasionally serve as inspiration. Forget everything you know after Return of the Jedi, Star Wars fans — it's a wide-open galaxy again.
7. John Williams will write the score
It's hard for many fans to imagine a Star Wars film without John Williams' bombastic score — particularly the immortal title theme, which helped the first Star Wars film pop off the screen from the moment it began. Fortunately, fans probably won't have to imagine a Williams-less Star Wars; at a 2013 promotional appearance for Star Trek Into Darkness in Berlin, J.J. Abrams revealed that Williams was likely to return. "For Star Wars, it's very early days — but I believe that, going forward, John Williams will be doing that film, because he was there long before I was," said Abrams. Several months later, Williams confirmed that he would return.
8. Episodes VIII and IX are already in pre-production
2015 may sound far, far away to Star Wars fans, but we'll soon be be up to our necks in Star Wars films. In an April 2013 interview at CinemaCon, Kathleen Kennedy revealed that the studio hopes Abrams will return to direct Episodes VIII and IX, completing yet another trilogy in the franchise. And looking beyond the main series, Disney has even bigger plans for the franchise; the company is also developing a series of stand-alone films, which means that starting in 2015, at least one new movie set in the Star Wars universe will be released every year until 2020.
The article was originally published on May 3, 2013 and was last updated on April 29, 2014.