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The DT Guide to the Star Wars Universe

What you need to know before seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Unless you’ve been living on Hoth for the past few months, there’s a good chance you’re aware that Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theaters this week.

At this point, it’s a little late to get started on that six-movie Star Wars marathon or catch up on all the tie-in books and comics and games that unfold during the time between 1983’s Episode VI – Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. There will be time for that later, and honestly, you shouldn’t need to know everything about Star Wars to enjoy the seventh installment of the franchise.

Still, there are some things you might want to know heading into the movie that can only add to your enjoyment of the film.

From the state of Star Wars’ fictional universe to the future of the franchise and the big questions everyone’s asking about it, here’s a quick primer on some of the stuff you could benefit from having on your radar before you arrive at the theater.

Where and when the new movie happens

The Force Awakens is set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, and a lot has happened since the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of Emperor Palpatine in that film. The galactic hierarchy was thrown into chaos by the Rebels’ defeat of The Empire, but creating an entirely new governing body for the galaxy is no easy task. Remnants of The Empire continue to scheme on far-off planets and strategize about how to regain power, while the Rebel Alliance campaigns to unite the planets and shift their attention from battle plans to building a better government than the one they overthrew. (The official tie-in novel Star Wars: Aftermath is set during this tumultuous period and describes the chaotic period when many planets wondered what was next after the fall of The Empire and competing elements fought to fill the void.)

Sequels, prequels, and sidequels coming

The Force Awakens is just the first project in a crowded slate of upcoming films set in the Star Wars universe. Two more episodic films are officially in the works at this point, arriving in theaters every two years. Episode VIII is set to be directed by Looper filmmaker Rian Johnson and hit theaters in May 2017, while Episode IX will be directed by Jurassic World filmmaker Colin Trevorrow and premiere in 2019.

A series of spinoff movies are also being developed, and they’re collectively known as the “Star Wars Anthology” films. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has Godzilla director Gareth Edwards attached and is scheduled to arrive in theaters December 16, 2016. That film will tell the story of the Rebel soldiers who first undertook the dangerous mission to steal the plans for the Death Star that were used to destroy it in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Following that film, a still-untitled movie focusing on Millennium Falcon pilot Han Solo’s early days is scheduled to hit theaters May 25, 2018. That film will be directed by The Lego Movie and 21 Jump street directing duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. There’s been no word yet on who will play the coveted role of a young Han Solo in the movie.

Forget the old “extended universe”

Any savvy Star Wars fan can attest to the massive amount of “extended universe” stories that existed prior to the Walt Disney Company acquiring Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise. Decades of Star Wars comic books, novels, television series, and video games had explored the periods before, after, and during the events that appeared in the movies, and these spinoff stories had resulted in quite a few beloved, original characters and story lines that had become a part of the tapestry that is the Star Wars universe. All that changed after Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars, though, and the studio effectively wiped the continuity clean of every project outside of the official movies.

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While this certainly simplified things for the studio — and for any potential fans who might feel intimidated by the breadth of the Star Wars canon — the decision also created some controversy, given how much of the previously accepted Star Wars timeline was suddenly rendered irrelevant.

The good news is that you can now approach the Star Wars universe without worrying too much about what you don’t know. And for anyone who does want an “expanded universe” to explore, Disney has begun releasing official, in-continuity novels (such as Star Wars: Aftermath), comics, and video games that (for now, at least) are all considered part of the cinematic universe.

Big questions remain

There’s been no shortage of sneak peeks at The Force Awakens released in recent weeks, and while they’ve given us a good idea of what to expect as far as the film’s tone and cast, they’ve also generated some very big questions that the film will almost certainly answer.

Those questions involve the conspicuous absence of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) from much of the footage, as well as the relationships between new characters like Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and the film’s returning, veteran characters. Is the next generation of Star Wars heroes and villains literally the next generation? Questions surround the mysterious role of celebrated performance-capture actor Andy Serkis, too.

These are the questions bothering Star Wars fans right now, and mysteries that The Force Awakens will hopefully solve.

Related: New Star Wars could disintegrate Jurassic World with $220 million opening

And with The Force Awakens arriving in theaters December 18, you have all the background information you need to keep up with the pre- and post-movie conversation that will undoubtedly be as much a part of the Star Wars experience as the movie itself.