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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

By Rafer Guzman, Newsday (TNS)

If you thought the pre-release buzz about superhero movies was out of control, just put your ear to the Internet these days. That roaring sound is the online chatter over Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Episode VII in George Lucas’ iconic franchise — and the first film since 2005 — has sent fans on a scavenger hunt for every scrap of information they can find, from the name of new heroine Rey’s home planet to the color of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber. Other details and bigger surprises will be revealed when the film arrives in theaters. For now, here are 20 things we know so far about Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

  1. The original stars are back.

The Force Awakens will feature the three principal actors from the original trilogy: Mark Hamill, 64, as Luke Skywalker; Carrie Fisher, 59, as Leia; and Harrison Ford, 73, as Han Solo.

  1. The supporting cast is back, too.

Also returning are Peter Mayhew as Solo’s furry pal Chewbacca, Anthony Daniels as the snooty android C-3PO and Kenny Baker as the squat little droid R2-D2.

  1. This is not a George Lucas movie.

In 2012, the man who created the most iconic sci-fi franchise in history sold his company, Lucasfilm, to The Walt Disney Co. for $4 billion.

  1. Director J.J. Abrams is a lifelong Star Wars fan.

Abrams, 49, was 10 when the first movie came out in May 1977. He’s always been vocal about his love for the Lucas franchise — even when he took over the semi-rival Star Trek series.

  1. Abrams’ co-writer knows what he’s doing.

That would be Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). Kasdan, 66, is both a living connection to the original Star Wars movies and a master of well-crafted Hollywood entertainment. He also wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark.

  1. The score will mix old themes and new.

John Williams’ Oscar-winning score for Star Wars is one of the most famous pieces of music — period. The 83-year-old composer created new themes for the upcoming film but has said he’ll also refer back to the original themes.

  1. Episode VII takes place 30 years after Episode VI.

The Force Awakens is set three decades after Return of the Jedi, the last film in the original trilogy.

  1. Adam Driver plays a bad guy.

The star of HBO’s Girls plays Kylo Ren, a villain the filmmakers say bears some resemblance to Darth Vader and wields a light saber that is red but has a glowing hilt of sorts.

  1. One of the lead characters is female.

British actress Daisy Ridley plays Rey, a loner from the planet Jakku who lives as a scavenger.

  1. A Stormtrooper plays a key role.

London-born actor John Boyega plays Finn. In the trailer he appeared to be wearing the white armor of a Stormtrooper.

  1. Rey and Finn don’t have last names.

Is that because one might be a Skywalker, a Solo or something else surprising? “It is completely intentional that their last names aren’t public record,” Abrams said.

  1. Oscar Isaac will fly an X-Wing fighter.

The star of Inside Llewyn Davis plays Poe Dameron, a man on a mission under the orders of “a certain princess,” Isaac said.

  1. Captain Phasma is named for a cult-classic horror film.

Abrams revealed that the chrome-suited villain played by Gwendolyn Christie (Game of Thrones) was named partly after Phantasm, a surreal, low-budget 1979 horror flick that memorably featured a floating metal ball with brain-stabbing blades.

  1. Simon Pegg doesn’t just play a bit part.

The British comic actor has an unspecified role in The Force Awakens and gave Abrams ideas for the story.

  1. Andy Serkis plays Supreme Leader Snoke.

Serkis is playing another motion-capture creation — and based on the Annie Leibovitz photo in Vanity Fair, Snoke doesn’t look like a nice guy.

  1. Lupita Nyon’o plays a pirate.

The 12 Years a Slave Oscar winner plays pirate Maz Kanata. Like Serkis, she has appeared in photos that suggest she’s doing a motion-capture performance.

  1. Rian Johnson is making the sequel, Episode VIII.

Indie film fans know Johnson as the writer-director of such offbeat movies as the time-travel thriller Looper. Johnson recently tweeted a storyboard drawing of a Jedi fighting a dog in a canoe.

  1. The Star Wars saga could go anywhere from here.

Lucas’ initial ideas for The Force Awakens were scrapped early, allowing the writers to start with a nearly blank slate. What’s more, Johnson is writing his sequel “from scratch,” producer Kathleen Kennedy has said. “We know where we’re going, but only in the broadest sense.”

  1. Americans won’t be the first to see the new movie.

The United Kingdom release date was bumped up to Thursday, and France, which has a new rule mandating that all films must open on Wednesdays, will get it a day earlier. So which nation will be the very first to see it, on Tuesday? That would be the United Arab Emirates, where parts of the movie were filmed.

  1. The Force Awakens will break box-office records.

Barring some kind of global disaster, this movie is guaranteed to make Hollywood history. Worldwide opening weekend estimates are as high as $615 million, far more than the $524 million of the current opening record-holder, Jurassic World. Going by the conventional wisdom that sales drop roughly 50 percent per week, The Force Awakens will reach $1 billion by January.

©2015 Newsday. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Gwendoline Christie in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” (Photo courtesy Lucasfilm/TNS)