In December of 2015, the Force heard its alarm clock, winced, squirmed in its high-thread-count sheets, contemplated hitting the snooze button, then thought better of it and chose to awaken. This week, Disney and Lucasfilm are finally picking up the threads laid down in Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens and revealing what the nutty ol’ Force does next in Episode VIII — The Last Jedi. But two years is a long time in our dense media environment. What if you can’t remember all the mystical ins and outs of what went down such a long time ago in a Galaxy so terribly far away? Deep breaths, my young apprentice. We’re here to tell you where everybody left off.
The Resistance and the First Order
Although it may have seemed like everything was wrapped up in a nice bow at the end of the original Star Wars trilogy, politics is a messy business. Even after the destruction of the second Death Star, fighting continued between the evil Galactic Empire and the generally nicer Rebel Alliance, which founded a new government called the New Republic. Eventually, a peace treaty was signed, but there was no unconditional surrender — the remnants of the Empire were allowed to survive in circumscribed sections of space. Over the years, warmongering revisionists from those areas moved into the Galactic hinterlands and formed a movement called the First Order, which sought to regain the glory of the Empire. It came to be controlled by a mysterious dude named Supreme Leader Snoke, who seems to have some kind of connection to the Dark Side of the Force. The New Republic didn’t want to jeopardize the peace by attacking them, but it looked the other way when erstwhile princess Leia Organa formed a paramilitary force called the Resistance to fight the First Order. That turned out to be a good idea, but it arrived too late: In The Force Awakens, the First Order deployed a superweapon/planet called Starkiller Base, which destroyed the New Republic’s capital and starfleet. The Resistance destroyed the weapon and sent the First Order into retreat, but both sides remain bloodied and viciously at odds.
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)
Despite having literally zero lines in The Force Awakens, everyone’s favorite walker of the Hero’s Journey loomed large in reputation. Back in the original trilogy of Star Wars flicks, Luke went from podunk farm boy to last living practitioner of the ancient Jedi arts. After he and his buddies defeated Emperor Palpatine, Luke set out to find and train new Jedi. He set up a school for them and one of his students was his own nephew, Ben Solo, the child of Han Solo and Leia Organa. Alas, Ben turned evil, adopted the name Kylo Ren, killed all his fellow students, and burned the school to the ground. Luke felt responsible for what happened and went into self-imposed exile, searching for the first temple of the Jedi. The First Order wanted to find and kill him, and he became something of a legend throughout the Galaxy. He found the temple on a planet called Ahch-To and thought he could have some damn time to himself, so imagine his surprise when he stepped outside at the end of TFA and saw …
Rey (Daisy Ridley)
Luke had no idea who she was and, to a certain extent, neither do we. She was one of a handful of new protagonists introduced in TFA, but her past is a mystery. When she was a little girl, she was abandoned on the desert planet of Jakku, never knowing anything about her parents or lineage. Though she dreamed of off-world adventures, she was stuck in the life of a scavenger until fate intervened: She came across a Resistance droid named BB-8, who was on the run from the First Order, then ran into a deserter Stormtrooper named Finn. When the First Order came a-calling, the trio escaped on Han Solo’s old ship, the Millennium Falcon, which happened to be right near where they were all situated (you have to get used to such convenient coincidences in order to enjoy TFA). Han tracked down the Falcon and joined up with them, and they went to the castle of a diminutive alien named Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) for assistance. Rey was drawn to some mysterious noises and found Luke’s lightsaber, which Maz possessed for some reason. When she touched it, she experienced a vision in which she saw her younger self being abandoned on Jakku, then saw Kylo destroying Luke’s Jedi academy.
Maz told Rey that her destiny was calling and that she should take the lightsaber, but Rey declined and tried to leave behind the mission. The First Order and the Resistance both showed up and launched into a battle, during which Kylo nabbed her. He attempted to torture her for information on Starkiller Base, but she surprised herself by using the Force to resist him and break out, demonstrating that she’s a potential Jedi. She ran into Finn, Han, and Chewie and the three of them planted bombs around the base, then watched helplessly as Kylo killed his papa, Han. Rey fought Kylo with Luke’s lightsaber, which Finn had held onto. She managed to knock him down and scar his face before an earthquake separated them and prematurely ended the scuffle. Chewie picked her and Finn up in the Falcon and they fled back to the Resistance base right before Starkiller Base was destroyed. The good guys figured out where Luke was, thanks to the combined efforts of BB-8 and fellow droid R2-D2. In the finale of TFA, Rey, Chewie, and R2 flew off to Ahch-To and find the grizzled Jedi Master. She offered him his lightsaber, and the credits rolled.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)
It’s all-black everything for this sullen kid. Kylo was, as we’ve established, the Force-sensitive child of Han and Leia, trained by Luke before he was seduced by Snoke and turned to the Dark Side. Once he’d destroyed the Jedi academy, Kylo joined up with Snoke’s First Order and sought to be as powerful a practitioner of the dark arts as his idolized grandfather, Darth Vader (Leia was Vader’s daughter, in case you forgot). There, he became frenemies with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). In the opening of TFA, Kylo captured Resistance soldier Poe Dameron (we’ll get to him) on Jakku and attempted to retrieve a piece of a map that revealed Luke’s location. BB-8 slipped (well, rolled) away with the piece and after a little torture of Poe, Kylo learned about the droid and set out to find it.
When Poe escaped with the help of Finn, Kylo guessed that Finn was the culprit. He got mad at Hux for having such a shitty Stormtrooper on the payroll, and it’s generally important for you to know that he and Hux are competing for the affections of Snoke. You should also probably know that he leads some kind of elite squad of baddies called the Knights of Ren, though we’ve only seen them in Rey’s Force-vision and heard them briefly mentioned by Snoke. It’s also important to know that Kylo gets very mad at times and has a habit of crying and hitting things with his lightsaber. He gave an order that BB-8 and Finn were to be captured on Jakku, and though it failed, he learned of the existence of Rey and went with some First Order forces to Maz Kanata’s castle, where he caught her and took her back to Starkiller Base. After Rey’s torture and escape that we discussed earlier, Kylo got very mad once again, but he got distracted by the fact that Han had shown up on Starkiller Base. He tracked his daddy down and, after some light angry-crying, killed Han to reconcile the warring emotions within him and kill off any lingering goodness. He fought Finn, then Rey, got injured, got separated from Rey, then escaped Starkiller Base along with Hux. That’s where we left off with our sadboi bad boy.
Finn / FN-2187 (John Boyega)
The First Order got into some nasty business in their march toward war, including drafting child soldiers into service as serial-numbered Stormtroopers. One of them was FN-2187, who at the beginning of The Force Awakens discovered that he just wasn’t cut out for the Stormtrooping life. He refused to follow Kylo’s order to fire on some innocent civilians on Jakku and, upon returning to the ship where he was stationed, decided to go AWOL. He broke captured Resistance pilot Poe Dameron out of the ship and Poe nicknamed him “Finn.” The two were separated when their escape vehicle was hit above Jakku, and Finn wandered the planet until destiny linked him up with Rey and BB-8, to whom he lied and said he was a Resistance soldier. At Maz Kanata’s castle, he gave up his little fib and tried to abandon the mission out of fear, but was reinvigorated after seeing the First Order blow up the New Republican capital (which, somehow, everyone could see in the sky). He and Han linked up with the Resistance at its secret headquarters, where Finn lied about having key information on how to disable the shields of Starkiller Base in order to get Han and Chewie to help him rescue Rey from it. Nevertheless, the trio improvised: They held Finn’s old boss Captain Phasma (more on her below) at gunpoint and had her turn the shields off. After the aforementioned bomb-planting and Han-death-witnessing, Finn briefly fought Kylo with Luke’s lightsaber and was knocked out and severely wounded in the tussle. At the end of TFA, he was in a coma, receiving medical care.
Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)
Where would Star Wars be without its cocky hotshots? TFA took away an old one in the form of Han, but gave us a sexy new one in the form of Poe Dameron. The child of Rebel Alliance heroes, he began his career as a New Republic pilot, but he decided that the First Order was too big a threat to ignore and joined the Resistance shortly before TFA began. He was sent by General Leia to Jakku to get the piece of map that had Luke’s location. He was captured and tortured by Kylo, then busted out by Finn, only to get tossed from their getaway vehicle when it crashed. He managed to find his way back to the Resistance and led the sortie between their forces and the First Order outside Maz Kanata’s castle. He and Finn were bro-ily reunited and Poe then led the Resistance attack on Starkiller Base, successfully blowing it up thanks to the explosive help of Rey, Finn, Han, and Chewie. Back at Resistance HQ, he met Rey for the first time and was demoted for acting recklessly, though we only learned that in tie-in materials, not the movie itself. That’s where we’re at with handsome Poe.
Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher)
The Galaxy’s premiere badass member of a royal family had a rough go of it in TFA. As we mentioned earlier, she was the leader of the Resistance, having formed it in response to the New Republic’s inaction to the rise of the First Order. After the Republic leadership and fleet were blown up by the First Order, she coordinated the successful counterattack on Starkiller Base. But she had little cause for celebration, because her beloved Han was killed in the battle. The two of them had been estranged for years after Ben’s darkward turn, after which Han had run off to chase his troubles away by being a smuggler again. They were briefly reunited at Resistance headquarters before the assault on Starkiller Base, and it was adorable, but she instantly knew through the Force (she’s Force-sensitive, though not a Jedi) when he was killed off. Rey gave her a big hug after the fighting was over, Leia told Rey that the Force would be with her on her journey to Luke, and Leia went back to running the increasingly dire fight against evil.
Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis)
We know basically nothing about Snoke. Indeed, we’ve only seen a giant hologram of him so far. He somehow recruited Kylo when the lad was in his teens and has been a puppet master ever since. When we last saw him, he told Hux to get Kylo and escape Starkiller Base so Snoke could complete Kylo’s training.
The Droids (various)
We’ve already addressed pretty much everything BB-8 has done, and he ended the movie in the company of the Resistance. C-3P0 made a few appearances at Resistance HQ during TFA, but didn’t do a whole lot. R2-D2 was dormant in low-power mode for the majority of the movie, a state he’d gone into after Luke left on his vision quest. He woke up in the presence of BB-8 and the two of them assembled the map that revealed Luke’s location. He went off to meet his old buddy Luke alongside Chewie and Rey in the Falcon at the end of TFA, and now he has to somehow roll around the droid-inhospitable terrain of Ahch-To.
Han Solo (Harrison Ford)
Dead, dead, dead. Which is too bad, because Harrison Ford is always a delight on press tours.