Despite being kept in the dark about a lot of details, it's up to us as obsessive fans to analyze every little piece of information in front of us and speculate about what's to come. That being said, what's my current assessment of the upcoming continuation of the Skywalker saga? Let's take a look.
Rey and Luke Skywalker
"Rey…these are your first steps." —Obi-Wan Kenobi
Obviously, Rey will be taking her next steps in Episode VIII by training under Luke Skywalker. I imagine there will be some hesitation on his part, similar to how Yoda put up a tiny bit of a fight against training Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, saying he's too old and he doesn't have his head on straight. The opposite will take place this time, though, where instead of Luke saying Rey isn't ready to be trained, he'll say he's not ready to be her trainer.
Luke obviously messed up big time somehow with rebuilding the Jedi Order. We don't know what happened other than that Ben Solo was sent off to train with him, Snoke got involved, turned Ben to the dark side, and after a slaughter, the Knights of Ren were formed.
It's been implied heavily that Rey is Luke's daughter, and I really hope that's the case instead of some kind of bait-and-switch tactic. Rey is just far too powerful in The Force to be a random person, there's no evidence that she's Han and Leia's daughter, and we need to keep the Skywalker lineage going because that family is the heart of the franchise. Kathleen Kennedy has said that the "saga" films do in fact follow the Skywalker story, and before you say Ben Solo fulfills that role, I present you with these points:
1) We've already seen Anakin go from a good young boy to an evil man in his 20s–40s before returning to the light side. Do we really want to see that exact same story take place with Kylo Ren, where we already skipped his years as a good kid? That means it's not only retreading the same ground, but it's doing it in a worse way. Kylo Ren shouldn't be redeemed.
2) Rey's parentage is an issue that needs clarification, and she doesn't have a last name for a reason. I wholeheartedly believe that's because they need to fill in the blank to make it Rey Skywalker.
So what about Rey's mother, if Luke is indeed her father? And why did Luke abandon her? And why does Kylo Ren know about her (and how much does he know, for that matter) but Han and Leia don't?
I'm assuming Luke will carry a lot of exposition with him during his scenes with Rey, where they'll be meditating and we'll see things in flashbacks. We'll establish a Mara Jade type character who will have been Luke's wife that Snoke killed during the initial attack that we partially see. Luke, having witnessed his pupils (particularly his nephew) kill the love of his life and mostly all of his students, will make it seem as though his daughter Rey died as well, but Kylo will be suspicious of it. We know that Kylo Ren has an ability to read minds, so it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine that Luke taught him that and could use that ability for other things, such as wiping the minds of others. He could have wiped Han and Leia's mind that Rey exists, similar to how C-3PO's mind gets wiped at the end of Revenge of the Sith. That would explain why Leia and Han feel a connection to her (because that doesn't remove their connection through familial bond and The Force itself) but they don't blatantly talk about the obvious "oh, hey, you're my niece" situation.
I'm hoping we see the ghosts of not only Yoda and Obi-Wan but Anakin as well. They could have advised Luke to do what happened to Luke—abandoning his child on a deserted planet in the hopes that it will keep her safe—because they know that it worked once before.
At the end of The Force Awakens, Snoke says that Kylo Ren will undergo more training. This will be a means for us to learn more about the Knights of Ren and the villains that we're dealing with. Some rumors are going around that Benicio Del Toro will be a member of this cult, but I'm not so sold. That seems too obvious, and it seems like if he's to be menacing at all, he needs to seem above Kylo Ren's pay grade, which would undermine why Kylo is the leader of them, as is stated in the film.
I do, however, think there could be some kind of a power struggle involved. If Del Toro does play a member of the Knights of Ren, maybe he's someone who thinks Kylo is not as good as he's made out to be and is trying to usurp his position as leader in order to gain favor underneath Snoke's tutelage. That would likely mean Del Toro's character is just some opposition for Kylo to overcome, kill off, and solidify why he's the man in charge (aka, the crybaby loser in charge)—but doesn't that seem underwhelming? Why bring in Benicio Del Toro just to kill him off in one movie? I'd say that's out of the realm of possibility, but look at what happened with Max von Sydow…
One way or another, Kylo Ren will still be searching for Luke Skywalker and Rey (Skywalker), and I would bet the farm that they reach Ahch-To at some point in the movie. Film logic dictates that someone in hiding will have to be discovered to advance the plot, and we know there needs to be another confrontation between Rey and Ren. Just please don't kill off Luke.
The Resistance / The Republic
I'm going to just start this section off with a bang: Lando is coming back, baby.
Okay, let's backtrack a little to catch up. The Hosnian system was destroyed in The Force Awakens, which was the current location being used as the headquarters of The Republic. Obviously, the galaxy will be in disarray, similar to how it would be if Washington, DC were attacked and the White House and Congress and everyone were wiped out. In the absence of leadership, many people will want to step up to fill that void, and I think that will be one of the central conflicts of this movie. It's even more firmly established as war time than in the previous film, so the National Guard has to take over. This is effectively the role The Resistance takes, so many will look to General Leia to be the new leader in command.
However, there will be opposition from others who will want to take charge. This, in fact, is where I would expect to see Benicio Del Toro's character come into play. I definitely see him being one of the people that has been arguing against her in an attempt to become heir to the throne, so to speak. He might even be revealed to have ties to The First Order as a traitor and a mole who escaped destruction on the Hosnian system because he was given advance warning.
Someone else I think will have escaped certain death from that attack is Lando Calrissian. That guy absolutely can't be written off as just having died between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, and no, I don't think they'll do the convoluted story of having him turn out to be Finn's father. Instead, I think he'll be in a similar climate to Leia. What we saw of Lando in the two films he's been involved in was that he went from being a scoundrel of a smuggler to ruling a mining facility as a somewhat responsible mayor or governor type, and then he acted as a commander in the military strike in the Battle of Endor. Why would we expect anything different from Lando than to have been someone who acts as a go-between for The Resistance military branch and The Republic governing branch? I expect to see him return as a diplomat of sorts who is on Leia's side to help fill in the gap left by Han Solo's absence in the film.
Finn & Poe Dameron vs. Captain Phasma & General Hux
One of my favorite aspects of The Force Awakens was the friendship between Finn and Poe. It doesn't take up much screen time, but it's powerful. Finn helps Poe escape, then carries on his mission. Poe owes him, big time. When Finn has recovered from his injuries, I think we'll see that he's become one of the most trusted members of the fleet and that he and Poe have a full-on Rush Hour buddy cop bromance established. They work well as a team, they know each other in and out, and they argue because they get along so well, which allows for that kind of honesty. This will be replacing the relationship of Chewbacca and Han Solo. (Side note: I have no idea what Chewbacca can do in this movie, which is why I think he should have died during the attack on Starkiller Base.)
Captain Phasma is supposed to still be alive, and she'll want to hunt down FN-2187 just as much as Kylo Ren will want to hunt down Rey. With the help of General Hux and his militia, Phasma has to be leading the search party for Finn. Not only does it make sense in the story, but it also is necessary to redeem her character. She was built up as being something awesome, and she was the exact inverted mess of that. Right now, Phasma looks like a complete joke who needs rehabilitation, and she needs to do that by being a bad ass.
My guess is that to kind of even the odds, while Finn helped Poe in the first film, Poe is going to volunteer to help Finn deal with his hunters in this movie. It's only fair, right? The only thing that I'm worried about, if this were the case, is that we've seen no interaction between Poe and Rey yet, and they can't spend an entire film away from each other again. Rey and Finn seem to have a love story brewing and I think the new female character that will be added to the cast is going to serve as a romantic interest for Poe, so that woman will get involved somewhere along the way. Maybe something happens where Finn gets captured along with Poe's love interest, so Poe has to go to Ahch-To to retrieve Rey to get her help in breaking them out of captivity? That's retreading on some familiar plot points, so I hope it's more complicated than that, but it fits within Star Wars Ring Theory of the movies all having a rhythmic pattern, doesn't it?
One thing that I would love to see them incorporate is an explanation that Finn was able to undo his indoctrination of the Stormtrooper training because he's Force-sensitive. I want him to be a Jedi, damn it, and I want he and Rey to have super strong Skywalker babies for future films.
I don't think the naming conventions are carrying over as strongly as they did with the previous films, so this is a bit hard to predict. The Phantom Menace and A New Hope both were three-word titles that referred to a specific entity in a somewhat vague way, but The Force Awakens is an action. The action titles were reserved for the middle films before, with Attack of the Clones and The Empire Strikes Back obviously being built around verbs. Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi are obvious parallels talking about the establishment of a Force-based organization.
With the prequels and the original trilogy, there's an inversion. The prequels talk about an evil presence, a heroic action, and a villainous resurgence, while the originals are a heroic presence, an evil action, and a resurgence of good.
When it comes to Episode VIII, I don't think we'll be seeing an action-based title, as we saw that with The Force Awakens, which apparently was originally titled Shadow of the Empire—something that, albeit 4 words, fits in with the rhyme scheme. Because of that difference, I'm expecting to see this second film refer to an organization. That organization has to be either The Resistance or The First Order, although it's possible The Republic could be thrown in the mix.
Order is a word that has a lot of flexibility to it. There could be a play off "restoring order" with The First Order getting back into more power and The Republic/Resistance needing to repair themselves after the big loss of the Starkiller attack. They could even combine their efforts by naming it something like Star Wars: Episode VIII - Resistance of Order although that sounds pretty damn boring, doesn't it? Let's just hope it isn't "rise of" in any capacity.
Those are the ideas I have swimming around my mind right now, but what do you think we'll end up seeing? What are your thoughts on my suggestions above? Leave a comment below!