Star Wars: A new hope or a big letdown?
Darth Vader is dead. The evil Emperor exploded after being thrown down a shaft. And Luke Skywalker and his allies destroyed both Death Stars, restoring balance to the Force. For The Walt Disney Co., the prospective new owner of the "Star Wars" franchise, what's left to tell?
A lot, apparently.
There are more than 110 novels and 80-plus comic books set after the events of "Return of the Jedi," the sixth episode in the film series and the third to be made. All of these additions to the so-called "expanded universe" were sanctioned by Lucasfilm Ltd., founded by series creator George Lucas.
That has left a lot of room for speculation ever since Disney announced last month that it would buy Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion and resume making "Star Wars" movies, starting with Episode 7 in 2015.
For fans, some big questions remain.
Will Luke take on a Jedi apprentice? Will Han Solo and Princess Leia have kids? And who will be the movies' villain? (A) A revived Emperor; (B) the hard-to-kill bounty hunter Boba Fett; (C) some new corrupt leader of the remnants of the Empire, or (D), all of the above?
Each of these scenarios have been explored in some fashion away from the big screen. Whether they will be incorporated into the next trilogy of films is anyone's guess.
"Right now, everyone is literally just reading tea leaves," said Bryan Young, a "Star Wars" watcher and editor of the blog, Big Shiny Robot.
The facts so far about the announced Episodes 7, 8 and 9 are scant: Lucas will be a creative consultant but won't direct the films. Kathleen Kennedy will produce them as president of Lucasfilm. And Oscar-winning writer Michael Arndt, who wrote "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Toy Story 3," will pen the screenplay for Episode 7.
One of the most telling clues as to the next trilogy's direction, according to Young, is the fact that Lucas invited Luke actor Mark Hamill and Princess Leia actress Carrie Fisher to lunch some time ago to tell them that the sequels were going to be made, a reversal of his denials over the years.
Hamill talked about the lunch with Entertainment Weekly, saying he also spoke with Lucas about three weeks before the Disney announcement and just missed a call from him the day the deal was made public Oct. 30.
That suggests that Luke and on-screen sister Leia, will be involved in some way in the sequel. After all, their characters are the last members of the Skywalker family, and the most potent wielders of the Force that appear to be left in the galaxy. "I think that's the best clue we have," Young said.
Responding to a query from The Associated Press, Hamill said he couldn't comment further, but noted in an email, "I should have all the information I need very soon."
Fisher, Lucasfilm and several people who work for the company declined comment.
The notion that Luke will make a comeback doesn't veer far from what's known about the movies themselves or from what has been said over the years.
In 2004, Hamill told Movieblog.com that Lucas' ideas for the sequels go as far back as 1976 during the shooting of the original "Star Wars," when the director said an older Hamill would have roles in them.
There is further backing for the idea that Luke will reappear from the films that have already been released, including "Return of the Jedi."
And others around Lucas have spoken publicly about the idea that the family drama that began with Anakin Skywalker and continued with his son Luke would carry on for at least the next three films.
"It's really nine parts of one film," said Rick McCallum, producer of the prequel Episodes 1, 2 and 3, in 1999, according to "The Secret History of Star Wars" by author Michael Kaminski.
The cohesion that McCallum suggested belies the haphazard nature with which the movies have been put together. At different points in time, Lucas has said there was just one, three, six, nine or even 12 films envisioned in all.
Kaminski's book recounts multiple script revisions to most of the films, including some discrepancies that were later papered over. For instance, at one point, Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader were separate characters, not the one person we know through the movies to have turned evil.
Given the proliferation of storylines and characters in the "expanded universe," Kaminski said there's a good chance that some of those storylines will be cast aside, altered, or even contradicted outright.
"It will affect the 'expanded universe' one way or another," Kaminski said. "It's going to be hard to reconcile those different things."
The idea that the new films will diverge from what's out there is supported by Kennedy, who spoke in a video released by Lucasfilm shortly after the Disney deal was announced.
"This is not like a series of books like 'Harry Potter' where you've already got a template of what the stories might be," she said. "These are original stories and original ideas that come from out of a world that essentially is in George's head."
Beyond some broad strokes that the movies hint at - such as Luke's passing on the Jedi ways - it seems doubtful that such a creative mind as Lucas would surrender the movies' outcome to tales that have already been written.
That means that fans of the books, comics and video games in the "Star Wars" universe could be either disappointed or delighted by the result.
But if there were no surprises, the adventure just wouldn't be the same.
"Almost anything is possible," said Jay Shepard, a content editor at fan site TheForce.net. "But I don't believe it will be any type of plotline we've already seen."