As The Force Awakens comfortably sails into the history books and the Academy Awards looming in the background with whispers that a Best Picture nomination is in the offing, Episode VIII looks like it's got a huge task ahead of it.
We've distilled and rounded up most of the rumours we've found to give you a full analysis of what's in store for Rey, Finn and (whisper it) Luke Skywalker. Spoilers ahead, obviously.
SO WHAT'S THE PLOT?
Hah. Good one. It would seem that Lucasfilm is keeping JJ Abrams' tactic of keeping plot under lock and key alive going with both Episode VIII AND Rogue One. Fair enough, we've got some specifics with Rogue One, but Episode VIII is anyone's guess. We don't even know what the title of the film is yet. What we can do, however, is speculated with a reasonable amount of education. When last we left our heroes, Rey was on
Skellig Michael the unnamed planet where Luke Skywalker was hiding out whilst Kylo Ren and General Hux escaped the destruction of Starkiller Base and returned to Supreme Leader Snoke.
The Resistance, meanwhile, scored a huge victory and are likely to use the momentum to further fight back against the First Order. Han Solo, as we know, is dead whilst General Leia is now firmly entrenched as the Resistance's leader. Poe Dameron, likewise, survived the assault on Starkiller Base and so to do did Finn, albeit he's been heavily wounded. We also know from our own reporting that Luke Skywalker's hideout will feature quite a bit in Episode VIII. Skellig Michael, the shooting location for the final scene in The Force Awakens, has already seen some early shooting for Episode VIII and Ceann Sibeal is rumoured to be another location that's been marked out filming.
So, that's where all the characters are. What happens next, of course, is a mystery. JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan have both said that Episode VIII will be unlike anything people have seen in Star Wars, with Abrams even going so far as to say that he regrets not signing on to direct it. That might just be talk and it probably is. It does, however, say a lot about what Kasdan has in mind. Let's not forget that The Force Awakens essentially had a top-to-bottom rewrite from Michael Arndt's script with Abrams and Kasdan. This time around, it's just director Rian Johnson working on his own script. Which segues nicely into...
WHO'S DIRECTING AND WRITING EPISODE VIII?
Rian Johnson. His previous films include Looper, The Brothers Bloom and Brick. He also directed a few of the key episodes of Breaking Bad. Johnson was one of the alternates to direct The Force Awakens, however Abrams was Lucasfilm's first choice. When he came up, Johnson was offered Episode VIII. His work has always been highly intelligent and very, very stylised. We personally loved Looper; it featured one of Bruce Willis' best performances in years and the whole idea behind it was a clever take on a well-worn sci-fi trope. Brick's a little bit harder to get a grasp on, but it's still a really interesting watch.
His work on Breaking Bad was, of course, fantastic. Remember that episode when Hank's killed in the desert? Or the one where Walter's trying to find a fly in the lab? He directed both those episodes. In fact, the latter episode - Ozymandias - was considered by creator Vince Gilligan to be the best episode of the entire series.
SO WHAT WILL BE DIFFERENT THIS TIME AROUND? IS IT BASICALLY JUST THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK?
It's hard to say, really. The Force Awakens had to bridge the gap between bringing people back to Star Wars and keeping it accessible enough for lay-people to get on board with it. Since it's basically the biggest film of 2016 and like in all history, it's safe to assume that everyone now gets what's going on in the universe. With that in mind, Episode VIII can afford to be a more adventurous with its story and how it all works. You have to remember, following the prequels, that was basically it for Star Wars. Everyone had written it off and as a film series, it was basically dormant until Disney bought it.
One of the biggest complaints (if you can call it that) about The Force Awakens was that it harked back to A New Hope way too much. Giant planet-destroying base, young whippersnapper found on a desert planet, yada yada. Again, that's because it had to draw a line from the original trilogy to now and invoking plot points and the general feel from it was a way of doing that. Now, however, it doesn't have to. It can go wherever it likes. Rian Johnson, going by his previous work, is too smart a director not to recognise that he's been handed a blank slate.
If they do go down the route of rehashing The Empire Strikes Back, it'll sour the goodwill everyone has for Star Wars. That's something that took a long time to get back and, again, Johnson's too smart to do that.
WHO'S COMING BACK FOR IT?
Mark Hamill has been confirmed and sighted on-set down in Skellig Michael in Kerry. Likewise, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac have all said they're signed on and ready to reprise their respective roles. We also know that Adam Driver will be returning and so to will be Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke. Domhnall Gleeson, we'd imagine, will be playing a part there as well. Carrie Fisher will also feature and so to will Anthony Daniels and Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma. Perhaps erroneously, iMDB has it that Max von Sydow is in the cast as Lor San Tekka. But, as we know, he died pretty suddenly in The Force Awakens. Flashbacks, maybe? Who knows.
WILL THERE BE ANY NEW FACES?
Yes. It's all but officially confirmed that Benicio Del Toro will be joining the cast as a villain. Now, whether that's as a member of The First Order or what, we don't know. All we know is that Del Toro is in. Doctor Who actress Gug Mbatha-Raw was reported as having joined the cast, but we've heard nothing since then. Filming is due to start in the next couple of weeks, so it's entirely possible that we'll get something in the way of casting announcements then. For the time being, it's just Benicio Del Toro we know as confirmed.
ARE THERE ANY PLOT RUMOURS?
Some. The biggest one seems to surround Daisy Ridley's character, Rey. The prevailing theory is that Rey is, in fact, Luke Skywalker's daughter. According to a lot of research and a lot more conjecture, one of the plot-points that will be revealed in Episode VIII concerns how Rey got to be on Jakku. Some believe it was Kylo Ren who was supposed to stay with Rey on Jakku and look after her, but when the First Order came knocking, he took off with them and left Rey to fend for herself. Daisy Ridley did say that we would know who Rey's parents are by the end of Episode VIII, but who they are remains a mystery for now. Other than that, nobody really knows. Obviously, when filming kicks off, there'll be a lot more leaks sneaking out of the set that we'll be chewing over.
WHAT ABOUT THE SPIN-OFF FILM, ROGUE ONE? ARE THE TWO RELATED IN ANY WAY?
Other than both being set in the same universe, probably not. Rogue One is about how the plans for the Death Star came to be in Princess Leia's possession at the beginning of A New Hope. It has been rumoured, however, that Donnie Yen - one of the stars of Rogue One - will feature in Episode VIII. Again, we don't know who or what Yen's character is, other than the fact that he's part of the team that steals the plans for the Death Star. How he'll fit into Episode VIII is anybody's guess.
SO WHEN IT'S DUE FOR RELEASE?
The date set for release is May 26th, 2017. So far, there's been no word on whether or not that release date will change. It's unlikely that it will, considering the decent lead-in time that Johnson has between now and then. Abrams was apparently putting the final touches to The Force Awakens almost two weeks before it went on general release. Rian Johnson hasn't worked with this huge a budget so it's not clear how well he'll work and if he'll be punctual. We can only hope for the best, really.