|fan concept poster|
George Lucas had grand plans when he set out to make Star Wars. He omitted the episode number on the first film, probably because no one could have predicted its success. But in the original plan, there were 3 trilogies and 3 other films to expand on it (1, 5, and 12). The first film would have been Episode VI. In the scaled back plan from when Empire was in production and Lucas had hopes of making all of them, he settled on the familiar 9 (3 trilogies) and labeled Empire Episode V and relabeled Star Wars as A New Hope Episode IV. (Much of this comes from the following link)
What is clear from the information that has been made available, through interviews with Lucas and those he has shared some of these things with, is that the basic story of the Prequels was set pretty early, most probably during the production of Empire and more during the production of Jedi. But it is also obvious that Lucas was always mindful of the immediate story he was telling over the overall story of the saga. Errors have crept in that it are hard to account for. Still, it is an amazing work.
Now we have Disney in possession of the property (a scary thought to some) and they have greenlit Episodes VII, VIII, and IX. And not for some nebulous future, Episode VII is in production now and scheduled for release in December 2015. We know who is back (the main principle cast, composer, and screenwriter) from Episode VI and who some of the new people are. But we have no clue as to the story.
When the prequel trilogy was announced, we knew a lot about who would be in it (characterwise). We knew it would be the story of Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker and include the Clone Wars, but the specifics were always hazy. I have always suspected that much of the bad feeling toward the Prequel Trilogy has been because it failed to tell the story many were expecting. I appreciate them myself, probably because I can see what he did in writing, casting, and directing, that make the films very stylized to tell the story of a different age.
But what of the Sequel Trilogy? What is the story. Much of the post Jedi story has been explored by writers in the novels of the Expanded Universe. How that fits with the ideas that Lucas penned many years ago has always been uncertain. And it might remain uncertain depending on how the next film does. Depending on the story, it could rewrite all that. I think Lucas gave the writers enough information so that they were at least close to what he had in mind for Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, but he hadn't penned the story. Lawrence Kasdan is penning the story, hopefully from Lucas's notes. Who knows what we will get.
But what can we expect? The Prequels have set a high bar for some aspects. Jedi combat reached a high level and fans will expect to see that same level, perhaps with new moves to add excitement. We will be getting to see old familiar faces and ships. Whether they play a cameo role or a more serious role remains to be seen. But we will have Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO, and the Millenium Falcon. If things proceed (and there are hints it has) as the books did, will we find that Han and Leia are married and have had children, who are now old enough to take the lead roles. But the story itself is a mystery.
Kevin Smith visited the set, giving us a clue as to part of the production. They nailed the Millenium Falcon set. Smith said that and the other sets felt like Star Wars (I believe he meant the Original Trilogy specifically). While the sets really have no relation to the story, it does show that they are putting a lot of effort into it. And the pen rests with the man who penned the screenplay for Empire and Jedi. The director, J.J. Abrams, is an avowed Star Wars fan. Still, the question of the story remains unanswered. To meet the bar set by the previous 6 movies, it will have to have space battles, strong character arcs, shootouts, danger, excitement, and lightsaber duels with a 3 movies story arc to bind them together.
A lot rests on new hands with this one. It is reassuring to know that legions of fans have devoured the Expanded Universe novels with their many story arcs. If the new production team have come up with (or been given by Lucas through his notes) an equally good story, we are in for an amazing movie in 15 months.