There may not have been 32 years between The Force Awakens and the last film bearing the Star Wars name, but that's how long fans waited for the true return of LucasFilm's sci-fi series. The wait for Episode 7's follow-up won't be nearly as long, with just 17 months until Rian Johnson's follow-up.
JJ Abrams's The Force Awakens is a triumphant work. It's not perfect in all regards, but is when it comes to the establishment of a new set of characters. Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, Poe Dameron and BB-8 are all characters whose journey fans will want to see continue. They will, and there are many places the next film can go.
Here's what we'd like to see...
[Warning: Major spoilers from Star Wars: The Force Awakens follow]
A series cutting its own path
What prevents The Force Awakens from being an all-time classic is a smattering of plot contrivances and an over-reliance on call-backs to the original trilogy of films. Episode 7 re-jigs many aspects of George Lucas's first film well, but the final assault on Starkiller Base is a little too close to being a straight remake of A New Hope.
It's easy to understand why this was done. The series needed to correct its course and so freshened up a number of familiar beats. The final product carries this all off with swagger for the most part, but now it's in the can we want two remaining films of this trilogy to forge their own path and take the series in new directions with the wonderful characters set up in Episode 7.
Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) each get a character arc that gives them great depth. Arguably more depth than Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) were given in the original film. This needs to continue, but also extent to other characters understandably under-served by a very busy script.
Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Luke Skywalker are the two who are most obviously set-up to be delved into a bit more, but we also want to see more from Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). We'll talk more about them later.
Not Rey Skywalker, not Rey Kenobi, just Rey
It seems likely that Rey will end up being the daughter of Luke Skywalker, and we're not saying that would be an awful plot development, but we'd much rather the mystery of Rey's parentage was left at that. She isn't a Skywalker, or a Kenobi, she is a "nobody" (by her own definition) who becomes a somebody having discovered her place in the galaxy.
That's a story with more poignancy than another Skywalker saving the day. LucasFilm boss Kathleen Kennedy has said that the core movies (those that are Episodes) "focus on the Skywalker family", but remember Kylo Ren is already a descendant of Skywalker.
A grander sense of the galaxy
One thing The Force Awakens failed to do was clearly lay out the wider state of the galaxy 30 years after Return of the Jedi. Further reading and repeat viewings does make things a little clearer however. A New Republic formed after the fall of the Empire, who fought amongst themselves for a new leader (apparently Snoke) who then formed The First Order.
The New Republic is somewhat pacifistic, but quietly supports General Leia's Resistance, a military force combating the First Order. With the rebranded baddies having destroying the home-world of the New Republic's senate the galaxy is sure to be destabilised, giving the First Order an opening. Episode 8 needs to lay things out earlier and more clearly than in Episode 7.
Poe Dameron taking a leading role
We can assume from the final shot of The Force Awakens that Episode 8 will pair up Luke Skywalker and Rey, for some of the film at least. This leaves Finn at the Resistance base injured from his duel with just one human friend in Poe, who needs to be crucial to Finn's development.
Poe and Finn didn't share much screen time but Boyega and Issacs's chemistry was clear early on, and their friendship could be a central part of this trilogy. It would also give us the perfect chance to better explore Poe's character. In The Force Awakens he's little more than "Super-Skilled and Charismatic Heroic Archetype".
Finn the soldier
For Finn, it's hard to foresee where he goes, which is great for story-telling possibilities. His whole life made him a Stormtrooper, so what does he do now and how does he rebuild a life after his injuries? He isn't a force user (yet) so will he fight for the Resistance alongside Poe, becoming a revered soldier in the process?
The Knights of Ren
Speaking Han and Leia's son Ben, who'd much rather prefer the name Kylo Ren at this stage, we certainly want to learn more about the Knights of Ren – who are mentioned by Snoke and seen in Rey's lightsaber-induced vision.
Can they wield the force? Were they also taught by Luke at his Jedi academy? Why were they formed? The potential for a badass troupe of dark Jedi is huge.
Less Hux, more Phasma
It's safe to assume Kylo Ren made it off Starkiller Base before its destruction, and we hear that General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) escaped as well. We also hope Captain Phasma did as well, because her character was frustratingly poorly-used despite becoming a fan-favourite through pre-release materials. Gleeson's performance was too hammy for our liking, so ideally we want to see the two roles reversed.
Luke and Leia meet
All the other returning characters met up at some point or another, leaving fans with just want meeting left to see. The Skywalkers need to meet, and their meeting won't be an easy one. Leia's son betrayed Luke, sending him into a self-imposed exile, and both feel guilty about what happened.
A more restrained film
The Force Awakens was a very funny film with many nods and winks that landed with audiences, but was it too funny? There were a number of jokes and call-backs that felt unnecessary. A lot of work went into re-creating the Falcon's chess board, but the joke wasn't needed.
You can sense the excitement and giddiness of the filmmakers, who likely couldn't believe they were making a Star Wars movie. Rian Johnson and is crew would be best served taking a step back and drawing a deep breath before they embark on filming Episode 8.
Star Wars: Episode 8 is set for release on 26 May 2017.