If there’s one thing that rankles about The Force Awakens, it’s that a lot of its world-building is left to the array of tie-in media that launched with the movie on December 18th. It’s a bummer that there are so many questions left unanswered, but we’ve combed through all these books for all the most important details about this new look at the Star Wars galaxy.
Naturally, there are going to be major spoilers for the entirety of Star Wars: The Force Awakens below.
Much of the information sourced for this article comes from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary, a guidebook released by DK to coincide with the film’s release. Like several other tie-ins such as Alan Dean Foster’s novelization or The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it gives some fascinating insight into the world behind the movie, and it’s all straight from Lucasfilm’s story group, ensuring that everything sits right in Disney’s still fledgling reboot of the Star Wars canon.
Max Von Sydow’s mysterious character Lor San Tekka is barely in the film; he’s the old man who gives Poe Dameron the missing piece of the map to Luke Skywalker at the beginning of the film, and shortly thereafter he gets cut down by Kylo Ren in a fit of rage. Some of his dialogue (including some pointed remarks about Ren’s heritage that act as teasers for the eventual reveal of his real name) hints that Tekka was meant to be a big mystery, perhaps a connection to Star Wars’ past—many rumors pegged him as an elderly Boba Fett, or even a character from the prequels!—but the real answer is rather simple.
Since the fall of the Empire, Lor San Tekka has been a galactic traveler who eventually worked with the New Republic (and later the Resistance) mapping the remote fringe of the galaxy, before retiring to Jakku. Additionally, Tekka is also a religious man. He and most of the villagers he lives with are followers of the “Church of the Force,” a faith that gathered people who were not sensitive to the Force, but worshippers of Jedi codes and practices. The church operated in secret during the time of the Empire, but apparently flourished after Palpatine’s death.
Throughout his mapping expeditions, Tekka became intimate with the history of the Jedi and Sith orders, making him a prominent figure in the Church and giving him a reputation as a source for galactic secrets the Empire had clamped down on for decades.
The Rebel Alliance was always meant to be seen as a plucky upstart group striking out at the big evil force, but by the time of Return of the Jedi, they’re massive: they’ve got capital ships, wings of fighter squadrons, the whole shebang. On the other hand, the Resistance is tiny.
Although the novelization emphasized Leia’s distaste for the New Republic, in The Visual Dictionary it’s pretty much acknowledged that the Resistance is an independent, private force “tolerated” by the New Republic, but not officially condoned or supported, due to a fear of conflict with the First Order.
This makes the Resistance’s actual military might incredibly small. In terms of ships, the organization has no capital vessels to call on, and its Starfighter corps is woefully light—two squadrons, Blue and Red, and Poe in the lead with his Black X-Wing. That’s it. On the ground, it fares slightly better, but there is apparently an emphasis on droid support, charged and used constantly to support what little the Resistance has in terms of ground crew, while the biological members often pull double duty as support and frontline staff.
The First Order, on the other hand, is far bigger than the New Republic hopes it is. Hiding in a section of space called the Unknown Regions, the First Order has been building itself out of a group of dissident Imperial Admirals and Moffs who openly defied the signing of a peace treaty (dubbed “the Galactic Concordance”) after the Battle of Jakku 30 years ago, taking what soldiers and ships they could to the fringe of the galaxy to rebuild the Empire.
And rebuild they did. Despite officially being defanged militarily and forced to pay huge reparations to the Republic, the Empire secretly pumped what money it could into building new fleets of ships, and invaded fringe worlds to establish itself as a dominant power again. The Finalizer, Kylo Ren’s Star Destroyer seen in The Force Awakens, is massive—twice the size of the Empire’s old Destroyers—and this isn’t a solitary vessel, but the flagship of a massive fleet of similar capital ships.
With the New Republic fleet largely wiped out during Starkiller Base’s attack in The Force Awakens, it seems like there’s a really grim fight ahead for the Resistance.
Maz Kanata is one of The Force Awakens’ biggest mysteries. We know some of her scenes were cut from the film too, leaving her even more mysterious.
While the film does heavily hint that Maz can use the Force, the Visual Dictionary confirms that she is indeed Force Sensitive—Maz is familiar with the Jedi and had many Jedi acquaintances before the Empire, but “never went down that path,” according to the book. Instead, she quietly used her Force abilities to keep her alive during her hundreds of years of adventures as a pirate.
When Maz retired to Takodana in the wake of Palpatine’s death, she began using her abilities openly—tracking force-strong relics and collecting them as a safeguard... which led to her sensing Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, lost in the bowels of Bespin after the end of The Empire Strikes Back, and eventually retrieving it for her collection.
A minor thing, but the book also does briefly mention why Force-strong people like Rey and Kylo Ren have started emerging again around the time the movie begins—apparently the Force went dormant after Ben Solo and the Knights of Ren slaughtered Luke’s fledgling Jedi order:
Since the disappearance of Luke Skywalker and the shattering of his fledgling Jedi following, the cosmic Force has lain dormant, seemingly quieted to those able to sense its presence. The adventures of Rey and Finn on Jakku coincide with a turbulence in the cosmic Force, a sudden ripple indicating the awakening of newfound ability. With the Jedi and their records vanished, few—other than Kylo Ren and his mysterious master—are able to appreciate the occurrence.
The Force Experiences Turbulence was probably seen as being nowhere near as catchy as The Force Awakens.
When The Force Awakens first came out, there was a lot of incorrect information that the planet destroyed by Starkiller Base as the seat of the Republic Senate was Coruscant, the capital world of the Republic shown in the prequels. Later it was confirmed to be Hosnian Prime, a previously unheard of planet.
So why didn’t the Republic use the former Capital after it signed its treaty with the Empire? Apparently, to convince New Republic worlds that this government was different. Just as Chancellors served terms, the Senate also regularly voted to move itself to a different member world, to reflect that all worlds in the Republic had an equal say in the shaping of Galactic politics. Hosnian Prime was just the unfortunate current host.
There are still many fans left sore at the ejection of the old Star Wars expanded universe in favor of Disney’s own canon material, and some of the sorest are fans of the “Old Republic” era, a setting thousands of years before the events of the films popularized by the hit Knights of the Old Republic video games. Although Disney have remained quiet about whether that era still remains part of the new canon, The Visual Dictionary does throw KotoR fans a bone in a description of Kylo Ren’s unorthodox lightsaber design.
As well as revealing that the saber housed a cracked crystal (hence its volatile beam and the need for crossguards to vent the energy), the description describes Kylo’s saber hilt as “an ancient design, dating back thousands of years to the Great Scourge of Malachor.” Malachor, or more specifically, Malachor V, played a huge role in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, and was a major planet in the Sith Empire and had powerful links to the Dark Side of the Force. Not exactly confirmation that Knights of the Old Republic is canon, but interesting insight into how deep Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke are plunging into Sith history.
First Order snowtroopers board the crashed Millennium Falcon on Starkiller Base. Source: Visual Dictionary, via /Film.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about The Visual Dictionary is that it’s packed with pictures of scenes that didn’t make it into the film’s final cut. Snowtroopers actually make up most of the new images, from a shot of them inspecting the downed Millennium Falcon after Han crashes it on Starkiller Base, to scenes of a snowspeeder chase featuring Finn and Rey.
Also included are several shots of Maisie Richardson-Sellers’ cut character, Korr Sella. Sella, a diplomatic aide to Leia, would have been sent to Hosnian Prime to petition the New Republic for the Resistance, with Starkiller Base as proof that the First Order broke the peace treaty—only to die when the planet was destroyed. J.J. Abrams has stated that there’s probably only around 20 minutes of cut scenes from the film, but so far this is our only official look at some of the filmed moments that didn’t make it into the movie.