LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As Disney reboots the much-loved "Star Wars" franchise with "The Force Awakens" this week, the absence of Luke Skywalker from the film's marketing has been the subject of much speculation - and for good reason. Luke Skywalker has vanished.
So opens "The Force Awakens," with the now-iconic scrolling text to inform audiences that Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill) has disappeared after training Jedi soldiers. The First Order, a new evil army modeled on the Galactic Empire, is out to find and destroy him, while the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa - formerly known as Princess Leia - is hoping to find him first.
"Star Wars," created by filmmaker George Lucas, is set in an intergalactic world where the Force, an energy field drawn from the universe, can be used for the light side by the heroic Jedi fighters who fight to maintain peace - or the dark side by the evil Sith lords who want control over the galaxies.
The fiercely guarded plot of "The Force Awakens," co-written and directed by J.J. Abrams, centers on scavenger Rey's (Daisy Ridley) search for her lost family and rogue Stormtrooper Finn's (John Boyega) desire to escape his past.
"The Force Awakens," the first of three new "Star Wars" films from Disney after its 2012 purchase of the franchise from Lucas for $4 billion, takes place 30 years after 1983's "Return of the Jedi," which saw Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), roguish adventurer Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and rebel pilot Luke Skywalker defeat archvillain Darth Vader.
A second trilogy of prequel films made between 1999 and 2005 focused on Vader's origins.
"The Force Awakens" kicks off with new droid BB-8 in the desert planet Jakku with Resistance fighter Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), who hides a piece of a map, leading to Skywalker, inside BB-8.
They are attacked by First Order Stormtroopers led by a villainous, masked - and at times petulant - Kylo Ren. Stormtrooper Finn decides to go rogue and break Dameron out.
Meanwhile Rey - who is not, as has been speculated, the daughter of Han Solo and Princess Leia, but has a strong connection to the Force - saves BB-8 and teams up with Finn to return the droid to Resistance headquarters in none other than Solo's rusty but trusty Millennium Falcon spaceship.
As Rey and Finn are established as new franchise leads, they embark on a journey that finds both old and new characters often harkening subtly to the past.
The Resistance must once again destroy a deadly weapon, this time belonging to the Nazi-like First Order. X-wing fighter Dameron's witty banter echoes that of Solo's snappy one-liners in the original 1977-1983 film trilogy. When Rey asks Solo, "You're Han Solo?," the rugged and now silver-haired veteran actor cheekily replies, "I used to be."
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" opens in movie theaters worldwide starting on Wednesday night.
Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy, editing by Jill Serjeant