With this in mind I believe most people have the following vague understanding of where we'll be in the next episode:
Luke Skywalker is a Jedi Master, essentially taking the Obi-Wan Kenobi mentor role; Princess Leia is the boss of the New Republic and married to Han Solo; and Han Solo, then, is married to Princess Leia and is most likely some sort of military officer of high rank, or admiral perhaps (he's not a bad pilot). Chewie still follows Han, and the droids still follow Luke (or maybe See-Threepio's with Leia, though I doubt she would stand having him around for thirty years).
It's all terribly predictable, safe and boring.
I think J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, as the seeming masters of the new tale, need to come up with something more interesting than this. There are no dynamics in the "safe" route described above. Everything's settled. Can't have that in a movie about wars among the stars, right?
Shaking things up right from the get-go, I believe, is a very important matter. Episode VII needs to pull us in right away, go "What?! Cool!" and enjoy the ride. If the film opens with a starship approaching a planet, a hooded guy exits and light a saber, I will be like...Meh. This again.
So what can they do to make things more interesting? Here are a few suggestions.
- Leia and Han weren't able to make their relationship work after all. They were too different (although Han was radically changed as a character in Return of the Jedi, I think we all agree it's the Han Solo of episodes IV and V we love). Immediately, there is a dynamic back in place, although I suppose its basically just returning to the dynamic of The Empire Strikes Back: Sparks might fly, they might be attracted to each other, but in Episode VII what if they are forced to work together again and they are bickering all the time (and maybe they end up together in IX at last, I don't know). Thing is, it would create a more interesting relationship again and people would be like, awww they didn't make it work, and there would be more interest naturally (I suppose).
- Luke Skywalker basically dropped the whole Jedi schtick after Return of the Jedi. He'd taken a pretty big dose of lightning from the Emperor, he had to see his father sacrifice himself for the greater good, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda had been lying to him, and he was almost lured into the Dark Side of the Force when he did try to decapitate the Emperor with his lightsaber. What if Luke, instead of going on to build a new Jedi Academy (as the Expanded Universe suggests and which has become imbedded as "true" in many minds), leaves the spotlight to seek solitude, meditating on his life, not daring to train any Jedi (possibly including Leia) for fear of the Dark Side? What if, when Episode VII starts, he doesn't want to have anything to do with galactic politics, knowing how the Jedi failed as the Guardians of the Old Republic? Again, a more interesting dynamic. Someone has to turn him around on this. If the cantina is indeed part of the next episode, I imagine him sitting in a dark corner with a glass of blue...beer...I guess...wasting away his life in fear of doing something wrong (Mark Hamill losing weight and looking better these days is a sign they won't go with this plot line though). Anyway, a morose Luke Skywalker, dealing with his inner demons ("What if I become like my dad? What if I fail any apprentice of mine, like Obi-Wan failed my father?") would be a nice change from the standard idea of him being the übermaster of a new academy full of potential Jedi learners.
- There never came a restoration of the Republic after Return of the Jedi: The Republic and the Jedi failed in the prequels, and the Empire wasn't a much better alternative for most people; why would people want to go back to yet another galaxy-spanning single government? What if, when Episode VII starts, we've had thirty years of star systems declaring their independence, warlords taking over certain systems, wars raging everywhere between planetary governments ruling as they see fit? The Alliance never managed to reunite the galaxy into one peaceful entity; instead, Princess Leia faces a galaxy torn apart after the fall of the Jedi and the rise and fall of the Emperor. An argument against it could be that after thirty years Leia would most likely have given up trying to rebuild the Republic (and maybe she has). An argument for this development is that it allows for a type story where the galaxy is under threat and only uniting against this threat will leave the heroes a chance to overcome evil (this would give urgency to the plot; "we must unite and stand against this, or we will fail").
- What if Episode VII opens and Leia is a full-fledged Jedi Knight, having been trained by Luke? That would be a surprise. In this case, Leia and Han not being able to hold on to their relationship would fit as well. However, the more "realistic" you make Luke and Leia and the more Jedi stuff is in there, the less chances are we get a good old fashioned fun space adventure. Luke pondering all the people he killed aboard the first Death Star, or Leia struggling with the trauma of seeing her planet eradicated would be epic stuff in a sense, but it's not really what Star Wars is about. Its larger than life in all respects, and there's no time for deep character introspection in this sense.
- What if the new generation of actors aren't children of Han and Leia, or Luke, or Lando, or whoever at all? They're just a new bunch of characters. I played with this idea as a game master for West End Games' Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, Second Edition when the player characters were all part of a "speeder bike gang", not related to any of the main characters of Star Wars but getting involved anyway. The EU had Han and Leia producing children, but the sequel trilogy certainly doesn't have to do the same, right?
- Everyone and their personal gonk droid seem to think that the Sith will return. This speculation only ramped up when Max von Sydow was announced as playing a part in VII. What if the Sith are truly gone, as the six existing movies certainly suggest? Abrams would need some other kind of opposition, and I am sure that with a little creativity that could be done. I'm fond of the "warlord" concept myself, that is, planets ruled by individual warlords with no interest in the greater good of the galaxy. You could have a variety of such characters and none of them would have to be Sith, and it would still feel like Star Wars. The main threat could be Luke's struggle with the Dark Side and the legacy of his father, thus keeping the throughline of the Force vs the Dark Side of the Force, without the need for more Sith characters, stretching the story's credibility.
- Have Andy Serkis play an actual character looking like himself, no motion capture. That would surprise a lot of people who expect Gollum to rampage about the Millenium Falcon next year.
- Taking cues from Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Abrams and Kasdan could finish the remaining points of the Hero's Journey for Luke Skywalker to keep the story's mythological underpinnings, then twist one of the tropes around to have us all go WTF!!! Awesomety high five!!!1
- I feel they definitely should look for more, different influences from other types of stories. I mean, if you look through the six films you'll find a lot of elements from other genres done in Star Wars style: you have stuff like smugglers and pirates (Han Solo), wild west themes (bounty hunters, desert frontier towns), romance (Han/Leia), mysticism (The Force, Jedi/Sith), mafia/crime (Obi-Wan's investigations in EpII that most horrid of movies, Jabba the Hutt); old-fashioned swashbuckling; mythology (King Arthur), fantasy (lots of Lord of the Rings-influences, really); Star Wars is a blend of so many things. Find elements not used before to expand the canvas and surprise us.
- And so on, and so forth...