'Star Wars': A Spoiler-Free Guide to What's Important Before Watching 'Force Awakens'

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Still 13 Harrison Ford - H 2015
Courtesy of Lucasfilms 2015/Walt Disney Studios

"Chewie, we're home."

Star Wars fans are about to take their first step into a much larger world. The Force Awakens is finally landing in theaters Thursday, and the hype for the latest installment of the space adventure series has reached a fever pitch.

Since the first 90-second teaser for the J.J. Abrams' incarnation of the beloved franchise was released more than a year ago, fans have been enamored with the — likely box-office breaking — film, which continues the story of Luke, Han and Leia, as well as introducing all new heroes and villains into the Star Wars universe.  

Lucasfilm set the table for The Force Awakens and all other future Star Wars films in April 2014 when the company announced new movies would discard everything other than the previous six works, The Clone Wars and the Rebels animated series. This meant the Expanded Universe — which consists of comic books, novels and video games, among other material not produced directly by Lucasfilm — would not "align."

Before audiences hit the theaters, THR takes a look back at some of the biggest moments along the way to The Force Awakens opening day. The first palpable excitement all started when a picture surfaced of a table reading not so long ago in a galaxy quite near. 

April 2014:

In addition to the original principals, the new cast was introduced and shown together for the first time: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson and Max von Sydow. Mark Hamill was so excited about the undertaking, he immediately commented.

Disney and Abrams worked to keep as much of the plot to the new film under lock and key during all stages of production, including applying for a drone dome to prevent aerial spying. Then came the first bit of bad news.

August 2014:

Ford had broken his leg on set in an incident involving the Millennium Falcon. Shooting was postponed for a few weeks due to the accident, but Ford seemed to make a full recovery.

November 2014:

The first teaser for an all new Star Wars film dropped Nov. 28. Fans proceeded to lose their minds. To date, the initial teaser has more than 75.4 million views on YouTube. 

This teaser gave no indication of the plot, other than there had been an awakening in the Force, which was briefly mentioned by an unidentified character talking over quick glimpses of footage. Then, about five months later, another teaser trailer was released. 

April 2015:

A second preview, this one almost two minutes long, gave fans their first glimpse of Ford reprising the role that helped make him a household name. "Chewie, we're home," Han Solo says.

Also in April, more details, including an image, came to light about the upcoming Star Wars: Rogue One. Although occurring in the same galaxy far, far away, the stand-alone film will deviate from the previous six films.

The official line for the feature directed by Gareth Edwards, focusing on X-Wing pilots, is "A rogue band of resistance fighters unite for a daring mission to steal the Death Star plans." Felicity Jones will star in the Star Wars' stand-alone

May 2015:

In May came a shake-up in the Star Wars film business when director Josh Trank, who was to take the reins for the second stand-alone film, was ousted following red flags popping up during during the production of Marvel's latest iteration of the Fantastic Four.

Producers for that film were said to have faced great challenges pulling the film together due to Trank's behavior, described by one insider as “erratic” and at times “very isolated.” 

July 2015:

Over the summer, it was announced that maybe the most beloved character in the entire franchise would have even more of a future, or rather, a past. Han Solo's life will be established in a spin off to be helmed by Lego Movie directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord. Lawrence Kasdan and Jon Kasdan are writing the script for the project which is set for a May 25, 2018, release.

October 2015:

The official full trailer was released on Oct. 19.

The trailer, a little longer than two and a half minutes, was viewed more than 112 million times online in 24 hours, according to Lucasfilm. Combined with the 16 million viewers that tuned in to watch the new preview on Monday Night Football, the grand total was 128 million views.

Not long after this time, Abrams and the other stars began making appearances on late night talk shows, further stoking fans' anticipation for the film that was finally weeks away from release. 

November 2015:

Jimmy Kimmel presented an all Star Wars episode, which featured most of the main cast of the Force Awakens participating in sketches. Even Ford got in on the fun.

At long last, advance tickets went on sale.

December 2015:

Days before the film opened, year-end holiday advance ticket sales for The Force Awakens crossed $100 million in North America, an unheard-of number. That includes $50 million to $60 million in advance ticket sales for the film's opening weekend. 

Finally, the world premiere took place Monday night in Los Angeles. Early, non-spoiler reaction to the film was overwhelming positive. On Wednesday, the European premiere took place in London. 

And now the day has arrived. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is rolling out tonight before playing everywhere Friday morning. Box office experts are anticipating the film to break a lot of records. 

Hamill has only one request for fans: