If you thought the pre-release buzz about superhero movies was out of control, just put your ear to the Internet these days. That roaring sound is the online chatter over "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Episode seven in George Lucas' iconic franchise -- and the first film since 2005 -- has sent fans on a scavenger hunt for every scrap of information they can find, from the name of new heroine Rey's home planet to the color of Kylo Ren's lightsaber. Other details and bigger surprises may be revealed when the film arrives in theaters Dec. 18. For now, here are 20 things we know so far about "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
20. The original stars are back.
"The Force Awakens" will feature the three principal actors from the original trilogy: Mark Hamill, 63, as Luke Skywalker; Carrie Fisher, 58, as Princess Leia; and Harrison Ford, 73, as Han Solo. At the Star Wars Celebration gathering in April, Hamill half-jokingly said he agreed to reprise his role to avoid the wrath of fans. "Can you imagine if for some reason I said, 'I don't think I want to do it?' " Hamill asked, according to Cinemablend. "I would have all of you surrounding my house like villagers in a Frankenstein picture."
19. The supporting cast is back, too.
Also returning are a number of actors whose costumes are more recognizable than their faces: Peter Mayhew as Solo's furry pal Chewbacca, Anthony Daniels as the snooty android C-3PO and Kenny Baker as the squat little droid R2-D2.
18. This is not a George Lucas movie.
In 2012, the man who created the most iconic sci-fi franchise in history sold his company, Lucasfilm, to the Walt Disney Co. for $4 billion. According to Kathleen Kennedy, Lucas' hand-picked successor to be president of Lucasfilm, he is awaiting the new film almost the way a fan would. "I talk to him and see him frequently," Kennedy told Vanity Fair. "And I'm telling you, every time I say, 'Is there anything you want to know?' And he's like, 'No, no, I want to be surprised.' "
17. Director J.J. Abrams is a lifelong "Star Wars" fan.
Abrams, 49, is part of the first generation of "Star Wars" fans; he was 10 when the movie came out in May 1977. He's always been vocal about his love for the Lucas franchise -- even when he took over the semirival "Star Trek" series. That bodes well for the new movie, on which Abrams is also a writer.
16. Abrams' co-writer knows what he's doing.
That would be Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) and "Return of the Jedi" (1983). His credits include many other hit films from the 1980s and '90s, including "Body Heat," "The Big Chill" and "The Bodyguard." Kasdan, 66, is both a living connection to the original "Star Wars" movies and a master of well-crafted Hollywood entertainment. Oh, he also wrote "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
15. The score will mix old themes and new.
John Williams' Oscar-winning score for "Star Wars" is arguably one of the most famous pieces of music -- period. The 83-year-old composer -- born in Floral Park -- created new themes for the upcoming film but has said he'll also refer back to the original themes. The film's trailer already has used "The Force Theme," the yearning, stirring piece that played as Skywalker gazed upon a double sunset on the planet Tatooine in the original film.
14. Episode VII takes place 30 years after Episode VI.
If you measure time by movie titles, "The Force Awakens" is set 30 years after "Return of the Jedi," the last film in the original trilogy. This would explain why the original cast looks older than when we last saw them destroying Darth Vader's second Death Star.
13. Adam Driver plays a bad guy.
The star of HBO's "Girls" plays Kylo Ren, a villain the filmmakers say bears some resemblance to Darth Vader (he wears a mask) but is also "wholly unique to the franchise." His lightsaber is red, like Vader's, but has a glowing hilt of sorts, making it look something like a crucifix. "The light saber is something that he built himself," Abrams told Entertainment Weekly, "and is as dangerous and as fierce and as ragged as the character."
12. One of the lead characters is female.
British actress Daisy Ridley plays Rey, a loner from the planet Jakku who lives as a scavenger. Judging by some early stills from the film, Rey partakes in the action more than previous "Star Wars" heroines like, say, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), who mostly split her time between canoodling with Anakin Skywalker (Christen Haydensen) and filibustering before the Trade Federation.
11. A Stormtrooper plays a key role.
London-born actor John Boyega plays Finn, and though not much else is known about the character, one photo showed him wearing what appeared to be the white armor of a Stormtrooper. Boyega recently confirmed that his character does, indeed, start out as one of the iconic faceless soldiers from the original films.
10. Rey and Finn don't have last names.
Is that because one might be a Skywalker, a Solo or something else surprising? Abrams isn't saying. "It is completely intentional that their last names aren't public record," he has said.
9. Oscar Isaac will fly an X-Wing fighter.
The star of the Coen brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis" plays Poe Dameron, one of the movie's lead characters. Poe is a man on a mission under the orders of "a certain princess," Isaac has revealed. This would be the first blockbuster role for Isaac, a Latino actor known mostly for his dramatic work in movies like "A Most Violent Year" and "Inside Llewyn Davis."
8. Captain Phasma is named for a cult-classic horror film.
Abrams revealed that the chrome-suited villain played by Gwendolyn Christie ("Game of Thrones") was named partly after "Phantasm," a surreal, low-budget 1979 horror flick that memorably featured a floating metal ball with brain-stabbing blades. "Phasma I named because of the amazing chrome design that came from Michael Kaplan's wardrobe team," Abrams told Entertainment Weekly. "It reminded me of the ball in 'Phantasm,' and I just thought, Phasma sounds really cool."
7. Simon Pegg didn't just play a bit part.
The British comic actor, best known as tech-wizard Benji Dunn in the "Mission: Impossible" films, has an unspecified role in "The Force Awakens." Abrams, however, credits Pegg with more than that. "He was a wonderful partner in crime to kick the story around and ask questions and come up with ideas," the director told Entertainment Weekly. "He was a perfect combination of incredibly smart screenwriter, fan of the series, critical fan of the series, and friend of mine."
6. Andy Serkis plays Supreme Leader Snoke.
That's about all we can safely say, though it's clear that Serkis is playing another motion-capture creation -- and judging by the grim face he's wearing in that Annie Leibovitz photo in Vanity Fair, Snoke doesn't look like a nice guy.
5. Lupita Nyong'o plays a pirate.
The Mexican-Kenyan actress who won an Oscar for "12 Years a Slave" (2013) plays pirate Maz Kanata. Like Serkis, she has appeared in photos that suggest she's doing a motion-capture performance, but chances are we won't know more until the film's release. As Nyong'o said at this year's D23 Expo, "Well, the easy part is you don't get to see me until you see the film. All you get is dots on my face."
4. Rian Johnson is making the sequel, "Episode VIII."
Indie film fans know Johnson as the writer-director of such offbeat movies as "Brick," a high-school noir starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt; "The Brothers Bloom," an eccentric con-man comedy with Mark Ruffalo; and the time-travel thriller "Looper," in which Gordon-Levitt wore prosthetic makeup to resemble a younger version of co-star Bruce Willis. The idiosyncratic filmmaker recently tweeted a storyboard drawing of a Jedi fighting a dog in a canoe -- which may or may not be a joke.
3. The "Star Wars" saga could go anywhere from here.
Lucas' initial ideas for "The Force Awakens" were scrapped early, allowing the writers to start with a nearly blank slate. What's more, Johnson is writing his sequel "from scratch," producer Kathleen Kennedy has said. "We know where we're going, but only in the broadest sense."
2. Americans won't be the first to see the new movie.
For unclear reasons, the U.K. release date was bumped up to Dec. 17, a day before the United States. France, which has a new rule mandating that all films must open on Wednesdays, will get it even earlier, on Dec. 16. So, which nation will be the very first to see it, on Dec. 15? That would be the United Arab Emirates, where parts of the movie were filmed.
1. "The Force Awakens" will break box-office records.
Barring some kind of global disaster, this movie is guaranteed to make Hollywood history upon its release on Dec. 18. Worldwide opening weekend estimates are already as high as $615 million, far more than the $524 million of the current opening record-holder, "Jurassic World." Going by the conventional wisdom that sales drop roughly 50 percent per week, "The Force Awakens" will reach $1 billion by January. If ticket sales hold stronger than that -- probably a safe bet -- then "The Force Awakens" just might pass the $2.7 billion of "Avatar" (2009), currently the worldwide highest-grossing film of all time. By the way, "Avatar" also was released on Dec. 18.