By Darren Franich
Updated October 31, 2012 at 10:33 PM EDT
Jesse Cowell/My Damn Channel

Image Credit: Johansson: Francois Duhamel; Star Wars: Lucasfilm. Designed by Jef Castro[/caption]

The Star Wars universe has been in a state of rapid expansion ever since Luke Skywalker walked into the Mos Eisley Cantina and found himself surrounded by a few dozen aliens, each with their own elaborate anatomy and signature drink. The first Star Wars movie is, in hindsight, a relatively minimalist affair when it comes to settings: one desert planet, one space station, and one gas giant-orbiting moon. But the scenes in Mos Eisley served as an ace bit of galaxy-building. Since then, Star Wars has evolved across every cultural medium for four decades; after acquiring Lucasfilm yesterday, Disney CEO Robert Iger noted that the universe has “more than seventeen thousand characters inhabiting several thousand planets and spanning twenty thousand years.”

Disney has already announced the impending release of a new Star Wars trilogy, but the ambitions for the franchise seem even larger. Indeed, the comparison point for the new Disney-fied Wars isn’t the original trilogy, but rather, the expanded Marvel Cinematic Universe — run by Lucasfilm’s new corporate step-sibling, Marvel Studios — which has created a new lucrative roadmap for a linked chain of mini-franchises. The implication, then, is that Disney will start mining some of those seventeen thousand characters for screens large and small. A few years ago, this would have seemed like a ludicrous idea. That was before Thor. Prior to 2011, Thor was the character that comic book fans could never properly explain to their friends. Now, Chris Hemsworth has played Thor in a pair of movies that collectively grossed $2 billion.

So the question is: Who is the Thor of Star Wars? Which character adored by fans will soon be starring in a movie or a TV show, played by an attractive genuine human actor who will appear on genuine magazine covers? Much of that will depend on the time period of the sequel trilogy. The Expanded Universe comics, book, and videogames of the 1990s mostly explored the Star Wars galaxy in the two decades after the end of Return of the Jedi. Luke, Leia, and Han were all still very active in these stories, and Episodes VII-IX would either need to age those characters considerably or recast them with younger actors, neither of which seem likely.

But the sequel trilogy could take material from the Legacy of the Force saga, which focuses on Jacen and Jaina Solo, the twin children of Han and Leia. That would give the three trilogies a nice symmetry, each focusing on a different generation of the Skywalker bloodline. And Jacen and Jaina make an intriguing pair. Jaina has her father’s hotshot flying ability; Jacen, conversely, inherits the mournful Skywalker gene. A trilogy that focused on them would provide a nice linkage to the original trilogy, while also allowing the franchise to set off in a new direction, with new actors (and maybe the rare parental cameo from Carrie Fisher.)

Or maybe they will blend in some characters from the Expanded Universe with new environments — think The Walking Dead or X-Men First Class. From that perspective, the most obvious breakout character would be Mara Jade, a force-sensitive assassin-turned-smuggler-turned-antihero. For a long time, Mara was the most popular non-movie Star Wars character, and she seems like an ideal character for this Action Heroine moment.

There are dozens of mini-franchises lurking inside of Star Wars, too: Stories set thousands of years before the original trilogy, or which focus on life among the margins of the galaxy. (I.E.: The long-in-the-works, probably-never-going-to-happen TV series Star Wars: Underworld.) But if Disney has some success with its S.H.I.E.L.D. show and wants to find a similar show in the Star Wars canon, then they couldn’t do better than tackling Rogue Squadron. Michael A. Stackpole wrote a series of books focusing on the starship battalion, filled with thrills, twists, and a big main-character deathcount. One character in particular seems ripe for adaptation: Corran Horn, a cop-turned-rebel who’s basically the perfect combination of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.

Focusing on Rogue Squadron could also mean that Wedge Antilles, a minor character in the original trilogy, could get his big moment — although he’d obviously need to be played by a new actor. Maybe Denis Lawson could play Booster Terrik! And if you understand any part of that last sentence, then you probably have your own opinions — post some of your suggestions for breakout Star Wars characters in the comments!

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

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