Tonight the die hard Hunger Games fans will be flocking to midnight screenings of the new film, Catching Fire. But there's a chance that at least a few newbies will be wrapped into the bunch-- parents shepherding tweens, significant others doing their honeys a favor, or even someone who's seen Jennifer Lawrence's magnetic public appearances and can't resist the draw. It's for those people, who don't know Haymitch Abernathy from Claudius Templesmith, that we're here. Catching Fire may not be as dense as the Star Wars universe or, Lord knows, a Marvel after-credits scene, but there are some details and people you ought to know before jumping in blind for Catching Fire. Here are the 10 biggest things you need to know.
Panem is the name of the country that The Hunger Games takes place in, and appears to be what's left of America after a giant civil war and nuclear attacks. It is run by a central government located in The Capitol (implied to be somewhere near Denver), where the rich live lavishly and thrive off the goods and resources provided by the poorer other districts. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is the leader of Panem, and is as vicious as you'd imagine for a guy who allows kids to fight to the death for the nation's entertainment each year. His signature is a white rose, which explains why everyone's holding one in character posters.
The Hunger Games
A yearly event in which two teenagers are chosen from each of Panem's twelve districts to fight to the death inside an arena, which changes every year and comes equipped with fantastical threats, like mutant dogs or giant engineered tsunamis. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) were the tributes last year from District 12, the poorest district in the country that's roughly equivalent to West Virginia. Thanks to a last-second rule-change (made only when Katniss attempted to help them both commit suicide), they became the first dual winners in history.
Katniss's effort to kill herself and Peeta with poison berries was an effort not to play by the Capitol's rules, and it's been interpreted as a sign of rebellion in several districts since the Games-- these are people who have lived under harsh totalitarian rule for a generation, and they're only now seeing the potential for change. The Mockingjay pin that Katniss wears-- and that you see on every poster-- has become a symbol of a budding revolution all across the country.
The Victory Tour
Each year after the Games the winners take a train tour to every other district in the country, and participate in a ceremony in their honor. This year both Katniss and Peeta take the trip, and are joined again by the same stylists and managers from the Capitol seen in the first film.
To help win the favor of the audience watching the Games, Katniss faked a romance with Peeta while inside the arena-- then had to confess to him when it was over that it was all a ruse (you don't really see this happen in the movie, but by the time ,Catching Fire begins, he's figured it out). That leaves things a bit awkward between them in the new movie, especially since Peeta seems to have genuine feelings for Katniss despite everything.
Katniss's hunky childhood friend is back to hunting with her in District 12 as the story begins, but he's still hurt by the romance he saw happening in the arena. And since Liam Hemsworth is pretty good at smoldering, they let him do a lot of it.
District 12's only previous winner of The Hunger Games, he coached Katniss and Peeta in the first games, and now lives near them in Victor's Village-- the fancy suburb reserved exclusively for champions of the game. He's still drunk and still played by a floppy-haired Woody Harrelson, which is exactly how you want him.
Even if you've never seen The Hunger Games you've doubtlessly seen Wes Bentley with his crazy sculpted facial hair-- he was the guy in charge of running The Hunger Games in the previous year. It's heavily implied at the end of the first movie that Seneca is killed by the Capitol as punishment for Katniss beating them at their own game, but his name comes up again in Catching Fire in a significant and loaded way.
The Capitol is the center of Panem's government, a place where there's so much money and spectacle that people who dress like Effie Trinket show up. There are much wilder costumes and parties in Catching Fire (that's what happens with a big budget), so just remember that just when you've seen the weirdest possible costume in The Capitol, it keeps going. This is also the place where the Games are seen as entertainment, not torture, so you see people like Stanley Tucci's Caesar Flickerman and Toby Jones's Claudius Templesmith treating the whole thing like American Idol.
He's a new character in Catching Fire, so you don't really need to know anything about it. Just be prepared for the squeals when he shows up on screen-- he makes hunky Gale look like a moose in comparison.