J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens is very much expected to be the continuation of the original saga, picking things up 30 years later with the likes of Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa and Han Solo - but don't expect there to be too many callbacks to that portion of the franchise. This is because the director actually found a point during development where the production found itself pulling back on those elements because they felt like they were simply trying too hard.
It was while talking with Vanity Fair for their recent Star Wars issue that J.J. Abrams made this reveal. Discussing the film's relationship with the six previous chapters in the franchise as well as the 30 year gap that exists between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, Abrams noted that the early stages of the project did spend a good amount of time seeing how elements from that history could be seeded in. But eventually they hit a point where they felt it necessary to limit those kinds of references. The director explained,
We used to have more references to things that we pulled out because they almost felt like they were trying too hard to allude to something. I think that the key is—and whether we’ve accomplished that or not is, of course, up to the audience—but the key is that references be essential so that you don’t reference a lot of things that feel like, oh, we’re laying pipe for, you know, an animated series or further movies. It should feel like things are being referenced for a reason.
Abrams doesn't mention it, but I also have to wonder if including too many references was also an issue from a narrative perspective. After all, while audiences have seen witnessed some of the biggest moments in these character's lives, it just wouldn't feel natural if they kept calling back to the particular parts of their existences that audiences happen to know about.
Ultimately, the director explained, references made in Star Wars: The Force Awakens came from trying to create a balance, and ensuring that what did make it in fit organically. Said Abrams,
That, to me, has been the constant struggle: to make sure that none of these things are treated like either they’re a museum piece and we’re trying to honor them, or they’re gratuitous and thrown in because, well, it’s a Star Wars movie so you’ve got to put these things in. Everything has got to be essential to the characters in the film.
Surely fans can expect the movie to feature at least some clear references to the earlier films beyond the presence of Luke, Leia, Han, and the other principal characters (we've already see Darth Vader's helmet in the trailer), but it's nice to know that they won't choke the movie either.
We'll be sure to have plenty of coverage of all the little Easter Eggs and references when Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrives in theaters on December 17th.