Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was awesome, but it definitely left us with a bunch of niggling unanswered questions. Thankfully, the official novel has solved a lot of these mysteries, and we've done you the favor of combing through it for the important bits.
Who IS That Guy On Jakku?
As The Force Awakens opens, we join Poe Dameron as he meets Lor San Tekka and retrieves the map to Luke Skywalker. It's a loaded moment, and Max von Sydow's enigmatic character is clearly a legendary figure, from Poe Dameron's admiration of him.
"I've heard stories about your adventures since I was a kid. It's an honor to meet you." (The Force Awakens novel, page 14)
Tekka also has a personal connection to Kylo Ren. Yet, we're still guessing what part he played in the wider story. While The Force Awakens visual dictionary identifies Tekka as a religious leader, in the novel Kylo Ren describes him as "the great soldier of fortune" (i.e. a mercenary).
So, is this canon inconsistency, or hints about a bigger mystery? We may never find out, sadly.
Just What Exactly Does The First Order Want?
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the First Order was just a reboot of the Empire because essentially, that's what it is. The members are radically dedicated to re-establishing the control the Empire had over the galaxy, and are furious that after the Empire was defeated the planets started ruling themselves.
Or at least, that's how Kylo Ren sums it up in The Force Awakens novel:
It is the task of the First Order to remove the disorder from our own existence, so that civilization may be returned to the stability that promotes progress. A stability that existed under the Empire, was reduced to anarchy by the Rebellion. Future historians will look upon this as the time when a strong hand brought the rule of law back to civilization. (page 92)
This gives the First Order an excellent, if terrifying goal, and it'll be interesting to see how this aim progresses in Episode 8.
How Did Rey Know How To Be A Pilot?
Oh Rey, such a Mary Sue. She masters the Force about as quickly as Luke did, and she has all these impractical fighting skills (that can't possibly have helped her as a scavenger surrounded by thieves — wait), and can pilot spaceships. Except, as Before The Awakening reveals, Rey worked tirelessly to master this skill, using an old Rebellion flight simulator.
"She learned so much that there was little the program could throw her way that would challenge her now. Full-throttle atmospheric re-entry with repulsor-engine failure? No sweat. Multiple hull breach deep-space engine flameout? A walk in the park." ('Before The Awakening', page 66)
As Finn might say, that's one hell of a pilot.
How Old Is Supreme Leader Snoke?
Old. At least older than the Empire, and probably even older than that. Snoke describes the failings of the Empire to Kylo Ren, revealing his true age in the process.
"I watched the Galactic Empire rise, and then fall. The gullible prattle on about the triumph of truth and justice, of individualism and free will. As if such things were solid and real instead of simple subjective judgments. The historians have it all wrong." (page 139)
Put this together with Andy Serkis's hints to Entertainment Weekly about his "long-range schemes," and it seems as though Snoke's plans were decades, possibly centuries, in the making.
Were Leia And Han Married?
Although this isn't made clear in the film, Han and Leia were indeed married, but estranged by the time The Force Awakens rolls around. The novel refers to them as "husband and wife," which was omitted from the film, along with this touching scene.
He put his hands on her shoulders, and thirty years fell away in an instant. "Leia, there’s something I’ve been wanting to say to you for a long time."
Fighting to hold back tears, she put a finger to his lips. "Tell me when you get back." (page 210)
Yeah I'm just gonna need a moment to get over that kick in the heart.
Why Did Captain Phasma Give Up So Easily?
If you think Phasma's surrender was out of character, the novel's got some extra details which might persuade you otherwise. Chewie, Han, and Finn all threaten Phasma's life in various ways, and she acts to save herself, confident that the First Order will stop them anyway.
Phasma paused. What was happening right now made sense. Still, with her chest and shoulders throbbing from the Wookiee's attention, she was not about to offer what would amount to pointless resistance. The fools presently holding their weapons on her would meet their inevitable fate soon enough. (page 225)
Here's hoping Phasma's back in all her chrome-suited awesomeness in Star Wars 8!
How Did Rey Know Her Way Around Starkiller Base?
If you're anything like me, you just assumed that Rey could find her way around the Starkiller Base thanks to her lifetime of picking through the remains of Star Destroyers. And according to the novel, that's exactly right.
"I've seen inside these kinds of walls. The mechanics and instrumentation are the same as the Star Destroyers I've spent years inside salvaging. Get me to a conventional junction station, I can get us in." (page 236)
At the end of the day, it wasn't Rey's latent Force ability but her intelligence and resourcefulness, along with her years of experience, that solved this particular problem.
How Did Kylo Ren Get Off Starkiller Base?
Stranded in the snow, wounded, and surrounded by lava, it would take a miracle for Kylo Ren to escape Starkiller Base's destruction. Or just General Hux, sent by Snoke to pick up the budding Dark Sider.
Utilizing the tiny position sensor emplaced in Ren’s belt, Hux had tracked him to this spot. He would have taken Rey and Finn, as well, if not for the command that had been issued by the Supreme Leader. The two renegades were going to die here anyway, he told himself as he followed the troopers carrying Ren into the nearby shuttle. (page 253)
As for how Kylo Ren managed to get to the forest before Finn and Rey, despite being behind them and in a fairly inaccessible part of the base, well that's anybody's guess.