When Disney bought Lucasfilm, all of the previous canon in the non-movie Expanded Universe (books, comics, video games, etc.) was deemed not canon anymore, except for the Clone Wars animated series and a few other exceptions. The new filmmakers needed freedom to create their own story ... and they're not exclusively doing so on film.
In 2014, the new canon started with Star Wars Rebels and novels such as Tarkin. These supplementary materials are expanding the universe in a myriad of ways. The story no longer trickles from the movies down, but plot threads can begin in other media.
And the new novel Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt may drop some huge clues about what to expect from Star Wars: Episode VIII in 2017.
(Slight spoilers for Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt and Rogue One follow!)
Jakku Is The First Planet We See In The Force Awakens
It's where Poe Dameron meets with Lor San Tekka, who has part of the map to find the missing Luke Skywalker. It is also where Rey was seemingly abandoned.
On the surface it seems a lot like Tatooine from A New Hope. Both are desert planets brushed off by the rest of the galaxy. Once the main characters leave, it is never featured within the movie again.
But Jakku looks to be very different from Tatooine. It has been featured in many of the new canon's books, comics and video games. In fact, it may be the key to the trilogy of Episodes VII, VIII and IX.
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Turns Out, Palpatine Was Obsessed With The Planet
Frequently throughout the new Star Wars canon, whenever Palpatine (a.k.a. Darth Sidious) appears, he makes vague mention about his plans for the galaxy, which include his search for Force artifacts.
The events of Life Debt reveal that Palpatine was invested in Jakku even long before he became emperor of the galaxy. He mentions that a significant object more than 1,000 years old is located there, and he sets up outposts to raze the planet in hopes of finding it. But he never found it before Darth Vader saved Luke Skywalker from him in Return of the Jedi.
Whatever This Object Is, It's Pretty Important...
After the events of Return of the Jedi, the Galactic Empire did not immediately crumble. About a year later, the Galactic Empire finally lost to the New Republic ... on Jakku.
It was dubbed the Battle of Jakku, and it's where the seeds of the First Order were planted. Cue the Imperial March.
Just why is Lor San Tekka on the planet in The Force Awakens? It is clear that he is familiar with the Force, but not a Force user. (A non-Force user would no doubt be unaware if he stumbled upon a Force relic, although Lor San Tekka seems like an important person.) Why was Rey left there in the first place? Her raw potential in the Force seems to be unmatched, and she was furthermore seen scavenging relics from the Battle of Jakku. These are all too many little things to just be a coincidence.
...As Important As Another Object Palpatine Sought?
Earlier this month, Rogue One director Gareth Edwards discussed his upcoming film with Entertainment Weekly, specifically the main featured planet, Jedha, a world of worship for those who believe in the Force: "It's a place where people who believe in the Force would go on a pilgrimage. It was essentially taken over by the Empire. It's an occupied territory ... for reasons we probably can't reveal."
EW speculated that those reasons include:
"A source of kyber crystals, perhaps? Those are the Force-sensitive minerals that power lightsabers and were used by ancient Sith to create colossal weapons of mass destruction."
It's widely believed that a large kyber crystal is what powers the Death Star. If those are the stakes in Palpatine's search for Force artifacts, then whatever's on Jakku may be too much of a big deal to leave to the Expanded Universe.
Is It A Weapon? Something More?
The First Order is continuing the work of the deceased Emperor Palpatine. Its leader, Snoke, is neither a Sith nor a Jedi, but is a powerful Force user. Is he searching for this mysterious relic, just as Palpatine did?
As the new trilogy continues, there's no doubt that we'll learn why Rey was placed on Jakku. The desert planet has already been positioned as important to the continuing Star Wars mythos. Time will tell just how important.