Anyone in the Star Wars fansite game has heard repeatedly about stormtroopers making an appearance in Episode VII. There were, of course, reports of Chewbacca fighting “old skool” stormtroopers in a second unit Iceland shoot, but I’ve also heard of stormtroopers appearing in other settings, including the massive Imperial-style hangar set (and yes, it is a hangar) at Pinewood. Anyone nervous about overuse of CGI troopers need not fear, however, as there are around 20 extras at the studio using stormtrooper outfits.
That said, the “old skool” label may be slightly off, as there seem to be ever-so-slight changes to the armour, mainly around the legs and backplate. The overall effect is to give the troopers a more modern appearance without being a radical departure from the look we know and love.
In addition, Star Destroyers are also making a comeback. Again and again and again, I keep hearing about details pertaining to an Imperial presence of some kind. Some of this comes from Making Star Wars (and you can read more about all of this here) but I’ve also heard other details that line up well with what Jason is saying.
(Edit: Over at the IMDb boards, the same poster who revealed set details claims that the stormtrooper helmets are white and “flare out… like Vader’s helmet” and feature an “eye [which] is one thin black strip”. This sounds similar to Ralph McQuarrie’s early snowtrooper designs—have a look at the image to the right. In addition, another poster in the same thread claims that there will be a stormtrooper in silver armour possibly played by one of the main cast.)
Admittedly, some fans are nervous about the reappearance of the Empire, but for storytelling reasons this had to happen. Lawrence Kasdan in particular is no slouch when it comes to the mechanics of a good story, and furthermore, he understands the need for consistent universe with its own internal logic. I personally have faith in Episode VII delivering a completely believable justification for an Imperial presence and just thinking about the Imperial hangar gives me goosebumps. The return of the Empire can’t come soon enough.