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'The Twilight Saga': A refresher course

By Breeanna Hare, CNN
updated 3:21 PM EST, Fri November 16, 2012
Just four years ago, "Twilight" was known only as a low-budget romantic drama, Robert Pattinson was known as a "Harry Potter" character, and Taylor Lautner looked more like a cub than a wolf.<br/><br/>So much has changed since 2008. As the final "Twilight" film brings the franchise to an end, let's look at how some of the main cast members from the first "Twilight" installment have evolved.<br/><br/> Just four years ago, "Twilight" was known only as a low-budget romantic drama, Robert Pattinson was known as a "Harry Potter" character, and Taylor Lautner looked more like a cub than a wolf.

So much has changed since 2008. As the final "Twilight" film brings the franchise to an end, let's look at how some of the main cast members from the first "Twilight" installment have evolved.

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Cast of 'Twilight' then ....
... And now
Then: Kristen Stewart
Now: Kristen Stewart
Then: Robert Pattinson
Now: Robert Pattinson
Then: Taylor Lautner
Now: Taylor Lautner
Then: Ashley Greene
Now: Ashley Greene
Then: Nikki Reed
Now: Nikki Reed
Then: Kellan Lutz
Now: Kellan Lutz
Then: Jackson Rathbone
Now: Jackson Rathbone
Then: Peter Facinelli
Now: Peter Facinelli
Then: Elizabeth Reaser
Now: Elizabeth Reaser
Then: Billy Burke
Now: Billy Burke
Then: Anna Kendrick
Now: Anna Kendrick
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "The Twilight Saga" gets a bit complicated toward the end
  • The prior four films have been building up to this weekend's "Breaking Dawn -- Part 2"
  • Writer authors a "refresher course" for those who need to catch up

(CNN) -- Vampires that sparkle, a human/vampire hybrid baby and something called a Volturi -- even a fan would admit that "The Twilight Saga" gets complicated toward the end.

What begins as a pretty standard girl-meets-vampire love story quickly evolves into a girl/vampire/shape-shifter love triangle, one that eventually includes a memorable (as in, we're still trying to forget) at-home birth scene.

All of that leads up to the final "Twilight Saga" installment, "Breaking Dawn -- Part 2." With the final chapter now in theaters, some of you might be in need of a brief refresher. You can always speed-read Stephenie Meyer's four novels or spend at least eight hours watching the first four films, but why do that when we've broken it all down for you here?

Let's start with basics -- what's a Bella Swan?

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First, you're forgiven if you have absolutely zero firsthand knowledge about this character. Honestly, it's admirable you've been able to avoid "Twilight" for this long. Slow clap for that.

Isabella "Bella" Swan (Kristen Stewart) is the heart, eyes and voice of "Twilight." At the start of the series she's a 17-year-old girl who relocates from Arizona to Forks, Washington, to live with her dad when her mom remarries.

Bella is awkward and accident-prone and never really feels in step with everyone else, but these are qualities that make her endearing in the "Twilight" world. She quickly falls for ....

The vampire Edward Cullen

Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) is a vampire who's been around for the past century, but he's also eternally 17. He lives with his vampire "family" that's been cultivated over the years by "Twilight's" HVIC (head vampire in charge), Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli).

They eat animals rather than humans -- their version of vegetarianism -- and being a vampire for them means sparkling "like diamonds" when in sunlight. Edward can also read minds, with Bella's being the exception, and Alice (Ashley Greene), gets visions about the future.

Meyer certainly puts her own spin on vampire lore, but Edward's still a would-be killer, and he does want to kill Bella at first. (Romance!)

When Bella figures out Edward's secret, she remains pretty calm about his vampirism -- even though he admits to thirsting for her blood, which to him basically smells like doughnuts to a dieter.

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Bella + Edward = 4ever

Edward gets over the "I want to eat you" thing as he gets to know Bella and as she's constantly put into life-threatening situations. The ever-present vampires out to kill Bella are problematic, considering that these two say they can't live without one another. They're each other's "personal brand[s] of heroin," if you will, and they're both strung out.

As best we can tell, this sentiment is established after an impromptu dinner date, some chaste sleepovers and Edward saving her from the natural -- an out-of-control car -- and the supernatural -- vampires, including his own brother at Bella's 18th birthday party. By then, Edward can't deal with endangering her all the time and he bails.

Bella falls into deep despair, but soon realizes she can conjure visions of Edward rescuing her if she puts herself in dangerous situations. This leads to a cliff-jumping and near-drowning incident that causes Alice to believe that Bella's dead, and word works its way back to Edward.

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Enter the Volturi

The Volturi, which in the movies includes the lovely Dakota Fanning and esteemed Michael Sheen, are a group of lethal (and nattily dressed) vampires who instill a sense of order in "Twilight's" vampire universe and shield it from being exposed. Going against their laws is a great way to get killed.

Since Edward can't bear living without his soulmate Bella, he goes to Volturi home base in Italy on a suicide mission, ready to expose himself as a vampire and attract the Volturi's wrath.

Bella shows up in time to stop Edward, but the Volturi consider her a risk thanks to her extensive knowledge of the vampires' ways. Alice saves her life by revealing a vision that Bella will soon become a vampire, a transformation Bella's wanted since the first movie, anyway. That way she would be with Edward for eternity and never age to boot. Edward, however, is against it -- as is Jacob, the other guy.

Here's where the girl/wolf/vampire triangle comes in

Jacob Black, played by the supremely sculpted Taylor Lautner, is Quileute and has a gene that causes him to shape-shift into a wolf when vampires are in town. His friendship with Bella deepened when Edward left, and his feelings turn romantic.

He makes a strong case for Bella's affections, and by "Eclipse" has the girl so confused she winds up kissing him. To be fair, she was worried about what would happen to him in a standoff between the Cullens and a new army of vamps created by a vengeful Victoria. (She was out for Bella's blood ever since Edward killed her lover James in "Twilight.")

But even after that, Jacob still gets second place to Edward, whom Bella agrees to marry.

The birth from "Twilight" hell

Bella and Edward didn't have sex until after they got married because of Edward's old-fashioned ways (the guy's been around since 1901, after all). Plus he was worried he'd crush her to death in the heat of the moment. (Again, with the romance.)

The deal was to turn Bella into a vampire after she tied the knot, but they hold off a bit so she can experience her wedding night without the distraction of unquenchable bloodthirst.

After Edward swept Bella away to a family-owned island for their honeymoon, the sex "Twilight" fans devoured three books and three movies for finally happens. Bella's bruised, but satisfied ... and also pregnant.

Through some technicalities that were never covered in our sex education class, Bella and Edward made a hybrid baby, which means the part-vampire fetus slowly kills her from the inside. In what some have read as an anti-abortion plotline, Bella insists on keeping her baby against the wishes of loved ones, including Edward. The majority of "Breaking Dawn -- Part I" chronicles Bella's torturous pregnancy, which demands that she drink a steady diet of blood .... even before she actually becomes a vampire.

OK, you're caught up now

Giving birth to a vampire/human child is a spine-breaking horror show, one so gory that Edward had no choice but to turn Bella into a vampire to save her.

But before they can be a happy, mostly vampire family with their new baby Renesmee -- who ages at a much faster rate than a human child -- the threat of the Volturi rises once again.

And that's where we pick things up in "Breaking Dawn -- Part 2." The last installment has not only promised us an epic battle and a twist ending, but Bella finding out about Jacob's "imprinting," when he becomes uncontrollably attached to baby Renesmee on sight and completely devoted to her for life.

Like we said -- it gets complicated.

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