This week gave us our first real look at the set of Star Wars: Episode VII as director J.J. Abrams shot a short video on the Abu Dhabi set that showed what appeared to be a Tatooine marketplace and included an interruption from one of the planet’s non-human residents. Abrams was promoting a competition for fans to win a background role in the movie, but the details in the video have ended up garnerning even more interest than the competition itself.
Last year, Star Wars producer Kathleen Kennedy promised that Disney would use “every tool in the toolbox” when making the new trilogy, including a mixture of practical effects and puppets with CG animation. After seeing one of Tatooine’s new residents in action, some fans noted similarities to the Junk Lady from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, which in turn led to speculation that Jim Henson’s Creature Shop might be involved in the making of Star Wars: Episode VII.
Henson himself was consulted during the making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, specifically working with Stuart Freeborn on the design of Yoda. While the puppeteers working on Star Wars: Episode VII may have taken inspiration from some of Henson’s designs, /Film has confirmed that Jim Henson’s Creature Shop is not involved with the making of the movie. LucasFilm has not yet responded to queries of who exactly is making the alien puppets, but the fact that most of the production will take place in London makes it likely that’s it’s a UK company or a group of local independent contractors.
Star Wars has now been filming for about a week, but Abrams has said that more casting announcements are still to be expected, and the latest rumors point to British actresses Katie Jarvis and Maisie Richardson-Sellers taking on supporting female roles. Over in Abu Dhabi, local band Healer Twins revealed on Twitter that they had spent four days filming, and later clarified that it was for Star Wars: Episode VII.
The band’s twins are Thea and Liana Shengelaya, and their music is described as “Indo-Jazz fusion,” though they dabble in other genres. The fact that they seem to only have briefly met Abrams suggests that they will most likely be background performers helping to flesh out the bustling Tatooine culture, but it’s gratifying to see Disney making use of local talent.
As a final tidbit, Star Wars star John Boyega has been having an enthusiastic Instagramming session since he and co-star Daisy Ridley arrived in Abu Dhabi, including photos of him cooling off in a pool, cooling off a bit too much in an ice bath, and a short video showing Ridley and himself travelling to set.
If Boyega and Ridley’s characters are the same ones that Disney held open casting sessions for some time ago, a likely backstory for them would be that they are both street-smart teens that grew up on Tatooine. That planet is starting to get a real reputation for producing people of note in the Star Wars universe.
Star Wars: Episode VII opens in U.S. theaters on December 18th, 2015.