Star Wars: The Force Awakens jumped out of hyperspace and into pop culture with a wild thunk in 2015. In a sense, Disney made its actual proclamation of owning Lucasfilm with the opening of the film. The Force Awakens would forever change the Star Wars landscape, and offer the first hint at just what kind of films the company would unleash upon fans once a year until the end of time.
The Force Awakens treated fans to a nostalgic, if safe, adventure. In other words, it sure looked and felt like Star Wars, even if it didn’t have much in the way of originality. Naturally, with Disney having plunked more than $4 billion into Lucasfilm, and an additional $250 million into making the movie itself, The Force Awakens went through a number of different—and at times, weird—permutations before landing in cinemas. So what of the movie that could have been? What would it have featured, and where would it have taken the series? Find here, dear padawans, 15 Secrets of The Force Awakens!
15. Rey was originally called Kira
When Disney hired Michael Arndt to begin work on the entire sequel trilogy, he made the early contribution of including a female protagonist for the story. Some news outlets have reported that she went by the name “Sally” or “Rachel” in these drafts. The same versions referred to Kylo Ren as “Jedi Killer” and Finn as “Sam.” More than likely though, Arndt just used these names as placeholders until he could develop more Star Wars-style names.
Arndt likely realized that after two trilogies revolving around men, the time had come to introduce a woman as the new trilogy’s lead. His choice also might have had something to do with a powerful female producer in the person of Kathleen Kennedy influencing the direction of the films. In later drafts—all the way up to shooting, in fact, she would be known as Kira. After the name leaked to the public, however, rewrites updated her name to Rey, and the rest, as they say, is history.
14. David Fincher and Matthew Vaughn both considered directing
The announcement that a full trilogy of new Star Wars films would hit theatres in 2015 sent Hollywood and the internet into a frenzy. Besides wondering what story the new movies would follow, and if the original cast would return, all speculation hinged on one question: who would direct the new movies?
It should come as little surprise that Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy met with just about every director under the sun in the six or so months between the Disney purchase and the announcement of a director. Kennedy has not disclosed all the names that crossed her desk, but at least two have come to light. Kennedy met with David Fincher regarding the project. Fincher said that he always regarded Star Wars as a story about how slaves observe the folly of their masters. With a busy schedule, high asking price and a difficult reputation, Fincher’s negotiations never got beyond the initial meeting.
Matthew Vaughn did come very close to signing on as director, however. Vaughn had several meetings with Kennedy and even dropped out of directing X-Men: Days of Future Past to helm The Force Awakens. Negotiations fell apart, according to reports, over two issues: casting and violence. Vaughn wanted a darker, more violent film than Kennedy did, which made her uncomfortable with hiring him. Vaughn also insisted on casting Chloe Grace Moritz in the lead role, while Kennedy preferred a wider talent search.
13. Jakku was originally an ice planet
Micahel Arndt experimented with a number of different plot points and environments during his work on the film. Because the planet Jakku would play such a pivotal role in the film’s first act, his ideas for the world underwent some crazy iterations. Arndt became fascinated by the idea of a fire vs. ice motif throughout the movie. One of his more arresting concepts envisioned Jakku as a volcanic ice world, similar to a real world location like Iceland or parts of Norway. Arndt’s Jakku would have featured bubbling lakes and fountains of molten lava alongside glacers and snow. Arndt also conceived of the world as the site of a major battle, and had the Rey character living in the wreckage of an AT-AT walker.
Arndt’s Episode VII would have also featured very different locations for planets like Takadona, and did not feature a Starkiller Base. When J.J. Abrams came aboard, he insisted on the film resembling the original film as much as possible, and changed Jakku to the desert world seen in the final film.
12. Luke was supposed to appear as a major character
Fans gasped at the absolute minimum of screentime afforded to Luke Skywalker, the most iconic character from Star Wars and the series’ original protagonist. Michael Arndt has spoken at length about the difficulty in integrating Luke into the script, and how originally Luke would have had a much more prominent role in the story. The legend of Luke posed more problems for Arndt than he anticipated. Every time Luke would appear on screen, the action would stop cold, and all the attention would fall on Luke. The new characters could not help but get upstaged.
Mark Hamill signed up to return under this pretence, believing that Luke, at the very least, would appear in the third act of the movie. How shocking for him then, that after the man lost 50 lbs. to return to his signature part, he turned up to the table read of the script to learn that J.J. Abrams had cut his part down to nothing! Granted, that solved the problem of Luke stealing the spotlight, but it also denied viewers one final chance to see the Han-Luke-Leia trifecta in action.
11. Maz originally had a fight scene where she uses the Force
Maz Kanata became one of the most talked about—and perplexing—characters in the whole of The Force Awakens. As played by Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o via motion capture technology, Maz has one of the most pivotal but mysterious parts in the whole of the film. The script originally gave Maz an even greater function, though a good portion of her part ended up on the cutting room floor.
In short, Maz had a great fight scene. As her castle gets invaded by First Order soldiers, Maz reveals that she, as she says early on, “knows the Force.” Maz would have used her Force powers to dispatch the stormtroopers and help Finn escape the castle to rescue Rey. Following the attack, she also would have accompanied Finn, Han, & Leia back to the Resistance base, and had a brief scene where she and Leia examine Anakin/Luke/Rey’s lightsaber together. The reasons for the removal of both sequences remain sketchy at best, though Abrams has implied that he thought the scene hurt the pacing of the film. VFX artist Chris Corbould, for his part, considered the sequence one of the best in the film.
10. Finn originally defected after witnessing Republic forces airlocked
As with several other characters in the movie, the character of Finn changed throughout different drafts of The Force Awakens’ script. One early scene still imagined Finn as a defecting stormtrooper, though under much different circumstances. A scene in one early draft had Finn watch a group of Resistance fighters forced out of an airlock aboard a Star Destroyer. The event would have horrified Finn, who then would have staged his escape. After crashing the TIE Fighter on Jakku, some local villagers would have taken him in and performed a healing ritual. Finn would then have ventured out across the planet, crossing paths with Rey.
Finn did have an additional action scene that made it before the cameras as well. After witnessing the death of Han Solo, Finn and Rey would have escaped Starkiller Base via a land snowspeeder, pursued by First Order snowtroopers. Though filmed, the scene got dropped in editing, as it hurt the pace of the story. This scene also explained a continuity issue: keen viewers will note that Finn gives his jacket to Rey. Later, the jacket switches back to Finn without explanation.
9. Starkiller was originally the name of Ben Solo’s alter ego
Die-hard Star Wars fans will do doubt note that the inclusion of the term “Starkiller” in The Force Awakens pays homage to numerous other moments in Star Wars history, beginning with early drafts of the script for the original film. George Lucas had originally named his hero Luke Starkiller rather than Skywalker. Fans of gaming will also note that Starkiller became a prominent Extended Universe character with the game The Force Unleasehed. In the story for the game, Darth Vader takes an apprentice of his own with the intention of one day killing the Emperor. The apprentice’s name? Starkiller!
Early drafts of The Force Awakens still contained the reference, but in a different way. After turning to the Dark Side, Ben Solo would have adopted the name Starkiller, and in at least one draft, used the power of nearby suns to augment his Force abilities. He would have also donned a very different costume, and had a torture droid that followed him around as a kind of sidekick.
8. JJ Abrams insisted on making the movie a remake of sorts of ANH/Arndt had an original story
One criticism heaped that The Force Awakens observed that the film is almost a beat-for-beat remake of the original Star Wars. And so it is, both in terms of aesthetics (a desert planet, a lush forest planet with a secret base, mask-wearing villain, etc.) and in terms of plot points (hidden data in a droid, planet-busting superweapon, desert scavenger strong with the Force, et. al.). The story, however, didn’t start out that way, and went through a number of intriguing permutations before arriving in its current form.
During his year or so work on the film, Michael Arndt experimented with different plot points for the story. One discarded element would have featured Rey finding the wreckage of Death Star II under water. She would need to swim beneath to the Emperor’s personal observation tower to access his personal archives to find missing pieces of the map. Another proposed story would have found the characters racing to recover Darth Vader’s body. After J.J. Abrams came aboard to direct, the movie became the sort of New Hope throwback, abandoning a good deal of Arndt’s original story.
7. The Force Flashback originally traced the entire journey of Luke/Anakin/Rey’s saber
The so-called Force flashback that Rey experiences while in the bowels of Maz Kanata’s castle became one of the most discussed and debated scenes in The Force Awakens. Just what does Rey’s vision mean? Was it something she saw and only remembered, or a premonition triggered by contact with Luke/Anakin’s lightsaber?
Early versions of the script didn’t offer much insight into the meaning of the vision, though they did exposit more about how the saber came into Maz Kanata’s hands. The sequence, as scripted, ran much longer. It began with Rey having visions of Cloud City during the events of Empire Strikes Back. The saber fell to the surface of the planet, where a villager discovered it. It would have passed from villagers to junk dealers, across the galaxy, and even appeared in the opening of the film. Abrams had wanted to open the film with the saber floating in space as clutched by an amputated hand. In the end, wiser heads prevailed.
6. Captain Phasma was originally written as a man
The Force Awakens took some heat early on when the cast announcement included only Daisy Ridley as the sole new female cast member. Fans wondered why, after 30 years, Star Wars could add at least one other new woman to the cast. By the time the movie came out, of course, it did feature several new women including Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata, and Captain Phasma, played by Gwendoline Christie.
It should come as no surprise to readers at all familiar with Hollywood politics, PR, and promotion, that Christie was cast, at least in part, to counter the criticism of a lack of a gender-diverse cast. The script featured a male Captain Phasma, whose role in the plot was incidental at best. The production staged a coup by casting Christie in the part. A fine actress, Christie’s gender actually makes the role far more interesting since the character itself has nothing to do with her gender or sexuality. Phasma’s role was further improved by using the chrome stromtrooper armor—actually a rejected Kylo Ren costume. Kathleen Kennedy had spotted some concept art of the armor, and found it too alluring to discard. Thus, Captain Phasma became the first prominent female Imperial/First Order officer, and one of the most iconic new characters in the film.
5. Poe originally died
Oscar Isaac won praise for his performance as the hunky fighter pilot Poe Dameron in The Force Awakens. Isaac’s natural charisma, charm and good looks helped endear Poe to millions of viewers, and he became a beloved new character in Star Wars canon. Poe’s role went through different evolutions as well, both under Michael Arndt, and later, Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams. One early version envisioned him as a bounty hunter who crosses paths with the characters that became Rey and Finn. Another version had him as a young Jedi (how cool would that have been). One fact remained throughout development though: Poe Dameron would have died early in the film.
The Force Awakens actually hints at this discarded plot point. As originally scripted, Poe & Finn crash on Jakku, and Poe dies in the impact. Finn would have taken his jacket, which would have led to BB-8. When Oscar Isaac met with Abrams to discuss the role, he hesitated in accepting, not wanting to play a part that died in the first act. He mentioned as much to Abrams, who then simply had Poe arrive alive at Maz’s castle as a Resistance Leader. The film never bothers to address just how Poe survived and escaped Jakku of course, and doesn’t provide much insight into his character beyond his early scenes. Still, Isacc managed to make Poe into a lovable character, so you’ll hear few complaints about his return for additional movies.
4. Lots of hidden cameos
Star Wars fans exist the world over, even in Hollywood. With the announcement that Disney would begin producing a movie a year starting with The Force Awakens in 2015, fans began beating down the door at the House of Mouse to secure a cameo. Credit The Force Awakens with coming up some pretty inventive ways of working in fans too…
Of course, Daniel Craig plays a stormtrooper at Starkiller Base, while Simon Pegg cameos as Ungar the junk dealer. But who could have guessed that Bill Hader helped provide some of the sounds for BB-8? Actor Ben Schwartz also provided some sounds for the droid. Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness both get brief turns as Obi-Wan Kenobi, thanks to some clever audio mixing, as does Frank Oz as Yoda. Star Wars alum Warwick Davis pops up as an alien in Maz Kanata’s castle, while Kevin Smith provides a voice for one of the First Order stormtroopers.
3. The film uses several unused designs from the Original Trilogy
Star Wars has a long tradition of recycling unused designs, dating all the way back to the original trilogy. A discarded sequence in the original film would have introduced an Imperial prison. The set made it all the way to the design stage before George Lucas scrapped the sequence, though the design would later reappear as Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back.
The Force Awakens uses a similar approach. BB-8’s “ball droid” design dates back to the design stage for R2-D2. The technology for bringing the droid to life didn’t exist back in the 1970s, though by the 2010’s, the ball droid could come to live as BB-8. A rejected design for Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi turned up as the trading post on Jakku. Darth Vader would have had a castle in Empire and again later in Jedi, though the design wouldn’t turn up until Force Awakens… as Maz Kanata’s castle.
2. Though he’s billed, Peter Mayhew doesn’t play Chewbacca through most of the movie
Actor Peter Mayhew has played the Wookie pilot Chewbacca all the way from the original 1977 film to today. After donning the Wookie fur through all three original movies, Mayhew would return to the part for a brief role in Revenge of the Sith. The actor expressed great excitement to return as Chewie in Force Awakens, though sadly the giantism that helped him get the part in the first place had begun to take a toll on his health.
Mayhew does appear as Chewbacca in The Force Awakens, though generally in scenes where the character sits down. The sitting position made it easier for Mayhew to suffer through the part. For shots where Chewbacca stands or runs, Finnish basketball player Joonas Suotamo doubles for Mayhew. Suotamo had never acted prior to The Force Awakens, but his 6’10” height made him a good candidate to follow in Mayhew’s very large footsteps. Both Suotamo and Mayhew will return to the part in the forthcoming Episode VIII.
1. The cast had tough competition
Just as stars rushed to nab cameos in The Force Awakens, so did a number of actors actually hoping to secure major roles. It should surprise no one that Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver all had some really tough competition for their parts. Just about every actress between the ages of 15 and 35 tested for or were considered for the part of Rey. Jennifer Lawrence, Chloe Grace Moritz, Elizabeth Olson and Shailene Woodley were all up for the role of Rey at one point or another. Saoirse Ronan also auditioned for the part. Michael B. Jordan contended with John Boyega for the part of Finn, as did Ray Fisher. For the pivotal role of Kylo Ren, Michael Fassbender became one of the earliest names discussed. Lee Pace auditioned for the part, as did Eddie Redmayne, who, by his own admission, gave a disastrous audition. Gary Oldman also auditioned for the part of Lor San Tekka before Max von Sydow got the part.
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KEY RELEASE DATES
- Star Wars: Rogue One / Rogue One: A Star Wars Story release date: Dec 16, 2016
- Star Wars 8 / Star Wars: Episode VIII release date: Dec 15, 2017
- Untitled Han Solo Star Wars Anthology Film release date: May 25, 2018
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