The first live action Star Wars film in 10 years, and the first since the much-maligned prequel trilogy came to a close, Episode VII: The Force Awakens felt like a joyous homecoming in a lot of ways. Sure, it’s not the most original entry in the franchise, and adheres to most of the same basic story beats as 1977’s A New Hope, but for many it really did rekindle that unbeatable Star Wars magic, introduced a whole new generation of fans to the beloved universe, and broke box office records left, right, and centre. Let’s strap into our X-Wings, engage the hyperdrive, and dive right into these nifty facts from a galaxy far, far away...
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Facts
42. New Kids on the Block
Michael Arndt was originally hired to pen the script for Episode VII in 2012, but was eventually replaced. Apparently Arndt’s script focused much more heavily on the offspring of Luke and of Han and Leia, with the parents’ roles pushed to the background. Some other discarded plot ideas included a search for the remains of Darth Vader and an underwater journey to recover a key piece of Jedi history from the wreckage of the second Death Star.
41. Unlucky Luke
Another key aspect of Arndt’s screenplay that ended up changing significantly in the final version was the length of Luke Skywalker’s screen time. Luke was a much bigger presence in Arndt’s version, but the writer found that the character ended up dominating the story and drawing attention away from the other characters. Mark Hamill had thought his role in the film was going to be much more substantial when he signed on, and even lost 50 lbs in preparation.
40. A New Home
The Force Awakens recycled a number of unused designs from the original trilogy. These included rejected structures designed for Jabba’s Palace that ended up on the trading post on Jakku, and an early ball-bearing-based design for R2-D2 that ended up as the basis for BB-8.
Trading post on Jakku
39. The Things I do for Star Wars
During filming, Harrison Ford broke his leg when the hydraulic door of the Millennium Falcon slammed down on top of him, temporarily putting him out of action and stalling principal photography. The accident and Ford’s injury were widely publicized, but it wasn’t until publicity for the film that Abrams revealed that he himself had broken his back trying to lift the fallen door.
38. Luscious (Digital) Locks
When Harrison Ford broke his leg, principal photography shut down for almost two months while he recuperated. Some of his scenes had only been partially shot when the accident happened, and when he returned his hair had grown noticeably longer. Abrams needed to blend newly shot elements with the old, and in order to make the hair match he opted to give him CG hair extensions. I’d have thought a haircut would be cheaper, but what do I know.
37. Happy Happabore
After crash-landing on Jakku, Finn attempts to drink some of the putrid water from a trough belonging to a big, ungainly pig-like creature. The beast is called a Happabore, and it was a practical puppet that required five puppeteers to operate.
36. Holochess Continuity
The holochess game on board the Millennium Falcon makes another appearance in The Force Awakens. The pieces were stop-motion animated by Phil Tippett, one of the effects whizzes who created the original effect in A New Hope, and the game resumes with the pieces in the exact same positions that R2 and Chewie had left them all those years ago.
35. What a Piece of Junk
The Millennium Falcon has a rectangular antenna in The Force Awakens in place of the round antenna from the original trilogy. This is because the original was lost in the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi.
34. Attack of the Cameos
J.J. Abrams snuck in cameos from plenty of high-profile Star Wars fans and alumni alike, most of them obscured by latex, CGI, or a stormtrooper helmet. These included Simon Pegg as Ungar the junk dealer on Jakku, Daniel Craig as a stormtrooper at Starkiller Base, Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino as a Stormtrooper, and Warwick Davis as an alien at Maz Kanata’s castle. Others simply contributed their voice, such as Kevin Smith and Ewan McGregor.
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33. Maz Attacks
Now there’s an unlikely action hero: Maz Kanata had a fight scene (that was shot but ultimately cut from the film) involving her using her force powers to collapse the ceiling above some oncoming Stormtroopers.
32. Irrefutable Proof
John Boyega (who plays Finn) was afraid to let his parents know he’d been cast as a lead in the film in case they didn’t believe him, so he waited to tell them until the first cast photo was posted on the official Star Wars twitter page.
31. That’s MISS Supreme Leader Snoke
During the initial design process, Snoke went through a number of different and surprising iterations, and at one point the loathsome leader was going to be female.
30. Anakin’s Afterlife
Early on, one concept for the film had Anakin Skywalker appearing in The Force Awakens as a creepy, conflicted force ghost, constantly shifting between light and dark.
29. A Speedy Getaway
Bringing to mind Return of the Jedi’s speeder bike chase, a scene in which Rey and Finn escape from the First Order’s Starkiller base on stolen snow speeders was shot for the film. It was ultimately cut, but a range of snow speeder toys were released alongside the rest of the film's merchandise.
28. Hasty Cutting
Abrams‘ first cut of the film was almost two hours and 40 minutes in length. The film was chopped down to 2 hours and 16 minutes for the final theatrical release, with a reported 20 minutes of scenes getting axed in the last month of editing alone.
27. Leia’s Role Loomed Larger
The late, great Carrie Fisher's General Leia originally had a much bigger role in the film. One of her deleted scenes had her meeting with Korr Sella, played by Maisie Richardson-Sellers, and dispatching her to warn the Senate about the threat of the First Order. Korr is a key figure in some of the new Star Wars novels, and we briefly see her once in the film on the doomed Republic capital Hosnian Prime, moments before her death (and the planet's destruction).
26. Do or Do Not. There is No Try
To prepare for the considerable physical demands of her role as the resilient scavenger-turned-Jedi Rey, Daisy Ridley trained five hours a day, five times a week, and adhered to a very strict diet including "lots of fish, legumes, and spirulina shakes."
25. Impossible to See, the Future is
The scene where Ren and Han meet on the bridge was one of the only scenes in the movie shot entirely on a green screen, because Abrams didn’t know exactly what he wanted the place to look like at the time.
24. Title Change
At one point, the film was going to be called Shadow of the Empire.
The crusty piece of instant bread Rey throws together on Jakku by emptying a small sachet of powder into some liquid in a small bowl was not CGI. The practical effect was achieved by inflating a bread-molded bladder with air while simultaneously sucking the water from the bowl with a hidden tube.
22. Friends in High Places
Abrams' mentor and friend, Steven Spielberg himself, made a few small suggestions that ended up in the film. One of these was to have the trees around Rey and Ren fall around them while they fight. The scene had already been shot when Spielberg made the suggestion, but Abrams liked it so much that he added the falling trees digitally in post-production.
21. Poe Pulls Through
Initially, Poe Dameron was meant to have died in the TIE fighter crash early on in film. Abrams met with Oscar Isaac to offer him the role, and while Isaac wanted to do it, he was a lot less enthusiastic when he learned his character would die so soon, having already checked out early in a previous role. After they parted ways, Abrams rejigged the script and figured things out, and called Isaac to tell him that his dashing resistance pilot now survived the whole movie.
20. Not Just a Pretty Face
Isaac improvised a number of his lines as Dameron, including the “Who talks first?” exchange with Ren in the film’s opening.
19. Searching the Galaxy
Unsurprisingly, producer Kathleen Kennedy met with a veritable smorgasbord of potential directors when the film was first announced. Among these were David Fincher, Guillermo del Toro, Brad Bird, and Matthew Vaughn.
18. Very Big Shoes to Fill
Peter Mayhew has played everyone’s favourite Wookie Chewbacca in four films in the series (including a brief appearance in 2005’s Revenge of the Sith), and he reprised his role for The Force Awakens. Due to Mayhew’s limited mobility, however, he only donned the furry suit for scenes that demanded little from him physically. Finnish basketball player Joonas Suotamo was brought in for the more mobile scenes, his 6’10” height making him an ideal double.
17. Potential Reys
Daisy Ridley had tough competition. Among the many other actresses considered for the role of Rey were Saoirse Ronan, Elizabeth Olsen, Shailene Woodley, and Jennifer Lawrence.
16. Finding Finn
John Boyega similarly beat out a number of young stars vying for the role of Finn. The other potential Finns included Michael B. Jordan and Ray Fisher.
15. Honest Ed
Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne was one of the young hopefuls who auditioned for the role of Kylo Ren, and he claims to have done a pretty bad job.
14. Before She Was Rey...
Early on in the development process, the character of Rey was known as “Kira.”
13. They Gotta Glow
Though the lightsabers would ultimately be augmented digitally, the art department came up with props that really glowed. This meant that the reflection from the glowing weapons on the characters’ bodies and eyes could be done practically.
Some fans were none too pleased when Chewie and Leia just walk past each other following Han’s death and the destruction of Starkiller base at the end of the film, with Leia instead choosing to embrace Rey, the relative newcomer. Considering Leia and Chewie’s long history and their shared loss, it’s hard to fault the fans on this one. It didn’t make much sense, and Abrams has said he now regrets how distracting it proved to be.
11. Puppet Mazter
A vital figure along Rey’s road to self-actualization and discovery, Maz Kanata’s role was quite small early on in the design process, and during this time the effects team had planned on creating the character as a puppet. As her role grew, they considered using a small person in a suit with some CG adjustments before ultimately favouring the freedom of movement and flexibility that a 100% CGI approach would allow for.
10. Pixar’s Influence
John Lasseter was shown an early cut of the film, and he suggested amping up the physical comedy of BB-8. It was this suggestion that prompted Abrams to add in that adorable thumbs-up shot.
9. Memories of Japan
The planet of Takodana was named after Takadanobaba, a neighbourhood in Japan that Abrams visited on his first trip to the country.
8. The Earth Rotates Around the Falcon
The full-size Millennium Falcon model was never actually moved during production, even though we see it in a number of different locations. Instead, the area around the model was just re-dressed depending on the location that needed to be conveyed.
7. How Did That Get There?
The film was originally going to open with Luke’s lost lightsaber floating through space followed by the story of how it ended up at Maz’s castle.
6. Clumsy Kylo
Adam Driver could barely see anything while wearing Kylo Ren’s helmet. The actor kept tripping over rocks and roots while trekking through the woods to find Rey.
5. Special Bond
Despite expressing regret at having Chewie and Leia inadvertently snub one another after Han’s death, Abrams still felt that the embrace between Leia and Rey was important and meaningful. They’d never met but were “both Force-strong and bound by their loss and their strength.”
4. Getting Their Money’s Worth
The set for the Star Destroyer’s hangar was actual size, and the same set was reused for certain areas of Starkiller base.
3. Digital Droid Wizardry
R2-D2 is entirely CGI in the film’s final scenes, when the beloved droid wakes up and reveals Luke Skywalker’s location.
2. Box Office Behemoth
The film smashed a number of box office records during its theatrical run. It was the quickest ever film to pass the $1 billion mark (in just 12 days), the highest-grossing film of 2015, the highest-grossing Star Wars film so far, the highest grossing film released by Walt Disney Studios, the highest grossing film in domestic box office history, and the third-highest-grossing film of all time. Time will tell if Episodes VIII and IX can hold a candle to this astronomical success, but stranger things have happened when it comes to this galaxy far, far away…
1. Too Soon?
Fans were shocked to find out who Kylo Ren's parents were, but people don't realize that in the original script his parents were going to be revealed in the opening scene by Max Von Sydow’s character Lor San Tekka. Abrams opted to remove it and preserve the mystery until much later in the film.