Everyone involved with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, from the filmmakers to the studio to the actors, have been doing their absolute best to keep the film and all of its secrets a surprise for movie-going audiences. They even went so far as deciding to not show the film to press, prior to the junket conferences with the talent, which included director J.J. Abrams, Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, Harrison Ford (“Han Solo”), Carrie Fisher (“Leia”), Daisy Ridley (“Rey”), John Boyega (“Finn”), Oscar Isaac (“Poe”), Adam Driver (“Kylo Ren”), Gwendoline Christie (“Captain Phasma”) and Lupita Nyong’o (“Maz Kanata”).
That being the case, there were not any plot reveals or deep character discussions during the press junket, but there were plenty of fun conversations and funny moments, in talking about what being a part of the franchise means to them, the importance of secrecy, acknowledging the past while look forward, girl power, what sets these villains apart, choosing the characters’ unique names, designing the costumes, motion capture, why there’s no end credits scene, and making sure the connected universe is a collaborative effort. We’ve compiled a list of 38 things that you should know about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the franchise, and what it meant to everyone involved that they were a part of it.
When asked why he wanted to take on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams said, “This is a project that I felt incredibly lucky to be asked to be a part of. The process of this movie, for the crew and the cast, was not a job. It was nothing that I think any one of us took on because it was a gig that was available. It was something that felt like a true passion and something where every single person brought much more than any of us could’ve expected. I do honestly feel honored to be part of this group.”
- It was important to have this film acknowledge what’s come before it, while also being its own story. Said Abrams, “When Kathy Kennedy and Larry [Kasdan] and I started talking about what this was, at the very beginning, the fundamental question was, what do we want to feel, and what do we want people to feel? That was really the beginning of the discussion. The answer was the sense of discovery, exhilaration, surprise and comedy that George Lucas put into Star Wars. That, for me, was the thing that made me love the movie. When you look at all the things that he got right, it’s impossible and stunning. So for us, at the very beginning, it was really about knowing why we were telling the story, which was to give people that sense of possibility and magic that we all felt when we first saw the original Star Wars. But, I will just say that this is all to tell a new story. It’s not a nostalgia trip. We had to go backwards, in order to go forwards. If you look at IV, V and VI, those are stories that continue. This is VII. The fabric needed to be that which we are familiar with, in order to tell a brand new story.”
- Kasdan said that while they did know about all of the canon in the extended Star Wars universe, it was more about looking at Return of the Jedi and taking the next step in that story. “We were aware and are respectful of the canon, but we really wanted to tell a story that interested us and delighted us. We didn’t really want any rules and parameters. We said, ‘We can do anything we want with this story. What would be the most fun thing to do on this page and the next page and the page after that?’ That was the guiding principal, more than the canon or anything that had come before.”
- When it came to working with Abrams on the script and coming up with this story, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan said that the biggest goal was to have fun with it. He said, “J.J. and I jumped into the thing under a lot of time pressure and we had fun. In fact, the first day that we started real work on it, we said, ‘You know, we must have fun with this, every day.’ It’s a privilege. You’re very lucky to get to write the next Star Wars. We didn’t really have fear. I think we had trepidation about fulfilling people’s expectations, and that they be satisfied with what we came out with.”
Kasdan also took inspiration from things totally unrelated to the Star Wars He said, “All the movies of Akira Kurosawa have influenced me, throughout my career. That’s because he was the Shakespeare of cinema. He did comedies, he did action films, he did Shakespearean drama, in each one of his films. Seven Samurai may be the greatest film ever made. It’s a personal drama, and it’s an action picture. So when J.J. and I were working, we kept referring to that. And we talked about the great American movies that we loved and things that had influenced the first Star Wars, which were Howard Hawks and John Ford. When George [Lucas] made A New Hope, he was very much influenced by Kurosawa and Flash Gordon and The Wizard of Oz. You could feel all of those movies in A New Hope, and everything that’s in A New Hope has come down through the movies, to this day.”
- Abrams is typically highly secretive when it comes to the films that he makes and the stories that he tells in them, but in this case, Disney wholeheartedly agreed. He said, “While we were working on the movie, I realized how engaged with the fans and forthcoming Lucasfilm had always been. My nature is to keep things quiet, which was something that I was certain we were going to have fights about, but Disney, to my shock, was arguing to not ruin, not reveal and not show every story beat. We’ve all seen trailers for films that literally show you the movie in Cliff Notes form. Then, you go to see the film and you’re like, ‘Yeah, that was literally the movie. I saw it in a two-minute, ten-second piece.’ So, I was very grateful that Disney actually took the lead on trying to keep things quieter.”
- Certain aspects of the film were so secretive that even actor John Boyega hasn’t fully been clued in to his character’s backstory. He said, “I didn’t know much going in because of the spoilers, but I do remember having sides that were loosely based on who Finn and Rey were. And I remember during my time screen testing, I said to Daisy [Ridley], ‘There’s no way that our stories are so simple.’ And we still don’t know. I’ve got some conspiracy theories, as a fan, as to where Finn comes from, but I’m still trying to figure that out. I like that it’s a mystery.”
- As a self-proclaimed fanboy, Boyega got to bring all of his Star Wars dreams to life. “It was amazing for me to read the whole script and to find out all the things that Finn gets to do. I feel like J.J. knew what kind of fan I was, when it came to Star Wars, and wrote this role for me because I get to wear a stormtrooper suit and a rebel jacket, I have a blaster, I use a light saber, and I hang out with fricking Han Solo and Chewie. It’s just fantastic!”
Leia has always been a strong female character and has now transitioned from Princess to General, and Carrie Fisher believes that she was the beginning of girl power. “I got to be the only girl on the all-boy set, and it was really fun to put things in their drinks, and stuff like that. [Leia is] more powerful in the good old, ‘Yes, I’m louder than you,’ way. What’s really fun about doing anything girl power-esque is bossing men around. I know a lot of you women out there haven’t done that yet, and I encourage you to do so.”
- Daisy Ridley believes that all of the women in Star Wars can be a source of inspiration for girls. “Princess Leia and Carrie [Fisher] have been a source of inspiration for girls for the past 30 years. I’m definitely not quite there yet, but I hope Rey will be something of a girl power figure. And I think the writing by J.J. and Larry, and the story of which she is woven into richly and holds an important role, will have some impact in a girl power-y way. She’s brave and she’s vulnerable and she’s so nuanced. That’s what’s so exciting, playing a role like this. She doesn’t have to be one thing to embody a woman in a film. For me, she’s not important because she’s a woman. She’s important, and it just so happens that she’s a woman. She transcends gender. She’s going to speak to men and women.”
- Being so new to acting, Ridley said that she was truly nervous about being on a set of this size. “My whole first day was pretty terrifying. I didn’t find a moment that was any less or more than the other. Everyone knows I’ve not really done much before. Other people saw something in me that perhaps I didn’t see myself and I’m still not quite sure if it’s there. The fear of not fulfilling that potential is terrifying.”
- Fisher admits that her biggest fear about returning to the character of Leia so many years later was that her bad memory wouldn’t allow her to remember her lines.” That was scary. Also, I’m the custodian of Princess Leia, so I never got out of character and I wondered if that would be noticed. I was very nervous. It’s been a long time and I don’t like looking at myself, at this age, in a large way. That was scary, and remains so.”
- Fisher said that Leia has to have a sense of humor, or she would not have the hairstyle that she does. “I have a baboon ass hairstyle. I mean that with love, but you need a sense of humor for that sort of thing. It keeps it lively and fun when you’re getting shot at in everything. It’s the hair that really makes you funny.”
- As one of the bridges between the original films and this new generation, Harrison Ford said, “It’s gratifying to be asked to be a part of this. There was an interesting story to tell through the character. It’s always nice to anticipate working in something that you know people will have an appetite for. This is not a crap shoot. And it’s fun to play. It’s been a great experience.”
Ford said that returning to the franchise felt familiar more than it felt different. “It feels good. It’s good to be home, as Han said in the teaser trailer. I’m aware of the value that’s placed on these films by the audience, and I’m gratified that they’ve been passed on, generationally, through families. It’s very gratifying to be part of that.”
- Ford also found it easy to slip back into the shoes of Han Solo again. “Clothes make the man. I’ve walked more than a mile in those boots. I was interested in the described path of the character. I thought that it was an interesting bit of business for the character to do. And I had a real good time with J.J. Abrams, talking about it and getting ready for the adventure of filming. It was easy.”
- Star Wars has a history of great villains, but Adam Driver tried not to think about that, as much as possible, as he was playing the latest addition. “I remember, early on, not thinking of him being bad or evil or a villain, and trying to make something that was more three-dimensional. That, to me, seemed more dangerous and more unpredictable. He’s someone who feels morally justified, in doing whatever he needs to do. That seemed more active to play than just being evil for the sake of it. That’s not really fun to play.”
- On what makes Kylo Ren a unique character in the Star Wars universe, Kasdan said, “We were so excited about Adam [Driver] playing this part because there’s never been a character like Kylo in the saga. He hasn’t got his shit all together. Adam acts it so beautifully because you expect him to be some evil genius, but what you’re getting are all the contradictions and the conflict that any one of us can feel, at any moment. That’s what’s so amazing about it, and I think that’s what’s unique about what Adam has done.”
The film’s female villain, Captain Phasma became an instant sensation and Gwendoline Christie is both surprised and grateful for the response. She said, “J.J. has been open about the fact that he wanted it to respect the origins of the films and celebrate them, but to bring them into the modern day. And confirmation of that seemed to be, to me, in this amazing character of Captain Phasma who is Star Wars’ first onscreen female villain. More than that, this is a character who, so far, we have related to due to her choices and due to her character, and not due to the way she has been made in flesh. Conventionally, that is how we have related to female characters, so this, to me, felt very progressive. The response from the audience and the fans has been so celebratory that it makes me think that this is the kind of thing that people want to see. People want to see a more diverse reflection of society, and I feel incredibly privileged to play that part.”
- When asked if she hopes the attention might lead to her being cast as Captain Marvel, Christine said, “If anyone else wants to offer me any work, then I am very grateful.”
- For her motion capture work as Maz Kanata, Lupita Nyong’o went through an extensive transformation every day to get into her motion capture suit for the shoot, having dots placed all over the place, even on her teeth. It was a process that initially took two-and-a-half to three hours, but that was then cut down to about an hour to an hour-and-15-minutes. Once she was suited up, Nyong’o and Abrams experimented with different versions of the character, discovering various iterations of Maz, what she sounded like and how she moved.
- Never having had the motion capture experience before, Nyong’o had to adjust her performance accordingly and was grateful to be able to actually be on set during the shoot. “Fortunately for me, J.J. had me be a part of principal photography, so my very first experience with motion capture was on the actual sets with the actual actors. I’m eternally grateful to him for giving me that because it was a great way to get into this wonderful, crazy thing called motion capture. I got to be on those sets, and see those things and feel them. There’s so much detail when you’re standing on that set that it’s mesmerizing. I think audiences are going to have a very immersive experience, much like we had filming it. The thing that attracted me to the idea of playing motion capture was the idea of working with a character that wasn’t limited by my physical circumstances. I could work with my body in new ways.”
Because Star Wars has become known for unusual choices in character names, the filmmakers went through various names until settling on the final choices. Said Abrams, “A lot of names came and went and some names stuck. I remember when we put down BB-8, it was a name that was the first and only name that droid had. Rey and Finn and Poe went through many iterations. Kylo Ren was Kylo Ren fairly early on, and Maz Kanata was always Maz Kanata. We changed Leia’s name. No we didn’t.”
- Another really important aspect of any Star Wars film are the costumes. Abrams said, “The costume that was the most challenging for us to arrive at, and I cannot wait for you to see what Michael Kaplan, the costume designer, has done in this movie because there are so many cool, and many you have not seen at all, costumes that are extraordinary. The most difficult one was Kylo Ren and we went through I don’t know how many hundreds and probably thousands of iterations and different versions. One of the great things about that was over the course of that, the costume for Captain Phasma was designed, that was actually pitched as a Kylo Ren costume originally. For story reasons, it didn’t make sense and didn’t work but we suddenly realized oh my God, this is one of the greatest looking costumes I’ve ever seen. He, then she, became one of my favorite characters in the movie. But the design of Kylo Ren was the most difficult one. When we finally saw the mask and that design, it was really instantly clear that was the winner. I’m very grateful to Michael and his whole amazing team.”
- Along with a new title, Leia also has a new look in this film that Fisher said she was able to get into with ease. “How long did it take to get into costume? About 10 or 20 minutes. I’m older and I do it faster. I have a classy gas station attendant look, or I’d say I was an airplane repair attendant with a nice vest and different hair than most airplane attendants would normally have.”
- Being such a big fan, Boyega had to tell himself to keep his cool when he was on set around Ford. “There was a moment on the Falcon where Harrison had the blaster in his hand and was trying to skillfully put it in the holster. And me and Daisy were behind the camera like, “This is fricking insane! Harrison is fricking right there!” But, we had to do a scene together and not freak out. It was mesmerizing to see Harrison in this environment, in the movies that we absolutely loved. And it was good to see him with Chewie. We freaked out, but we didn’t show him that. We tried to keep it professional for him.”
- The most fun trailer to hang out in on the set, according to Oscar Isaac, belonged to Fisher. “My uncle’s a huge Star Wars He’s so obsessed with Star Wars. [He came to the set and] I lost him. I couldn’t find him, and then I heard all this laughter coming out of Carrie’s trailer. So, I went in there and he was there, just hanging out with Gary Fisher, her dog. I said, ‘Tio, what are you doing?! Get out of there!’”
- Although every day felt like there were challenges because of how important this film is to so many people, the scariest day of shooting for Abrams was when Ford was injured.
- There will not only be no Jar Jar Binks in this film, but there are also no Ewoks.
- There is no real planetary science included in this story.
- There will also be no post-credits scene. Abrams said, “All the scenes are actually in the movie.”
- Isaac was pleased with the collaborative atmosphere that the cast experienced with Abrams. “One of the coolest things about working with J.J. on this and working on this film is that there’s been a real sense of collaboration. There’s almost been a bit of a sand box element of it. We talked about things, and there was an evolution of the character, even from the first meeting with J.J. and Kathy and Larry, to what ended up on screen. For example, after we started filming, I was talking a bit about where Poe had been from. At the end of A New Hope, Guatemala’s claim to fame was that last shot where the ships are leaving and you see the temple because that was shot there. And for me, the fact that I was born there and that’s a rebel base, and I’m playing a resistance fighter, maybe Poe was there. Maybe that’s where he’s from. And then, this comic book came out, where Poe’s parents ended up going to Yavin and making sweet love. I think that’s the first time where talking about where the character comes from ended up in a comic book, and it’s a beautiful thing. It feels like we’re creating these things together.”
Driver was clearly impressed with what a handle Abrams had on making such an epic film. “He has an amazing ability to compartmentalize. If it was me, I would go nuts thinking of having to be the spearhead above it who everyone’s looking to and asking questions. J.J. was consistently calm, and couldn’t have been more collaborative.”
- All of the epicness of the story aside, Boyega said that, at its heart, this is a human story with universal themes. “This is a movie about human beings, Wookies, spaceships and TIE fighters. And it has a message of courage, friendship and loyalty. I think that’s something that is ultimately important. I watched the movie just last week, and I really, really relate to Rey more than any of the characters. To be in a circumstance where you have to find something bigger than who you are, within yourself, is something that’s inspirational to me, and I think that people will take that away. In terms of the kids, all they’re going to be concentrating on is BB-8.”
- Boyega has already gotten to voice Finn on two occasions, since shooting the film. He said, “Once was for Disney Infinity, and the second time was for Star Tours, the ride at Disneyland. I’m a playable character, and I get to play with myself. It’s been amazing! It was fun. The characters in Disney Infinity are more of the child-like versions of the characters in the movie, so that was very cool.”
- In talking about favorite moments of the original films, Isaac said that his was when, in Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader’s helmet comes off and you see that he’s just a soft, sad, old, vulnerable man underneath. For Christie, who was about six when she saw the film, it was being struck by the character of Princess Leia and how she seemed different to the other women in films, as a result of her tenacity and being so strong-minded. Ford said that his favorite is the scene with Leia in the snake bikini, sitting in Jabba the Hutt’s lap.
Even though he has experienced the fame and love that came with being a part of the original films, Ford said that dealing with that is such an individual experience that he doesn’t really have much advice for his new co-stars. “I think my advice is pretty much limited to look both ways before you cross the street. I’m not going to tell them how to navigate this very personal space of trying to figure out the careers that they’ve chosen for themselves. It is bizarrely individual, how you navigate the space between where they’re at now and the rest of their useful professional life. But they’re in for a big ride, and they know it.”
- When asked about how much they’re discussing the shared universe of the upcoming Episode VIII and IX films, producer Kathleen Kennedy said, “We haven’t mapped out every single detail yet, but obviously, everybody’s talking to one another and working together. That collaboration is what is going to guarantee that everybody’s got a say in how we move forward with this, and so far, it’s going great. J.J. and Rian [Johnson] already talked at length because Rian’s about to start shooting Episode VIII, and [the actors] are getting ready to head over in January. And then, Colin [Trevorrow] will start working with Rian and spending a lot of time on set with him.”
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters on December 18th.