Stay cool, man. Keep it together. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is just a movie, likely to be as imperfect as any other movie, especially since it’s coming from the usually divisive J.J. Abrams. Pay no attention to those endless Star Wars: Battlefront commercials. No, you will not charge one of those Playstation 4/Star Wars: Battlefront bundles and figure out how to actually pay for it later. Stop looking at those enticing Star Wars Blu-Rays at Target. You already have the movies on DVD, and you never watch them. The Attack of the Clones DVD may have never even left the box, and you’ve had it for over 10 years. Don’t get sucked back into Star Wars mania. Remember the Jar-Jar. Remember Natalie Portman creeping on Jake Lloyd and then pretending Hayden Christensen was in the same league as her. Heck, remember how little you cared for Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness. We’re a month away from The Force Awakens. Keep repeating: It’s only a movie, … only a movie, … only a movie, … only a movie.
Is it though? Well, yes, technically, but at this point The Force Awakens is feels more like a cultural event. Disney is out there doing the Disney thing with all of its marketing and cross-platform releases (so many books, comic books, TV specials and the on-going animated series Star Wars Rebels). Abrams is out there doing the Abrams thing, holding his cards close to the vest, telling us as little as possible to drive us wild with speculation and anticipation. And all the oxygen in the room is being sucked up by Star Wars. A new James Bond movie? The last Hunger Games movie? Cool, but those are just the appetizers before new Star Wars.
Given Abrams’ thus-far secretive approach to discussing Force Awakens as far as plot and spoilers go, it was a tad surprising to see everyone at LucasFilmuddenly allowed to talk somewhat openly about the film in a 32-page, EW cover story. Don’t get me wrong, I still only have a vague idea as to what will happen in The Force Awakens, but now I at least know who the characters are (beyond their names).
Here are 18 things I learned:
1. The running time is locked in at 2 hours and 15 minutes, but they won’t actually finish the special effects and John Williams’ score until three weeks before its release date.
2. Even before LucasFilm was sold to Disney, its new head, Kathleen Kennedy, spent her time chatting with George Lucas about what exactly motivated him to make the original Star Wars movies. It was her way of trying to understand the movies more and better plan the franchise’s future. Beyond a love for Flash Gordon, Lucas’ motivation was tied to his own drama with his father who wanted him to take over the family business as well as his believe that it’s always easier to be evil than good thus the eternal battle between the Dark Side and the Force.
3. Brad Bird was among the directors Kennedy initially approached, but he, along, with J.J. Abrams turned her down. The fact that Abrams initially said no has been revealed before, but what I didn’t know is that Kennedy finally convinced him by askingwhat would be an intriguing jumping off point for the new movies: “Who is Luke Skywalker? Who is Luke deep down?”
4.Empire Strikes Back’s Lawrence Kasdan was initially hired to write a Han Solo prequel movie and only subsequently took a stab at consulting on and writing some of The Force Awakens.
5. Michael Arndt was initially the one who was supposed to write the script, an intriguing choice considering his past credits (Toy Story 3, Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Little Miss Sunshine), but he was taking too long. So, Kasdan and Abrams took over and started from scratch. That’s what necessitated pushing the release date back from May to December, and at that point they’d already hired production design people led by Rick Carter. The concept art coming out of that side of the production served as a source of inspiration for Abrams while co-writing the script, particularly the image of a Nuremburg-like rally attended by a sea of stormtroopers.
6. The villains, The First Order, are Nazi-esque, and generally sound like a more extreme wing of the Empire which was catapulted into prominence after the Rebels killed the Emperor and destroyed the second Death Star. The First Order has its own version of a Death Star, though, and it’s apparently even scarier.
8. Speaking of internet debate, no, Luke Skywalker is not secretly the one behind that Kylo Ren mask. He is not the figure cloaked in black and wielding the tri-tipped red lightsaber. That would be Adam Driver. In general, they are keeping Luke’s role in the movie top-secret (maybe he’s a Sith Lord now, maybe not), and I’m glad not to know anything more than that.
9. That desert planet we see in the trailer, the one where Daisy Riddley’s character rides that junker that looks kind of like a USB thumb drive, is not Tattooine. It’s a new junkyard planet called Jakku. Totally different.
10. Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac made Ex Machina together prior to The Force Awakens, but the casting process was so secretive that neither of them ever gushed “So, I’m going to be in the new Star Wars!” in-between takes on the Ex Machina set. The first time they found out they had both been cast in The Force Awakens was at the first read-through. In fact, the casting process was so secretive that the first time each individual actor became aware of who else had been cast in the movie was at the first read-through at Pinewood Studios, i.e., that famous black-and-white sausage fest photo which pissed off the internet. Gwendoline Christie and Lupita Nyong’o were subsequently added to the cast, the former as chrome-plated First Order baddie Captain Phasma and the latter as the voice of a mysterious Yoda-like figure. It’s not clear if we’ll ever actually see Christie or if Captain Phasma will stay under her mask the whole movie.
11. Harrison Ford’s on-set accident (i.e., he broke his leg when a Millenium Falcon door fell on him) which caused a delay in the production actually happened on the second day of filming, and J.J. Abrams actually hurt his back trying to lift the door off of Ford. Ever the bad-ass, Ford nonchalantly requested his cell phone and called a helicopter friend he’d just happened to have recently made in the area and arranged his own medivac.
12. Yes, Peter Mayhew is back as Chewbacca, but his achy knees mean that whenever Chewbacca is ever actually in action scenes in the Force Awakens it’s someone else in that walking carpet of a costume, not Mayhew.
13. Everyone in the cast has a “gruff Harrison Ford” story to tell, although everyone seems to think his legendary grumpiness is somewhat put-upon and that he takes his job more seriously than he lets on, e.g., pretending not to care but when Daisy Riddley’s is just randomly pulling levers on the Millenium Falcon to pretends she’s flying he interrupts to remind her that every single thing she does should look like it has a purpose.
14. They thought about updating the design of the Millenium Falcon to reflect the passage of time since Return of the Jedi, but then decided to just give us the classic version of the ship we know and love.
15. General Leia (not a Princess anymore) has had a tough life since Jedi, and that emotional embrace with Han we glimpse in the trailer might be the first time she’s seen him in quite some time.
17. We still don’t know why C-3PO has a red arm in the trailers.
18. Among the new characters, Daisy Riddley’s Rey, Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz, John Boyega’s Finn, and Oscar Isaac’s Poe are the good guys at the start of the movie, and Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma, Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, Adam Driver’s Darth Vader-obsessed Kylo Ren and Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke are the bad guys.
In general, the plot is that decades after Jedi the Rebels and the Empire are still fighting, and who has risen to replace the Emperor might be even scarier. Rey is a junker on a barren planet, abandoned there years prior by her parents, and Finn is a Stormtrooper who suddenly develops a conscience and hears a calling to the Force. The stories about Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Jedis and Sith Lords have become almost mythical in the years since Jedi, and not everyone actually knows that Luke Skywalker was even a real person. Somehow, Finn ends up on Jokku with Rey, and they are both attacked by something/someone and forced to flee, eventually meeting up with Han Solo. After that, um, at some point Finn gets his own lightsaber, and comes upon Kylo Ren in a snowpacked environment. Probably before that they go to Max’s alien planet to seek guidance, and the First Order are busy being Nazi-like, no doubt.
Ah, screw it. Just watch the trailer and get lost in that old John Williams score: