Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrived on iTunes and other digital download services Friday, and with it comes the in-depth bonus Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey. The feature-length documentary is chock-full of behind-the-scenes details and anecdotes that fans will be unpacking for days.
There’s the sheer giddiness of newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega and a crew tasked with revisiting George Lucas’s iconic galaxy tempered by the unadulterated neuroticism of director J.J. Abrams (who says he felt “primal terror” going into the first day of shooting). Yet the most moving bits are provided by a couple of old hands: Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford.
For months before the film’s release, Fisher, 59, was outspoken about the difficulty of returning to her career-defining role as Princess Leia. Although she joked about her character’s new “baboon-ass” hairstyle, her tone grew serious when complaining about having to shed 35 pounds for the film, telling Good Housekeeping UK, “They don’t want to hire all of me — only about three-quarters! Nothing changes: It’s an appearance-driven thing. I’m in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up.” It’s a topic she revisited on Twitter after the film opened, shutting down a debate over whether she has aged well.
Please stop debating about whetherOR not👁aged well.unfortunately it hurts all3 of my feelings.My BODY hasnt aged as well as I have.Blow us👌🏼— Carrie Fisher (@carrieffisher) December 29, 2015
My body is my brain bag, it hauls me around to those places & in front of faces where theres something to say or see pic.twitter.com/T2TXiEyl17— Carrie Fisher (@carrieffisher) December 29, 2015
In the documentary, Fisher touches on the age and appearance bugaboo with typical humor (“I was surprised [they were doing a new movie]. I mean, you know, you think, ‘Really? We waited this long? I looked better 10 years ago. We could’ve done it then.’”), but she then reveals her real struggle to reprise Leia.
“I’m the custodian of Princess Leia, so it’s my job to kind of protect her. It’s my whole life, so I was very nervous. The first day I had was this massive scene. I was scared that I would make mistakes, and I made mistakes,” Fisher says as entrée into a clip of her flubbing some lines in a scene at Resistance headquarters.
“It was basically the worst day I ever had on a film set in my life,” she continues. But she persevered. “It ended, and I got to go to sleep and come in another day, and it was better.”
Abrams put her difficulty into perspective. “She hadn’t acted in a while, and I think she was nervous going into this,” he recounts. “Once we started to do it, she seemed to fall into it very easily. To bring a character to life that you hadn’t played in 30-some years … I understand for all of them how daunting that could be.”
Having some old pals around definitely helped. Ford, back as Han Solo at age 73, calls Fisher “an amazing and unique person,” adding, “we don’t see each other that frequently when we’re not working, so it was fun to catch up, and they had written some really interesting scenes for us.”
Beyond Fisher’s heartfelt confession, it is the return of Harrison/Han that emerges as the through-line for Secrets of The Force Awakens. The doc plays out the painstaking re-creation of the Millennium Falcon and reveals how Ford served as quality control. One of the production designers, Darren Gilford, tells how he was out shopping and bumped into Ford. “He goes, ‘The toggle switches.’ And I go, ‘Toggle switches?’ He goes, ‘When we built it the first time, none of the toggle switches had any springs in them.’” Ford picks up the story. “We bought broken switches, because they were much cheaper. If you stood there long enough, the switch that was in this [up] position would slowly come down behind you while you were standing there because there was no spring in there. No budget for springs. So I said, ‘You put the springs in it this time?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, boss, we got the budget for that.’”
We also get Boyega’s reaction to seeing the full-scale, toggle-switch-upgraded Falcon for the first time — the young actor (and film’s resident Star Wars fanboy) immediately ran inside, tearing through the ship’s corridors and playing with props. (At one point, Boyega says, the production designers asked Abrams, “Can you control him?”) The completed Falcon also attracted visitors, ranging from Malala Yousafzai to Peter Jackson to members of Abrams’s Enterprise crew, Simon Pegg and Karl Urban, both of whom took seats in the cockpit.
The first scene Ford filmed for The Force Awakens was his entrance onto his former freighter — the “Chewie, we’re home” bit. According to the documentary, dozens of cast and crew — even those who weren’t involved in the scene — gathered for what promised to be a seminal moment. Abrams himself appears to be tearing up before he starts rolling cameras. It took Ford a few minutes to really feel at home, though. As he moved around the meticulously detailed cockpit, he says he’d been away so long, he kept telling the designers, “This doesn’t look right. Was this here?” Once assured that it was indeed a faithful double of the original, he sat back and remembered “some of the funny stuff we went through” in the pilot seat, as outtakes play of him goofing with Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Alec Guiness (Obi-Wan Kenobi), and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) while making the original 1977 Star Wars. We also get a quick glimpse of a deleted scene of Han rehanging his gold Sabacc dice (which he used to win the Falcon from Lando) above the ship’s dashboard.
Things take a serious turn as Ford explains his well-documented ambivalence to Han Solo and his part in the Star Wars universe. “I enjoyed playing the character in the first. I enjoyed playing the character in the second. By the time we got to the third, I thought there was possibly no useful purpose for this character except as a human sacrifice. It’s not that I wanted Han Solo to die — I wanted Han Solo to lend some significant emotional weight to the story,” he says. “I was resolved to be useful, to pass on responsibilities to others, and to get out of the way.”
Co-writer Lawrence Kasdan says he and Abrams went back and forth on Han’s fate in The Force Awakens; Abrams explains that the character’s demise was essential. “It was a necessary component,” the filmmaker says. “This is not just the force awakening in a young woman. It was the dark side of the force awakening in the villain.” The final encounter between Han and Ben Solo/Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) was shot with the minimal amount of cast and crew, not unlike the climactic Luke-Vader confrontation in The Empire Strikes Back. Driver admits the scene “terrified me the most” and praises Ford for being so “generous.” Adds Ford: “This is serious stuff. We wanted to get it right.”
At the end of that wrought day, the documentary shows an emotional Abrams paying final tribute to Han Solo and Harrison Ford in a short speech to the crew, with the sheepish actor offering a small wave and getting a big, final Wookiee hug from Chewbacca.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is out on digital HD today and will be available on Blu-ray/DVD on Tuesday.
See Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver’s saber training for ‘The Force Awakens’: