New 'Star Wars' Movies Might Include a Trip to the Death Star

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Could there be a new hope for Death Star fans? It sure seems that way based on a photo J.J. Abrams tweeted last night from the set of Star Wars: Episode VII. The picture (above) reveals a note in which Abrams cheekily pines for a new smartwatch: “Why do I suddenly have this desperate need to own a watch?!  Damn you, Apple!!!”  But the big news in this snapshot isn’t that Abrams wants an Apple Watch. (Get in line, buddy.) It’s that, if you look closely at the table his handwritten note is resting on, you’ll see — reflected in its black surface — the familiar walls and light-fixture scheme of some Death Star interiors.

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Could this mean that, 30 years after the Rebel Alliance blew up the second, unfinished Death Star in Return of the Jedi, there’s another one floating out there in the cosmos? And, if so, who is the big boss in charge? And furthermore, what safety guarantees has he put in place for his independent contractors? Of course, it’s also possible that we could be looking at the original Death Star, as rumors have been flying that Episode VII will contain an extensive flashback sequence featuring Darth Vader in his prime.

While the return of the Death Star remains speculation, everyone’s known for awhile now that the Millennium Falcon will still be flying around in Episode VII, thanks to leaked set photos and Kevin Smith’s loose lips. Today, we have further confirmation of the Falcon’s presence, thanks to a lucky snapshot (below) by British photographer and simulations engineer Matthew Myatt, who was piloting an experimental aircraft above Greenham Common in Newbury, Berkshire taking stock photos for his employer, Airborne Aviations, when he captured an image that reveals not just Han Solo’s ship, but also a companion X-Wing. “It wasn’t too clear until I viewed the picture and then realized what it was,” he told the BBC.  “I grew up with Star Wars, so I started jumping around.”

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 In the wake of Myatt’s photos, more shutterbugs began taking shots of the activity at Greenham Common, a former Royal Air Force base, complete with surviving bunkers that could easily house various spacecrafts. Now designated as a public park, the grassy common could easily double as Dantooine, the planet that Princess Leia tried to pass off as the main Rebel hideout in A New Hope, so that Grand Moff Tarkin would leave her own planet, Alderaan, alone. Alderaan, of course, is no more, but Dantooine still lives on, and might have a new resident: A white-cloaked mystery woman (below) who is sneaking around the hangars nearby the Falcon and the X-Wing. Some have pointed out that the choice of outfit recalls Leia’s New Hope get-up, which might suggest that the fashionably-clad spy is Daisy Ridley, who is rumored to be playing Han and Leia’s daughter.  

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As exciting as the prospect of seeing old favorites like the Death Star, the Falcon and Dantooine might be, an argument could be made that Abrams is indulging in fan service by dragging these old sets out of mothballs. Those kinds of complaints extend almost all the way back to Return of the Jedi, where Lucas fell prey to the “same thing, only bigger” school of sequels by ending the movie with yet another Rebel mission to the destroy a Death Star. At the time, few of us young, impressionable viewers objected to seeing a Lando-led space assault. As this Playlist post argues, though, it could also be characterized as a pale reprise of A New Hope. “The original film had one large-scale space battle that involved all the principle characters; it was cleanly told and easy to follow. For Return of the Jedi there are no fewer than three climaxes, happening simultaneously [including] the space battle to destroy the second Death Star, where Lando is piloting the Millennium Falcon for some reason (with some bizarre alien sidekick co-pilot)….The problem with these multiple climaxes is that it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on, and worse yet, it’s hard to actively root for anything because you’re constantly being jerked around. In Lucas’ quest to make things more epic, he diluted them horribly.”

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On the other hand, there’s also a genuine thrill that accompanies looking at these pictures of familiar black tables and half-built spacecrafts, and that can be chalked up to the fact that Abrams is apparently emphasizing physical props and sets in place of the CGI and bluescreen that dominated the prequel trilogy. And for that approach, you can thank Simon Pegg, or more specifically, Simon Pegg’s daughter. In an interview for the SiriusXM show, Unmasked, the actor — who befriended Abrams on the set of Star Trek — remembered screening The Empire Strikes Back for the then-three-year-old kid, and having his heart swell at her enthralled reaction to Yoda’s first appearance. “She said – “Daddy, he’s real!” And I kind of like burst out crying. I was, like, – “You’re my child!” And it’s because he’s there. He’s there interacting with Mark Hamill. Even if he was CG, we’d still know he wasn’t really there because he’s a sort of a little long-eared alien. But the fact that it was a puppet who’s existing in the same space as Mark Hamill, talking to him, it made her believe in him in a way that CG would never do.”

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Pegg passed this memory along to Abrams while his pal was in the early stages of deciding whether or not to accept the task of making Episode VII, and the director used the little girl’s experience to argue in favor going the practical F/X route. But Pegg didn’t know how instrumental he and his daughter were to the still-shooting movie until he visited the set and was told by a puppeteer: “’You’re the guy whose daughter saved Star Wars!’” For that, she’s really the one who deserves an Apple Watch. Or, better yet, a fully-functioning lightsaber.     

Star Wars Episode VII opens in theaters on December 18, 2015

Photo credits: @Twitter, @Everett Collection