J.J. Abrams wants you know he hates doing commentary tracks. And with that, he kicks off his commentary track for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The director’s moment-by-moment, detailed analysis is, despite his protestations, perhaps the biggest selling point of the four-disc Force Awakens 3D collector’s edition that’s hitting stores on Nov. 15. The set is a marked improvement over the version released last spring, including all the previously released features with several new bells and whistles. Yahoo Movies took an early copy of the set for a spin and spent hours poring over the bonus material, paying close attention to what the filmmaker had to say. Here are 27 things we just had to share, in chronological order.
Abrams considers the entire film a love letter to George Lucas and the original Star Wars, a.k.a. A New Hope.
Throughout the film, he points out callbacks and homages to Lucas’s oeuvre, beginning with the Lucasfilm logo, opening crawl, and initial shot of Kylo Ren’s Star Destroyer obscuring Jakku. “We went backwards to go forwards,” says Abrams. “We embraced wholeheartedly the brilliant iconography of Ralph McQuarrie, the concept artist who worked with George… The idea was to give people that feeling of instantly being back in Star Wars.”
Later on, Abrams seems to address critics who felt The Force Awakens was a retread by saying he intentionally called back settings like the Mos Eisley Cantina (Maz’s castle) and the Death Star (Starkiller Base) because they are “fundamental, prerequisite elements” of the Star Wars universe, as essential as saloons and dusty streets are to Westerns or castles are to fairy tales.
Poe’s X-wing was the real deal.
Abrams reveals that the starfighter belong to Oscar Isacc’s hero pilot in the opening scenes was a full-scale model constructed at England’s Pinewood Studios, “which was awesome for visitors, because they showed up and got to see an actual X-wing.
Kylo Ren’s family almost wasn’t a secret.
The director says that when Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) confronts Lor San Tekka (Max Von Sydow) on Jakku during the film’s opening, there was additional dialogue in which the elder captive “referenced [Kylo’s] father and mother,” explains Abrams, “but it seemed to soon.” It wasn’t until later in the film that Snoke announced that Han Solo was Kylo’s pops.
Who was that masked man?
Abrams managed to sneak in cameos of several high-profile Star Wars fans, many obscured by latex (such as Simon Pegg as Unkar Plutt) and others in Stormtrooper armor. The trooper on the right who brings Poe Dameron to Kylo Ren during the opening Jakku invasion, is Oscar-winning Up composer Michael Giacchino — the guy who also wrote the music for Abrams’s Lost and is handling music chores on the upcoming Rogue One.
Abrams wanted to establish the Poe-Finn connection early on.
One common motif in the commentary is how much the film was shaped by reshoots and post-production changes, including a sequence that sets up the close connection of Finn (John Boyega) and Poe. “It’s an idea that came during reshoots to have Poe be responsible for the death that causes Finn’s breakdown,” meaning Poe takes the fatal blaster shot that fells the trooper who marks FN-2187 with a bloody handprint.
Rey’s magic muffin wasn’t edible.
The puffy blue pastry known as “portion bread” was, per Abrams, an inflatable bladder, filled by a hidden tube. Yum!
The Star Destroyer hangar pulled double duty.
The interior bay was actual size, and when you build something that large, you have to get your money’s worth. Abrams reveals the hangar was the same set used for portions of Starkiller Base. Similarly, the corridors of the Star Destroyer and Starkiller Base were all one set, which Abrams redressed and shot from different angles to pass for different locations.
Abrams got a little help from his friends.
Steven Spielberg, Lucas’s confidant and Abrams’s mentor (or as he puts it on the commentary track, “my ally and partner in crime”), made a few creative suggestions that wound up in the film. Spielberg was the one who suggested the remains of Finn and Poe’s crashed TIE fighter explode as it gets pulled into the sands of Jakku (the explosion, like most of the pyrotechnics, was done practically).
Related: ‘The Force Awakens’ Ultimate FAQ
For the climactic lightsaber duel between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Ren, Spielberg said, “What if trees were falling while they were fighting.” Abrams thought it was a cool idea, but the since the scene was already shot, he decided to add them digitally. The duel also featured a shot recommended by director Ava DuVernay (Selma) while watching a rough cut. She said that Rey should have a “kick-ass moment,” leading Abrams to insert a brief shot during reshoots.
And we can thank Pixar boss John Lasseter for one of the film’s signature scenes. “He really suggested giving BB-8 as much physical comedy as possible. And if you see the Pixar movies, you see just how brilliant that works for them. So this idea of the thumbs-up was inspired by that conversation with John.”
Abrams explains the death and life of Poe Dameron.
As we’ve noted before, Poe Dameron was supposed to have died in the TIE crash, but Oscar Isaac wasn’t too keen on having another of his movie characters fail to make it out alive. A fellow producer reminded Abrams that Poe had lived in an earlier draft of the screenplay, so Abrams decided to revert to the “feel-good” story and bring back Poe for the third act.
How many crew members does it take to tame a Happabore?
After arriving in Jakku, the parched Finn tries to drink water from a bowl belonging to a surly porcine creature. The beastie is called a Happabore, and it required five puppeteers to operate.
The Falcon traveled the reaches of the galaxy without ever taking flight.
Art director Mark Harris “forensically reconstructed” the Millennium Falcon for The Force Awakens, but the ship was so massive that it was easier to build sets around it than change its location. So every time you see the full Falcon, the surroundings have been redressed to look like the appropriate planet, be it Jakku, Takodona, the Resistance HQ on D’Qar, Starkiller Base, or Luke’s refuge on Ahch-To.
Abrams also points out all the Easter eggs hidden in the Falcon, including the Jedi remote training orb Obi-Wan uses to teach Luke how to use a lightsaber in A New Hope (which Finn tosses aside during the repair scene) and the holochess board — Abrams brought back original Star Wars effects whiz Phil Tippett to stop-motion animate the pieces, which resume in the same positions that Chewie and R2-D2 left them 40 years earlier.
Harrison Ford needed digital hair extensions.
When the veteran actor suffered a broken leg in an on-set accident, principal photography shut down for nearly two months. Several scenes had already been shot with Ford, including the “Chewie, we’re home” sequence. But because his hair had grown in the intervening weeks, Abrams had to use CG to lengthen the actor’s hair in those scenes to match his post-accident coiffure. (Abrams also notes that the Rathtar scene was filmed shortly after Ford returned, “and he was running around on this uneven set faster I’ve ever run anywhere.”)
While Ford was recuperating, Abrams also reevaluated the dynamic between Rey and Finn, which the director felt wasn’t working. He decided to tone down their contentious behavior. Much of the scenes that they filmed on location in Abu Dhabi, were reshot on a reconstructed set in Pinewood. Among the bigger changes: Finn was originally supposed to reveal during their initial meeting in the marketplace that he was a rogue Stormtrooper and that Rey didn’t have any idea who Luke Skywalker was. Abrams also added more levity, like the Millennium Falcon repair scene, to which the filmmaker tried to give a “screwball comedy” vibe.
Secrets of Maz Kanata’s castle revealed.
The planet setting of Maz’s watering hole is Takadano, a name Abrams came up with based on the Toyko district of Takadanobaba from his days traveling in Japan. The castle set was constructed in modular sections so they could take it apart to show battle damage. Meanwhile, the bar patrons include 30 Rock‘s cap-sporting Judah Friedlander. As for Maz, Abrams says she was based in part on Rose Gilbert, his late English teacher at Palisades High School in Los Angeles. (The codename for Maz Kanata’s castle was “Rose’s Pub.”)
The lightsaber dream explained.
The vivid, but fragmentary visions experienced by Rey when she touches Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber has been one of the most hashed-over parts of The Force Awakens. Abrams enumerates the many iterations for the scene they considered, and he also confirms that there was a related alternate opening for the movie that was mocked up. “This connects to Maz’s backstory, something that we worked on, had much more as text in the original script. In fact, in the original script, you had the lightsaber falling through space and landing on the ground and a hand taking it. We used to have this entire backstory where we learned what happened to Luke’s lightsaber over the years and how it finally ended up in the hands of Maz Kanata.” That was all jettisoned and, as Maz says later, is a story for another time.
Abrams says that term he came up with for the vision was a “Forceback” and originally included Rey seeing a glimpse of Luke and Vader’s iconic battle on Cloud City. Abrams also explains how he combined dialogue from both Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor to create Obi-Wan Kenobi’s line, “Rey, these are your first steps,” which ends the sequence.
Meet Korr Sella (R.I.P., Korr Sella).
Actress Maisie Richardson-Sellers plays the character of Korr Sella, Leia’s emissary to the New Republic’s capital on Hosnian Prime — the camera lingers on her shortly before the Starkiller blast wipes out the system. A deleted scene from earlier in the film (and included on the new release) has Leia dispatching Korr (a key figure in some of the new Star Wars novels) to the Senate to warn of the threat of the First Order.
Abrams says after he showed a rough cut, which introduced Leia earlier in the film, original screenwriter Michael Arndt recommended he cut those scenes and hold back on Leia’s arrival until the moment she and Han reconnect on Takodano for more emotional oomph.
The Apocalypse Now-esque TIE scene was a keeper from the get-go.
Abrams saw early concept art of the fighters coming in against the sun, and “we just knew we had to put it in the movie. It makes no sense lighting-wise — the sun looks nothing like that in the rest of the sequence.”
So much for the fan theories?
With so little known about Rey’s origins, many fans have speculated that Ben Solo and Rey had known each other in some capacity before the events of the film. Abrams seems to dispel that notion, saying at one point, “They’ve never met” before they all arrived on Takodana.
Props to the props. (At least some of them.)
Abrams gushes over the fact that the props team came up with real glowing lightsabers, meaning the reflections on bodies and in eyes was largely a practical effect.
One prop fail, however, was Kylo’s helmet — Driver could barely see when he was wearing it. While he hunts down Rey on Takodana, the actor kept tripping over roots and rocks, per Abrams.
Watch Han and Leia’s reunion for the mismatched backgrounds.
The reunion of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher took a while to get right and the various scenes between the two had to be reshot. During their discussion at Resistance HQ about what went wrong between them and with their son, Abrams points out you can see the backgrounds don’t always match because the reshoots were from slightly different angles. Meanwhile, the first version of their goodbye scene had Leia saying, “I want to tell you something,” and Han replying, “Tell me when I get back,” but Abrams found the foreshadowing “too on-the-nose” and rewrote it. “Instead we just had this sweet moment where he takes her into his arms.”
There’s a morbid backstory to Kylo Ren’s ashtray.
Abrams reveals the reason the table that Kylo sets his helmet on during his interrogation of Rey is covered with ashes: “The idea is those are the ashes of his victims.”
The interrogation is the first scene in the finished film where we see him without his helmet. Abrams tells us that in the earlier scene where Kylo meets with Hux and Snoke, Driver was also unmasked. But the director decided it was more impactful to have Kylo reveal himself to Rey so the mask was added to the Snoke scene in post using CG.
That interrogation scene featured a Stormtrooper with a special codename.
One of the worst kept secrets of the film was that Daniel Craig, who happened to be at Pinewood Studios preparing for the James Bond movie SPECTRE, played the Stormtrooper that Rey uses the Jedi mind trick on to escape her cell. “This is the Stormtrooper we call FN-007, played by Daniel Craig.” says Abrams. “I heard he was a huge Star Wars fan and I asked him if he wanted to be in the movie and he said, ‘Sure.’ … That’s his voice, too.”
Phasma was destined to survive Starkiller Base’s destruction.
“I knew that we didn’t want to kill Phasma because she’s so awesome, but we had to get rid of her” for story flow, so Abrams gave her a New Hope-inspired exit that winked to the audience and set up her return for Episode VIII.
There’s no troopers like Snowtroopers.
Although they were heavily marketed as toys, there were barely any First Order Snowtroopers in the final cut of the film. The two primary scenes featuring the cold-geared crew were cut and are on the new release — one of them entering the Falcon with Kylo Ren after it smashes onto Starkiller Base and another involving a snowspeeder chase with Finn and Rey (where he gives her his jacket to keep warm, which explains why she’s wearing it in the next scene). Abrams says the scenes “just felt like wheels spinning” and were cut to speed up the final act of the film. Another cut scene showed that’s not on the new release showed Hux following Snoke’s orders and retrieving Kylo from the woods after his duel with Rey.
Kylo Ren really was torn about his father.
Abrams says the final confrontation between Han and Ben Solo was “a very tricky thing” to shoot because the director wanted to show that Kylo Ren was struggling between the dark and light side of the Force and wasn’t toying with his dad. “I think that Ben was legitimately going to give up… but the sun finally is drained from the sky… and then darkness takes over,” says Abrams. “For Ben, this seals the deal — it’s the ultimate proof to Snoke that he can be trusted and will not be seduced by the light. And I think the instant that he’s done it, he regrets it.”
Abrams “regrets” he ruined a moment between Chewie and Leia.
As many fans rightly pointed out, it didn’t make a lot of sense of Leia and Chewie — two longtime friends with a rich history and shared loss — to ignore each other following the destruction of Starkiller Base and Chewie, Rey, and Finn’s return to D’Qar. Abrams offers a mea culpa in the commentary, calling the missed opportunity “a distraction” for fans; but he says he really wanted to get to the embrace between Leia and Rey, “these two women who never met… and they’re both Force-strong and bound by their loss and their strength.”
In case you missed some R2-D2 and C-3PO details.
According to Abrams, the reason R2-D2 has the space map in his memory banks dates back to A New Hope — when he jacked into the Death Star computer system, he downloaded troves of the Empire’s data, including the map. He had been spending his idle time since Luke’s departure scouring his memory to find the clue.
As for Threepio, Anthony Daniels whined so much about C-3PO’s new red limb, that Abrams decided to give him back his “proper arm” at the end of the film. When he waves goodbye to the Falcon, he is solid gold again.
Long after the location shoots and studio work at Pinewood wrapped, Abrams and his editors went to work at his Bad Robot offices in Santa Monica. Late in the game, he brought his cast to the production studio there to rework various scenes, including Poe’s humorous opening exchange with Kylo Ren, closeups of Rey piloting the Falcon, the scene where everyone meets Maz, and also some parts of the Resistance war room. Abrams needed an extra bit of dialogue, so he recruited the receptionist to go on camera and say “two minutes left” as Starkiller Base moved into position to take out the Resistance. And the final shot of BB-8 saying goodbye to Rey, Chewie, and Artoo as they head off to find Luke was done on the Bad Robot roof. They wound up using a BB-8 model Abrams had in his office (not the puppet used in most scenes) rigged with wire.