Before its release along with the Star Wars blu-ray on April 1, SXSW just premiered Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey, the feature-length making-of documentary by longtime Star Wars collaborator Laurent Bouzereau. It offers an inside look at how filmmakers brought audiences back to that galaxy far, far away. Besides being an unprecedented look at the production of the Star Wars saga, it also offered some interesting exclusive details about the film. Here’s what we learned.
1. JJ Abrams was inspired to direct the movie because he saw an image of Rey.
Abrams initially turned down newly minted Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy’s offer to direct the first new Star Wars movie in 30 years. What finally hooked Abrams was the question “Where is Luke Skywalker?” but mostly an art department image of a potential female lead that eventually became Rey.
2. Much of the visuals came out of the pre-production art department.
Instead of setting up the art department to realize images from a finished script, Abrams had the art department work during the scriptwriting phase by brainstorming via paintings simply inspired by previous Star Wars iconography. Kylo Ren’s final design resulted from one of these early pre-production sessions.
3. Michael Arndt wasn’t a fast enough writer.
Academy Award-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt was slated to write the script for Episode VII solo, but he was let go from the production after turning in his first draft. Apparently, he failed to meet Kennedy and Lucasfilm’s deadline for a follow-up draft. Abrams and Star Wars alum Lawrence Kasdan eventually wrote the final script.
4. Finn’s backstory was created to give an alternative face to the stormtroopers.
Kasdan made one of the new leads a First Order deserter because he and Abrams wanted to animate and humanize to the stormtroopers — who, until The Force Awakens, had either been clones or a faceless enemy.
5. The cast auditioned a ton of times.
Actor John Boyega auditioned nine separate times before he was cast as Finn.
6. Mark Hamill was the narrator at the read through.
Luke’s limited role in The Force Awakens drew the ire of Star Wars fans, who criticized actor Mark Hamill’s appearance in the now legendary black and white photo of the first table read for Episode VII. Though Hamill admitted his role was more of a ”table-listen”, Abrams and Kennedy had Hamill read the stage directions and narrate the script at the first table read.
7. Poe was supposed to die early on.
Heroic Resistance fighter Poe Dameron died early on in the final script after crash landing in a stolen TIE fighter with Finn, but actor Oscar Isaac implored Abrams to keep his character alive — because his other movie characters have been killed off so often. Abrams rewrote the script to include Dameron surviving through the rest of the movie and into new episodes.
8. Captain Phasma came out of a discarded Kylo Ren design.
The fully chrome stormtrooper that eventually became Phasma was actually a rejected idea for Kylo Ren. The look was transferred to Phasma, who became a female character when actress Gwendoline Christie was cast in the role.
9. The holo-chess game begins where it left off.
Abrams had the moment that Finn accidentally starts the Millennium Falcon’s iconic holo-chess game begin where the animated characters left off in A New Hope.
10. Maz Kanata was inspired by JJ Abrams’s old teacher.
The enormous glasses and facial design of Lupita Nyong’o’s character Maz Kanata was actually inspired by a woman named Rose Gilbert, Abrams’s high school English teacher who passed away in 2013.