Nearly three months have passed since Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit theaters and continued the beloved saga, but down in Austin, Texas for SXSW, the force is still strong among fans, who eagerly lined up and waited for a sneak peek at a new behind the scenes documentary. Secrets of the Force Awakens won’t be available to the public until the film releases onto digital platforms on April 5, but festival attendees got to see the feature-length documentary a few weeks early with a very special surprise guest.
Director J.J. Abrams was on hand at Austin’s Paramount Theatre to introduce the doc, which offers the kind of making-of details that fans would have killed for before the release of The Force Awakens. Now, finally, Abrams is pulling back the curtain. “This is something that I’m really excited for you to see,” Abrams said. “What’s so cool about this is that it shows and highlights people who put their heart and soul into making The Force Awakens. They were the greatest group of filmmakers, artists, and storytellers. To get to see the people behind the scenes was fun, frankly, even for me, and I was there.”
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Here are some behind-the-scenes highlights from Secrets of the Force Awakens:
- Daisy Ridley, the actress who won the role of Rey, auditioned with the scene in which her character is questioned by Kylo Ren. In the room, Ridley wowed the casting directors and Abrams with her ability to go to a very emotional place — even working up some tears — and taking direction with ease.
- Oscar Isaac was originally wary of the role of Poe Dameron because the ace pilot died in an early version of the script and the one the actor first read. He told Abrams that he was “sick of dying early on” in movies, since he had in a few recent projects. By the time Abrams called Isaac to offer him the role, the script had changed, and Poe would survive.
- Carrie Fisher was skeptical about the idea of continuing the Star Wars story, joking “I looked better 10 years ago.”
- Gwendoline Christie wasn’t the only woman donning a mask and armor in the film. There are many female Stormtroopers than the audience would ever realize, with more actresses and stunt women stepping into the white suits for the first time on screen.
- Abrams based the look of Maz Kanata on his bespectacled former teacher Rose Gilbert.
- Peter Jackson, Star Trek‘s Karl Urban, and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai were among some of the famous visitors to the Pinewood Studios sets.
- Adam Driver had some extra motivation for his character Kylo Ren. The villain’s complex costume and helmet combination were so cumbersome and difficult to put on that Driver was “so pissed by the time we were ready to start shooting I felt totally ready.”
- In explaining the character of Kylo Ren, Abrams draws a strong connection from his turn to the Dark Side and his parents’ fractured relationship. Making matters worse was Supreme Leader Snoke, who knew the child of Han Solo and Princess Leia would be powerful and targeted Ben from an early age, corrupting him and then recruiting him to the First Order.
- Harrison Ford had a special request for the reconstructed Millennium Falcon. The toggles in the original were made from used switches, most of which were broken and would slip over time. “No budget for springs,” Ford recalls. The actor got his wish.
- One of the most overt callbacks to the original 1977 film is the Millennium Falcon’s chess set. When Finn accidentally activates the board, the game and its animated characters pick up right where they left off in A New Hope.