It’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens Blu-ray week. With the disc set going on sale Tuesday, Entertainment Weekly is kicking off five days of new behind-the-scenes stories from director J.J. Abrams.
EPISODE I – The Phantom Reader
The first glimpse into the production of The Force Awakens was the start-of-production cast announcement, which came with a black-and-white image featuring veteran cast members arrayed in a circle with newcomers, while R2-D2 watched from the confines of a nearby shipping crate.
“It was a momentous thing for the new actors,” Abrams recalls. “We were not just coming together but we were going to be reading alongside the existing cast. It was…you could feel it in the air, the moment. It was exciting because we felt like it made it real in a weird way.”
There were seasoned Star Wars warriors Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, and Peter Mayhew alongside Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Domnhall Gleason, and Oscar Isaac.
Even Mark Hamill was there – but doing … what exactly?
After the “Where’s Luke?” question proved to be the central plot of the film, and fans discovered that the actor had only a silent appearance at the end, it’s easy to question why Hamill was there.
Abrams has a simple answer for that: Deception.
“It was partly trickery,” the director tells EW. “We knew, obviously, that he didn’t speak in the film. And because we knew we were going to take pictures, and people knew he was in the movie, we needed to have him there.”
But that left Abrams with a dilemma: “It wouldn’t have been right not to have him there,” the director says. “But it also wouldn’t have been right to have him there and not participate.”
So rather than just sit quietly for a class photo, the Luke Skywalker actor was given a rather important job – during the rehearsal, he agreed to read the stage directions. That meant he suddenly went from no lines, to lines on practically every page. The Blu-ray bonus feature “The Story Awakens” shows footage from that rehearsal.
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“It is a pretty herculean task, to ask an actor to read a hundred and twenty some pages aloud over the course of two plus hours,” says Abrams. But Hamill has become just as famous over the years for his voice-acting, most notably as The Joker in many of the DC Comics animated films, games, and TV shows, so he was ready to talk at length — especially since he wouldn’t get to onscreen.
“I almost felt guilty,” Abrams said. “And yet it also felt so right and I hoped that he would say yes. He immediately said, ‘Of course.'” Not only did it give Hamill a part in the script, but everyone got to hear the story told from the voice of Luke Skywalker, which added an extra layer of emotion.
“It was a way of having [him] be part of every scene, every moment, not just spiritually or thematically or narratively, but actually,” Abrams says. “Having his voice in it made the read through a better experience for everyone.”
Tomorrow: A burning question about Kylo Ren answered.
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