How Steven Spielberg & John Lasseter Contributed To 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'
The new 3D Blu-ray of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now available, including an audio commentary from director/co-writer JJ Abrams. Abrams gives a lot of cool behind the scenes information in the track, but one of the most interesting bits is his acknowledgement of where some of the ideas and changes came from, including contributions from Steven Spielberg, John Lasseter, Jon Kasdan, Ava DuVernay and more. Learn about The Force Awakens contributions, who contributed notable moments in the film and what they were, after the jump.
'THE FORCE AWAKENS' CONTRIBUTIONS
Filmgoers love to believe that movies are the work of one person, the director. But the truth of the matter is that most movies are the work of hundreds if not thousands of people. And I’m not just talking about the crew members involved in the production, the greatest directors show early cuts of their movies to their trusted friends, and often times some of the best moments from movies come out of these notes.
Germain Lussier at io9 has a good rundown of bits from the commentary. What follows is a compilation of stories that Abrams relays during the commentary track about the ideas and people who contributed them to the final film.
JJ Abrams is good friends with director Steven Spielberg. The two produced Super 8 together, and Spielberg is often shown early cuts of Abrams films to give feedback and notes. Not only was Steven Spielberg shown an early cut of the movie, but he was also on set for some of the reshoot filming at Bad Robot.
As for some of Spielberg’s contributions, Abrams reveals on the commentary track that the idea for there to be a sand explosion after Poe and Finn’s TIE Fighter sunk on Jakku came from Steven. After watching an early version of the final fight, Spielberg asked Abrams, “Can the trees be falling down around them?” Abrams then asked the visual effects team at ILM, who responded, “If you want to pay for it.” They paid for it and it adds so much danger to that climactic sequence.
In one of the Force Awakens books, it was revealed that the bird seen in the sands of Jakku, called a Steelpecker, was also the idea of Steven Spielberg. Apparently, the filmmaker had a conversation with JJ about the idea of a bird eating metal, “poking around the innards of a machine and come out all oily and dirty and crumbly – old filthy rust all over its feathers.”
Producer Bryan Burk came up with some of the film’s best moments. The reveal where Rey says “That ship’s garbage” only toshow that it is the Millennium Falcon and that the “garbage will do” was Burke’s idea, as well as the now iconic moment where Luke’s lightsaber flys past Kylo Ren and going into the hands of Rey. I’m sure Burk contributed many ideas to the film, but these are the ones Abrams singled out in the commentary track.
We previously were told the story of how Burk found a way to edit Alec Guinness’ voice into Rey’s Forceback. He surprised Abrams with old Obi-Wan Kenobi’s voice saying the name “Rey”.
Disney Animation Studios and Pixar regularly screen very early cuts of their films to their respective brain and story trusts. We’ve written in the past about how films like Finding Dory and Zootopia were drastically improved from these sessions. But it’s not just animated films that are screened early for the Pixar brain trust, we know that live-action films like Tron: Legacy also get the same treatment, often leading to reshoots to help enhance the film.
Pixar/Walt Disney Animation Studios chief creative officer John Lasseter saw an early version of the film and he suggested to Abrams that BB-8 should have more physical comedy. As a result, Abrams added in the now iconic thumbs-up scene.
Lucasfilm Story Group member Pablo Hidalgo contributed many bits to the final film. We’ve previously relayed the story of how Pablo clarified a line by Han Solo in reference to where the Millennium Falcon had been all these years. In Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams‘ original screenplay, Solo said that he knew they “should have double checked the outer rim.” Hidalgo informed Abrams that the outer rim is actually too large of an area for that line to really make sense for a guy as knowledgeable about this galaxy. Pablo instead suggested a smaller region in the Star Wars galaxy: the Western Reaches.
In the new audio commentary, Abrams name-checks Pablo as the person who came up with the idea of Finn knowing the stormtrooper suit specs and that gas could kill them came from.
Michael Arndt was the original screenwriter of Star Wars: The Force Awakensbefore Lawrence Kasdan was brought on to co-write the movie with Abrams. At the time there was a lot of rumblings that Arndt was thrown off the project, but that was not the case at all. Abrams even mentions that Arndt came in during the editing process and suggested they remove an early scene with Leia tasking Maisie Richardson-Sellers’ character, who we only see for a second before she dies during the attack by Starkiller Base, to go to the New Republic Senate and explain the threat of the First Order. Arndt felt, and Abrams agreed, that Leia’s reintroduction was more powerful if it was seen through Han’s eyes on Takodana, so they decided to hide the character from the audience until that moment.
One of the most interesting bits from the commentary is that Jon Kasdan, son of Empire Strikes Back screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, helped write the pivotal Kylo Ren/Han Solo Starkiller Base confrontation which ends in Han’s death. And many of you know that Jon and Larry wrote the screenplay for the upcoming Han Solomovie.
And we’ve previously told you that Selma director Ava DuVernay was responsible for a shot during the Rey/Kylo Ren lightsaber fight sequence: “I showed an early cut to my friend Ava DuVernay, and she had a bunch of great suggestions. One of them was she really wanted to see Daisy, in her attack on Ren, have one really cool moment,” says Abrams before pointing out a closeup of Ridley about to deliver a decisive blow to her rival. “Boom! It’s a little thing, but it really connects you to her intensity.”
Banner Photo Credit: Lucasfilm