Among the extras you’ll find packed into the home media release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the excellent documentary Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey. Directed by Laurent Bouzereau, the 109-minute feature explores the making of the film with in-depth footage and interviews with the cast and filmmakers. Here’s a look at some of the highlights…
The first of four documentary chapters opens with the only glimpse of George Lucas that you’ll see in any of the TFA bonus material. It’s all previously released interview footage from 2012, in which Lucas talks about selling Lucasfilm to Disney and bringing on Kathy Kennedy, but it’s nice to see a tribute to the Maker.
Kennedy discusses pulling J.J. and the rest of the filmmaking talent together in time to meet Disney’s 2015 release deadline. And J.J. reiterates his initial reluctance to direct, explaining that the opportunity to tell a story about a new young character “discovering” Luke Skywalker was the thing that ultimately hooked him.
The story of the art department prominently features Star Wars veterans Rick Baker and Doug Chiang, and is accompanied by glimpses of the film’s wealth of beautiful conceptual designs. Fans who own The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens may recognize a few of them, but there are numerous never-before-seen paintings and drawings that will have you hitting pause to take a closer look.
Kasdan and J.J. retell their “story walking” anecdote which will be familiar to fans who followed TFA’s promo tour hype — the pair fleshed out the story while on walks in New York, London, and Paris, recording notes into Abrams’ iPhone. And the filmmakers once again beat the drum of practical effects. Producer Bryan Burk says, “We wanted to go back and embrace the look of the original films,” explaining that real sets were “all part of the feeling of how they were able to transport you into that universe.”
The early exit of screenwriter Michael Arndt, which had fans scratching their heads, is addressed in the briefest possible way by Kennedy. “He usually needs about two or three years to immerse himself in a project. We hoped this would be one of those times that would maybe go a little faster, but it didn’t,” she says.
The development of Rey and Finn is discussed in detail, and we’re treated to clips of charming interviews with stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega — their first interviews after being cast.
Of the oft-hyped first table read, Fisher says, “I was nervous. It was trippy to have Harrison, and Mark, and myself in a room together doing this again.” And as Hamill reads the script aloud there are hints of things that didn’t make it into the final film. The planet D’Qar, home of the Resistance base, was originally conceived as more lush than we saw on screen. The script describes it as a world with “green flora and a cooper sea,” and “massive mushroom-shaped trees.”
It’s not news, but interesting to hear Abrams address his initial plan to kill off Poe Dameron early in the film. Oscar Issac, sick of being knocked off in his movies, begged Abrams to reconsider. “Going forward, what he’ll add to the fight against the First Order… It’ll be really exciting to see where that goes,” Isaac enthuses.
Gwen Christie gets more screen time in the documentary than Captain Phasma does in the actual film. And it’s a shame we didn’t see more of her. Christie’s enthusiasm for the part is infectious and we hope she’ll get better treatment in VIII.
Peter Mayhew addresses his mobility issues, which are due to knee-replacement surgery. He came to set to “do as much as possible,” but primarly worked with Joonas Suotamo, who Abrams calls the “Stunt Chewie,” to coach him on “what Chewie does and does not do.”
There’s a brief look at the early animatronic development of Maz Kanata, an approach that was ultimately scrapped by Abrams in favor of an ILM-orchestrated motion capture performance from Lupita Nyong’o. From the looks of it, Abrams wasn’t happy with the animatronic work, and a new character design was rushed into CG development.
Fisher reveals that she flubbed extensively in her first day back on the job as Leia. And we see a snippet of a scene between her and Ford that didn’t make the film. In what looks like a discussion about Ben, Leia tells Han, “You could always see him clearer than I did.”
“I don’t know what I saw,” Han replies.
“He’s lost in the world that he was raised in, and feels that he was kind of abandoned by the people he’s closest with,” Driver says of Kylo Ren. “This mother and a father had a target for a son. And these parents aren’t there enough to guide him,” adds Abrams. Of Kylo Ren’s multi-layered wardrobe, Adam Driver says, “I was so pissed by the time we’d finished putting it on that I felt totally ready.”
Ford, who’s often stated that he’d wanted his character to be killed off back in Return of the Jedi, explains, “It’s not that I wanted Han Solo to die. I wanted Han Solo to be able to lend some significant emotional weight to the story. [In The Force Awakens] I was resolved to be useful, and to pass on responsibilities to others, and get out of the way.”
The documentary ends as the film does, with Luke Skywalker, and a tease of what’s to come from Mark Hamill: “There’s a real ambiguity as to what his reaction is. I think he has great reservations. He’s really conflicted. Who knows? We’ll have to wait and see.”
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is out now on Blu-ray and Digital HD.