Star Wars: The Force Awakens – The Complete History, Part IV

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Part IV: The Shoot

Kennedy: Our first shot was Daisy’s speeder travelling across the desert. That was at 5:38 in the morning. With the wind blowing and the sand kicking up, the guys in their Stormtrooper uniforms and everybody complaining about the heat. It was instantly Star Wars!

Boyega: I was walking for the whole day. No dialogue whatsoever. I was just walking in the heat in a Stormtrooper outfit. It was surreal. It just felt like, “Oh my gosh, we're actually doing this.”

Ridley: When we drove onto set there were speeders everywhere and creatures walking around. That was just amazing!

Abrams: When I saw the original trilogy I believed everything I was seeing. It just felt real; there was a gritty, tangible authenticity to those movies. It was critical that we not shoot this film in a green box, that it was shot in actual locations. That’s not to say that there wouldn’t be set extensions, but we needed to build as much as we possibly could, be in as many real locations as we could.

Kennedy: From George's point of view, by the time he got to the prequels he was using Star Wars as a way to push technological innovation. But even with the practical effects that we're using, the technological innovation inside that craft has moved way beyond what it was in 1977.

Tommy Harper (Executive Producer): You think to yourself, “Oh, you’ve just gone on location to shoot”, but we had a massive amount, like 80 or 90 aliens in different forms, plus 80 or so costumed people. Pulling that off was a huge undertaking.

Isaac: It infuses the film with something that’s unquantifiable. Being able to literally run through the sand and up onto my X-Wing, have the thing open and start up and everything light up, is unlike anything I’ve ever done before.

Mayhew: The Millennium Falcon looked exactly like the original. It was very well done. Everything about it was accurate, the colour scheme was right, the cockpit was right. It was beautiful.

Bryan Burk (Producer): Walking around and seeing the Falcon, seeing TIE Fighters, you are like kids. It was particularly hard, I think, for J.J., because he was pinching himself, but then actually having to be the director. Giving direction to Harrison Ford in his Han Solo outfit, it’s like, “What?” It was all just nuts. When Harrison entered the film, the first time he started speaking. J.J. looks up at me and we were just like two crazy kids.

Abrams: It is as weird as it gets. Being on the set of the Falcon staring into the wide eyes of Threepio knowing that Anthony in there somewhere, probably rolling his eyes at my suggestions. Giving notes to actors dressed as characters, like Chewbacca and of course with Harrison, Carrie and Mark, it was constantly insane.

Burk: Simon Pegg was hanging out on set, and we all turn around and see Chewbacca walking by. Simon turns to me and literally became an 11 year-old and goes, “Is it weird that I want to hug Chewie?” and I said, “No, come on, let’s hug Chewie!” So we get up and he hugs Chewie. I took a photo, then a second after we took it I said, “You know, I can’t give you this photo until December 19th 2015.” This was a year and a half ago! For months afterwards, I’d get emails from Simon and he’s like “Can I make an appointment to come over and see my photo?”

Mayhew: I was sitting in my trailer and there was a knock on the door. Someone shouted “Where’s that walking carpet?” It was Harrison. He came in, gave me a great big hug and said, Welcome back. We got off to a good start. After 30 years we are like an old married couple.

Ford: They were like an old married couple to start with! I think people will find them very much the same as ever.

Hamill: I had this wave of nostalgia. It reminded me of when I was in Tunisia on the salt flats, and I had my outfit on and I was out there with the droids and the floating car and if you could get into your own mind, shut out the crew and look at the horizon, you really felt like you were transported to another world. I really was in a galaxy far, far away. I had that same wave of emotion happen to me when I was on Skellig Michael.

Fisher: I wanted to use the iconic hairstyle that I had initially. I wanted that hairstyle back. If nothing else I wanted little old Leia to walk by a window wearing that hairdo on the way to the bathtub. Just show it once. But, no. I guess they thought it would be too distracting.

Isaac: When you get Carrie going, she still remembers all the lines from the old films, so she’ll just launch into the opening of the first Star Wars where she’s leaving the message, "You’re my only hope." It’s pretty incredible. It’s all still right there.

Ford: At one point J.J. and I were standing in a doorway on set discussing a scene. We had no idea the set was active. Suddenly the door came down and trapped me under it, my dislocated ankle and broken leg on one side, the rest of me on the other.

Abrams: Apparently hydraulic doors are remarkably heavy contraptions that will push down even the most iconic actor. It was a horrible thing that happened fairly early on in the shoot, but it galvanised this crew that so desperately admires Harrison. It also allowed us to have a few weeks to look at what we had done. On a movie of any scale, any director will tell you that to have a moment to stop and look at what you have done is an incredible gift. We made a few adjustments to things we were yet to shoot, which we would not have had the chance to do otherwise.

Boyega: When they brought out the lightsaber I held it in my hand and I just felt the clouds open up and white doves come flying down. It feels very, very good. I hugged it for the whole day. I didn't allow anyone to hold it but me.

Abrams: One of the pillars of Star Wars is heart-pounding lightsaber confrontations. What George did in the prequels was increasingly spectacular and stylised, almost like dance choreography. When you look back at Star Wars and Empire, they are very different lightsaber battles but for me they felt more powerful because they were not quite as slick. I was hoping to go for something more primitive, rougher and hopefully more of a throwback to the lightsaber fights that I was so enthralled by as a kid.

Dan Mindel (Director Of Photography): One of the key tactics that I was able to use – and only a complete geek would ever care or notice – was we engineered the look of the lenses with Panavision to have a softer, more forgiving feel to them for much of the film. And then, for the First Order parts, we used a very austere, harder looking lens.

Rick Carter (Production Designer): With the sets, the First Order is black and white and some gray. And then the Resistance is more earth colours and organic feel. It’s people versus a machine, basically.

Boyega: There were drones in the sky trying to take pictures of the Falcon and the sets that we were filming on. It was insane.

Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata): The secrecy was deep. You couldn't keep script pages. You signed in, got your sides [daily script pages] then you signed out your sides. You had a special account for email.

Warwick Davis: You’re not even supposed to speak to your family about it. It’s like you work for the Secret Service and your kids and your wife think you’re a greengrocer.

Daniels: We weren’t even allowed to use the characters’ real names on set! So you’d have the actor, who has a name, and their character, who has a name, and then these code names that we were supposed to use. Everybody had three names! I ended up just ignoring it all. I refused! I ended up just saying, “You!”

Fisher: I think they keep me away from stuff because they know that I have an inadvertently big mouth.

Abrams: My tendency to not have people know everything about what they are going to see can be an annoying thing, but while we didn’t reveal all the plot of the movie, we gave people the basic puzzle pieces to start to put together.

Hamill: It’s been absolute hell on Twitter. I talk to people on Twitter all the time. My goal is if they’re happy, I’m happy, and they’re not happy right now. Not concerning whether I’m in or out, but the fact I have to remain silent.

Kennedy: Every now and then J.J. would shoot a scene and then he’d go: “Come on, ladies and gentleman, we’re shooting STAR WARS!” and everybody would burst into applause.

Abrams: The hotel I was staying in in Marylebone was kind of a hotspot. There was a late bar. I would always learn the next morning who had been there. “U2 was here? Really? ” I was staying in a place where apparently a lot of cool and perhaps illicit things were happening. I was literally just getting to go back, try and prep as much as I could for the next day and then pass out.

Part V: The Release