Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (a.k.a. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens) is an epic space opera science fiction film co-written and directed by J. J. Abrams, who also co-produced the film with Lucasfilm via his Bad Robot Productions company. The film was distributed worldwide by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

The seventh instalment in the main sequence of Star Wars films, The Force Awakens is set approximately 30 years after Return of the Jedi. The main storyline follows Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron, as they fight alongside the Resistance, led by veterans of the Rebel Alliance, against Kylo Ren and the First Order – a military group that emerged from the remnants of the Galactic Empire, and their search for Luke Skywalker.

Rey, a scavenger living in a junkyard settlement, suddenly finds herself in the centre-point of galactic events when she befriends BB-8, astromech droid with a secret.

George Lucas, the original creator of the Star Wars franchise, discussed ideas for a sequel trilogy several times after the conclusion of the new prequel trilogy, but denied any intent to ever turn it into reality. When he finally sold his production company Lucasfilm, and with it the Star Wars franchise, to The Walt Disney Company in October 2012, standing by Lucasfilm’s new president, Kathleen Kennedy, Lucas said: “I always said I wasn’t going to do any more [Star Wars sequels] and that’s true, because I’m not going to do any more, but that doesn’t mean I’m unwilling to turn it over to Kathy to do more.”

Several directors were considered for what would be the first live-action film in the franchise since Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith was released in 2005, including David Fincher, Brad Bird and Guillermo del Toro, until finally after a suggestion by Steven Spielberg to Kathleen Kennedy, J. J. Abrams was named director in January 2013, with Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg as project consultants.

Initially, George Lucas attended early story meetings as a creative consultant for the film, advised on the details of the Star Wars universe and even turned over to the production team his rough story ideas for the Episodes VII–IX, but he later stated that Disney had discarded his story ideas and that he had no further involvement with the film. After the release of the film in December 2015, Lucas voiced his disappointment with the direction the film ended up going in, being quoted as saying: “They wanted to do a retro movie. I don’t like that. Every [previous Star Wars] movie, I worked very hard to make them different ... I made them completely different – different planets, different spaceships to make it new." However, the film was very well received by die-hard fans of the franchise who agreed with Abrams, who felt that, as the first in a new trilogy, the film “needed to take a couple of steps backwards into very familiar terrain” and intentionally used paraphernalia, characters and plot elements from the previous Star Wars films.

Finn, a rank-and-file stormtrooper, deserts the First Order, frees Poe Dameron and joins the Resistance after seeing the massacre of civilians on the planet Jakku.

Episode VII’s first screenplay was written by Michael Arndt, who worked on the script for eight months, but then said he needed eighteen more, which was far more time than Abrams and Disney could give him. Consequently, Abrams and Kasdan took over script duties after the production announced Arndt’s exit from the project in October 2013, and in January 2014 Abrams, who felt that the key to the success was to return to the roots of the first Star Wars film, with its emphasis on emotion rather than explanation, confirmed that the script was complete.

Abrams later clarified that he purposely withheld some plot elements from Episode VII, such as Finn and Rey’s last names and their backgrounds and Kennedy admitted that “we haven’t mapped out every single detail [of the sequel trilogy] yet”, but added that Abrams is collaborating with Episode VIII director Rian Johnson, and then Johnson will similarly cooperate with Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow, to ensure a smooth transition and continuity and “that everybody's got a say in how we move forward with this”.

Filming on The Force Awakens began in April 2014 in Abu Dhabi and Iceland, with principal photography also taking place in Ireland and Pinewood Studios in England, and concluded in November 2014 (During the filming at Pinewood, Harrison Ford famously injured his leg after a heavy hydraulic door on the Millennium Falcon set fell on him, and production needed to be suspended for a couple of weeks). Other locations used for filming were the former RAF Greenham Common military base in Berkshire, Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean, and Skellig Michael island off the coast of Ireland.

Kylo Ren, an apprentice of Supreme Leader Snoke, idolises his grandfather Darth Vader, and hopes to finish what he had started: the elimination of the Jedi Order.

Reportedly, draconian secrecy on the set has caused considerable frustration for actors – the script was printed in black ink on paper of the deepest red so that it couldn’t be photocopied, and it was taken from the actors and locked away in a safe in-between the takes. Additionally, paparazzi and fans alike were flying drones over Pinewood studios, trying to take photographs, so whenever an actor or a prop was being moved between the sets, they had to be covered in a blanket or opaque sheet.

John Williams, who created the instantly recognisable music score the franchise has been intrinsically associated with, and who has returned to compose the score for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, said that working with Abrams was similar to the process he went through when he was working with Lucas on the earlier Star Wars films.

The events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens are set approximately 30 years after the destruction of the second Death Star. Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi, has disappeared, and his twin sister, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), leads the Resistance against the First Order, the military grouping that has risen from the ashes of the fallen Galactic Empire and that seeks to eliminate the New Republic. She is also desperately searching for her brother Luke to enlist his help.

Han Solo examines the holographic star map, carried by BB-8, that is supposed to point to Luke Skywalker’s secret location and determines that it is incomplete.

At the beginning of the film, Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) meets village elder Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) on the planet Jakku, in order to obtain a holographic star map pointing to Luke’s location. Stormtroopers under the command of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who get wind of the meeting, attack and destroy the village and capture Poe, however his droid BB-8 manages to escape with the map, and is later befriended by Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger living in a junkyard settlement.

Kylo Ren brings Poe aboard star destroyer Finalizer, where he tortures him using the Dark Side of the Force, and learns of BB-8 and his precious cargo. Stormtrooper FN-2187, later named by Poe ‘Finn’ (John Boyega), who is unable to bring himself to kill innocents for the First Order, frees Poe, and they together escape in a hijacked TIE fighter. However, the TIE fighter, badly damaged by a volley of fire from the star destroyer, crash-lands on Jakku, with Finn appearing to be the only survivor. Finn hides in a nearby settlement, where he encounters Rey and BB-8, but before long, the First Order tracks them down and launches an airstrike from two TIE fighters. Finn, Rey and BB-8 run for their lives and eventually flee their pursuers in a stolen, rundown spaceship, which turns out to be the legendary Millennium Falcon.

Maz Kanata, a diminutive creature sporting enormous goggles with keen affection for Chewbacca, safe-keeps the lightsaber that once belonged to Luke Skywalker.

The Millennium Falcon breaks down, and is captured by a larger spaceship piloted by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his Wookiee crewmate Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), who reclaim their long-lost vessel. Gangs of rogues board the ship, adamant to settle the score with Han Solo, but the five manage to escape in the Millennium Falcon. While the gang members inform the First Order of Han’s involvement, at the First Order’s Starkiller base, a whole planet converted to a monstrous, deadly super-weapon capable of destroying entire star systems, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) orders General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) to use the weapon for the first time. Snoke also questions Kylo Ren’s loyalty, since, as we learn, Han Solo is in fact his father, to which Kylo states that Han means nothing to him.

When the Millennium Falcon crew examine BB-8’s star map, they determine that it is incomplete. Han explains that Luke tried to rebuild the Jedi Order but condemned himself to a self-imposed exile at an unknown location, after a Jedi apprentice turned to the Dark Side and destroyed all what Luke had built. They continue their search on the planet Takodana where they meet with cantina owner Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o), a diminutive creature sporting oversized goggles and displaying keen affection for Chewbacca, who can help BB-8 reach the Resistance. In the meanwhile, Rey is subconsciously drawn to a vault where she finds the lightsaber that once belonged to Luke Skywalker and his father Anakin before him. After Rey experiences some disturbing visions and flees into the woods, Maz gives the lightsaber to Finn for safekeeping.

General Hux looks in awe as the First Order’s Starkiller, a whole planet converted to a super-weapon capable of destroying entire star systems, is used for the first time.

Starkiller base is activated and destroys the capital of the New Republic, after which the First Order storms Takodana in search of BB-8 and the star-map it carries. Han, Chewbacca and Finn are saved by a squadron of X-wing fighters led by Poe, who, as it turns out, survived the TIE-fighter crash. Leia and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) arrive at Takodana where they reunite with Han and Chewbacca. Meanwhile, in the heat of the fighting, Kylo manages to capture Rey and takes her to the Starkiller base, where he also interrogates her about the map, but finds that she is able to resist his mind-reading powers. Discovering that she, too, can use the Force, Rey escapes her confinement after playing a neat Jedi mind trick on her jailers.

Later, at the Resistance outpost on D’Qar, BB-8 encounters R2-D2, who has been inactive since Luke’s disappearance. As Starkiller base prepares to fire on D’Qar, the Resistance devise an audacious plan to destroy the super-weapon by attacking its Achilles heel. Before they leave for the daring mission, Leia urges Han to return their son alive. Using the Millennium Falcon, Han, Chewbacca and Finn infiltrate the facility. They lower its force shields, reunite with Rey and, after they set explosive charges, encounter Kylo Ren. Han confronts Kylo, calling him by his birth name - Ben, and implores him to abandon the Dark Side, but Kylo tricks his father and pierces him with his lightsaber. Enraged with grief, Chewbacca shoots at Kylo and sets off the explosives, allowing the Resistance pilots aboard X-wing fighters to attack the base and set in motion a chain reaction that will ultimately destroy the Starkiller base.

New generation of astromech droids meets the old one as BB-8 encounters the veteran of the Rebel Alliance, and a Star Wars saga regular, plucky R2-D2.

The injured Kylo pursues Finn and Rey all the way to the surface of the planet that houses the Starkiller base. Finn attempts to tackle Kylo with Luke’s lightsaber, but, being no match for his Dark Force skills, is soon overpowered and badly wounded. Rey picks up the lightsaber Finn dropped and confronts Kylo, very nearly overpowering him with the Force she wields, but suddenly they are separated by a deep crevice as the whole planet starts falling apart. Before the entire Starkiller base disintegrates, Snoke orders Hux to evacuate and bring Kylo Ren to him for further training, while Rey and Chewbacca escape with gravely injured Finn in the Millennium Falcon.

On D’Qar, the Resistance celebrates their victory even as Leia and Chewbacca mourn Han’s death. Unexpectedly, R2-D2 re-activates and reveals the missing part of the star-map. Rey with Chewbacca and R2-D2 follow the map that leads them to a distant planet, where, on a remote island Rey finally finds Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and presents him with his lightsaber.

With Han Solo dead, Rey takes his place in the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit and, along with Chewbacca, follows the star map that should lead to Luke Skywalker.

While the debate will undoubtedly continue whether George Lucas’s vision of Episode VII would have been better, J. J. Abrams,

for better or for worse, decided to play it safe, favoured continuity and familiarity over a sharp change of direction in pursuit of needless experimentation that could have proven fatal not only for him as a film director, but also for the future of the series, and in the process created something that may not be exactly novel or revolutionary, but is instantly recognisable to the fans of the franchise and is, arguably, worthy of carrying the name ‘Star Wars’ – and that cannot be a bad thing.

TRIVIA: James Bond actor Daniel Craig has an uncredited cameo in the film, playing the stormtrooper that releases Rey from the chair Kylo Ren restrained her in.