Fans of Star Wars have spent three decades coming up with their own stories about what happened to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia after Return of the Jedi‘s happy ending. There’s fan fiction and the expanded universe of comic books and novels full of stories about the characters, their relationships and offspring.
So when time came to write a script for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, fans can imagine the scriptwriters had some work to do. Not only would they have to come up with a story to guide the action on screen, it would have to be one that — hopefully — did justice to the franchise.
Warning — spoilers from Star Wars: The Force Awakens to follow.
As it turns out, coming up with a new Star Wars script was a monumental task, and several storylines were tweaked or abandoned altogether. As Vulture reported earlier this month, the original script by Michael Arndt was tossed out, and JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan started from scratch. Kasdan described it as a frantic process, where the technical aspects of the film were getting in gear before the producers even knew who the characters would be.
“I mean, we were making [the characters] up at that moment, as costuming and everything else was happening! It’s not like there was a finished script sitting around for months.”
Back in May, Kasdan told Vanity Fair that script issues had long dogged the production, saying he and other producers had trouble conceiving of a story. Abrams and Kasdan took over the screenwriting process from Arndt when pre-production was already underway.
“We didn’t have anything. There were a thousand people waiting for answers on things, and you couldn’t tell them anything except ‘Yeah, that guy’s in it.’ That was about it. That was really all we knew.”
During a post-screening Q&A of Star Wars: The Force Awakens over the weekend, Arndt, Kasdan and Abrams revealed how the story changed over time. As Entertainment Weekly reported, Arndt conceived of an early meeting between Luke Skywalker and Rey, but that was set aside.
“Early on I tried to write versions of the story where [Rey] is at home, her home is destroyed, and then she goes on the road and meets Luke. And then she goes and kicks the bad guy’s ass. It just never worked and I struggled with this. This was back in 2012.”
According to Arndt, he was concerned audiences would care more about Luke than Rey, and her story would not properly develop.
Another piece in Vulture cites a leaked scene breakdown to expose other potential story cuts, including the alien Maz Kanata presenting Leia with Luke’s lightsaber and Han Solo and Leia presenting their son, Kylo Ren, to Luke for Jedi training.
That last story detail, which did not make it to the final cut of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, seems particularly important, since some commentators have lamented the lack of context around the death of Solo at the hands of Ren. Darren Franich, writing in Entertainment Weekly, found the Han Solo death scene lacking because of those gaps in the story.
“When Han died, I found myself wondering why the guy who kept a gun pointed at Greedo under the table walked into a trap so open-armed. The obvious answer is ‘This guy is his son, and he loves him.’
“But it’s a weird moment, because Kylo Ren and Han Solo have no clear relationship in the rest of the movie. This is their first moment onscreen together — and it’s not entirely clear what it was about Han and/or Leia that drove Ren to hating them both so completely.”
Other script changes included swaping Gwendoline Christie’s character, Captain Phasma, from male to female. That happened at about the time a table read photo was released, showing only one new female character — Daisy Ridley’s Rey. Also, Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron was supposed to die, but JJ Abrams decided to magically resurrect him at the last minute.
One major criticism lodged at Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the number of story similarities between the film and Star Wars: A New Hope, the original film released in 1977. Vox identified at least five major points to support this argument.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in theaters now.
[Feature photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images Entertainment]