Ascended Fanon: The name Captain Phasma existed way before Disney registered the name trademark. In the 2009 fan fiction Tarkin's Fist, Phasma was a 10 year old daughter of an Imperial Admiral. Her name was eventually adapted by Lucasfilm for the commander of the First Order Stormtroopers and was geared with a chrome Stormtrooper armor originally designed for Kylo Ren.
B-Team Sequel: The first full-fledged Star Wars film not to directly involve George Lucas, instead created by J. J. Abrams. A rare case of the B-Team Sequel being more anticipated because of a changing of the guard from the original creator.
Career Resurrection: While Hamill has had a successful career as a voice actor, he hasn't played many live-action roles for a long time. Since his involvement with The Force Awakens was announced, he's appeared in more live-action works such as Kingsman: The Secret Service and The Flash.
Cash-Cow Franchise: Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion because Star Wars is one of the biggest (if not the Trope Maker, the Trope Codifier). And it paid off: The Force Awakens made over $500 million in its opening weekend, and got to $1 billion in 12 days (the fastest film to hit that mark). One month later, it managed to overtake Avatar as the highest grosser in North America, and the total there finished at a staggering $936.7 million. Worldwide, The Force Awakens stands as the third highest of all time, as well as the biggest moneymaker not directed by James Cameron (both meaning it managed to, like Avatar and Titanic, surpass $2 billion worldwide, and, like only Avatar, do it on its initial release). Of course, that's not even getting into The Merch, or the inevitable Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at the Disney Theme Parks.
The approach with the new actors was to grab complete unknowns. When the initial announcement was made, everyone asked "Who the hell is Daisy Ridley?", and she's the female lead!
The later announced Crystal Clarke, Pip Anderson and Christina Chong are perhaps even more unknown. Though Halo fans might recognize Chong as Talitha Macer of the Sedran Colonial Guard from Halo: Nightfall.
There now exists a near life-sized, commercially available toy of BB-8 that is scarily accurate to how the real deal moves, complete with magnetized head—it can even be programmed to just follow you around. However, it doesn't turn easily or move well on slippery surfaces, it has a very short battery life, and it obviously doesn't have a built-in lighter or clamps.
Some fans have taken it a step further and made BB-8 replicas that are even more accurate to the physical movie prop than the commercially available toy.
Deleted Role: Robert Boutler shot a cameo as Luke Skywalker in the Rey's vision sequence but was cut. Darth Vader was also supposed to be featured in the movie but it was cut as well!
Fisher was made to lose 35 pounds for the role which is no small feat, especially for a woman of 57 with a history of health issues, and apparently, she shed more weight while filming. She spoke about this on talk shows, joking that '[Studios] always do [ask me to lose weight]. They want to hire part of me, not all of me. They want to hire about three-fourths, so I have to get rid of the fourth somehow. The fourth can't be with me!'
Hamill grew a beard to get into the role of a Jedi Master, and like Carrie, Mark lost almost 50 pounds.
Fans were speculating that Driver was going to be playing Kylo Ren long before it was officially announced. In the same line of thinking, people figured out that Christie was going to play a character named Captain Phasma based on Disney copyrighting the name.
Many fans speculated that Kylo Ren was a title akin to "Darth Vader", something that was later confirmed in and an Entertainment Weekly article.
Quite a few people correctly guessed that Darth Vader was Kylo Ren's grandfather.
Many predicted that Han would be the Sacrificial Lion for the film. They were right.
The Stormtrooper with the riot-control baton who calls out Finn, is actually one of his former squad mates, FN-2199. Fans had been speculating that the two were connected somehow than more than just some random mook recognizing Finn. Their history is told in the TFA prequel novel Before the Awakening, written by Greg Rucka. The trooper has been given the nickname TR-8R, based on his one line, which was delivered by long-time Skywalker Sound editor David Acord.
Killed by Request: Ford eventually got his wish to kill off Han Solo. He wanted it to happen in the original trilogy, but producers and writers didn't agree.
Lying Creator: After The Last Jedi revealed that Rey wasn't related to any important characters from the original trilogy, Abrams claimed it was true to his own intention while making this film. After the trilogy finished, Ridley revealed that in fact he was toying with making her Obi-Wan's granddaughter during production, and indeed Abrams himself later went back on that claim and made her Palpatine's granddaughter in The Rise of Skywalker.
The scene of Kylo Ren activating his lightsaber in the snowy forest outside of Starkiller Base was featured prominently in the marketing, but was cut from the finished movie.
During Luke's voice-over monologue in the second trailer, Maz Kanata can be seen giving Anakin's lightsaber to Leia. This ended up on the cutting room floor after all of Maz's scenes at the Resistance base were excised from the film.
There are several voice-over lines from the trailers not used in the actual film, such as Kylo Ren saying "Nothing will stand in our way. I will show them the Dark Side," and Maz saying "Hope is not lost today. It is found." Another prominent one was an exchange from the third trailer where Maz asks Rey who she is, only for Rey to respond "I'm no one."
The distinctive "chattering" of the Imperial probe droid from The Empire Strikes Back can be clearly heard in the first teaser, just as Finn is seen looking off into the distance. Curiously, probe droids are not present at all in the final film.
Not Screened for Critics: First screenings often occur mere days before official release. Abrams has explained this is to avoid preventing spoilers from reaching the internet as opposed to Disney's concerns for quality.
On-Set Injury: The remote-operated door for the Millennium Falcon was accidentally shut early, causing it to break Harrison Ford's leg. To work around him needing to sit while healing, the bar scene on Takodana was pushed up in the schedule, resulting in the plans for an animatronic Maz Kanata being shelved for a CG depiction. (An animatronic Maz would eventually appear two films later).
Francis Lax, the French voice actor who dubbed Ford in the Original Trilogy (as well as in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) passed away in 2013. For The Force Awakens, he was replaced by Richard Darbois, who voiced Ford in most of his other his films. Other replacements for the French dub includes Béatrice Delfe as the voice of Carrie Fisher as Leia (replacing Évelyn Séléna), and Jean-Claude Donda as the voice of Anthony Daniels as C-3PO (replacing Roger Carel, who retired a few years before TFA was made).note Donda has started to replace Carel as the official voice of C-3PO ever since the fourth season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
The Other Marty: During the lightsaber Force vision, Obi-Wan can be heard saying "These are your first steps." Originally this line was recorded by James Arnold Taylor, who voices the character in spin-off media, but it was later redubbed by Ewan McGregor, who played Obi-Wan in the prequel movies. Kenobi also calls out to Rey by name in the vision, which was a deft edit of Alec Guinness saying the word "afraid", taken from his dialog in the classic trilogy.
Poe Dameron's being born in Yavin is due to the fact that his actor, Oscar Isaac, was born in Guatemala, where the Rebel Base's Yavin scenes were filmed, although his age isn't nearly as good a match as the case with Gleeson (having been born in 1979)note The script lists Poe's age as 32, which means it passes a Hand Wave (2 years after the Battle of Yavin, like Isaac regarding A New Hope) but not a slight Age Lift (Isaac was 35 during principal photography).
Ford actually has a son named Ben, just like his character. (Thankfully, though, Ben Ford has not turned to The Dark Side, and hopefully won't murder his father.)
Recycled Script: In addition to recycling concepts and plots from both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, large portions of the story are remarkably similar to George Lucas's original story treatments for those films.
The opening scene depicts a platoon of stormtroopers along with The Heavy who are trying to recover a secret piece of information being held by La Résistance, which is then given to a droid for safekeeping.
The droid wanders an endless desert searching for its master to return the secret info to the Resistance base, but instead meets with The Hero who decides to aid its journey.
Luke was going to be a girl in one of the earlier versions of A New Hope. The concept of "Luke as a girl" is revisited in the character of Rey.
Rey is also a transplant of the original version of the "another" Yoda spoke of in Empire who was Luke's twin sister (but not Leia) who was being trained in secret on the other side of the universe, and was going to be the hero of the proposed Sequel Trilogy as it existed in 1980.
Han Solo is yet again being pursued by criminal groups to whom he owes a lot of money.
The party visits an expy of the Mos Eisley cantina, where they meet an expy of Yoda.
The original proposed ending for Return of the Jedi had Han killed in battle, Luke disappearing to search for his twin sister and train a new generation of Jedi and Leia giving up her title of Princess to lead a new Republic. In The Force Awakens, Leia has given up her title of princess to help lead a new Republic, Luke disappears after his Jedi students are betrayed and murdered, and Han is killed in battle.
The Knights of Ren are closer to the original version of the Sith, who were a rival faction of force users who supplanted the Jedi as the Empire's main peacekeepers.
Lucas originally planned for Luke to disembark from his X-wing to manually drop the bomb to destroy the Death Star, at which point he and Vader would engage in a lightsaber duel. Kylo Ren, Finn, and Rey fight a lightsaber duel during the Resistance's fighter attack on Starkiller Base.
Kylo Ren himself is much closer to the prototype Vader, a high-ranking but still subservient general who does not need his trademark mask and is a member group of rival Force users to the Jedi who ended up betraying and murdering their former comrades
Han was originally a big-talking cabin boy on a crew of pirates and ended up stealing a ship from them with Luke's assistance. Han now has a fallen reputation as a big-talking two-bit conman, who skips out on a crew of pirates with Finn and Rey's assistance.
The Heavy communicates with his master via a hologram that makes his master appear to be of gigantic proportions.
The Resistance is threatened by a planet-destroying superweapon which has a weak point in the form of a renamed Thermal Exhaust Port, and they have nothing but fighters to throw at it.
The Resistance has a small fighter hangar base and war room that look quite a lot like the Yavin IV base they used to stage an assault on the Death Star.
Han Solo leads a small unit onto the surface of the superweapon planet to sabotage a shield generator for the coming attack.
Han Solo, in his role as this film's The Mentor, sacrifices his life to The Heavy (although unintentionally).
The Hero of the story experiences an epiphany and opens up to the Force in order to secure victory against The Heavy.
In The Phantom Menace Lucas wanted to have Anakin bring Queen Amidala's ship out of hyperspace directly above the planet of Naboo's surface as a way of bypassing the blockade and showing off his massive Force potential. Here Han does it on Starkiller base to bypass the shield and show what a crazy bastard he is.
Like in Return of the Jedi, Han Solo has to turn off the superweapon's shield generator to enable an attack.
In a very early script for A New Hope, the original surname for Luke and Anakin was "Starkiller" and was titled The Adventures of Luke Starkiller. Of course, that's not the name they wound up with, but as nod, the Death Star expy in this film was named Starkiller Base.
Returning from the previous Star Wars films are Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Kenny Baker as R2-D2, Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa, Erik Bauersfield as Admiral Ackbar, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.
Spared by the Cut: The character who originally occupied the role of Poe Dameron was originally supposed to die early in the film, possibly in the TIE Fighter crash (he was even nicknamed "John Doe" in the first drafts). This made Oscar Isaac hesitant to accept the role, because he had played a character who suffered a similar fate in The Bourne Legacy. However, J. J. Abrams decided to spare Poe after finding a way to temporarily write him out of the story without killing him.
Star-Making Role: Will likely be this for the new cast — particularly Ridley, who has appeared only in a few short films and a handful of supporting roles on British television series before this film. Indeed, she was signed onto the United Talent Agency partway through the filming process. A film she worked on previously, The Inbetweeners 2, cut her out because their reshoots happened while she was on Star Wars. Boyega is also apparently highly sought-after, with Robert Downey Jr. coaching the young actor on how to deal with the the fame that the role will grant him.
Studio Hop: The first film in the main series to be released solely under the Lucasfilm brand by Disney, after (now Disney-owned) 20th Century Fox released the prior six movies.
After a set leak in June of 2014, showing off the Millennium Falcon along with other things, Abrams responded by tweeting that the leaks were unfounded and denied that the Millennium Falcon was present in the film... In the form of a note left on top of the ship's iconic Dejarik board.
A short while after the Sequel Trilogy was announced, Zack Snyder stated that he had interest in developing a Spin-Off that took place in this era. He had met with Kathleen Kennedy, and the movie he proposed was rumored to have been inspired by Seven Samurai and would feature all-new Jedi. While there's still no word on if that film is going to be made (though only two of the three/four spin-offs actually have directors attached to them), Snyder and Abrams have tweeted Star Wars/DC Comics crossover images at each other, leaving fans curious as to whether they're just fooling around or if this will actually be made once Snyder is finished with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and both parts of Justice League.
A fairly-plausible rumor detailing the film's opening act gained popularity online... Except for one part where it was mentioned that Luke's disembodied cybernetic hand would be a MacGuffin to kick off the plot, which was largely ridiculed and dismissed. For the update that announced the winner of the Force for Change initiative, a metallic hand was shown to be holding the note revealing the winner's name, and given the background of the location, the picture seemed to have been taken on Skellig Michael Island, where Hamill had last been seen filming. Whether it's just a poke at the rumor or if it's a simple preview of what's to come is anyone's guess.
Abrams and Ford, as well as other members of the Original Trilogy's main cast were present on different talk shows, comedy and otherwise, after the movie was announced. Unsurprisingly, they remained quiet when asked about what was happening with the show.
Ford was the worst. When Conan O'Brien offered him $1k to spill something about the new movie, he replied "A long time ago, in a place far, far away... I forget the rest." When he was on Jimmy Kimmel, he would take questions but wouldn't answer any Star Wars-related ones. Cue being asked questions by a Jedi cosplayer, a stormtrooper, a fat man in a Princess Leia metal bikini outfit and a wookie (which caused Ford to start a joke-argument with him, leading to his exit from the show for the episode).note This is actually a Call-Back to a similar skit when he was promoting Cowboys & Aliens
Any time filming took place, they used one of the working titles on the signs to "hide" the fact that it was being filmed there. Except that they used the Star Wars font to write the names in, leaving no doubt as to which movie it actually was. Though this isn't just teasing — during production on Empire, the locals milked them for all the money they could. So afterwards, they had to keep the fact they were filming a Star Wars movie secret.
Parts of Poe's backstory, namely him hailing from Yavin, were suggested by Isaac and then incorporated into the official canon.
The line where Obi-Wan Kenobi (with the voice of Alec Guinness) speaks in a vision was added after an editor discovered his inflection of the word "afraid" could be edited to sound just like the word "Rey."
Lucas' original plan was to get Episode VII released with him having a more active role in its creation, and then sell the company so somebody else could finish the new trilogy. This didn't happen due to Disney coming by at the right time to make the deal, preventing any legal trouble.
According to a Vanity Fair cover story, Lucas' original ideas for the Sequel Trilogy had teenage/young adult main characters. Disney ultimately went with actors who were in their twenties and thirties instead.
[Abrams] said Lucas’ treatment had centered on very young characters — teenagers, Lucasfilm told me — which might have struck Disney executives as veering too close for comfort to The Phantom Menace and its 9-year-old Anakin Skywalker and 13-year-old Queen Amidala. "We've made some departures" from Lucas's ideas, Kennedy conceded, but only in "exactly the way you would in any development process."
One of the movie's working titles was Shadow of the Empire, but this was changed to avoid confusion with the Shadows of the Empire multimedia project from the 90s.
The movie was originally slated for a May release date, like all of the Star Wars movies that preceded it, but it was pushed back to December 2015. Ultimately, this proved to be a wiser decision, considering that Avengers: Age of Ultron was slated to be Disney's tentpole film for the summer of 2015, and that releasing both movies around the same time would have limited the amount of profit either would have received.
Rey was originally named Kira, and was conceived as a Luke Expy who sought and followed him as an apprentice after her home was destroyed in a sort of Passing the Torch way. She later evolved into a scavenger as in the final film, though still accompanied by an elderly father figure who was a former Republic pilot. Interestingly, echoing Luke's own surname change, the name "Kira" stuck for virtually all the production time and only got changed to Rey when they had already started filming.
Finn was named Sam at an early stage of production, where he was conceived as being the youngest member of a group of space pirates led by Maz Kanata rather than a stormtrooper. The opening shot of the film was going to be his tiny ship towing a derelict Star Destroyer, meant to mimic the opening of A New Hope as closely as possible yet with a touch of humor. However, Sam would have lost control of the Star Destroyer and let it crash on Jakku, where Kira would search it for parts as Rey does in the final film. Instead of a desert world, Jakku would have been an ocean planet where part of the Second Death Star crashed and was left partially submerged. The concept of a water world where the second Death Star's remains were found was retooled to become the moon Kef Bir in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
After Sam became Finn, his backstory would have been rather different. Originally, what would have convinced Finn to leave the First Order would be witnessing a number of Resistance fighters being executed and thrown out of an airlock. After escaping with Poe and crash landing, he would be healed by a tribe of locals and be "reborn" into a hero. Most importantly, in this version he was a personal friend of the character that became Kylo Ren, who would be left heatbroken by Finn's defection.
While the idea of Han's and Leia's son turning to the Dark Side supposedly traces back to Lucas himself, Kylo Ren went through several iterations in his character design. He was initially going to be a former Jedi named Skyler who served Sith Lord Darth Talon, but later both characters were fused into a dark Jedi called the Jedi Killer, who was more akin to Darth Vader and would power up by directly absorbing the energy of a star. In this version, he was friends with Finn before his betrayal, which would have left him devastated enough for him to seek the counsel of his dead grandfather. At one point, he was even going to show up a straight up Vader impersonator, wearing a exact copy of his suit in order to mess with Luke.
Several different ideas for the movie's MacGuffin were put forth initially, with ideas such as the heroes trying to find the remains of Darth Vader, or even searching the underwater wreckage of the second Death Star in order to find info about sacred Jedi sites or hidden Jedi masters (in whose case we would have even seen the Millennium Falcon going underwater). In the end, it was decided that the search for Luke himself would be the main thread tying everything together. Luke himself had a significantly larger role in the earlier drafts, but his presence was drastically reduced in order to avoid having him overshadow Rey and Finn.
Following the last measure, the original script that Michael Ardnt worked on originally put the new cast up front while the old cast was Demoted to Extra. Abrams overrode that decision and decided to expand on the roles of the older cast, so that the original team could have (at least) one last adventure — all while still giving time to introduce the new cast, with the extent to expand upon their roles in Episode VIII and Episode IX.
Back when Luke was going to be one of the main characters, there were plans for Hayden Christensen to cameo as the Force ghost of Anakin Skywalker. One piece of concept art suggests his appearance could have constantly shifted between that of Anakin and Darth Vader, playing on the duality of the Force. Though this rather seriously contradicts previous lore which held that darksiders cannot become Force ghosts, that is, truly become one with the Force, precisely because of the dark side (hence Obi-Wan becoming "more powerful" in death than Vader could ever imagine); the entire point of Vader taking the form of a Jedi again in the "Force afterlife" was due to him rejecting and being "saved" from the dark side.
At one point, Snoke's character was going to be female, a "beautiful, statuesque woman" inspired by Greek sculpture. Even although they settled for a male villain, the beautiful part remained for a long time in production, as Abrams and the creatives didn't want him to be old and decrepit like Sidious. They ultimately decided to play it straight on the idea it would show better his corruption by the Dark Side.
Conversely, Captain Phasma was originally going to be a man, and it's rumored that the creative team wanted him to be played by Benedict Cumberbatch (whom Abrams had worked with on Star Trek Into Darkness, and who actually came to visit the sets of the film). However, after the movie received some complaints about the lack of women in the cast, presumably after Snoke had been made male, the creators rewrote Phasma as female and cast Gwendoline Christie in the role.
Denis Lawson was written in to reappear as Wedge Antilles in the film, but he turned the offer down because he didn't want to do a cameo, preferring to continue his television career instead. Reportedly Wedge's role was originally the one Max von Sydow's character ultimately received, meaning Wedge would have ultimately gone through Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome had it happened. Lawson would ultimately reprise his role as Wedge in The Rise of Skywalker.
The movie was originally going to open with Luke's severed hand floating through space, still holding the lightsaber from his duel with Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. The hand would then burn up in the atmosphere of the planet Jakku, and the surviving lightsaber would land in the desert, only to be plucked up by an unseen alien.
R2-D2 was originally going to appear much earlier in the film alongside C-3PO, but the writers thought it would be better to present his arrival as a bit of delayed gratification by not having him reactivate until the final act.
Instead of Han and Chewbacca, space pirates would have seized the Millennium Falcon and forced Rey to literally walk the plank into space.
Starkiller Base was conceived later in development, and would have been located on Dantooine, with the First Order converting the old Rebel base there. Starkiller would have also been called the "Doom Star", and its cannon would have fired out of a volcano.
The Resistance was originally going to have a massive warship named Warhammer, which would use its heavily armored prow to breach planetary shields and then deploy smaller ships to exploit the hole.
Finn and Rey were originally supposed to have a Belligerent Sexual Tension rather than the more ambiguous relationship they had in the final version.
The screenplay had Maz Kanata going with the heroes to the Resistance base, and Lupita Nyong'o even filmed some scenes with Carrie Fisher. They were all cut after the creative team decided that Maz really didn't add anything to the final act. However, a shot of Maz giving Anakin's lightsaber to Leia did show up in the second trailer.
The original run time (actual run time, not the assembly cut) of the movie was two hours and 40 minutes long before being cut down to two hours and 16 minutes, with some of the cut scenes remaining in the film until only a month before release. It remains to be seen how many of these deleted scenes will show up on the DVD or Blu-ray release of the film. One of these scenes, a snowspeeder chase on Starkiller Base, wound up being adapted into an episode of Star Wars: Forces of Destiny.
A rather noticeable case was with the character of Constable Zuvio, an enforcer on Niima Outpost. Not only was he fully designed and characterized (apparently, he was to have a significant role in getting Rey off Jakku), but he received a few toys and a page in the film's official visual dictionary, generating interest in the character. All of this was for naught, however, as he was completely demoted shortly after his promotional material was released. In the film proper, he only survives as a background extra visible for a few blurry frames in the background as Rey is running through the market.
According to a leaked call-sheet for The Force Awakens, when Rey finds the Skywalker lightsaber in Maz's castle Finn was originally present too and they both experienced visions. This suggests that Finn was intended to be explicitly Force-sensitive, whereas in the finished movie he's presented as a Badass Normal and only implicitly suggested to be Force-sensitive in The Rise of Skywalker.
Kylo Ren was originally going to look like Captain Phasma. When that idea was abandoned, the costume was given to Phasma.
Originally Courscant was gonna be the planet that was blown up by Starkiller Base. However, Lucasfilm refused to allow the destruction of one of the most iconic Star Wars planets. So Hosnian Prime was used as a substitute.
Word of Saint Paul: At the London Film & Comic Con in 2014, Ian McDiarmidpublicly denied that Palpatine would be in the movie (not even as a hologram or in a potential flashback), outright stating that the character was Killed Off for Real in Return of the Jedi. However, he did say that he thought a story involving Palpatine appearing in an earlier time period would be awesome, and would willingly reprise his role if he were asked.
Enabling the Audio Description track for the blind will have a voice describe everything that is happening on-screen. The voice in question is that of Martin Billany (aka LittleKuriboh), as demonstrated here.