Empire Reveals J.J. Abrams' 'Force Awakens' Cinematic Inspirations And More

Remember when we were begging for any kind of news about Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Now we have to beat new stories and details and rumors and spoilers and trailers and TV spots with a stick. If you want to know the latest about the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke, the complex nature of Kylo Ren, and a little more about the still-absent Luke Skywalker, this is the place to be. Oh, and J.J. Abrams discusses his cinematic influences and throws just a teensy bit of shade at the prequels while taking about lightsaber duels.

You know if you want this and if you do, you can find everything after the jump.

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All of this news comes from Empire's new cover story on The Force Awakens (although these excerpts were collected by Star Wars News Net), which means that there is nothing here that will outright spoil the movie for you. At the same time, the film is only three weeks away from release, so if you want to remain in the dark and just wait it out, go ahead and consider much of the chatter below to be minor spoilers. You know how much you want to know.

Let's start with something totally non-spoilery – director J.J. Abrams' cinematic influences for the film. And no, it's not "the original trilogy a dozen times," but work from an eclectic collection of classic directors:

Before he started The Force Awakens, Abrams watched some movies. No, not those ones, Other ones. He looked at "the confidence" of John Ford Westerns. He took in the "unbelievable scene choreography and composition" of Kurosawa's High and Low. And he studied "the powerful stillness" of Terrence Malick. "It's not something I would normally have thought of coming to Star Wars," he says. The spare visual style of Ford, Kurosawa and Malick points to a key mandate for Abrams' approach to Episode VII: the distinctive less-is-more quality of the originals.

George Lucas was never shy about his love for Kurosawa (there is a lot of The Hidden Fortress in the original Star Wars), but hearing Abrams mention those filmmakers confirms what we've known for a long time: he has his heart in the right place and the proper instincts. Now the final movie just has to be good.

Empire also dove into Andy Serkis' Supreme Leader Snoke, a bad guy whose alien appearance is so extreme that he could only be created through motion capture. Serkis has finally and officially confirmed what many fans have suspected for some time – he's the "Big Bad" of the next few films, pulling strings from behind-the-scenes while Kylo Ren does his dirty work:

Whether Snoke is a two-storey-tall giant or a floating spectre, Serkis confirms he is definitely an alien we haven't seen before, and the Emperor Palpatine of this series. "Exactly that. And he's severely damaged. Although he is a powerful leader, he comes across as vulnerable. Very scarred and disfigured."

Serkis even went a step further and said that Snoke is the reason Kylo Ren has taken to the dark side in the first place:

"I will say this one spoiler-y thing: he was critical in the seduction of Ren to the dark side. he is a hugely important part of the story and will continue to be."

As for Kylo Ren, Adam Driver's masked wannabe Sith sounds like he's going to be a lot more than a lightsaber-wielding heavy. Like his personal idol, Darth Vader, there's a lot going in inside that helmet:

Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan says, "There's never been a character quite like the one that Adam plays." Most people describe Kylo Ren as the movie's villain but Driver thinks that the really worrying bad guys are the ones who believe they're good. Beware the righteous fanatic. "When they think their actions are morally justified it makes them dangerous and unpredictable. There's no level they won't go to accomplish what they're after. I never thought of the character as an evil person."

We already know from the trailers that Kylo Ren and John Boyega's Finn will get in at least one lightsaber duel and Abrams is open about how he chose to stage laser-sword battles in his movie. The fancy choreography of the prequels is gone, replaced with the raw, emotional fights of the original trilogy:

"When you look 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 much more primitive, aggressive and rougher, a throwback to the kind of heart-stopping lightsaber fights I remembered being so enthralled by as a kid."

And finally, we got a nice little update from Mark Hamill on the status of Luke Skywalker, who has been AWOL in the film's marketing. Hamill doesn't share much, be does share a sweet anecdote about shooting on Skellig Michael off the Irish coast:

Rest assured, Luke will appear in TFA, although it's a fair bet that he won't quite be the innocent farm boy we met back in A New Hope. "Obviously you're seeing him in a very different time in his life," says Hamill. "There are lots of surprises in this movie. You're going to love it."

If scuttlebutt is to be believed, much of TFA will concern the search for the reclusive Luke, and there's a prevailing theory that Hamill spends a large part of the movie by himself. Certainly, Hamill's strongest memory of shooting the movie supports that. "It reminded me of when I was in Tunisia on the salt flats. If you could get into your own mind and shut out the crew and look at the horizon , you really felt like you were in a galaxy far, far away. I had that same wave of emotion happen to me when I was on Skellig Michael in Ireland. I wasn't anticipating it."

As you surely know, Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens on December 18, 2015. Empire has a whole bunch of separate covers for this story, so feel free to peruse them in the gallery below.