How 'Force Awakens' Changed During Development: Jedi Killers, Force Ghosts And The Doom Star

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How did Star Wars: the Force Awakens evolve during the development process? What were some of the early ideas they were playing with that didn't end up in the final film? The new book The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens gives us a peek inside the development of Episode 7, from the earliest concepts to post production.

Did you know that Starkiller Base was originally called The Doom Star? That Poe Dameron's character began as a Jedi or Bounty Hunter? Or how about that they toyed with the idea that Anakin Skywalker would appear in the film as a Force Ghost? Learn about how The Force Awakens changed from the earliest story ideas to the movie you've now experienced.

Before we begin, I should note that the process of imagining concepts for the film began before a director was even signed on to the project. At first artists would work with the film's initial screenwriter Michael Arndt to "create guided imagery," compelling visual concepts that invoke symbolism. Some of what is below might just be some ideas that were thrown at the wall during those early days, while other stuff you can see a glimpse of what evolved into the final film.

We should learn more about the development process of the movie when the Making of book is released in spring 2016 (lets hope it serves the Rinzler books proud). But for now the Art of The Force Awakens book gives us our more extensive look behind the development and evolution of this project. When available online, I've included some of the concept art and preview pages from the Art Of book (which is a must buy in my opinion).

Now lets dive in.


Rey Was a Hothead Loner Named Kira

Rey's original name was Kira and while its not specifically stated, her early concept designs looked like they were modeled after Kristen Stewart. Screenwriter Michael Arndt described Kira as a "loner, hothead, gear-head, badass," and the early story focused on Kira's journey of self-discovery, from fearful Force-sensitive to master.


A Double-Bladed Two-Colored Lightsaber

One of the more interesting visual concepts presented in the idea phase was a piece by co-production designer Rick Carter that showed a double-sided lightsaber, with one side having a blue blade and the other side with a red blade. They were playing with the motif of fire and ice, and while it looked cool, the concept didn't fit with the story that was developed.


Rey Wanted Desperately to Leave Jakku

Rey is extremely reluctant to leave Jakku in the movie, but in the earlier versions of the story Kira was eager to leave the junk planet. Concept art shows Kira longingly watching spaceships departing from the planet.

In the early versions of the story, Rey worked in a used car lot of sorts for an elderly father figure, an old Republic pilot. The Millennium Falcon was among the ships on the lot. Watching ships come and go every day, she would daydream about leaving the junk planet and exploring the galaxy.

This idea almost made the final film visually. In the trailer you see a shot of Rey cleaning materials she salvaged from the Star Destroyer. In the original cut of the film, she looks at a mother and her daughter, both dressed in fancy clothes, stepping onto a ship at the port. Rey had a look of happiness, not envy. This is definitely an aspect of Rey that has evolved, but you feel shades of it in the final film — with Rey collecting artifacts of Rebel pilots. Her backstory for the film involved her spending her free time learning how to fly on flight simulators.


Finn Was Originally a Han Solo Type

The character that became Finn was originally named Sam. Screenwriter Michael Arndt described Sam as "pure charisma" and the early concept art showed him as a young white man. You might describe his look as a smuggler type, a cross between a younger Han Solo and Anakin Skywalker from the prequels.

They quickly came to the idea of Sam being a former Stormtrooper who witnesses either a firing squad or an airlock ejection of a captured Rebel crew member. Its that event which was the turning point where he decides to run and helps Poe escape. But before Poe was a resistance pilot, he was something else...


Poe Dameron Was Almost a Jedi or Bounty Hunter

Poe Dameron began his life as "John Doe," which is a tentative name and fitting considering the character's original fate. Oscar Isaac has revealed that Dameron was originally supposed to die in the crash landing on Jakku, but J.J. Abrams eventually decided to write the character into the second half of the movie.

The concept art depicted him as a black man in his 30s or 40s — imagine a younger Samuel L. Jackson as a Rebel officer. At one point he was almost a Jedi, and then a bounty hunter, before they settled on him being "a Republic military man." They even toyed with the idea of giving him a Wookiee sidekick when he was a bounty hunter.


Finn Is Rescued By an Indigenous Tribe

After the TIE fighter crash-lands on Jakku, Poe Dameron originally abandoned Finn (then still named Sam) in the wreckage. But Sam is rescued by an indigenous alien tribe who take him back to their village and perform a healing ritual where "Sam is reborn a hero." This might sound a bit hokey, but its also an idea based with the Heroes Journey structure that George Lucas followed for the original trilogy. And this is where he would have encountered Maz Kanata...

The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Maz Kanata Was Originally Going to Be a Puppet

Production wanted to have a Yoda-like mentor in the movie and played with many different concept designs, most of which looked like variations on Yoda — short and green, with big ears (you can see some of the art above). Maz Kanata's character originally appeared as a more traditional shaman, and I'm guessing she was originally set to appear in the tribal situation that Finn (then Sam) finds himself in. Later Maz evolved into the owner of a bar in Crime City where seedy alien species would gather to drink and gamble and our heroes first meet Han Solo.

The design of Maz Kanata took longer than expected and they ran out of time to create the character as a puppet (just as they had done for Yoda in Empire) as they originally wanted. Maz was one of the last designed characters for the film, finalized in October 2015 just months before the film's release.


The Map Was Hidden Inside the Death Star, Now Submerged Under Water

One early idea had a piece of the second Death Star submerged underwater on this junk planet, with Rey going on an adventure to scavenge goods from the old space station. One piece of concept art shows her diving, swimming through the Death Star's trench. She would find a hidden map inside the Emperor's tower that would tell us where the Jedi are and where Luke is hiding. Later concept art shows Rey taking the Millennium Falcon underwater to find the Emperor's chamber submerged deep underwater.


Starkiller Base Was Built on Dantooine and Called the “Doom Star”

Starkiller Base originally began as an Imperial Snow Base with a super weapon. The super weapon was going to be built inside the planet of Dantooine. You may recall Princess Leia attempts to convince Grand Moff Tarkin to destroy Dantooine with the Death Star in A New Hope, in her attempt to save her home planet of Alderaan. The idea was that an old Rebel base on Dantooine was retrofitted by the Empire.

The supergun was originally set inside an old volcano, with X-wing fighters trying to dive-bomb into it. The idea came later that the base would steal the energy from the suns in a system, literally and metaphorically bringing more darkness to the galaxy. The name of the base was originally "Doom Star."

Anakin Skywalker As A Force Ghost

Anakin Skywalker As a Force Ghost

The production considered bringing Anakin Skywalker back in Force Ghost form. One image showed Hayden Christensen as Anakin talking to an old, exiled Luke Skywalker. The idea evolved and at one point the Force Ghost would flow back and forth between Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker, showing him as a character with both a dark side and a light side. For whatever reason, the idea of brining Anakin back as a force ghost was dropped completely.

Force awakens concept art jedi killer

Kylo Ren Began As “Jedi Killer,” a Darth Vader Copycat

Many bad guys were explored in the development of Star Waers Episode 7. The idea that kept coming up was a villain known as Jedi Killer. Its not clear how this exactly evolved into Kylo Ren, but it seems like the concept of the Jedi Killer was incorporated in the Star Wars Rebels animated series as Inquisitors.

In fact, Christian Alzmann's unused concept art for a Sith Jedi Killer was later used for the Fifth Brother in Rebels. Another idea for the Jedi Killer involved a red mask with a black circle. That design looked very cool and because it was not used for the villain, they decided instead to use it in the film for the Guavian Death Gang.

For a while, J.J. Abrams apparently liked the idea that the bad guy would be dressed in a costume that looked very similar to Darth Vader in order to mess with Luke's head. The conceit may have been that Darth Vader had a specific title and look to him and that the other lords of the Sith that followed would have a similar look. I'm sure we see shades of this concept in Kylo Ren's obsession with Vader.

One version of the Jedi Killer was somehow sustained by sun matter, and a piece of art showed him in his meditation chamber eating sun energy in the room. A few of the concepts for Jedi Killer involved a floating droid sidekick, which looked like the interrogation droid from A New Hope crossed with an Imperial probe droid.

force awakens concept art

The Resistance Developed a Super Weapon Called the War-Hammer

General Leia appeared earlier in the story and was shown developing a super weapon which was referred to a the "War-Hammer." The super weapon would've been several times the size of a Star Destroyer and took the form of a massive ship with a huge front that could penetrate any shield and was able to deploy ships through it.

Force Awakens han solo

Han Solo Was a Down-and-Out Drunk Space Cowboy

Early concepts for old Han Solo incorporated a more Sergio Leone-style Western look, with a long duster jacket, combed-back hair, and a beard.

Kira and Sam would originally first encounter a down-and-out Han Solo on a planet they were calling "Crime City." Concept art shows Solo drunk at a table in a seedy bar in the moment we would have first met the character in this film.

bb8 concept art

Rey Had a Flying Droid; BB-8 Started As a Probe Droid Named “Surly”

Rey's character Kira originally had her own droid, which started out as a small, hovering, almost probe-like droid that would follow and help the scavenger.

The earliest concept art of John Doe (Poe)'s droid looked like a circular R2-unit head on a Imperial probe droid body. After J.J. Abrams came to the idea of the droid having a circular body and round magnetic head, BB-8 began to really take shape.

But BB-8 was not the original name of the droid. He was originally given the temp working name of "Surly." The first place we were to meet the droid was in a droid repair area on a Star Destroyer where he was to escape incineration.


Jakku Was Not Always a Desert Planet

Jakku was one of the first concepts the team came up with. At first it was going to just be a planet where an Imperial space station crashed, but quickly it evolved into a "junk planet" with a wrecked Imperial Star Destroyer among other things. Jakku wasn't always a desert planet. They explored ideas of a junk planet be covered in ice and snow, or covered with overgrown greenery, or partly covered with water. Inspired by Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s and the Afghani short film Buzkashi Boys, the junk planet evolved into something more Old West.


Darth Vader’s Castle Was Almost Leia’s Resistance Base

Ralph McQuarrie's unused original concept art of Darth Vader's castle from Empire Strikes Back inspired the idea of a castle among the landscape on this junk planet. They played with putting the villain's castle on various other different-looking planets.They eventually settled on a green-looking planet. The idea was for it to be Princess Leia's castle, where the heroes find her after leaving Crime City. The castle of course would be obscuring the subterranean Resistance base. But in the final movie Maz Kanata gets the castle.

Space Pirates?

One idea involved a bunch of alien space pirates raiding the Millennium Falcon. Another piece of art features the pirates having captured Rey's oval-looking ship and making her "walk the plank" as their ship flies over the planet's ocean. I'm guessing the ideas for these pirates somehow evolved into the gangs that board Han Solo's freighter. A scene for the film was planned and probably shot involving one of the space pirates' speeder ship not stopping for Finn as he trekked through the grueling heat to Nima Outpost on Jakku.


Snoke Was Almost Female

Supreme Leader Snoke was one of the last characters finalized for the film, alongside Maz Kanata in October 2014. Neither J.J. Abrams nor creature creative supervisor Neal Scanlan wanted Snoke to be old and decrepit like the Emperor, and at one point they even explored the idea of the character being female. They even built a full-size maquette of the concept. I'm assuming this must have been before Andy Serkis was hired to play the role via performance capture.

If you enjoyed this feature on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you may want to check out some of the following articles:

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