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The Journey to STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

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Well, well. We’re finally here.

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I am mere hours away from sitting down to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which has prompted me to cast my mind back to October 30th, 2012, when the monumental news broke that Disney had purchased Lucasfilm for $4B and were putting Episode VII into production.

Funnily enough, that article was written by me, back when I was the News Editor for UTF. Judging from such language as, “my laptop screen couldn’t get any messier,” I think it’s pretty evident that I was excited – I was. It was a surreal moment, and I still remember exactly what I was doing.

I was lying in my bed doing jackshit and decided to check Twitter on my then-BlackBerry (who remembers them?!). Scrolling through it was all just your average tweets. And then I saw that headline on Deadline. At first I couldn’t believe it. Nobody could. Fans had long accepted that Revenge of the Sith would be the last movie, even if it was something of a begrudging acceptance. To suddenly find out that this wasn’t the case was simply mind-blowing, and my reaction reflected that: I ran downstairs, screamed, “STARWARS7STARWARS7STARWARS7″ over and over again, grabbed the laptop off of whoever was using it and raced back up to my room to write the article.

This was the first of a series of videos featuring George Lucas and Kathleen Kennedy, discussing what the buyout meant and how they were going to move forward. It seems very quaint to watch it back now and hear them talk about beginning the creative process, considering how long and arduous the development of The Force Awakens has been, and how we’ve finally made it.

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The fact of the matter is this: The Force Awakens is the most anticipated movie of all time, and is probably going to end up being the biggest ever. If you, like me, followed the development process and tirelessly tracked every rumour, piece of gossip or potential spoiler, then you’ll know that this build-up has been almost as exciting as the final film. The purpose of this article isn’t to revisit everything (look, I got better shit to do than going through blog archives from 2012), but I wanted to take some time to reflect on that development process before we all watch the movie and – hopefully – get completely fucking hyped.

Something which a lot of people probably don’t remember much about is the search for a director. J.J. Abrams was announced in January 2013, so it wasn’t too long after the deal, however it felt way longer because nobody wanted the job (except Jon Favreau, who was feverishly pursuing it). Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Zack Snyder, Brad Bird, Guillermo del Toro, – they all turned it down. You’d think everybody would have jumped at the chance, but the truth is that there was and still is a hell of a lot of pressure associated with this movie. If it goes wrong, then that’s your career gone, the revitalisation of the Star Wars franchise in tatters, a wasted $4B and, not to mention, the fans. It was a very tantalising prospect, yet at the same time an incredibly dangerous one.

Aside from Favreau, David Fincher was another big contender, allegedly having meetings with Kathleen Kennedy, along with Matthew Vaughn. He was even confirmed for a time – well, sorta. I can’t remember exactly why Vaughn fizzled out, but I vaguely remember visiting some message boards either this year or in 2014 and reading that he had “problems with a female lead.” Then again, this was the SuperHeroHype Forums.

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What was even more fun to follow was the casting, as it gave us genuine clues towards the story and characters. Todd from Breaking Bad was initially up for the lead, and then the following day Hugo Weaving, Michael Fassbender and Adam Driver all became rumoured. While we didn’t know it at the time, that was back when the story had finally been set by J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, after Michael Ardnt joined and then departed the project. It was speculated that Jesse Plemons (that’s Todd) would be playing Luke’s son, but this splintered when John Boyega was also rumoured for the lead. That caused some fans to think that there was actually two lead roles, which continued when Domnhall Gleeson was announced and was particularly secretive about his role…

OK, by “some fans,” I mean me.

Obviously Driver did go on to actually star in the movie – he plays Kylo Ren, for those of you who are uninitiated – however the report states that Weaving was up for an “Imperial commander,” which sounds an awful lot like General Hux (Gleeson’s real character). From that I’m guessing Fassbender was also up for either Hux or Ren. He’s got that villainous persona.

What’s also interesting about that report is how Abrams allegedly wanted Luke, Han and Leia to be the lead roles. We now know Finn, Rey and Poe Dameron are our new leads, with Han fulfilling the mentor role. Leia seems to be taking a backseat and Luke is absolutely nowhere to be seen. Ardnt’s original script also apparently focused on new leads, which Abrams didn’t like. So, if there was any accuracy in this (which there must have been as Adam Driver’s name is in it) then Abrams and Kasdan went back to the ideas which got Ardnt thrown off the project.

Or they were wrong. I find this more believable.

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I remember when the villains of this movie were Sith Inquisitors. I remember when Making Star Wars would post descriptions of concept art from the movie and get everyone all riled up, until they actually turned out to be right. I remember when the movie started out with Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber floating in space. I remember when Han Solo and Chewbacca were piloting a Star Destroyer. I remember when Rey was called Kira. I remember when Kylo Ren was a “Sith collector,” which is somewhat accurate (although I can’t find a source for this). I remember when Maz Kanata was called Rose. I remember when Supreme Leader Snoke was known as Uber. I remember when Obi-Wan Kenobi had a mixed-race granddaughter. I remember when Starkiller Base could actually suck a planet of its resources, and Jakku was actually Hoth (all I can find is this, which suggests it was speculation, but I could have sworn otherwise). I remember when a cyborg was the villain of the movie, and it was apparently Luke. I remember when J.J. Abrams was allegedly ageing by a decade – daily.

There was an absolute multitude of Star Wars rumours flying around, spanning three years, and – I mean this honestly – if you ever have the time do go through the archives of sites such as MSW who covered them religiously, and often started them. It’s neat to see how things have progressed, or how people were close to being correct but not quite there. For example, we know that Luke’s lightsaber plays a major role in The Force Awakens, but those opening rumors were quickly dashed. Kira turned out to be the on-set codename for Rey, similar to Rose for Maz Kanata and Uber for Snoke. The Sith Inquisitors turned out to be the villains of Star Wars Rebels instead. The cyborg probably evolved into Kylo Ren, however J.J. Abrams did post a picture of a cyborg’s hand with a rocky background which could be Skellig Michael, meaning it’s Luke’s hand, so maybe it was a mixture of the two and Luke was-

Sorry. Rambling.

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The reviews for The Force Awakens have been overwhelmingly positive, however given the nature of this franchise there’s bound to be lots of people who are disappointed. I’m hoping that won’t be me, but if it is then I will still hold fond memories of the time spent tracking the development and production of this movie. Hell, I even wrote my own treatment.

Yup, that’s right. I can’t remember the title but the villain was Han and Leia’s son who ended up inadvertedly killing Leia, Kira Skywalker was the lead (funnily enough, that was prior to the actual rumors that Rey was called Kira) and it involved Luke Skywalker being a recluse, but he was found by a space pirate gang of ex-Stormtrooper clones led by Idris Elba. To be honest, it really wasn’t a bad treatment.

But that’s all in the past. The Force has awoken. I hope you enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane, and if you’re one of the lucky ones to be seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens today, then may the Force be with you.

Always.

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