All year long, Star Wars fans have been obsessing over trailers, behind-the-scenes clips, and first look images like they were frames from the Zapruder film, trying to discern what secrets The Force Awakens may hold.
Now that the movie is out, here’s a revelation: Some of those shots are not in the picture at all.
The fearsome Jakku law enforcement officer Constable Zuvio …? Now he knows how Adrien Brody felt at the premiere of The Thin Red Line, when he went from lead to background extra.
“There’s a shot where Kylo Ren turns on his lightsaber, which was also not in the movie,” director J.J. Abrams acknowledges. “There were a bunch of things we ended up not using.”
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In addition, some shots were paired together in the trailer even though they aren’t connected at all, such as images of the Millennium Falcon crashing through a tree line with Rey at the controls. Those are from two different scenes, and that TV spot ended up employing Sergei Eisenstein’s montage theory of filmmaking as a sleight of hand trick.
One of the most noticeable omissions was a shot of Lupita Nyong’o’s tiny alien Maz Kanata placing the Skywalker lightsaber into the hand of Carrie Fisher’s General Leia. (You can tell it’s Fisher because of the distinctive ring.)
So the question is – on a movie where so many outsiders were trying to decode its secrets, was this an effort at misdirection? Or was it merely the standard edits and alterations that every film endures?
The answer, according to Abrams, is the latter. They just took these scenes out during the tightening of the movie.
Here’s what he told EW before the movie opened: “Sometimes you discover that things you would have cut off a limb to shoot on the day are absolutely inconsequential, and in fact less impactful than if you were to remove it,” he said during an interview at the Bad Robot offices just a day after locking picture.
That can be a hard realization for a writer-director. (But harder later if they don’t accept that some things have to go.)
“As much as you try to kick the tires and write and shoot only what is necessary — no one wants to waste anyone’s time — when you’re in the editing room you realize, for instance, that introducing the character there actually diminishes their power,” Abrams said. “Or, giving that information actually distracts you from what you should be concentrating on. Or, having that moment happen concurrent with that moment actually gets in the way of both — things like that.”
He called it a “testament to the skill and patience of the editors,” Mary Jo Markey and Maryann Brandon, who have worked with him since Felicity and Alias, respectively.
“Both are incredibly collaborative and willing to try all sorts of things, even when I know that they are probably feeling like they’ve known better all along,” Abrams said. “But they’re willing to try certain things that allow us to explore and experiment with what-ifs. You make big discoveries that way.”
After the movie opened, Abrams got a bit more specific about one particular scene: Maz handing the lightsaber to Leia.
“That was a scene actually filmed, but we took out. At one point, Maz used to continue along with the characters back to the Resistance base, but we realized that she really had nothing to do there of value, except to be sitting around,” Abrams told EW at a Writers Guild of America (West) post-screening Q&A this weekend.
“Lupita did film scenes on set for that sequence, but it felt it unnecessary. So we ended up leaving those things out,” he said.
How did it end up in the trailer? “The moment was nice and the people who cut the trailer didn’t give a s–t,” he said, before adding quickly: “I’m kidding.” When that shot was included in the April trailer, they were still planning to include the scene.
As for secrecy …
“There were a lot of Disney-hired people walking around with earwigs that I never got to know who helped make sure all the digital stuff was secured. It was mostly about the cast and the crew who really wanted to preserve as much as possible, and for as long as possible, the experience for the audience,” Abrams said.
As the release for The Force Awakens drew nearer, the director said he noticed a change in the spoilerverse.
“I was especially happy to see — in this day of instant information, when we all feel entitled to know as soon as we want — how many people were saying in the past few weeks, ‘Please, no more trailers! I don’t want to know any more! Don’t tell me anything else!’ I think it spoke to this desire to have a communal experience.”
Now the only question is: WHAT’S GOING TO BE IN Episode VIII?