Like most things related to Star Wars, The Force Awakens will be obsessively scrutinized for decades to come, its every detail pored over as though it were a sacred text. The irony is that many of those key details were only thought up at the last minute, under duress: After the original screenwriter Michael Arndt departed the project during preproduction, Lawrence Kasdan and director J.J. Abrams had to scramble to finish a screenplay — “We were making [characters] up at that moment, as costuming and everything else was happening,” Kasdan recalled to Vulture recently — and major plot points continued to evolve (or even vanished entirely) right up until the film’s record-breaking release. How different would Force Awakens have looked if the filmmakers had stuck to their original notions? Here are six significant things that changed along the way. (Spoilers for Force Awakens abound below, naturally.)
Poe Dameron was supposed to die
If there’s a third lead among our new batch of Force Awakens good guys, it’s definitely the dashing pilot Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac. Alas, Poe barely factors into the plot after the first half-hour (he disappears after crash landing with Finn on Jakku, then doesn’t return until late into the movie), and according to Isaac, that screen time could have been even more scant, since Abrams originally meant to kill off Poe early on. “I figured it would be a cameo: I’ll come in, do my thing, and maybe it’s actually better not to have to sign myself up for three movies,” Isaac told GQ. But after Abrams had a little more time to think about whether it would be wise to snuff this up-and-coming leading man, he sensibly succumbed to Oscar mania and spared Poe, writing in an email to Isaac, “Never mind. I’ve figured it out. You’re in the whole movie now.”
Rey was going to meet Luke Skywalker much earlier
The year before Abrams came onboard, Arndt was struggling to crack a plot where Rey teamed up with Luke Skywalker, not Han Solo. “Early on I tried to write versions of the story where [Rey] is at home, her home is destroyed, and then she goes on the road and meets Luke,” Arndt told EW. “And then she goes and kicks the bad guy’s ass. It just never worked.” The problem? “It just felt like every time Luke came in and entered the movie, he just took it over,” Arndt said. “Suddenly you didn’t care about your main character anymore because, ‘Oh, Luke Skywalker’s here. I want to see what he’s going to do.’” Eventually, the filmmakers hit upon the decision to delay the arrival of Luke Skywalker until the film’s very last scene, which meant that Mark Hamill would be conspicuously absent from the Force Awakens marketing campaign (though, presumably, he’ll be front and center for the next sequel).
Captain Phasma was originally a man
Finn’s chrome-plated Stormtrooper superior, Captain Phasma (played by Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie), was first conceived as a male character, Kasdan told Vulture. But not long after the first cast photo was released — and online writers carped that the film had only added one new actress to the sprawling Star Wars universe — Kasdan and Abrams decided to gender-flip Phasma, one of the last remaining roles to be cast. (Another open role, the pirate barkeeper Maz Kanata, was filled by Lupita Nyong’o.) “When the idea came up to make Phasma female, it was instantaneous,” Kasdan said. “Everyone just said, ‘Yes. That’s great.’” Christie herself was thrilled when we broke that news to her recently: “I think that’s great of them, don’t you?” she said. “That there was a discussion about that, and an evolution?”
There could have been an underwater Death Star
The characters in Force Awakens spend the whole movie searching for Luke Skywalker, but when Arndt originally conceived the film as a Rey-and-Luke two-hander, what was their motivation? The screenwriter told EW that those discarded early plots involved a search for Darth Vader’s remains and an underwater dive to retrieve information about Jedi temples from the submerged second Death Star. Both plot points can still be faintly detected in the finished film: Baddie Kylo Ren has found Vader’s charred helmet, after all (and gives it the sort of point-of-pride placement that any Star Wars collector knows all too well), while Luke’s offscreen journey takes him to an ancient, long-lost Jedi site that we’ll likely learn more about in Episode VIII.
The first shot of the movie was intended to be Luke’s lightsaber
The lightsaber that Luke lost in The Empire Strikes Back factors heavily into the endgame of Force Awakens, but the original plan was to put that saber in front of us from the beginning of the movie … and we do mean the very beginning. According to Badass Digest's Devin Faraci, the saber’s tumbling journey through space was intended to be the movie’s first shot after the opening crawl, and a leaked scene breakdown confirms that scoop and indicates that Luke’s sword was the film’s original plot MacGuffin, which Poe would have obtained from Lor San Tekka (played by Max von Sydow) in the first scene. In the finished film, buttressed by rumored reshoots, Poe instead retrieves a map to Luke and the saber is hidden away at Maz Kanata’s castle, though she waves away any explanation of how she obtained it. Speaking of which …
Originally, Leia and Maz Kanata had much more to do
Another fascinating revelation in that scene breakdown is that Maz Kanata originally had a much larger role to play: In fact, she steals the lightsaber from Kylo Ren’s crew, a fact she appears to relate to Rey and her group during a flashback sequence. (Many intriguing shots from this sequence were cut from the film — including a Jedi Academy moment where “Leia and Han Solo hand over Young Kylo Ren to his Uncle for training” — while others were seemingly repurposed for Rey’s vision when confronted by the lightsaber.) Maz also follows our ragtag crew to Leia’s resistance base, where she hands Luke’s saber to his sister, a moment that can actually be glimpsed in one Force Awakens trailer but was cut from the finished film.
It seems like that wasn’t the only Leia scene sliced from the final cut: The leaked scene breakdown implies that both Leia and C-3PO were introduced far earlier in the film — we’d cut to their scenes in the resistance base periodically, as Leia received intel from elsewhere in the galaxy weighed using a weapon code-named the Steamroller. Could it be that the good guys had their own version of the Death Star? Given how much the Starkiller Base has been criticized as a reprisal of that famous battle station, maybe two superweapons was one too many.