‘Star Wars’ de­sign team teases ‘Force Awak­ens’ themes


“Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens” is about a gen­er­a­tional trans­fer in more ways than one. Set 30 years af­ter the events in “Re­turn of the Jedi” and com­ing to the­aters just over 30 years af­ter the film first de­buted, that idea re­mained top of mind for the film’s brand new pro­duc­tion de­sign team, fans learned at Star Wars Cel­e­bra­tion on Satur­day.

In other words, they didn’t have to rein­vent the wheel. They just had to up­date it a bit.

Rick Carter, an Academy Award win­ner for “Lin­coln” and “Avatar,” was joined on stage by his co-pro­duc­tion designer Dar­ren Gil­ford (“TRON: Le­gacy”), Doug Chi­ang (“Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Men­ace”), and Industrial Light + Magic Art Direc­tor Chris­tian Alz­mann (“A. I. Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence”) to dis­cuss their work to­gether on the sev­enth film in the “Star Wars” saga.

While the artists couldn’t re­veal any specifics about the plot, they did treat a packed au­di­to­rium to a few rev­e­la­tions about mod­ern­iz­ing aes­thetics of ev­ery­thing from the X-wing fighters to the Mil­len­nium Fal­con.

“Seven comes af­ter six. It doesn’t come af­ter three,” said Carter, re­fer­ring to the poorly re­ceived pre­quels. “This is a pe­riod piece that we’re bring­ing forth. We’re al­ways go­ing back to go for­ward.”

In­deed, at the in­sis­tence of direc­tor J.J. Abrams, the team re­lied on the orig­i­nal art of illustrator Ralph McQuar­rie to in­form the aes­thetic of “The Force Awak­ens.”

The early trail­ers for the film, out Dec. 18, re­veal a dirty, grungier world. Droids and ships are beat up and run down in the desert land­scape, much like they were in the orig­i­nal films.

“We wanted to play trib­ute to Ralph McQuar­rie. When we got stuck on some­thing, we would go back and look at what he’d done be­fore. It’s come full cir­cle,” said Chi­ang.

Alz­mann said there was even talk about cre­at­ing “What Would Ralph Do” bracelets for the de­sign team.

They had ac­cess to the ex­ten­sive Lu­cas­film ar­chives to an­swer even the mi­nut­est ques­tions. Some­times that back­fired. When Abrams told the team that he wanted the Mil­len­nium Fal­con to look iden­ti­cal to the way it did in the orig­i­nals, they re­al­ized there were ac­tu­ally three ver­sions.

In the end, us­ing el­e­ments of all three, they cre­ated the “quin­tes­sen­tial fan ver­sion” of what the ship should be.

Even the de­sign­ers them­selves saw them­selves as part of this gen­er­a­tional shift in ush­er­ing Ge­orge Lu­cas’s orig­i­nal vi­sion to the big screen.

Gil­ford, whose fa­ther il­lus­trated the “Star Wars” cover of a 1977 is­sue of mag­a­zine Cine­fan­tas­tique, said that even work­ing out of Pinewood Stu­dios in Lon­don con­nected the pro­duc­tion to the past.

There he en­coun­tered many peo­ple who had ei­ther worked on the orig­i­nal films or had rel­a­tives who did.

Con­tin­u­ing with Abrams’ oft­stated goal of build­ing as much as pos­si­ble in­stead of re­ly­ing on ster­il­ized com­puter graph­ics, the team dis­cussed the idea that less was more.

“You can have all of this fancy stuff and a sci-fi movie is what­ever it wants to be. Ev­ery­one is try­ing to out­gun each other. This isn’t about that. This is about the force,” said Carter. He said they had en­tire brain­storms try­ing to an­swer one ques­tion: “What would frighten us if the dark side came back?”

Carter re­mained cryp­ti­cally in­for­ma­tive.

“It’s right in front of you. This is the movie. It’s go­ing from a deep level up. It’s con­fi­dent be­cause there’s a real story to be told,” he said of the sec­ond teaser trailer, which pre­miered on Thurs­day dur­ing the Cel­e­bra­tion kick-off.

He added: “When we say the force awak­ens it is the dark side and the light side.”

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