New STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS Character Details and IMAX Poster Revealed
What was once a far off, hopeful dream is now a joyous reality, with the seventh episode of the Star Wars saga only a little over a month away from release. With the film merely weeks away, more and more details and secrets are becoming known about the project, which has been notoriously secretive with every aspect being closely guarded and protected. Now, courtesy of a cover story by Entertainment Weekly magazine, we have new details about The Force Awakens and its characters. While there are no spoilers – Disney and Lucasfilm would have never allowed the film’s most precious secrets to be unveiled in a buzz piece – the below does reveal information and aspects to the characters that, previously, we were not privy to. If you’d like to go into the film completely blind, it’s best to skip down to the newly-debuted IMAX poster below.
First, the mag spoke with the king of motion capture – actor Andy Serkis – and discussed his character, the villainous Supreme Leader Snoke. Serkis’ character has yet to be revealed – we heard his voice in the very first teaser trailer for the film last November – with only a piece of early concept art (that may or may not be genuine) serving as a (possible) look at the very earliest incarnation of the character. Lately, we’ve seen more and more of the core cast – such as franchise newcomers Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron – but two characters in particular have been kept close to the chest: Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker and Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke.
Understanding of the frustrations the fans feel towards the secrecy surrounding his role, Serkis sympathizes, revealing even he wasn’t allowed to see the fully realized Snoke himself: “It’s the first time I’ve been on set not yet knowing what the character’s gonna look like. I mean talk about secrecy!” Fascinatingly, Snoke’s look evolved over the course of filming, due in part to Serkis’ contributions with his performance and with director J.J. Abrams: “When we first started working on it, he had some rough notions of how Snoke was gonna look, but it really hadn’t been fully-formed and it almost came out of discussion and performance,” said Serkis.
If that concept art is legitimate, it’s from very early on in the process – and most likely does not resemble the character as he appears in the movie itself. Even after principle photography had wrapped shooting, the design of Serkis’ character continued to undergo changes: “We shot on set of course, and I was in the scenes I have with other actors, but the beauty of this process is you can go back and reiterate, keep informing and honing beats and moments,” Serkis says. “So J.J., after we shot last year, we’ve had a series of sessions where I’d be in London at The Imaginarium, my studio, while he’s been directing from L.A., and we’ve literally been creating further additions and iterations to the character,” Serkis revealed. “That’s been fascinating. And in the meantime I’ve been able to see the look and design of the character grow and change as the performances change. So it’s been really exciting in that respect.”
Telling us the most we’ve yet to learn about (one of) the villains of the piece, Serkis revealed character details, describing Snoke as “quite an enigmatic character, and strangely vulnerable at the same time as being quite powerful. Obviously he has a huge agenda. He has suffered a lot of damage.” Explaining further, Serkis added, “As I said, there is a strange vulnerability to him, which belies his true agenda, I suppose.”
While The Force Awakens made it a priority to return to physical sets and practical effects in addition to its state-of-the-art special effects, Snoke’s size and scale ruled out using traditional prosthetics and make-up: “The scale of him, for instance, is one reason. He is large. He appears tall. And also just the facial design – you couldn’t have gotten there with prosthetics. It’s too extreme. Without giving too much away at this point, he has a very distinctive, idiosyncratic bone structure and facial structure. You could never have done it [in real life.]”
One of only two “performance-capture characters in an otherwise very analog world” – the other being Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata – Snoke has been described by Serkis as being “damaged,” posing the question: is this physical damage? Psychological? Has he suffered as a result of the conflicts between the Rebellion and the Empire? “No, he’s a new character in this universe. It is very much a newly-introduced character,” Serkis answers. “He’s aware of what’s gone on, in the respect that he has been around and is aware of prior events. I think it’d be fair to say that he is aware of the past to a great degree.”
Director Abrams previously said of the masked and mysterious Kylo Ren (Adam Driver): “Kylo Ren is not a Sith. He works under Supreme Leader Snoke, who is a powerful figure on the Dark Side of the Force.” So Snoke has assumed a position atop the First Order, a militarized group that – presumably – aims to further the path the Empire embarked upon, before being ceremoniously destroyed by Luke, Han, Leia, Lando, Chewbacca, and the Rebellion in Return of the Jedi. “That all came out of conversations about what would have happened if the Nazis all went to Argentina but then started working together again?’” Abrams has said, previously. “What could be born of that? Could The First Order exist as a group that actually admired The Empire? Could the work of The Empire be seen as unfulfilled? And could Vader be a martyr? Could there be a need to see through what didn’t get done?”
As we’ve seen from the latest trailer, Kylo Ren – who narrates, “I will finish what you’ve started,” as the remains of Darth Vader’s iconic helmet fills the frame – practically worships Darth Vader. (Or so it would seem – trailers aren’t always reflective of the films they’re advertising. And with The Force Awakens maintaining such a high level of secrecy, we should never underestimate the possibility of intentional misdirection). How does Serkis’ Snoke fit into all of this? We’ll have to find out next month.
Academy Award winning actress (12 Years a Slave) and fashion icon Lupita Nyong’o also plays an important part in the latest Star Wars film – though she, too, will not be seen on screen. Instead, like Serkis, the actress’ character is a completely CGI character. Nyong’o was on set for all of her scenes, however, having performed with the same performance-capture technology that Serkis helped to pioneer. The movements, acting, and voice of Maz Kanata all belong to Nyong’o, with artists using computers to translate that performance into a digitally realized character. Kanata features on the main poster for the film, and has narrated both the final trailer and the first TV spot, but we’ve yet to catch a full and clear look at the character, a former pirate – and one who is possibly strong in the ways of the Force.
As described by Abrams, “[Maz’s] history is that she was a pirate for a long time. She’s lived over a thousand years. She’s had this watering hole for about a century, and it’s like another bar that you’d find in a corner of the Star Wars universe.” The bespectacled creature lives in a castle alongside many other “misfits and miscreants,” with her character bringing mysticism to the film in that her eyes wield special powers: “I had some specific ideas about how she would work and what she would do,” Abrams shared. “I had this pitch about these goggles that she wore. Her eyes are an important aspect of her character, and you’ll see how it plays out.”
With the film having to introduce a handful of new characters – Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo Ren, Captain Phasma, Snoke, and more – while also featuring the returning cast of original characters, franchise favorites Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO, Maz’s complete backstory won’t be delved into during the film, with Abrams having stated such a thing will be “forthcoming” in “other venues.” Keep an eye out for new Star Wars books, comic books, games, and possibly even cartoon series Star Wars Rebels to tell us more about the ages-old Kanata.
While Abrams stressed a strong focus on practical effects for the latest Star Wars adventure, CGI is often necessary, with Maz coming to life via computer generated imagery: “I wanted to do the creature as a puppet originally, but once we figured out the things that she was required to do, it felt like [performance capture] was the way to go,” Abrams said. However, Maz is surrounded by plenty of practically-created creatures in her court, leaving plenty of work for the visual effects team. “Maz needed to look and feel and be just like one of those creatures. And given her mobility, and given the role that she played, it became clear that that was one creature where we should use the tool of CG,” he says. “But the performance was all Lupita. She was there on set, and we did capture sessions afterwards as well, and I can’t say enough about working with her.”
Coached by motion-capture pioneer and advocator (and co-star) Andy Serkis, Nyong’o had this to say about working with the motion-capture giant: “The biggest advice he gave me, that was so important to hold on to, is a motion-capture character you develop the same way as any other. You have to understand who the character is and what makes them who they are.”
While there are plenty of new characters to be introduced in The Force Awakens, a classic, returning character – Carrie Fisher’s Leia – has understandably changed over the course of the past thirty years since we saw her last, in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. As EW learned, Leia is no longer identified as “princess.” According to Abrams, “She’s referred to as General. But… there’s a moment in the movie where a character sort of slips and calls her ‘Princess.’” (It’s Han, right? It definitely has to be Han).
“The stakes are pretty high in the story for her, so there’s not much goofing around where Leia’s concerned,” Abrams added. “But it felt historic to have her, especially with Harrison [Ford], back in scenes together. I can only imagine the baggage that they bring to it, I’m just a fan who loves this stuff, but they’ve been living with it — and living in it — since ’77.” As described by Fisher, Princess – sorry, General Leia Organa Solo – is “solitary” and “under a lot of pressure. Committed as ever to her cause, but… feeling somewhat defeated, tired, and pissed.”
The trailers and TV spots have teased a snowy forest duel between new hero Finn (Boyega) and Kylo Ren (Driver) – but we now know that there will be a third participant in the battle. Who is also there? Lead heroine Rey, of course – looking as equally as afraid as Finn does when the unhinged Kylo Ren ignites his lightsaber and advances on the two young heroes. “Obviously that makes things a bit more tricky for Finn,” Boyega said of this confrontation. “That’s genuine fear.”
Who is Rey, and what does she want? In the recently released international trailer, we learned that Rey has been waiting for her family – and for quite some time. As revealed by EW, Rey was abandoned as a child by her family on the desert world of Jakku – not Tatooine – and has no understanding of why. “She’s been alone for a long time,” said actress Daisy Ridley. “When something occurs when you’re 5, you know what went on but you don’t understand the reasoning. She’s hopeful for what lies ahead, whether that involves the past or not.” Explaining further, “Rey, Finn, and Kylo, they all start off in a place where they have been led to feel like they’re wanting. She’s never sat around a table and had a meal with someone else. She works to feed herself, and she goes to sleep, and she gets up again. It is a sad life … The film, for Rey, is a journey of finding out that no one is no one.”
Also revealed by the mag was that Isaac’s Poe Dameron has a history with Boyega’s Finn – a history hinted at in the trailer, which glimpsed a shoulder-patting moment between the X-Wing pilot and the former First Order Stormtrooper. How far back do they go? How did they meet? Answers, of course, reserved for the film.
Replacing the oppressive Empire of the original trilogy, our new cast of heroes must contend with what is known as the First Order. According to EW, the First Order is comprised of “soldiers raised from childhood to serve this remnant of the scattered Imperial forces are fed propaganda about the heroes of the Rebellion. Unlike Rey, [Finn] has learned a lot about Luke Skywalker — but he has been taught he was a villain who destroyed the benevolent Empire.” Star John Boyega added, “[Finn is] looking for a greater purpose, rather than thinking, ‘This is the only thing I can do…’ He wants to change. He wants to make a difference. He’s trying to find some kind of moral dignity in this war.” Finally, while Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma – the silver-plated and caped Stormtrooper who is in some position of power within the First Order – doesn’t “appear in many scenes,” Abrams noted that “her presence is powerfully felt when she’s not there.”
In addition to the above revelations, Han Solo actor Harrison Ford spoke with EW at length in an enlightening interview, giving fans their best understanding yet of the characters as we find them in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Opening December 18th, the film will be available to screen in glorious IMAX 3D. As a result, IMAX has debuted their gorgeous poster for the film, available below.
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