It’s pretty well known that Steven Spielberg was a major force in getting J.J. Abrams the assignment directing Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Lucasfilm wanted a director. Spielberg wanted Abrams to get the gig. “I brought J.J.’s name up,” he said in a roundtable interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “I thought J.J. would be the best person to direct Episode VII and I called J.J. and said ‘Would you do it if it was offered to you?’”
Abrams was initially reluctant (he thought his wife wouldn’t want him to take any more time-consuming franchise gigs), so Spielberg actually took Abrams and his wife Katie out to dinner on Lucasfilm’s behalf. There he asked Katie if it was cool if J.J. directed Star Wars, and basically made a Love Connection of the whole thing.
What is not well-known, at least not yet, are Spielberg’s specific contributions to The Force Awakens after Abrams got the job. But on the new director’s commentary for the film (available on the big Collector’s Edition box set that comes out next Tuesday), Abrams cites two specific moments in the film that were given to him by Spielberg. The first comes in the desert of Jakku, right after Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) crash land their TIE fighter. Finn wakes in the wreckage, which promptly sinks into the sand. And then…
According to Abrams, that pause followed by the enormous explosion was a Spielberg suggestion:
While this is a CG effect of the swallowing, this explosion was Steven Spielberg’s idea. He loved the idea that the thing get sucked into the sand and then… that!
(“That” being the explosion at the end.) Like a surprising number of special effects in The Force Awakens, the explosion was a practical one; they packed the ground with a bunch of explosives and blew the crap out of the sand.
The second Spielberg idea Abrams cites comes in the climactic lightsaber battle between Finn, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver):
As Abrams tells it:
When I showed the first cut of this scene to Steven Spielberg … he suggested ‘What if trees were falling while they were fighting?’ And I said ‘That’s cool, but we’ve shot the scene already.’ And then I said to [visual effects supervisor] Roger Guyett, ‘Is there any way we could have trees falling?’ And he said, ‘If you want to pay for it.’ So we did.
When Steven Spielberg suggests something, you pay for it. The new Star Wars: The Force Awakens Collector’s Edition (in 3D) will be available on Blu-ray on November 15.