Steven Spielberg has a long-standing relationship with Star Wars. He and George Lucas were fellow movie brats in the 1970s, regularly sharing ideas on each others projects (the pair even had a bet over whose 1977 sci-fi release, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Star Wars respectively, would be a bigger hit), and the Jaws director was later rumoured to actually helm Return of The Jedi (he reportedly only couldn’t due to legal reasons). Then with the prequels he was on hand again to give advice to his buddy. His biggest influence on the franchise, however, was probably the suggestion that Lucasfilm get superfan J.J. Abrams to direct the incredibly anticipated Episode VII.
As we now know, with the film the third-highest grossing of all time, that was a good call, but his involvement with Star Wars: The Force Awakens didn’t end there. Abrams is very much Spielberg’s protégé, to the point where he made an entire movie essentially homaging his early 80s hits, and so the master was on hand to give tips on how to make the movie that bit more out of this world (or galaxy, if you will).
According to the film’s director’s commentary (which you can hear in full on the Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray when it’s released next Tuesday), he gave advice on two key scenes: the TIE Fighter crash near the start of the film and Rey and Kylo Ren’s climactic lightsaber duel in a forest on Starkiller base. For the former, it was Spielberg’s idea that Jakku’s sinking fields would spit out the TIE debris:
“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!”
His impact on the lightsaber duel is arguably more subtle, yet still exciting. While seemingly impressed with the fight, Spielberg suggested the collapsing of the forest around the combatants as Starkiller Base nears its destruction:
“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.”
Given their history it’s not all that surprising Abrams went to Spielberg for advice, but it’s certainly exciting to find out some specific details. Both of these are minor touches that wouldn’t change the flow of the movie if removed, yet in a typically Spielbergian manner each adds something to the action of their particular scenes: the TIE explosion makes Jakku’s environment that little more unforgiving (and less like Tatooine), as well as making the possibility of Poe’s survival even smaller, while the falling trees add an increased deadliness to what’s already a palm-sweatingly fraught conflict.
Don’t be surprised if there’s even more of Spielberg’s fingerprints on the film either. We know comparatively little about the film’s production, and there’ll be some secrets that likely won’t be unearthed until the trilogy comes to a close in 2019.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Collector’s Edition (in 3D) is available on Blu-ray from November 15.