Star Wars: The Force Awakens is absolutely bursting with cool set pieces. But you didn’t see half the insane stuff the movie’s production team came up with. Early versions of the story were full of Darth Vader’s ghost, an underwater Death Star, and more. Here are 13 things they left out of Episode VII.
Warning: There are a few minor spoilers for The Force Awakens below, in the context of discussing what isn’t in the movie.
We’ve featured some absolutely brilliant concept art from the new book The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But this book is also chock full of details about the making of the movie—a lot of stuff we’ve heard before, but also a lot of stuff that we’d never heard, or only heard as rumors.
There are also tons of insights into the creative process of putting this film together, and the incredible amounts of brainstorming and imagining that the artists were doing. While Michael Arndt, and later Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams, were creating the script, some of the best concept artists on the planet were coming up with some fascinating visions for what a new Star Wars could look like. Every page of this book contains not just beautiful art, but also some really cool details about how the team thought of this far-away galaxy, decades after Return of the Jedi.
So here are the storylines that they seriously considered having in The Force Awakens, but ended up leaving out. (Alas, we can’t actually reproduce all the art we’re describing here, but you can always buy the book and see it for yourself!)
1) The main villain was called the Jedi Killer.
Early artwork of him shows a tall character with red skin and a monocle over one eye. Then the artists were asked to “Boba up” the Jedi Killer, and he started to look a bit more like Kylo Ren. Also, the “Jedi Killer” was supposed to gain power from eating sun energy. There’s art showing him going into his meditation chamber, which is exposed to a star that is very nearby, and the Jedi Killer absorbs the star’s energy.
There’s also one tantalizing piece of concept art of Darth Talon, the villain from the Star Wars: Legacy comics. So maybe they were considering bringing her into the “main” continuity for a moment.
Plus, early designs for Kylo Ren saw him as a literal Darth Vader impersonator—J.J. Abrams liked the idea that someone was impersonating Darth Vader in order to mess with Luke Skywalker’s head.
2) We could have gone to an ice world, with an active volcano.
One early piece of concept art shows a new version of AT-ATs, walking in a snowy landscape with red-hot lava pouring out of an active volcano right behind them. Early on, Michael Arndt was really interested in the motif of “fire and ice,” and wanted to have one character wield a double lightsaber, where one side was red and the other side was blue.
3) Luke Skywalker got up to some crazy shit.
Kathleen Kennedy had this idea for a sequence where Luke is being swallowed by sand—the sand is pouring on top of him, burying him, and he just lays there, not reacting. Until he suddenly opens his eyes, and it’s spooky as hell. There’s a pretty haunting illustration of this. Also, there are pictures of Luke looking more like a ghost.
4) We could have finally visited Darth Vader’s castle
There were plans, in the Original Trilogy, to visit the castle where Darth Vader lives when he’s not force-choking Imperial officers. We never made it there back then—but we could have gone to Vader’s castle in The Force Awakens. There’s some pretty sweet concept art of Vader’s crash pad.
5) The second Death Star ends up underwater
Originally, the idea of a planet full of space debris included a lot more stuff from the Original Trilogy. And instead of the desert world of Jakku, it was a swampy place, with an ocean. Part of the second Death Star, from Return of the Jedi, ends up at the bottom of the ocean, including the Emperor’s Tower. Rey (who was called Kira at this point) has to dive into that ocean and swim inside the Emperor’s Tower and find the map that shows where the Jedi are, and where Luke is hiding. There’s also beautiful concept art of the Emperor’s sunken chamber, with bodies floating around.
And the Millennium Falcon was going to dive under the water, to find the Death Star wreckage, and possibly also rescue Kira.
6) Space pirates!
At one point, there were apparently space pirates. They capture the Millennium Falcon. They attack our heroes. They even force Rey (who was known as Kira back then) to walk the plank off their spaceship, over a large body of water.
7) Anakin Skywalker’s ghost could have come back
There’s concept art of Hayden Christensen as a Force ghost talking to Luke Skywalker. Artist Ian McCaig says that he was inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin’s famous quote that to light a candle is also to cast a shadow. So Luke returning could have brought Anakin back, as well. And there’s concept art of Anakin’s Force ghost phasing back and forth between Anakin and Darth Vader, as he flows between the two different versions of the character. This symbolizes the fact that Luke Skywalker is the first person ever to acknowledge his own dark side, rather than rejecting it, which has turned Luke into a “whole new entity.”
8) Poe Dameron could have been a Jedi. Or bounty hunter.
He was originally called “John Doe,” which would have been an unusually non-descript name for a Star Wars character. And at first, he was possibly a Jedi. Then he became a bounty hunter—so they toyed with giving him a Wookiee sidekick.
9) The opening sequence could have spoofed the start of A New Hope
J.J. Abrams was keen on the idea that the opening of Episode VII should be familiar, but with a twist. So they storyboarded an opening sequence where a star destroyer soars over a planet, and it looks just like the opening to A New Hope... until you see that the star destroyer has a huge hole in its underbelly. And scavengers are pulling stuff out of it into a small spaceship, until they have an accident and crash on the planet.
10) The “Planet Killer” could have been based on Dantooine
Instead of just a random snow planet, we could have gone to the planet where the Rebels were based back in Episode IV. The Imperials have taken over and rebuilt the facility into their own base. And that volcano we mentioned earlier? The planet-killer would have fired out of it. Also, the planet-killer was called the “Doom Star” at one point.
There’s also a killer new design for an AT-AT with a head more like a hammerhead shark.
11) Finn would have defected after seeing some Rebels flushed out the airlock
Instead of the massacre we witness at the beginning of the film, Finn (who was called “Sam”), would have defected after seeing some captured Rebels executed. There’s concept art of the Rebels being lined up by a firing squad... and then their bodies floating in space, as Sam watches in horror.
Also, after “Sam” and “John Doe” crash their TIE fighter on the planet, John Doe chooses to leave Sam behind. And then instead of what happens next in the actual film, Sam gets rescued by members of an “indigenous alien tribe” who take him back to their village and “perform a healing ritual,” so that “Sam is reborn a hero.” (Sam is also white in all of this concept art, and John Doe is black.)
There’s one piece of concept art that shows Sam’s Stormtrooper helmet, still stained with the bloody handprint of his friend, but it’s being worn by the alien that’s just rescued him—and it freaks Sam out.
12) The Resistance has a weapon called the Warhammer
And it’s a ginormous ship that has a massively armored front, that can penetrate a planet’s shields and then deploy smaller ships through the hole it’s made. There’s lots of concept art of the Warhammer coming down and busting a planet’s defenses open.
13) Supreme Leader Snoke was almost female
They were toying with ways to make the main villain less like the Emperor, and J.J. Abrams didn’t want Snoke to be old and decrepit like Palpatine. And at one point, they almost made Snoke female. They also toyed with the idea that Snoke is incredibly beautiful to look at, like a marble statue, but then you realize the Dark Side has consumed him and turned him into something ghoulish.
Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All The Birds in the Sky, coming in January from Tor Books. Follow her on Twitter, and email her.