The Best Clues and Revelations From 'The Art of The Force Awakens'

The Knights of Ren, Luke Skywalker... This book holds some juicy clues

The Force Awakens is amazing. But it introduces a number of mysteries that fans are desperate for more details about.

Enter The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a 250-page, a full-color art book by Phil Szostak that showcases pre-production art created by a pool of artists for the film. There's page after page of never-before-seen artwork, and it's a stunning display of talent.​

With art being the focus of the book, the text is rather sparse. What's there is a selection of fascinating snippets explaining how and why design decisions were made or considered. But the overall data itself is very random, and often lacks context. So what it reveals about the movie -- and maybe even what's yet to come -- is left for amateur detectives (aka fans) to piece together with other known information to craft a complete theory.

Here are the juiciest bits I gleaned from the book.

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Luke Skywalker Might Be "Something New"

Concept art of Luke Skywalker
Christian Alzmann / Abrams Books / Lucasfilm Ltd.

Accompanying some creepy illustrations on page 103 is a quote from artist Iain McCaig that jumped out at me.

At one point in development, the crew considered having Anakin Skywalker's Force ghost return, and the idea was that he would constantly be shifting between Anakin and Darth Vader, with subtle transitions in between. The art is very cool-looking stuff, but the idea was ultimately dropped.

What's important about this is what it was meant to symbolically reveal about Anakin's son, Luke. The quote from McCaig says:

"If we see Anakin Skywalker, because he does flow back and forth between Darth Vader and Anakin, let's see him as a character with a dark and light side. The reason Luke is this whole new entity is because he was the first to acknowledge his own dark side -- that it was not separate from him."

It's reading between the lines of that last sentence that strikes my interest. Instead of merely restoring the Jedi, this line suggests that the filmmakers were contemplating transforming Luke into neither Jedi nor Sith, but something new, something with more of a... balance... between light and dark.

Remember that J.J. Abrams signed on to The Force Awakens after Kathleen Kennedy asked him the existential question, "Who is Luke Skywalker?" Adding another layer to Luke's story, historical significance, and legacy is exactly the kind of thing that would appeal to Abrams.

Having Luke be the embodiment of "bringing balance to the Force" would also make for a nice callback to the Prophecy of the Chosen One (which, let's face it, was never resolved in a satisfying way).

The balance between the dark side and the light side of the Force is explored visually all throughout The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Mentions are made repeatedly of Co-Production Designer Rick Carter's desire to see the contrast between good and evil depicted in imagery. An early idea of Carter's was to have a planet that had both lava and ice, for example. Another idea (pg. 26) was to feature a double-bladed lightsaber that had one blue blade and one red blade.

Just because this "balance" notion was discarded for The Force Awakens doesn't necessarily mean it's been abandoned entirely. Some plot points are best postponed for later in the story.

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There Are Seven Knights of Ren

Concept art of the Knights of Ren
Glyn Dillon / Abrams Books / Lucasfilm Ltd.

A piece of artwork labeled "The Seven" (pg. 143) depicts seven individuals, all clad in black, who are clearly the Knights of Ren. One can easily deduce that The Seven was this group's name before "Knights of Ren" was cooked up.

Another piece of art (pg. 154) depicts seven people, once again in black, all wearing very Vader-like helmets and masks. It's been theorized that the Knights could be Vader worshipers, which would explain their predilection for black clothes, capes, and helmets/masks.

In the movie, during the flashback when the Knights of Ren are seen right after slaughtering the new Jedi order, you can clearly count that there are seven of them. Here's the screencap that proves it.

So the number seven is significant, though we don't yet know why. Might it be important that "there must be seven" in a way similar to the Sith's Rule of Two? Or is it simply an arbitrary number?

Hopefully, Episode VIII or IX will fully explain the Knights of Ren.

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The Process of Making the Movie Had More Twists and Turns Than the Film Itself

Maz Kanata maquette
Luke Fisher / Abrams Books / Lucasfilm Ltd.

As is so often the case in collaborative storytelling, ideas were bounced around continuously, leaving no creative stone unturned. Seemingly thousands of images were drawn, painted, or rendered that explored countless possibilities -- many of which weren't nailed down until well into pre-production.

Consider Maz Kanata, for example. A "Yoda-like character" was part of the plan for The Force Awakens from the very beginning, but it took a while to land on Maz. Some of the earliest designs for the character, such as the piece on page 45, are unmistakable riffs on Yoda's look.

Also similar to Yoda: the original plan was for Maz to be a puppet! It was only when production ran out of time to create a puppet that she became a CGI/motion capture creation. Her design continued to be iterated upon for as long as possible. One character study (pg. 202) depicts Maz draped in bangles and sequins, like a fortune teller. Her final look wasn't settled on until well into production.

Locations were particularly fluid. The crew knew they wanted specific kinds of worlds, like the "junk planet," the "ice planet," and a "forest planet with a castle," but their parts in the story frequently changed places. Felucia, the fungal world seen in Revenge of the Sith was once considered for the "junk planet" at one point. Dantooine, mentioned in A New Hope but never seen, was going to be the First Order's snowy base of operations. And before it became Maz Kanata's home, the forest-set castle was going to be Leia's Resistance HQ.

Character names appear to have taken a while to settle on as well. Before the script was finished, Rey was known as "Kira," Finn was "Sam," Poe Dameron was simply "John Doe," and Kylo Ren was "the Jedi Killer." Even BB-8, an idea J.J. Abrams himself had, lacked a proper droid numerical designation for a long while. Before that, the crew had nicknamed him "Surly."

The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, by Phil Szostak, is available now. It's a dazzling collection of art that tantalizes the imagination with visuals of what might have been and shows how the ingredients of this movie came together.

But be warned: It's very much an art book. If you're looking for more of a story about how The Force Awakens was made, you'll have to check out The Making of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Mark Cotta Vaz.