"I keep telling J.J. Abrams this is a $4 billion movie. We need to treat this very special. It’s an unbelievable privilege and unbelievable responsibility to take a jewel and treat it in a way that is respectful of its past but brings it into the future."
Star Wars: Episode VII had already been in development for several months as of the Disney–Lucasfilm merger, and Lucas had written the story treatments for each of the three upcoming films. Kennedy said shortly after the announcement that the development team was in the process of sitting down with writers to discuss story ideas. Lucasfilm confirmed on November 9 that pre-production had begun on Star Wars: Episode VII, and that screenwriter Michael Arndt would write the script for the film. News outlets first reported Arndt's involvement on November 8, announcing that Arndt had already turned in a forty-to-fifty-page story treatment that reportedly brought the Skywalker family saga to a close in a new trilogy. On January 25, 2013, StarWars.com announced that J.J. Abrams, known for his work on the television series Lost and the most recent entries in the Star Trek film series, would direct the film, with Star Wars creator George Lucas remarking "I've consistently been impressed with J.J. as a filmmaker and storyteller. He's an ideal choice to direct the new Star Wars film and the legacy couldn't be in better hands".
Lucas was initially involved as creative consultant, though he stepped away due to Disney's descision to take the story in a different direction than his original outlines. He later elaborated in an interview with Stephen Colbert: "The original saga was about the father, the children, and the grandchildren. I don’t think that's a secret to anybody—that’s in the novels—and the children were in their 20s and everything. But they’ve taken it in a different direction, and I'm excited—they didn’t use my story, so I don’t know what they’re doing."
Initial reports explained that Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote the screenplays for both Episodes V and VI) and Simon Kinberg would co-produce all three films of the trilogy, and share writing responsibilities for Episodes VIII and IX. Kinberg described his role in the process: "I'm like a friend of the court. I consult on the movies. I worked on VII: helped break the story, read scripts, drafts at certain points, and gave my thoughts whatever they were worth." On October 24, 2013, it was announced that Abrams and Kasdan were rewriting Arndt's script.
"I've learned to be very careful about Star Wars. If I say, 'There will be no skateboards in Star Wars'... that gets headlines."
The Force Awakens began preliminary shooting in April 2014, with second unit work taking place in Iceland and Abu Dhabi. On April 25, Lucasfilm announced their plans for a new continuity that excluded the existing Expanded Universe, and confirmed that Episode VII and its sequels would not adhere to any existing continuity. This was followed on April 29 by the official release of the cast list for the movie. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew and Anthony Daniels would return to reprise their roles as the main characters of the original trilogy, and they would be joined by a number of new actors in leading roles: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, and Max von Sydow. Hamill remarked on returning to Star Wars: "Part of the experience of [Star Wars] in my life was coming down from that, putting it behind me. We had a beginning, middle, and an end. And I certainly, in a million years, never expected to return. I thought, even if they do more trilogies, my story is over."Denis Lawson was asked to reprise his role as Wedge Antilles from the original trilogy, but declined, stating that it would have "bored" him.
Principal photography began on May 16, 2014 at the UK's Pinewood Studios.Daniel Mindel—who had previously worked with Abrams as director of photography—returned to collaborate with the director on the film. Reportedly, one sequence was shot with IMAX cameras. Although Peter Mayhew was able to reprise the role as Chewbacca, some scenes had to be shot with a stunt double, due to Mayhew's age and physical health. On June 11, the 71-year old Harrison Ford broke his left leg when a hydraulic door at Pinewood Studios fell down and hit him, and was airlifted to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. His recovery forced him to drop out of filming for eight weeks. Abrams also sustained a minor back injury when he tried to help lift the door off of Ford's leg. On June 28, actor Andy Serkis confirmed that The Imaginarium Studios would be involved with performance capture on the film, as well as all future Star Wars projects. Serkis also confirmed that the character he plays in the film would utilize performance capture. On July 6, Lucasfilm confirmed that actors Crystal Clarke and Pip Andersen were cast in the film through open casting calls in the United Kingdom. They also revealed that production would take a two-week hiatus in August to accommodate Harrison Ford's leg injury. Afterwards shooting would resume, and conclude later in the fall. Abrams, Hamill, and Daisy Ridley spent three days filming at Skellig Michael in County Kerry, Ireland.
On November 6, 2014, the official Star Wars Twitter account announced that the film had completed principal photography. The post gave the official title for the film as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and was accompanied by a title card for the new name that, like the original trilogy, excluded the "Episode" subtitle. As of October 26, 2015, the film's visual effects were set to be finished "in the next few weeks.
Michael Kaplan, who had designed the costumes for Abrams' Star Trek films, also signed on to costume Episode VII. Kaplan designed new stormtrooper uniforms for the film, as it was determined that the original costumes would not stand up to modern scrutiny. These new uniforms were inspired by Apple products. The production team built a new C-3PO suit to accommodate Anthony Daniels, while the R2-D2 model was provided and overseen by members of the R2-D2 Builders Club.
During a concert with the Young Musician's Foundation Debut Orchestra on February 9, 2013 composer John Williams stated that he was hoping to get the chance to write the musical scores for the new trilogy. Abrams made further statements on this at a Star Trek Into Darkness conference on April 29, stating, "Again, for Star Wars, it’s very early days, but I believe that, going forward, John Williams will be doing that film because he was there long before I was." On July 27, 2013, a video of Williams confirming he would score the new film was screened at Star WarsCelebration Europe II. On March 21, 2015, Lucasfilm revealed that John Williams would conduct the score for The Force Awakens in Los Angeles. The previous live-action film scores were recorded in the United Kingdom with the London Symphony Orchestra. The sessions lasted from summer through fall of 2015.
"We're living in such a different age now. It's like a competition to see who can leak information faster than the next guy. I don't get it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they don't get a copy of the script and leak the whole thing on the Internet."
The first teaser trailer—released early due to both fan demand and Abrams' request—was announced via the Bad Robot Productions Twitter account, with a note from Abrams saying fans will see a "tiny peek at what we're working on." The 88-second teaser premiered in 30 theaters across North America and was released online on November 28, 2014. The teaser was shown in theaters around the world beginning in December 2014. Character names were revealed shortly thereafter in online mock collector cards. Earlier that November, JJ Abrams made a cameo on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, in which he could be seen directing R2-D2 on the set of The Force Awakens. When a fish from Oliver's salmon cannon falls on the script that he's holding, Abrams gets frustrated and quits the film.
The official one sheet was released on October 18, 2015, while the full-length trailer debuted on October 19 with ESPN's Monday Night Football. Theater tickets also became available for pre-order on the 19th, with many online retailers experiencing outages due to heavy demand, including top sites such as Fandango. Some theater chains have chosen to set limits on the types of cosplay that will be allowed for fans at screening of the film. Fans watching at AMC and Cinemark will not be allowed to wear masks or face-paint, or carry simulated weapons. Some chains have also issued a blanket ban on the carrying of lightsaber toys.
Abrams, Boyega and Ridley participated in a Saturday Night Live sketch featuring cast members and guest celebrities in a series of fake auditions. Among the subjects parodied were racist reactions to Boyega's casting, Lucas's comments about not being involved, and Abrams's involvement in the rival franchise Star Trek. Abrams and the cast appeared on a Star Wars-themed episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! on November 23.
On May 21, 2014, Disney, Lucasfilm and Bad Robot announced "Force for Change", a charity campaign "dedicated to finding creative solutions to some of the world's biggest problems"; Initially, the campaign was focused on contributing to UNICEF. Each person who donated was entered to win a set visit to and appearance in Episode VII. On August 11, Denver, Colorado resident D.C. Barns was announced as the contest's winner. JJ Abrams later released a YouTube video in which he announced that the contest had raised $4.26 million. In August 2014, several of the film's cast and crew participated in the "Ice Bucket Challenge", an internet phenomenon whereby one pours water onto one's head as a pledge to donate to the ALS association. On April 21, 2015, Abrams appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, where he performed the "Twizzler challenge" with Chewbacca, in honor of Autism Awareness Month. In August 2015, Lucasfilm and HP began a two-month program called "Art Awakens", in which people submit art inspired by The Force Awakens, of which a certain number will be chosen for an art exhibit, the proceeds of which will go to "Force for Change". On November 5, 2015, director J.J. Abrams screened an unfinished version of the film for Daniel Fleetwood, a 32-year-old Star Wars fan with an aggressive form of cancer who was likely to die before the film's release. The campaign for him to see the film was supported by several of the film's stars, including John Boyega, Mark Hamill and Gwendoline Christie. Fleetwood passed away on November 9 or 10, 2015.
Following Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, its "imagineers" began developing Star Wars-themed expansions to the various Disney theme parks. However, Bob Iger halted work on these expansions until The Force Awakens and other future Star Wars films had reached a point in their development so that elements from those projects could be included. On August 15, 2015, it was announced that plans were moving forward for a Star Wars-themed section of the Disney parks, which would include content based on The Force Awakens.
"We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud."