Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens – and the force is stronger than ever…

The most eagerly anticipated film of the year – possibly of all time – has finally reached our cinema screens, and it’s already breaking box office records.

Following the world premieres in LA and London earlier in the week, Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened UK-wide at midnight on Thursday.

The latest instalment in the franchise is the first in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, which was announced after The Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in October 2012. Directed by JJ Abrams, the film is set approximately 30 years after Return of the Jedi (1983), and follows new characters Finn and Rey alongside well-known characters returning from the original Star Wars films.

Made in a studio not that far away…

As is tradition with the franchise – the original films were based at Elstree Studios – Star Wars: The Force Awakens was filmed predominantly in the UK, with the production based at the iconic Pinewood Studios.

 

Star Wars Han Chewie

‘Chewie, we’re home’

To accompany the impressive studio sets, the film’s location team made the most of the UK’s diverse locations including military base Greenham Common, which served as the rebel base, and Puzzlewood, a 14-acre ancient wood in Gloucestershire, South West England, whose distinctive moss covered rocks and trees are perfectly suited to the Star Wars aesthetic.

Also key to that aesthetic are the film’s visual effects (VFX). Lucasfilm’s legendary VFX arm, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), established a base in the UK in 2014 specifically to service the Star Wars franchise and to take advantage of the VFX talent available in the UK. Speaking to British newspaper, The Guardian, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Lucasfilm and former president of ILM, British-born Lynwen Brennan, said of the decision to set up a facility here:

“I’ve been very interested in having ILM setting up a studio in London for quite some time. I’ve been very aware of the level of talent there is in this city as well as the amazing creative community. So when Disney announced we were going to be making the Stars Wars movies in London, that was the perfect opportunity for us. Here we have a lengthy franchise with a good number of films out ahead of us and a longevity of work that we know we can invest in.”

UK cast and crew are out of this world

As well as taking advantage of the UK’s first-rate facilities and locations, Star Wars: The Force Awakens fully utilised the world-class talent available in the UK.

The extensive UK cast is headed up by relative newcomers Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn, the film’s two new protagonists. Other well-known UK names include Gwendolyn Christie (Game of Thrones), Simon Pegg (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), and Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings).

 

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega

The production benefited hugely too from UK talent behind the camera including Simon Emanuel, Unit Production Manager, who has worked extensively on major features such as Warner Bros.’ The Dark Knight Rises and Harry Potter franchises, and who is currently Executive Producing standalone Star Wars story, Star Wars: Rogue One, also based at Pinewood Studios. Emanuel played a vital role in ensuring the film’s success, as did the UK’s film infrastructure and film-friendly policies, as Emanuel explains:

‘Well, it’s partly the Film Tax Relief of course. That has proved to be working, it’s making money for the country and the Exchequer, and it means it’s a great time to be part of the British Film industry. But also the constant factor is that there are world-class crews here.’

Other noted UK talent involved in the production includes industry veteran Nina Gold (The Martian) as Casting Director, VFX Supervisor Victoria McDowell (Jupiter Ascending) and Senior Art Director Gary Tomkins (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), alongside Location Manager Martin Joy (Skyfall) and Production Co-ordinator Winnie Whishart (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince). Legendary Scottish 1st AD turned director and producer, Tommy Gormley, who co-produced the film was previously also co-producer on Paramount’s Star Trek: Into Darkness and Super 8, which were similarly directed by JJ Abrams, ensuring that British talent continues to get global exposure.

And the BFC too is proud of the significant part it played, not only in liaising between the Government, Lucasfilm and the industry in securing the project for the UK, but for the support it has gone on to provide throughout the production process including assistance in key crew introductions and location trouble shooting, as well as supporting the establishment of ILM in the UK.

The force is strong with this one

With a trailer that almost broke the internet with a record 112 million views in 24 hours, rave reviews across the board, unprecedented media coverage, record-breaking pre-sales and now box office, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is set for stratospheric success. With Star Wars: Rogue One in production and Star Wars VIII confirmed to film in the UK in 2016, it’s safe to say the force isn’t going anywhere else anytime soon.