When JJ Abrams joked about putting Jar Jar Binks' decomposed body in a sand dune to make a call back to the Star Wars prequel films, it spread across the net as it served to show that JJ was smart enough to not do something stupid like that.
What JJ was smart enough to do was include plenty of references and callbacks to both the original and prequel Star Wars trilogies in The Force Awakens – and we've compiled a handy list of them.
Note that this is a list of references to the movies that came before The Force Awakens. Some are obvious, some are pretty obscure and vague. This is not a list of Easter eggs of everything found in the movie (but do check out the Beastie Boys one!) nor does it explore the thematic relationships of the movies.
And yes, we totally acknowledge The Force Awakens was a giant echo/model of the plot of A New Hope hope in so many ways. So what?
- This first one is a gimme – every Star Wars movie has featured the classic line, “I've got a bad feeling about this..” And so in The Force Awakens, it fell to Han Solo to deliver the famous quote.
- Just as A New Hope found a young Luke Skywalker tied to the sandy planes of Tattooine as a moisture farmer, Rey finds herself as a scavenger who trades parts for food and water. She too is stuck on the planet, waiting for her family to return.
- When on the Falcon for the first time and as he's trying to give first aid to Chewie, Finn comes across the training ball aid that Luke used to learn about the Force when using the saber in A New Hope. In the same vein, Rey and Finn hide in the same hidden compartments that Han et al used when they first landed on the Death Star. We also get to see the famous dejarik or holochess game that RD2D and Chewbacca once played in A New Hope. Apparently, it's the same game!
- The red light saber of Kylo Ren continues a tradition of the bad guys brandishing red sabers.
- It's almost included as an in-joke, but Finn appears to be a little short for a Stormtrooper, perhaps a reference to Leia's famous line to Luke as he attempts to rescue her on the Death Star (the truth though is at the time of The Force Awakens, clones are no longer used so troopers will be of differing heights).
- When Han asks Finn if there is a garbage shoot to put Phasma down, this is a call back to when Han and co went down a garbage shoot to escape from the cell block in A New Hope.
- Captain Phasma is modeled somewhat (in style) on Boba Fett who was first introduced in The Empire Strikes Back as having the cool “badass” role.
- Kylo Ren makes a reference to the Clone Wars when he perhaps mockingly suggests to General Hux that maybe they should consider obtaining a Clone Army given the apparent loyalty issues Finn had just demonstrated.
- As BB-8 does some rolling to escape the TIE attack, two podracers can be spied in the background, which is a nod to The Phantom Menace.
- Finn's trooper number designation, FN-2187, is a direct callback to A New Hope. If you recall the cell number that Princess Leia found herself in when she was captive on the Death Star, it was 2187. The use of that number itself was a reference to the year that George Lucas's prior movie THX 1138 was set in!
- In the trailer for The Force Awakens, when entering Maz Kanata's castle, our heroes observe a large array of flags. Many of them refer to the pod racing flags that racers like Sebulba and Anakin flew in The Phantom Menace. The Mandalore flag is a link to Boba Fett as well. Many of these were removed from the final version of the movie.
- Many people have noted that Kylo Ren seems to have the same hair as Anakin Skywalker did in Revenge of the Sith. This would be a very subtle reference if it is intentional – nonetheless, it could be the case due to the grandfather-grandson relationship!
- The orange doll that Rey has fashioned in her living abode is very reminiscent of the suits worn by the rebel pilots in A New Hope.
- A really obscure reference that is not explicitly made in the film is that Captain Phasma's chrome armor is made from a spaceship that Palpatine used to own. It's a prequel reference in that the ship was built on the planet Naboo, the home planet of Padme Amidala, Kylo's grandmother.
- Unkar Plutt has a similar kind of hold over Rey as Watto over Anakin. While Watto owned Anakin, Plutt's control is by way of having an apparent monopoly over the food supply. More curiously, Rey's flashback sequence implies Plutt seems to have some kind of custodial responsibility for Rey as it is his arm that is holding her when she is watching her parent's spaceship take off from Jakku.
- When Han Solo calls out to Kylo Ren using his real name of Ben, this is a direct reference to Obi-Wan Kenobi for he was known as Old Ben during his time on Tatooine as he looked over Luke.
- Rey suggests to Han that they're on the ship that did the Kessel Run in 14 parsecs – Han is quick to correct that it was 12 as he claimed in A New Hope!
- The lightsaber stuck in the snow moment between Rey and Kylo is a clear call back to the part in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke used his Force powers to call the saber to him just prior to the Wampa attacking him for the second time. In The Force Awakens, Rey's Force call is stronger than Kylo's.
- We're hard-placed to think of a direct Return of the Jedi reference, but note the Starkiller base had a similar end to Death Star II where X-Wings flew inside each technological terror to help destroy it.