All the waiting is over. “The Force Awakens” has been released, and now many viewers are looking for answers about how it connects to the other films in the “Star Wars” saga. Many of the most important touchstones to the original three films — “A New Hope” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” — seem obvious to most viewers. What's much more subtle is the incorporation of elements from the prequels into the new film. Here are 10 of the best nods “The Force Awakens” makes to the prequel trilogy.
JUST IN CASE: For those averse to spoilers, this might be best read after viewing “The Force Awakens.”
1. The Clone Army
Perhaps the easiest prequel reference to spot refers to “Attack of the Clones.” Early in the film, Kylo Ren chides General Hux for the traitorous activities of his trooper, FN-2187, and asks if a clone army wouldn't be better suited for their work. The clone army was commissioned in secret by the Sith and employed by the Jedi and the Republic until Darth Sidious called upon Order 66. Kylo Ren's allusion to wishing for a clone army is particularly poignant when one considers that Ren worships his grandfather, Darth Vader, who fought alongside the clones and used them to eliminate the Jedi.
2. The Voice of Young Obi-Wan
During Rey's Force vision at Maz Kanata's castle, the voices of former Jedi masters can be heard. Frank Oz's Yoda speaks of the Force, Alec Guinness himself calls out Rey's name, but it's Ewan McGregor, the actor who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episodes I through III, who recorded new dialogue for the film. Listen carefully during this scene and you'll hear Obi-Wan, in Ewan's voice, tell Rey at the end of her vision, “These are your first steps.”
3. The Prophecy of the Chosen One
Probably the first spoken reference to the prequels in “The Force Awakens” is when Max Von Sydow's character, Lor San Tekka, mentions the balance of the Force. This was a concept that was spoken of at length in “The Phantom Menace.” Anakin Skywalker was the chosen one, thought to be the person who would bring that balance to the Force. His murder of the Jedi didn't bring the balance the galaxy was looking for, and the remaining Jedi felt as though they may have misread that prophecy in their arrogance. It's a concept that's been explored even further on the animated television show “The Clone Wars.”
4. Echoes of Anakin Skywalker
At least three of the characters in “The Force Awakens” are descendants of Anakin Skywalker, so it's no coincidence that there would be details that hearken back to the Jedi who famously, disastrously lost his way. Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, has a wild mane of a hairstyle that blends the hair color and texture of his father, Han Solo, and the “Revenge of the Sith” style of his grandfather, Anakin Skywalker. Driver even brings an energy to some of his line deliveries that matches Hayden Christensen's performance. Compare his shouting of “Traitor!” to Anakin's “Liar!” in “Revenge of the Sith,” and you can see that Kylo Ren is channeling his grandfather. By the end of the film, he also gains a facial scar eerily similar to Anakin's.
Luke Skywalker shares the shaggy hairstyle of his father and nephew, but he also has another prequel reference about him. The fleshy, robotic hand he had in the original trilogy has been replaced with a metallic one that looks incredibly similar to Anakin's prequel prosthetic.
5. Stolen at Birth
In “The Phantom Menace,” we learned that Jedi were taken at birth to learn the ways of the Force. In “The Force Awakens,” we learn that the First Order employs the same method for building up their Stormtrooper army, programming and training them from birth. This parallel adds an extra dimension to the Jedi Order as well, forcing the audience to reevaluate the practice completely.
6. Captain Phasma
Captain Phasma might be one of the most visually striking villains in the “Star Wars” saga thanks to her polished metal armor. But according to the official visual dictionary of “The Force Awakens,” it, too, is a prequel reference. Her armor was crafted from the hull of a Naboo starship once owned by Emperor Palpatine. Remember the silver ships Padme and Anakin used to criss-crossed the galaxy? Now every time you look at Captain Phasma, you'll be reminded of that more elegant time in spacefaring.
7. Unkar Plutt
Simon Pegg plays Unkar Plutt, the junk-dealing jerk who buys pieces of scrap from scavengers like Rey for a pittance of food. The stereotype of his greedy desert junk dealer on a desert planet immediately evokes images of Watto, the Toydarian gambler who owned Shmi and Anakin Skywalker in “The Phantom Menace.” Rey's Force vision even implies that Rey came into Plutt's custody when she was only a year or two older than Anakin was when he became Watto's slave. (You can see what appears to be Plutt's meaty, stubby-fingered hand grasping the child's arm as she cries out to the starship leaving the planet.)
“Star Wars” movies have always rhymed, and now Pegg shares a stanza with “The Phantom Menace.”
This brings us to the heroine of the latest film: Rey. Her story mirrors that of both Anakin and Luke Skywalker, though we have no clear knowledge of whether she's a Skywalker just yet. Rey is left on Jakku, a desert planet very much like Tatooine, has the extreme technical abilities Anakin had in “The Phantom Menace,” and is a gifted pilot like both Anakin and Luke. Who but a user of the Force could pilot a podracer, an X-wing, or the Millennium Falcon as capably as Anakin, Luke and Rey? As we mentioned before, she's also at the mercy of Unkar Plutt, a Watto-like character, for her very livelihood. Rey's entire living at the beginning of the film is one elaborate reference to the upbringing of two of the most powerful Jedi ever, leading us to hope Rey follows those footsteps as well.
9. The Senate
Although mentioned briefly in “A New Hope,” the prequel films gave us a look at the inner workings of the Galactic Senate and showed us the transition from Republic to Empire. The democracy faded, seemingly forever, in “Revenge of the Sith.”
With the destruction of the Empire, the New Republic forms and is the ruling government in the era of “The Force Awakens.” Before the Hosnian System, where the government is seated, is destroyed, we catch a glimpse of the chancellor of the New Republic, a position we've not seen in a “Star Wars” film since Palpatine declared himself Emperor in “Revenge of the Sith.” But as Starkiller Base seals their fate, you can also spot another prequel-referencing character on the same balcony as the chancellor: a senator from the planet of Naboo, which was featured in all three of the prequel films. Both Palpatine and Padme Amidala (who was Luke and Leia's mother, you'll recall) held the position of Naboo senator for a number of years before the dissolution of the Republic.
10. Execute Order 66
The most visceral reference to the prequels in “The Force Awakens” comes at one of the most impactful moments in the film. Prior to the events of the film, Kylo Ren turned against the Jedi, and all of Luke Skywalker's apprentices were killed. During Rey's Force vision, we glimpse the grizzly destruction and, although it doesn't take place in a Jedi Temple, the bodies scattered around, killed by lightsabers, certainly evoke one of the most shocking sequences in the prequel trilogy, the execution of Order 66, which gave the clones the word to wipe out all the Jedi in the galaxy. With a worshipper of Darth Vader in charge, emulation of his most grizzly acts is a foregone conclusion, and this reference to the end of the new Jedi only enhances the repeating cycles of the films.
There are many more references to the prequels in the films, from podracer flags and background elements to thematic similarities and story structure, but this list sums up the best of the best.