One of the long held Star Wars traditions that many Star Wars fans may not be overly familiar with is the flopped shot. There is at least one in The Force Awakens, did you see it? See a couple of examples below and learn more about the "flop" in The Force Awakens...
Way back in my early days as a Star Wars fan I stumbled across the phenomena of "flopped shots" in Star Wars movies. The first one I found was in Star Wars Episode VI The Return Of The Jedi. The scene in question is a shot of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker aboard the skiff being transporter to their execution via the Sarlaac Pit, and the 1000 years reservation with their names on. If you look closely at the shot you'll notice that Mark Hamill looks really rather odd. It's because the shot was reversed in post production. I've reversed the shot again below so you can see what the frame would have looked like during filming.
The reasons for making these choices are many, but I suspect that during principal photography the idea was to have the action move a certain way through the frame, in the is case left to right. During post production however this must have changed. Most of the shots in the section of the film flow right to left, with Jabba's sail barge flying across the deserts of Tatooine in that direction. The external live elements are minimal in this section, with most of the shots being miniature models. It must have been decided it was easier and cheaper to "flop" the short section of Han and Luke, rather than reshoot it (if that was even an option!) and preserve the right to left nature of the movement through the frame. By the time we get to the majority of the live action external shots, the skiff has taken up position over the pit and the direction of movement is no longer a concern. See the image below and notice that Chewbacca's bandolier is on the wrong side in the theatrical version of the shot. I've reflopped the image so you can see what it looked like during principal photography.
Below is a shot of Darth Vader from the duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi on the Death Star in Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope. If you look closely you'll notice that Vader's chest plate is reversed. This is because this shot is recycled from the moment where Darth Vader and Obi-Wan began their exchange. At some point during the editing process a choice was made to add dialogue in post that required a shot of Vader after he and Kenobi had circled each other. This meant the editors required a Vader shot facing right to left. The answer appears to have been, flop the earlier shot and apply new dialogue in the ADR session.
Often these shots are flopped to accommodate a soundstage which was built with a positive or negative bias. James Cameron did something similar for Titanic. He had half the ship built, to control costs, and then saved money by building mirror image elements and flopping the shots in post. For example, many of the costumes had positive and negative versions. Meaning jackets buttoned on the left for some shots and the right for others, each shot meticulously planned to give the illusion that everything was shot as a positive, all this to disguise that fact that only one half of the ship had been built. The tell tale artefact is that people, like Mark Hamill in the earlier example, are rarely, if ever, symmetrical. In Titanic there are a few flopped shots where you can tell Victor Garber, who plays Thomas Andrews in the movie, has been flopped just by the subtle changes to his facial alignment.
In Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace there is a shot of Ewan McGregor that has been flopped as he talks to Qui-Gon about Anakin joining their number. This is a slightly unique example. In the shots below you can see the shot obtained during principal photography where Qui-Gon is on the left of frame, following the flow of movement through the previous frames as per the directors vision, but it would appear the shot was captured right to left and flopped. This is evident by the braid hanging behind Obi-Wan's ear. It should be on his right, but here it is on his left. In this instance there was also a need to drop in a pick up shot. This is probably due to George making a choice in the edit suite. A pick up session was scheduled for long after the actors had gone onto other projects. In these images you'll notice that Ewan McGregor is a little heavier, weight gained for his role in Rogue Trader, and he is wearing a (frankly terrible) wig. You'll notice his robes are all "positive" and Ewan's distinctive moles are in the right place. But his braid is on the wrong side? It could be that this was done intentionally to match the [dis]continuity of the flopped shot, or perhaps George was planning to flop the shot again in post and simply found it wasn't needed. Whatever the reason, this is a mess, and goes to show how good story boarding, pre-visualisation and a robust shot list can help avoid these things.
One last Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope flop. Look at the images of R2-D2 from the final act of Star Wars. You'll see he has been flopped. This was likely a choice made to reflect that fact that some of the action moved past where R2-D2 and C-3PO were at the start of the shot. Showing them facing left to right would be in opposition to this flow and so the image is flopped preserving the flow, but messing with continuity for the eagle eyed viewer.
The Force Awakens has at least one flopped shot. I suspect this is a deliberate homage to the earlier movies because there does not seem to be a discernible need to flop the shot. The scene is shortly after Rey has escaped her cell on Star Killer base after tricking "James Bond" into releasing her. Rey is hiding as a squad of Stormtroopers run by. She waits until they head off down a corridor and then runs from right to left. If you look closely at the Stormtroopers armour in this shot you'll notice the black disc on the back of the armour is on a different side. As is Rey's bag. This seems like a deliberate shot because there isn't an appreciable flow of movement through the frame, unless I'm just not familiar enough with The Force Awakens to pick up on it at this stage.
Have you noticed any other "flops" in The Force Awakens, or indeed in earlier Star Wars movies. I've only listed a few here to illustrate the nature of the curio, but perhaps you've got one that has been bugging you for years? Leave your examples in the comments below. Here's a clue to finding another, Jabba's nostrils! Happy hunting.
Thank you for reading,