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The connection between Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the saga’s prequel trilogy is slight, but that wasn’t always going to be the case.
The revelation that Anakin Skywalker could appear in some form comes from the book The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (via the British Independent newspaper), in which concept artist Iain McCaig explained that he had proposed “that Anakin’s ghost could come back” in the new movie in a new surprising form.
“If we see Anakin Skywalker, because he does flow back and forth between Darth Vader and Anakin, let’s see him as a character with a dark and light side,” McCaig reasoned. “The reason Luke is this whole new entity is because he was the first to acknowledge his own dark side — that it was not separate from him.”
As it is, the only actors to appear in both the prequel trilogy and The Force Awakens are Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Ewan McGregor, who, as Entertainment Weekly earlier revealed, makes an uncredited return as Obi-Wan Kenobi’s voice in one important scene. (Kenny Baker, who portrayed R2-D2 in earlier movies, is also credited as an “R2-D2 consultant” in the movie.)
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