One of the biggest complaints about Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace and it's two sequels Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith is that they are grossly drenched in CGI. In fact, a number of scenes in all three movies are completely CGI with no practical element at all. Disney and Lucasfilm have been very adamant about pushing home the fact that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not following the same path. There are a lot of practical effects on display in the seventh Star Wars movie. And we'll hardly see any scenes that doesn't have some sort of practical element to them.
After the prequel trilogy shuffled off into the dustbins of history, only to be occasionally viewed by fans still upset over the whole ruse, there has been quite a vocal contingent who claim the first two trilogies look and feel nothing alike. Mainly because one was shot on real sets with real aliens and droids, while the other was shot on green screen, and even stooped to giving us a computer generated C-3PO. Lucasfilm set out early to prove they've course corrected this ship known as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and at Comic-Con, they showed off an extended behind-the-scenes featurette that highlights the lengths to which they went in preserving the tone, look and feel of those original movies.
But that doesn't mean J.J. Abrams has abandoned CGI altogether. That would be impossible in this day and age. CGI will be used to extend existing sets, hide some of the puppeteers and their various tools, and there will likely be one or two characters that are completely motion-capture, as we've seen both Lupita Nyong'o and Andy Serkis in thier mo-cap costumes. But there will not be very many scenes in the finished movie that do not include some kind of real, tangible practical effect.
But how low is the number of all CGI shots that we'll see in the movie when it hits screens next December? MakingStarWars.Net claims that as of last summer, there were only 28 total shots that will be comprised completely of CGI. This is out of a rumored 357 scenes from the entire movie. Sure, some things will change before the movie hits the big screen. But it's unlikely that a whole lot more all-CGI shots were added in post. These scenes take a long time to create, and needed to be prepped very early in the production stages.
These all-CGI scenes take place mostly in space, and include such iconic ships as Star Destroyers, TIE Fighters, and the Millennium Falcon, along with Kylo Ren's First Order starship which is seen in the second trailer as it approaches one of the new Star Destroyers. The sequence that shows the Millennium Falcon being chased by TIE Fights on the surface of Jakku is also said to be made completely of CGI shots. As we saw in the Comic-Con teaser, these shots are being mixed with practical shots of the Millennium Falcon cockpit. And a full ship was built for all of the scenes where it is parked.
Some fans may balk at the fact that some of the ship battles are CGI. Models were used in the original Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope to bring the assault on the Death Star to life. But utilizing today's new technology makes more sense in terms of creating some of the magic behind this long-standing franchise. The younger fans are accustomed to seeing CGI in all various forms. And as no one has cried about seeing some of these shots in the two trailers that were released, it seems there will be enough practical effects to keep everyone happy.