There was a definite lack of evolution in Episode VII as far as new ships are concerned. The book shows that Rick Carter and his art department were definitely brainstorming new hero ships including J-wings, K-wings and a Tri-winged tie fighter. All of these ideas had a fresh-but-Star Wars-y vibe, though ultimately throwbacks to the OT ties and X-wings were mostly what J.J. wanted. Leia's resistance transport, Stormtrooper transports and Han's smuggling freighter are the most prominent new ships in the film, and they're pretty boxy and forgettable. Kylo Ren's ship with its flat surfaces is the freshest of the new vehicles.
"Together we will destroy the Resistance and the last Jedi." These words were first spoken in September by Kylo Ren's toy on Force Friday, yet his obsessive search for Luke Skywalker and the extent of how many Jedi-in-training he had hunted down with the Knights of Ren is fuzzy at best. In the book, we see art of massive First Order ships destroying Jedi relics, like a giant statue on a rocky planet. As it was, the design work to get to the Kylo we know was an exhaustive process, and many of the thrown-away designs were either integrated into other Knights of Ren in Rey's flashback or into a member of the Guavian Death Gang.
Concept artist Iain McCaig, best known for designing Darth Maul and other characters for the prequels, was the first to propose that the force ghost of Anakin Skywalker appear to Luke in the film. Of course, this was in the early days of development before it was decided to push Luke's reveal to the end. McCaig further refined the idea that Anakin's ghost alternates between the redeemed light-side version seen at the end of Return of the Jedi (pictured) and the Darth-side. It would be interesting to see the dark side version communing with Kylo Ren and the light version with Luke and Rey in Episode VIII. As it is, Hayden Christensen is already rumored to be in talks to reprise his role, but we shall see.
Another aspect that was lacking in the new film was exotic new worlds. If we're honest with each other, Jakku is Tatooine in all-but-name, the green worlds of Maz Kanata and Leia are throwbacks to Yavin, and Starkiller Base is a warmer/warmed-over Hoth. Early drafts had an exotic port town nicknamed "Crime City" where our heroes first encounter Han Solo. This colorful new environment was inspired by Casablanca and Middle Eastern architecture, and was teeming with all kinds of cultures both new and familiar to Star Wars fans. The concept of Crime City eventually morphed into the more contained setting of Maz's castle, which was itself originally meant for the villain. Confused? So were they but that's the creative process for you.
There has already been much debate over whether or not Daisy Ridley's Luke Skywalker stand-in Rey is too overpowered in The Force Awakens. It all depends on your point of view, but in early Michael Arndt drafts, there were scene ideas for the character Kira (Rey) taking out either a star destroyer or the super weapon's gun barrel by flying an X-wing with the cockpit open and shredding the First Order machines with her light saber as she flew by. Similarly there was a scene of the Jedi killer (Kylo) knocking out flying X-wings by hurling boulders at them with the force.
Okay, so let's make one thing clear: The image you see is NOT from "The Art of Force Awakens" or anything Star Wars-related. It's actually an old Chris Foss illustration that's been desaturated to give you an idea of what the Resistance Warhammer looks like in the book, which we could not get authorization for as of press time. Rest assured, there are several versions depicted in the book and it is AWESOME. The rumor mill reported months ago that the First Order's super weapon at Starkiller Base was code-named "Catapult" and General Leia's own super weapon was "Sledgehammer." Turns out those rumors were dead-on, as the idea of the Warhammer was bandied about as a HUGE ship that could plow through a Star Destroyer and break the planet-wide shields so the X-wings could make their attack run. J.J. decided it would be better (and simpler) to just have Han & Co. disable those shields with Captain Phasma, but we hope the Warhammer shows up eventually.
One really dumb concept we're glad never made it past the brainstorming stage was Rey and the gang journeying to a water planet where the remnants of the Emperor's throne room from Death Star II sit at the bottom of the ocean containing vital secrets. A depiction of an underwater Millennium Falcon is seen, as if J.J. Abrams didn't get enough sh*t for an underwater Enterprise in Star Trek Into Darkness. There's even a painting of a complete Death Star II emerging from the ocean looking just like it did in Return of the Jedi, despite it having been blown to smithereens. It makes no sense, and was justifiably axed.
There are quite a number of pieces depicting Rey and Finn escaping Starkiller Base in a groovy snowspeeder with Stormtroopers in hot pursuit. It has a very similar vibe to the speeder bike chase in Return of the Jedi, and is another example of how the filmmakers simplified things drastically for the final cut.
One of the coolest pages in "The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens" shows 11 storyboard frames from a very early alternate opening concept. It depicts a shot that mirrors exactly the ones from A New Hope (pictured) of freighters and then a Star Destroyer entering the frame, only in this one the freighters are DRAGGING an EMPTY Star Destroyer through space for scrap metal. Our young male pilot hero, along with Chewbacca and R2-D2, get separated when the cables snap and that leads to the Imperial ship crashing into the planet and Kira (Rey) finding it.
Starkiller Base was originally built out of the ruins of the former rebel base on Dantooine, as referred to by Princess Leia in Episode IV. Alternately, Leia's Resistance base was originally meant to perch atop Ireland's natural tourist attraction the Cliffs of Moher, not far from Luke's eventual monastery stomping grounds on Skellig Michael island. They eventually secured a former Nuclear RAF base in West Berkshire, England for the Resistance bunkers.