When JJ Abrams joked about putting Jar Jar Binks' decomposed body in a sand dune to make a call back to the Star Wars prequel films, it spread across the net as it served to show that JJ was smart enough to not do something stupid like that. None the less, there are plenty of references and call backs to both the original and prequel Star Wars trilogies.
Here's a list of them ! Note that this is a list of references to the films that came before TFA. Some are obvious, some are pretty obscure and vague. This is not a list of easter eggs of everything found in the movie (but do check out the Beastie Boys one!) nor does it explore the thematic relationships of the movies. Try this page, if you're after the cameo appearances by celebrity actors.
- This first one is a gimme - every Star Wars film has featured the classic line, "I've got a bad feeling about this.." And so in TFA it fell to Han Solo to deliver the famous quote.
- Just as A New Hope found a young Luke Skywalker tied to the sandy planes of Tattooine as a moisture farmer, Rey finds herself as a scavenger who trades parts for food and water. She too is stuck on the planet, waiting for her family to return.
- When on the Falcon for the first time & as he's trying to give first aid to Chewie, Finn comes across the training ball aid that Luke used to learn about the Force when using the saber in ANH. In the same vein, Rey and Finn hide in the same hidden compartments that Han et al used when they first landed on the Death Star. We also get to see the famous dejarik or holochess game that RD2D and Chewbacca once played in ANH.
- The red light saber of Kylo Ren continues a tradition of the bad guys brandishing red sabers.
- It's almost as an in joke but Finn appears to be a little short for a Stormtrooper, perhaps a reference to Leia's famous line to Luke as he attempts to rescue her on the Death Star ( the truth though is at the time of the TFA, clones are no longer used so troopers will be of differing heights).
- When Han asks Finn if there is a garbage shoot to put Phasma down, this is a call back to when Han and co went down a garbage shoot to escape from the cell block in ANH.
- Captain Phasma is modelled on Bobba Fett who was first introduced in The Empire Strikes Back as having the cool 'bad ass' role.
- Kylo Ren makes a reference to the Clone Wars when he perhaps mockingly suggests to General Hux that mayby they should consider obtaining a Clone Army given the apparent loyalty issues Finn had just demonstrated.
- As BB-8 does some rolling to escape the TIE attack, two podracers can be spied in the background.
- Finn's trooper number, FN-2187, is a direct callback to A New Hope. If you recall the cell number that Princess Leia found her self in when she was captive on the Death Star, it was 218.
- When entering Maz Kanata's castle, our heroes observe a large array of flags. Many of them refer to the pod racing flags that racers like Sebulba and Anakin flew in Phantom Menace. The Mandalore flag which is a link to Bobba Fett as well.
- Many people have noted that Kylo Ren seems to have the same hair as Anakin Skywalker did in Revenge of the Sith. This would be a very subtle reference if it is intentional - none-the-less it could be the case due to the grandfather grandson relationship!
- The orange doll that Rey has fashioned in her living abode is very reminiscent of the suits worn by the rebel pilots in A New Hope.
- A really obscure reference that is not explicity made in the film is that Captain Phasma's chrome armour is made from a space ship that Palpatine used to own. It's a prequel reference in that the ship was built in Naboo, the home planet of Padme Amidala, Kylo's grandmother.
- Unkar Plutt has a similar kind of hold over Rey as did Watto over Anakin. While Watto owned Anakin, Plutt's control is by way of having an apparent monopoly over the food supply. More curiously, Rey's flashback sequence implies Plutt seems to have some kind of custodial responsibility for Rey as it is his arm that is holding her when she is watching her parent's spaceship take off from Jakku.
- When Han Solo calls out to Kylo Ren using his real name of Ben, this is a direct reference to Obi Wan Kenobi, he was known as Old Ben during his time on Tatooine as he looked over Luke.
- Rey suggests to Han that they're on the ship that did the Kessel Run in 14 parsecs - Han is quick to correct that it was 12 as he claimed in ANH
- The lightsaber stuck in the snow moment between Rey and Kylo is a clear call back to the part in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke used his force powers to call the saber to him just prior to the Wampa attacking him for a second time. In TFA, Rey's Force call is stronger than Kylo's.
That's just what we've picked up - if you have any more references, please let us know in the comments.