The British actor endured sizzling temperatures while shooting the buzzy sequel in the scorching Abu Dhabi desert
Credit: Chris McPherson

While his Star Wars character, Finn, brandishes a lightsaber against the bad guys, actor John Boyega had his own secret weapon on the set of The Force Awakens: ice baths.

“I’m in a Stormtrooper outfit in the middle of the Abu Dhabi desert shooting during the day,” the 23-year-old British actor says in the PEOPLE’s new Star Wars special issue of the hot scenes he filmed for the junkyard planet Jakku. “It was really, really sweaty. Thank you, J.J., by the way,” he adds, calling out director J.J. Abrams. “I took some ice baths and made sure we got the shots.”

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Fortunately for Boyega, he’s not in the hot Stormtrooper armor for the whole movie. Finn abandons that outfit to join the film’s new good guys, including desert scavenger Rey (hence the Abu Dhabi scenes) and X-wing pilot Poe Dameron. Boyega has some experience in galactic warfare: His first movie was 2011’s Attack the Block, about a London street gang battling invading aliens.

To further get into the role of Finn, Boyega studied the masters of the original trilogy, including the audition tapes of Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill plus the behind-the-scenes footage of Anthony Daniels. “He had to be in that C-3PO costume throughout the whole film,” Boyega says. “So I didn’t complain.”

While he’s fully immersed in Star Wars now, Boyega was a latecomer to the franchise. “The first time I saw a Star Wars movie, Episode I – The Phantom Menace, was about 2003,” he says. “I was playing with a Darth Maul action figure and found out this guy was part of a whole new world called Star Wars. I watched the prequel movies, then went back to see the originals. The proper way. I m a ’90s baby; don’t judge me.”