Christian Bale was picked for the role of Jim out of more than 4,000 who auditioned. Steven Spielberg had seen Bale in the miniseries Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986) and Amy Irving, who starred in it, personally recommended Bale to Spielberg, her husband at the time. Spielberg had not thought much of Bale in "Anastasia", but cast him in the role of Jim after he auditioned.
Steven Spielberg had planned a long, continuous shot when Jim was standing on top of the building at the prison camp, watching the American planes bomb the airfields. The shot was very complicated and would require a single take. He gave instructions to Christian Bale to get excited, jump up and down, and run around on the rooftop as the planes passed and the bombs went off. However, Bale became nervous as the stunts began, and didn't do much of anything. Since most of the explosions had been used up on this shot, Spielberg (after having some soft, fatherly words with the young Bale) improvised with several shots from different close-up angles, eventually getting Bale to give a more excited performance.
Col. Marshall (Tom Danaher) was a Marine night fighter pilot in the Pacific in WWII and was credited with shooting down the last Japanese bomber of the war. He also flies one of the Japanese "Zeros" in the movie.
The B-29 bomber which passes by in a short scene was a gigantic radio-controlled model. It had operating undercarriage, bomb doors and flaps, and a wing span of 18 feet. Six radio receivers in the plane and two transmitters were used to control the plane.
The shot of Jim's parents tucking him in bed is directly lifted from the Norman Rockwell painting "Freedom from Fear". Jim's father even holds a newspaper like the father in the painting. The main difference is that in the painting there are two children in bed. The painting is also featured when Jim is at a camp - in one moment he rearranges the pin-ups on his wall, Rockwell's painting is one of them.
In Rescue Dawn (2006), 19 years after this film, Christian Bale recounts an incident during World War II in which an American fighter plane on a strafing run flew closely past him with the canopy open and the pilots looking straight at him with his goggles up.
Some of the "Mustangs" and "Zeros" in the background during the attack of the airfield were radio controlled models with a wingspan of 12 feet. If one looks thoroughly, a "Mustang" passing from right to left, trailing smoke, has no undercarriage doors. That is one of the models. The "Zero" exploding in mid-air is, of course, also a model. Six "Mustangs" and six "Zeros" were built by "Model Effects".
About almost halfway through the film, Jim is taken to Basie's den in the internment camp and the window behind him looks suspiciously like the window the Emperor sat in front of in in the Death Star (while watching the Rebel Alliance take down the shield generators on Endor) in Return of the Jedi. Basie is even seated in a chair on the left-side of the frame in one shot with Jim on the right side, lower, similar to the placement of the Emperor/Luke and Basie's "guards" leave when Jim enters the room. Since Spielberg and Lucas are close friends, it seems evident this was a nod to Star Wars suggesting that Basie is the Emperor of the internment camp.