English actress Maisie Richardson-Sellers was one of the first cast announced in the press for The Force Awakens, but her blink-and-you'll-miss-it part during the destruction of The Republic scene didn't leave much of an impact. That's because most of her role got cut out.
"She actually had a larger role, which we sadly had to cut down," Abrams says in the commentary. "We used to meet Leia earlier, and she was tasking this character to go to the Senate and speak to them about the threat of The First Order."
The character, whose name is Korr Sella, does share a fun back-and-forth with Leia in a new deleted scene featured on the Blu-ray:
LEIA: "I need you to go see the senate right away. Tell them I INSIST the Republic take action against The First Order!"
KORR: "All respect, will the Republic listen?"
LEIA: "Not all senators think I'm insane… or maybe they do. I don't care."
It was Michael Arndt's suggestion after screening an earlier cut to remove these early Leia scenes in favor of having her first appearance come at the low point for the characters after the destruction of Maz's castle.
One of the most tantalizing ideas teased in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi was Leia's Force strength. Unfortunately we didn't see much of it in The Force Awakens, though we may see a bit more in Episode VIII.
"This established idea that Leia is strong with the force has always been fascinating to me," said Abrams. "Clearly she took another path, and training with the force was not her thing, but I always felt Leia had the same potential that Luke did."
Abrams talks about how he deliberately set the scene where Han explains the Force to Rey and Finn in the same part of the Millennium Falcon where he originally said there was no such thing 40 years earlier in A New Hope. Rey is actually sitting in the very chair Han was sitting in when he scoffed at Obi-Wan about magical powers and ancient religions.
There are a few new deleted scenes on the 3D Blu-ray that were not on the previous release. One of the best scenes involves Chewie tearing Unkar Plutt's arm off during a confrontation at Maz's castle. It's easy to see why it's gone, though, as it adds little and complicates an already-delicate scene between Rey and Finn. Another part between Han/Finn and some stormtroopers in the tunnel below Maz's castle just doesn't work, and only seems there to indicate that Han knew Finn was a stormtrooper by his boots… info we didn't need.
It was apparently Steven Spielberg's idea to have the Tie Fighter blow up after it crashed in the desert. He also came up with the idea of trees getting sliced down during Rey and Kylo's lightsaber battle, which were added in later in post. It's also known that Spielberg helped Abrams come up with the shot of the vulture chipping away at scrap metal on Jakku. Spielberg helped Abrams land the job in the first place, highly recommending him to producer Kathleen Kennedy.
Abrams had previously stated that he based the name of Captain Phasma on the cult classic horror movie Phantasm, which he recently helped restore for a new Blu-ray. His horror love goes even further, as he reveals that the scene of the force battle in the torture chamber between Rey and Kylo was meant to evoke the battle of the minds between Vale and Revok in David Cronenberg's 1981 classic Scanners.
You can read even more Star Wars horror connections in our article The 10 Biggest Horror Movie Ties To STAR WARS!
How Maz Kanata wound up with Luke Skywalker's lightsaber which he lost in The Empire Strikes Back is a very good question... for another time.
"In the original script you saw the lightsaber falling through space and landing on the ground and a hand taking it," Abrams revealed. "You used to have this entire backstory where you learned what happened with Luke's lightsaber over the years and how it ended up finally in the hands of Maz Kanata. All that became backstory, and is in fact thrown away in one line later."
Many are wondering if Kylo Ren, like his grandfather Anakin before him, is capable of being redeemed. Abrams plants a clue in his commentary...
"In Kylo's mind, what he's just done seals the deal," says Abrams of the killing of Han Solo. "It's the ultimate proof to Snoke that he is to be trusted, that he will not be seduced by the light… and I think the instant he's done it he regrets it."
During his commentary, Abrams reveals some of the many changes that were made in service of telling an efficient story, or to change the dynamics of characters.
Originally Finn revealed himself as a stormtrooper when he first met Rey, and she had never heard of Luke Skywalker. Abrams thought it made more sense if she knew Luke as a legend, and if Finn tried to impersonate a Resistance fighter.
At one point we saw Hux bring Kylo back to Snoke after his defeat at the hands of Rey, but it was deemed unnecessary. Kylo's new training will no doubt be covered in Episode VIII.
It was Selma director Ava DuVernay's suggestion to have the shot of Rey taking a moment during her lightsaber battle to listen to the Force.
Much of Abrams' commentary is spent pointing out what is practical and what is CGI in a given scene. For example, there were five puppeteers inside Jakku's giant Happabore creature in the 100+ degree heat of Abu Dhabi, and between takes a tube would be inserted in its rear-end to give these poor guys some much-needed air conditioning.