Star Wars: what we learnt from Force Awakens’ deleted scenes

With the Star Wars Blu-ray now out, what do the deleted scenes tell us about JJ Abrams’ original vision for the movie?

Back in 1999, at the tender age of 21, some friends and I hopped on a plane and flew to Dallas, Texas to watch Star Wars Episode I. Global release dates weren’t as well co-ordinated as they are these days and faced with six weeks of waiting here in the UK whilst everyone stateside got to fill their boots, we made what seemed like the only real decision available to us at the time. Looking back, it was perhaps one of history’s grander acts of spoiler-avoidance, but the moment that will stay with me forever wasn’t the film itself – instead, it was the strange moments straight after.

My travelling companions and I stood around in the bright Texan sunshine, bloodless smiles plastered on our faces, pantomiming our enjoyment in the unassailable face of the five thousand mile mistake we’d just made. Inwardly, I remember thinking that there somehow had to be more to validate our epic pilgrimage – some magic moment that perhaps I’d missed or perhaps George had neglected to put in, a cutting-room floor coda that would somehow unlock the film’s brilliance, restoring it to the sacred plinth my mind had long ago reserved for it alongside its illustrious older brothers.

Ultimately, there was no magic scene that could save The Phantom Menace, not even an extended Blu-ray deleted scene appearance from Dominic West. The Force Awakens is a different beast though; it’s not a film that needs saving and unlike say, Batman V Superman, it doesn’t rely on post-cinematic additions to be able to tell a coherent story. Whilst certainly interesting, the scenes on offer on the Blu-ray release don’t give us any great glimpses into the universe’s wider mythology, especially not when compared to the extra scenes available on Avengers: Age Of Ultron’s disc, for example.

Perhaps this is testament to an economical unity of purpose in the film’s construction or maybe there are juicier scenes that they’re saving for a ‘double-dip’ release. Also unclear is whether the deleted scenes are actually considered canon; official ‘rules’ on the matter would suggest not but the the waters are muddied a little by the appearance of several of the scenes within the movie’s novelisation.

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Canon or not, meagre or otherwise, who cares? Let’s take a look at the deleted scenes which did release on the Blu-ray, breaking down what they add to our understanding of The Force Awakens.

The storm inside of the trooper

Those who have read Greg Rucka’s Episode VII prequel anthology Before The Awakening will be more than aware that the conflict raging within Finn began brewing long before his platoon’s dropship landed on Jakku. Harbouring too much care for both his teammates and the innocent, Finn is something of an outsider amongst his fellow stormtroopers even before the events of the movie’s opening compel him to desert. A watchful Captain Phasma is already aware of his shortcomings as a soldier and hopes that the heat of battle will forge him into realising his true potential. As this deleted scene shows, when Finn finds himself unable to gun down an unarmed villager and her innocent young baby, his instincts to protect the weak are simply too strong to be curbed.

Not of particular importance, this scene is rendered largely inessential because the following moments of the movie largely repeat this tableau, only on a larger scale and to greater effect. The scene in the final cut where Finn finds himself unable to shoot as his fellow stormtroopers cut down the helpless villagers is more effective, with Finn’s inaction juxtaposed against the barbaric slaughter enacted by his compatriots. As the scene didn’t make the final cut, it’s probably safe to assume that the anonymous villager and her helpless baby are simply just that, and that Finn’s moment of mercy won’t have implications further down the line… apart from in the world of Star Wars fan fiction of course, where he probably just spared the life of Yoda and Padme’s recently-unfrozen-from-carbonite-lovechild, because well, this is the internet after all.

Resisting the Resistance

An interesting one here, that not only could have beefed up the rather diminished presence of the Resistance much earlier in the movie, but it also would have introduced two of the series’ mainstays in the film’s first act. General Leia Organa and C-3PO don’t feature until well into Episode VII’s second act when Resistance support shows up on Takodana; this scene however, where a worried communications officer played by Emun Elliot (his tongue firmly restored since Joffrey ripped it out in Game Of Thrones) reports to Leia that the village on Jakku has been massacred and both Poe Dameron and BB-8 are missing, presumed captured. Why Abrams neglected to include this short encounter is slightly puzzling, especially given that Leia is somewhat underused in the film and her wryly-delivered line (“never underestimate a droid”) is a great little reference to the saga’s roots.

Of particular interest is an almost throwaway line that occurs in a brief conversation between Leia and Snap Wexley, Poe’s fellow pilot in Black Squadron. After asking her whether they should contact the Republic, Leia’s retort to the effect that “we have to be smarter than that” helps to slightly define the rather nebulous relationship that exists between the Organa’s armed band and the galaxy-spanning government. Does she not trust them? Perhaps she believes them to be incompetent? Whatever the reason, it’s interesting to see her responding so dismissively towards an organisation that she was so instrumental in creating. A great little scene and one for my money that should have stayed in.

Solo’s silver tongue

There’s no doubt that Han Solo’s tragic demise in the film’s finale leaves the Star Wars universe a significantly emptier place. His courage and grandstanding in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds made him the stuff of hero-worship for an entire generation. More than anything else though, it’s the cocksure smuggler’s verbal jousts that will be most widely missed. Solo’s fast-talk notoriously got him into trouble more often than it got him out and by the time Episode VII rolls around it seems the entire galaxy, from Tatooine to Space-Scotland, is wise to his game. Bet against the Corellian at your peril though, as Solo proves in this scene, unleashing his silver tongue one final time to confound a squad of armed stormtroopers who have our heroes cornered.

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In what is assuredly the Blu-ray’s best deleted scene Solo pulls out every trick he knows to buy Maz Kanata time to bring her force powers to bear (although sadly you don’t see this part). We’re treated to the classic selective hearing con and some farcial faux-buffoonery; at one point, Solo even resorts to tattling on Finn by revealing his stormtrooper past, just to buy a few more precious seconds – all before the smuggler’s desperate rambles are crowned by the most hilariously lame excuse for not surrendering a blaster ever, all of it delivered in an exquisite vein of mock bewilderment by the excellent Harrison Ford.

It eclipses the film’s earlier scene when Solo attempts to talk his way out of a three-way showdown with the two space pirate gangs and as such, it’s a shame it didn’t find its way into the cinematic release; one can only assume that Abrams elected to not include the scene because of the fashion in which it concludes; if Maz Kanata is powerful enough in the ways of the Force to take out an entire squad of stormtroopers then why does she not stick around to help the group in the film’s third act? It seems then that perhaps the scene causes more problems than it solves and as such, it had to go. A real shame as this is smuggler’s gold – a vintage Han Solo moment that only serves to remind us that although the future of the Star Wars universe may be bright, one of its most dazzling stars will shine no more.

X-Wings prepare for lightspeed

One of the more disappointing aspects of the film’s denouement was the X-Wing attack on Starkiller Base. In part because we’ve seen it several times before and also perhaps because a lot of the in-cockpit chatter scenes were removed, the all-or-nothing mission didn’t match the pulsating drama of the original trilogy’s Death Star attacks. This quick scene showing the Resistance pilots jumping to hyperspace allows us to familiarise ourselves with a couple of Black Squadron’s pilots but little else. Poor Greg Grunberg’s Snap Wesley loses another of his few lines of dialogue here and it’s entirely possible that Abrams excluded this moment because it visually riffs too closely to A New Hope’s Yavin launch. Maybe he was worried that fans might suddenly begin to draw comparisons between the two movies – no danger of that though, they’re nothing alike.

Kylo’s quest

As evidenced by the quality of the CG finishes, this short sequence was surely a contender for the final cut until very late in the day. A beautifully-shot little moment sees Kylo Ren board the Falcon to investigate just who has dropped in on Starkiller Base. Upon entering the cockpit, he seems momentarily shaken before uttering the words “Han Solo” and leaving the ship, just as the Resistance snub fighters swoop down from the skies. It’s another great instance of Driver’s quality as Ren, his conflicted body language segueing perfectly with the ship’s natural tilt to create a real sense of disorientation as he realises that his estranged father is within his grasp.

Ultimately, Abrams elected to go with a scene inside of Starkiller Base where the Force alerts Ren to the presence of Solo whilst discussing the escaped Rey’s actions with a subordinate. Whilst it might make more sense in terms of further establishing Ren’s leadership within the facility, it lacks the emotional gravitas created by The Artist Formerly Known As Ben Solo clutching the two pilots’ seats where he and his father probably shared what few cherished moments Ren has of his past. Generational links have always been one of the core strengths of the Star Wars universe and anyone who still doubts the pathos created by the deterioration of Ben and Han Solo’s relationship would have benefited greatly from this scene – and also from this:

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Did someone say snowspeeders?

With the Rogue One trailer dropping recently and promising plenty of AT-AT goodness, you’d be forgiven for seeing the title for this deleted scene (Snow Speeder Chase) and wondering if their waspish rebel nemeses were set to make a return to the cinematic universe too but alas, these aren’t your daddy’s snow speeders. The vehicles featured in this scene aren’t the modified-for-cold T-47 air speeders of The Empire Strikes Back but rather lightning-quick craft that zip across the icy terrain of Starkiller Base. Presumably filling in the moments between Rey and Finn’s escape and their forest encounter with Kylo Ren, this high-pace chase scene sees them desperately trying to elude First Order pursuit as blaster bolts fill the air around them.

Undoubtedly part of a longer scene, the encounter included on the blu-ray is a nice callback to the pair’s first vehicular battle in the Falcon on Jakku and clearly underscores the growing bond between Rey and Finn. When the speeder tailing them wings them with a hit, the duo quickly change positions into the roles they performed so effectively in the Millennium Falcon: Rey on the stick, Finn as gunner and before long their pursuers are no more. What’s noticeable here is the developing level of teamwork and (often unspoken) understanding that is beginning to form between them. Gone are Rey’s recriminations and Finn’s fumbling panic, his rescue mission to Starkiller Base has solidified something truly meaningful between the two and as a result, a truly formidable partnership is beginning to emerge. Something of a shame it didn’t make the final cut then but we’re not arguing with Abrams’ decision; choosing to remove an action sequence from a tentpole blockbuster that already has enough of them is the exact kind of restraint that a few other directors could show too…

Finn is fine

Perhaps the most expendable of all the included scenes, Dr. Kalonia informs Rey that Finn is going to pull through, despite the terrible injuries he incurred during his duel with Kylo Ren. Rey doesn’t speak during the brief exchange but we do get to see a little more of Harriet Walters’ overly-smug doctor. – not content with blatantly patronising Chewbacca, the Rebellion’s most unsung hero in the movie’s cinematic cut, she goes on to silently smile in the face of Rey’s emotional torment for at least three seconds longer than should be socially acceptable, no matter what corner of the galaxy you’re from. How about a little bedside manner Doc?

And that’s your lot I’m afraid. Whilst I’ll freely admit to being mildly underwhelmed by the sparse offering (especially when the Episode IVI Blu-ray set had so many great previously unreleased scenes included), they’re interesting enough and the disc’s other features are okay too; the Table Read featurette also answers the burning question (in my mind at least) of how Abrams got around the rather embarrassing problem of having nothing in the script for Mark Hamill to read, so at least there’s that, right?