Warning: The above video and write-up below contain some Star Wars: The Force Awakens spoilers.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens mostly played it safe, sticking closely to the template laid down by George Lucas’ original film, but early in production J.J. Abrams and his team had some slightly more out-of-the-box ideas. If these ideas had survived, The Force Awakens could have been a very different movie.
For instance, The Force Awakens‘ original opening scene was intended to be a shot of Luke Skywalker’s disembodied hand floating through space while holding his trademark blue lightsaber. A pretty dark image to throw at people right off the bat, and one that would set some major expectations. Was The Force Awakens originally supposed to be closer in tone to the dark The Empire Strikes Back? There were also originally plans for a Darth Vader impostor, who would torment Luke Skywalker. Did this Vader impostor eventually become Kylo Ren, or was he supposed to exist in the movie alongside Kylo? We don’t know for sure.
Ultimately, it seems like most of The Force Awakens‘ references and allusions to Empire Strikes Back were cut in order to hew closer to the original film, which was probably a good choice. The Force Awakens was dark enough — going full Empire-level bleak right off the bat would have been a mistake. Still, that snowspeeder chase would have been pretty damn cool.