Okay, last Star Wars post for a bit – I promise. In part because the series finale of The Good Place just aired and man, I can’t wait to talk about that more! So, with all the discussion on The Rise of Skywalker going around – it’s only natural that part of the dialogue included speculation, speculation on what could have been.
For those who do not know, J.J. Abrams was not originally supposed to direct the ninth and final Star Wars film. Colin Trevorrow was initially hired to helm the film, but fired due to creative differences combined with the miserable performance of his film Book of Henry, which was released back in 2017. Trevorrow is still most famous for the new Jurassic World series. He directed the first installment and wrote the script for the second. A script, which – and I want to say this politely – contained possibly the dumbest opening I’ve ever seen in a Hollywood blockbuster. Not to mention the fact that he helped write the first Jurassic World, a film that had problems with its characterization – to put it mildly:
Anyway, the reason I’m giving this backstory is I want to put the following in context: I was relieved when Colin Trevorrow was fired from Episode IX. I was really skeptical of his ability to craft a satisfying conclusion to the sequel trilogy – this was of course before the exceptional Last Jedi came out and raised my expectations.
So yeah – I was initially happy about it. Still wasn’t thrilled with the decision to bring Abrams back, mostly because I wanted each film to have its own director and feel (not to mention Abrams’ at the time perceived weakness when it came to endings).
When I finally saw Rise of Skywalker, I was disappointed, but I said to myself: “At least it was probably better than it would have been if Trevorrow had directed.” I actually blamed most of my problems with Rise of Skywalker on what I perceived as leftovers from Trevorrow’s script.
I was wrong.
And we know this – definitely. How? Welp…someone at Disney likes to leak things apparently. In the short time since its release, Rise of Skywalker has already been undermined by the release of the original (early) script as well as concept art from the Trevorrow version. To spare you a lentghy written rundown of what happened, let me instead simply introduce you to Star Wars: Dual of the Fates:
Okay so…wow. Not what I was expecting. When I heard the recap of the script and saw the concept art, I naturally wondered: How the hell did this not get made? What were the creative differences that drove Trevorrow off the project? While I can only speculate, there do appear to be two possible explanations as to why Dual of the Fates was scrapped (warning – spoilers from Rise of Skywalker to follow).
The Death of Kylo Ren
Okay, for the record – I’m not sure about this. All we know is that, in the second half of Rise of Skywalker Ben Solo was very very very very very very very suddenly redeemed and returned to the side of the light. In Dual of the Fates this does not happen. Kylo Ren is destroyed despite Rey, Luke, and others trying until the end to convince him to change. Ren rejects redemption, embraces the dark, and is destroyed by his arrogance and determination to pursue the dark side.
According to sources on Reddit, this conflicts with what Adam Driver was told during filming of The Force Awakens. The source alleges that Driver was informed early on that Ren would have a redemption arc and return to the light before death.
I’m skeptical for two reasons. First, I can’t find this interview. Granted, I have not extensively searched for it but Google has turned up nothing. In fact, shortly before the film was released, Driver stated that he did not believe Ren needed redemption – stating that the character was oblivious to doing anything wrong in the first place.
Secondly, the abrupt return to the light side seems to contradict the overall progression of Kylo Ren in the first two movies. Force Awakens has him struggle with the light before succumbing to the darkness – and Last Jedi deepens this by having him kill his master and take his place, thus fulfilling the traditional Sith progression from apprentice to master.
Maybe redemption was always in the cards? If that was the case – someone should have told Abrams and Johnson to include a bit more setup.
The Lack of Leia
Here is probably the real reason. Looking at all the details that have emerged regarding Trevorrow’s script, one thing becomes clear: Leia Organa is barely in it. She’s a side character – running the Resistance/Rebellion in the background to the greater conflict. She is not a jedi – something that LucasFilm wanted (to the point of including the reveal of Leia’s force abilities in Last Jedi), and Luke continues to train Rey from beyond the grave, rather than Leia taking over the teaching role.
I think this was the problem. Given that Han Solo and Luke Skywalker were major parts of Episodes VII and VIII respectively, it was only natural that Leia shine in Episode IX. Trevorrow, however, had other plans, and this likely did not sit well with the higher ups and LucasFilm and Disney.
The sad irony, however, is that several months after Trevorrow was fired, Carrie Fisher tragically passed away and Leia’s role in Episode IX was greatly reduced for obvious reasons. Yeah…that just sucks.
Palpatine – J.J. Abrams’ Biggest Change
While different, Rise of Skywalker and Dual of the Fates follow similar plot structures. Both films open with Kylo Ren going to Mustafar in search of hidden knowledge. Both scripts have Rey continuing her jedi training. Both scripts involve the continuation of the Resistance’s message and a subsequent giant final battle. Both scripts “kill” a droid before bringing it back to life – there’s a lot of comparisons to look into.
Abrams, however, made two major changes. I’m only going to focus on the first, but here they are:
- Palpatine is alive again.
- The main cast stays together throughout the film.
While the second definitely created major shifts in the script (and all but wrote out Rose’s role), the first – to me – created the biggest issues. Abrams was very public in saying that he wanted Rise of Skywalker to be a conclusion to all three trilogies. Bringing Palpatine back does serve to create a sense of continuation, to be sure (for the record, Palpatine was going to appear briefly in Dual of the Fates in hologram form).
But that’s not all. Palpatine being back doesn’t really have much impact – he’s never even met any of the sequel trilogy characters. When writing, one of the ways to make a villain compelling is to develop a strong link between them and the protagonist. So, it wasn’t enough to bring Palpatine back – Abrams had to create a link between him and Rey. Yeah, can you guess the link?
Spoilers: Rey is Palpatine’s grand daughter. It was a script decision obviously designed to invoke Empire Strikes Back but comes off more as Days of Our Lives. It feels like a convoluted change that does not add much (or really anything) to the themes of the sequel trilogy and undermines the message that a hero can come from anywhere.
More than that, however, is that all the action in the first part of the film is shaped around this decision. Everything happens to eventually put Rey onto the ship and have Kylo deliver the big reveal. Considering how scattered the opening act of Rise of the Skywalker feels, it is safe to say the film suffers from this dramatic shift.
Dual of the Fates simply fed off the natural conflict already created between Rey and Kylo – continuing it to its natural conclusion. This allowed Trevorrow more time to explore the characters of the trilogy and have them interact and grow naturally. He didn’t need to sacrifice his movie to shoehorn in the past – what a novel idea.
A Stronger Ending to the Skywalker Saga?
In case you haven’t guessed, I’m sad that Dual of the Fates did not get made. While the early draft of the script is not perfect, it comes off as a much stronger conclusion to the ideas and themes discussed in the sequel trilogy. But one thing really bothers me:
Abrams keeps saying he wanted the film to be a conclusion to all nine movies. So let’s look at that, shall we? True, in Abrams’ film, Palpatine returns and must be destroyed for the final time – that’s certainly a tie-in. However, in Dual of the Fates, we had:
- A Mustafar callback – complete with Palpatine reference
- A return to Coruscant, a main planet of the prequel trilogy
- Kylo Ren fight Darth Vader (like Luke did in the cave in Empire Strikes Back)
- Firing up the signal beacon in the Jedi Temple
- Lando – albeit in a much smaller role
- Citizens of Coruscant wearing old storm and clone trooper armor
- A use of Mandalorian armor
- A callback to the mind trick
- Han Solo, Obi Want Kenobi, Yoda, and others
It goes on. My point is that Dual of the Fates was already a nice conclusion to all nine films. Heck it was going to end with R2-D2 and C-3PO telling the entire saga of Star Wars to an audience. That’s a pretty tidy conclusion.
What Abrams did was primarily call back to the original trilogy, shoe-horn in nostalgia wherever he could and deprive audiences of truly satisfying endings to each of the sequel trilogy characters. Dual of the Fates may not have been perfect, but it felt like its own movie. That’s more than I can say for Rise of Skywalker.