Among all the various ‘controversies’ to surface concerning the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy and The Rise of Skywalker – from the alleged ‘J.J cut’ to George Lucas’s discarded story treatments – one of the most interesting has been the surfacing of one of the early drafts for the Episode IX screenplay.
Specifically, a script titled ‘Duel of the Fates’ and allegedly written by the original Episode IX writer Colin Trevorrow. The script, made public by Rob Burnett recently, is apparently dated from 2016 and shows a version of the story Trevorrow was developing for Episode IX prior to being let go by Disney/Lucasfilm and replaced with J.J Abrams and Chris Terrio.
Now, the first thing to say is that it isn’t 100% known whether this script is genuine or not. But it probably is: Burnett (a film director himself, with contacts in the industry) is a pretty trustworthy source.
The second thing to say is that we don’t know what stage of the process this script represents: was it the earliest draft or a relatively late draft? Does it display the fullness of Trevorrow’s vision for the story – or only an early snapshot of it? If it’s only an early-ish version, then it’s possible that a later version would be very different.
It’s difficult to know. What it shows is very interesting, however.
I’m not going to go through every detail of the script – and I still haven’t seen a full version of the text myself, so I’m probably missing some things. You can watch the Burnett Network video on the script leak here for the fuller, more comprehensive picture.
But the gist of it is that it’s a very different story.
We should say, however, that it’s difficult to know what this story would’ve looked and felt like once it was actually fully produced and on screen: reading a story on paper doesn’t necessarily give you a true sense of what the finished product would play out like, with the music added in and all the other cinematic elements.
In Trevorrow’s story, there is no Palpatine. Instead there’s a different villain entirely – an ancient Sith named ‘Tor Valum’ (?), who claims to have been Palpatine’s own teacher.
More focus in on Kylo as the Supreme Leader of the First Order: in fact, Kylo is the main villain himself and even ends up killing off this ‘Tor Valum’ once he doesn’t need him anymore. There is no ‘Bendemption’ story. Luke’s ghost does visit Kylo Ren. Rose and Finn get a mission to Coruscant. There is a greater sense of a galaxy-wide uprising against the First Order. General Hux gets much more of a story – I believe he kills himself at the end (allegedly using Mace Windu’s purple lightsaber).
Also of note is that this script is supposedly dated to before Carrie Fisher‘s sad passing in December 2016: so, unlike J.J, Trevorrow is free to incorporate Leia as much as he wants to.
Firstly, the title – ‘Duel of the Fates’ – feels very evocative and epic, tangibly connecting us back to the very beginning of the chronological Star Wars saga: specifcally to Episode I and that epic John Williams score for the lightsaber duel. So, even just that – connecting to the final film of the saga to the first – feels very potent.
I actually like the title ‘The Rise of Skywalker’, however: so I don’t necessarily think one is better than the other.
What I do like more about Trevorrow’s script is that feels more in-tune with the previous two films, particularly TLJ.
In Trevorrow’s script, we’re told Luke Skywalker’s last stand and sacrifice on Crait really has counted for something: and it’s ramifications are still being felt across the galaxy. That’s something that I think The Rise of Skywalker specifically fails with.
There are some things I really like the sound of in this story. I like that we go back to Coruscant, as this really would help link the trilogies more visually. Rose Tico gets a good story and is treated respectfully, with a lot more action and screen-time. Finn and Rose’s mission to Coruscant here is to sneak into the Jedi Temple and reactivate a homing beacon – using it to broadcast a galaxy-wide call for an uprising against the First Order.
What I would love about this is that – I assume – the beacon that Finn and Rose would be activating is the same one that Obi-Wan and Yoda specifically deactivated in Revenge of the Sith: we might even get to see Rose and Finn standing in the same room as Yoda and Kenobi once did – which, again, would link the trilogies in a very lucid sort of way.
Also, Trevorrow’s story would’ve shown Kylo in Vader’s castle on Mustafar much more explicitly – we do get a watered-down version of Kylo on Mustafar in The Rise of Skywalker, but this Trevorrow version would’ve been more explicit and more expansive.
There are other cool ideas too, such as Rey being blinded and fighting Kylo without her sight. There’s an early scene where Rey and her gang steal a Star Destroyer. And there’s an appearance by the Force Ghosts of Luke, Obi-Wan and Yoda (but still no Anakin, sadly).
Also, Rey has a really cool sounding double-bladed blue lightsaber.
Concept art for this story has also appeared online recently (such as the Rey image at the top of the page with the lightsaber); and it looks interesting. One of Trevorrow’s most interesting ideas is to focus back on Coruscant: and we would see a Coruscant that is in very bad shape, nothing like the immaculate metropolis we saw in the Prequel Trilogy.
And judging by some of the concept art, such as the image above, Captain Phasma is still alive. Some of the stuff on Coruscant looks very dark – the image above seems to show a public execution.
There’s also a little detail I really like: which is that Lando, when asked by Leia to gather support to aid the Resistance, refuses – alllegedly saying something to the effect of him being fed up of the fighting and that they already went through all this a generation ago. Which feels like a really realistic response to me.
There are key things here I’m not so sold on, however.
I don’t think throwing in a brand new character or villain this late in the trilogy would’ve been a good idea. Especially because, oddly, this new villain isn’t Darth Plagueis – if it had been Plagueis, then I would see this differently. But to introduce a previously unheard-of villain just wouldn’t work. Given a choice between that and thet J.J/Terrio route of bringing back Palpatine, I honestly think Palpatine is the better choice – at least dramatically.
And also because we all know who Palpatine is and – as much as I’m not in love with the fact that they brought back Palpatine and somewhat ret-conned Return of the Jedi – it makes more sense to finish the saga with the villain who has been in the frame literally all the way through (the literal Phantom Menace) than to ask us to accept a whole new villain right at the end.
Also, given that Carrie was still with us at this point in time, it’s odd to me that Leia doesn’t seem particularly well used in Trevorrow’s alleged script. In fact, bizarrely, I feel like Leia’s story and ending in Abrams’ The Rise of Skywalker is a lot better than what Trevorrow’s leaked script seems to do with the character – which, given that Abrams had such restrictions with Leia’s possibilities due to Carrie’s passing away, is curious.
Would ‘Duel of the Fates’ have worked as the final film? Hmmm. I’m not so sure.
It feels like what would’ve worked best would be some kind of combining of Trevorrow’s story and J.J and Terrio’s story, retaining the best elements of both. From Trevorrow’s story, we would keep things like the Finn/Rose mission to Coruscant and the fact of Luke appearing to Kylo. And from J.J’s story we would keep Palpatine (I guess) and the final showdown on Exegol – as well, crucially, a more poignant end for Leia (which The Rise of Skywalker does give us).
Certainly, some elements of Trevorrow’s story would’ve heavily improved the J.J/Terrio story: though, on the balance, I think The Rise of Skywalker probably still comes across as the overall better of the two stories.
Would it have fared better if, instead of dropping Trevorrow entirely, Disney/Lucasfilm had merely brought in J.J Abrams to be a co-writer with Trevorrow? Or would their ideas have conflicted too heavily?
Of course, the other thing we might sometimes overlook is what George Lucas’s story would’ve been. Some of Lucas’s alleged trilogy would’ve been similar to some of what the existing Sequel Trilogy is: such as Luke being missing or such as a female Force-user being the main protagonist. But we know that Lucas’s trilogy – thrown out by Disney – would’ve been heavily focused on the ‘Whills’ and on the micro levels of the Force.
On paper, some of Lucas’s alleged ideas for the trilogy do sound like they might not have won over the mass audience – and that maybe there was some merit in Disney/Lucasfilm deciding to go for something simpler.
But whether some kind of synthesis of Lucas’s ideas with the kind of story J.J, Kasdan and Rian Johnson ended up telling might’ve worked is anyone’s guess. It might’ve been that the two approaches would’ve been incompatible: or it might’ve been that the general shape of the Sequel Trilogy we got – but merely supplemented with some of Lucas’s more out-there ideas – could’ve worked well.
It appears that Trevorrow’s idea included linking the Sequel Trilogy to the Mortis Trilogy from the Clone Wars series: and this may even have been more along the lines of the kind of ideas that Lucas’s Sequel Trilogy might’ve pursued. The appearance of the Sith dagger in The Rise of Skywalker seems to be a leftover from what must’ve been Trevorrow’s ideas, evoking Mortis.
I personally don’t think the Mortis connection would’ve worked for Episode IX. For one thing, it would’ve completely confused the general audience – most of which is not versed in the Clone Wars TV series. Secondly, it would’ve just made things too complicated. And thirdly, I was never a huge fan of the Mortis story anyway, as it took the mythology in a direction that just never resonated with me.
So I can kind of see why Disney/Lucasfilm might’ve thought Trevorrow’s script wasn’t going to work – as far as the general audience is concerned. Going the Mortis route may have baffled half the audience: and might’ve felt even more disconnected to TFA and TLJ than the return of Palpatine does.
Trevorrow’s script apparently wouldn’t have given us any real redemption for Ben Solo either: and it has to be asked whether it would be a good idea for the final film of the ‘Skywalker Saga’ to end with the last Skywalker as an un-redeemed Dark Side adherent.
There would also have been no kiss or implied romance between Rey and Kylo – which would have infuriated all the ‘Reylo’ shippers (then again, they were livid over what Abrams and Terrio did too, so who knows?).
On the balance, I think Trevorrow’s ‘Duel of the Fates’ – at least if the leaked script is genuine – would’ve ended up as divisive and problematic as The Rise of Skywalker.
Both stories have strong points and weak points. Without seeing this ‘Duel of the Fates’ actually realised in full film form on a screen, it’s difficult to know how good or bad it would’ve been.
But it would be interesting, in a parallel universe, to see it – to see this alternate version of Episode IX.
I also suspect that, while Trevorrow’s script might’ve worked well as a conclusion to this Sequel Trilogy, it doesn’t read like it would’ve been grand enough as the conclusion to the whole nine-film saga. I wonder, in fact, if Trevorrow’s script was dropped precisely because Disney/Lucasfilm decided they wanted to market Episode IX as the ‘end of the saga’ and Trevorrow’s story just didn’t fit that revised criteria.
Once you decided you’re ending the saga and not just the trilogy, it probably does make more sense to go with bringing Palpatine back.
I’m beginning to think more and more that the reason Abrams or Terrio chose to bring back Palpatine might’ve been precisely because Disney had decided Episode IX was going to be the end of the whole saga – thus changing the criteria from a story to wrap up this mere trilogy to instead a story to wrap up all three trilogies.
Once you’re tasked with concluding the entire saga, you need something in the story that can link all three trilogies – and Abrams and Terrio must’ve decided Palpatine was that something.
There’s a lot we don’t know: and that I would be interested to know.
For example, when precisely did Disney/Lucasfilm decide that Episode IX was going to be the ‘end of the saga’? Was Trevorrow working with the knowledge that this was supposed to be the story to end the saga? Was the original plan to even do another trilogy down the line – Episodes 10, 11 and 12: or was it always the plan for Episode IX to be the end of it?
Or did that decision get made after the massive backlash against The Last Jedi and the box-office disappointment of Solo? The fact that they immediately discontinued the anthology series (the ‘…A Star Wars Story’ series) as soon as Solo underperformed at the box-office demonstrates that Disney is making very knee-jerk decisions based on commercial considerations and public response.
It wouldn’t then be surprising to one day find out that the ‘saga’ wasn’t supposed to end at Episode IX, but that this was a response to the TLJ aftermath. Otherwise I find it hard to believe that, having acquired the greatest property in cinema for $4 billion, Disney would plan to ‘end the saga’ after only five years.
We might never know these answers. Or maybe some day all of this will come out publicly: along with the truth about the alleged ‘J.J cut’ or the various other controversies and behind-the-scenes conflicts that clearly occurred in this Sequel Trilogy.