The Star Wars franchise is no stranger to dropping directors from its projects, but probably the biggest change came when Disney removed Colin Trevorrow from the third film in its trilogy, which eventually became Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. It happened pretty early on in development so not much was known about what Trevorrow had planned, but a leaked script that showed up on YouTube and Reddit and purports to be the last draft that Trevorrow and co-writer Derek Connolly developed for Episode IX. It gives us a view of the film that could have been, and it sounds really intriguing.
To begin, the movie’s title is strong: Duel of the Fates. This references one of the best bits of music from the entire Star Wars series and possibly the best thing to come out of the prequels, and it references the entire series without being quite as blatant as Skywalker is. It also distances itself from the Skywalker saga on the whole and focuses on the idea of the Dark and Light side pushing and pulling each other. That’s something that The Last Jedi dove into, and the title reflects how the plot would have unfolded under Trevorrow.
The biggest change is the fact that Emperor Palpatine does not return as a living person. In the script, Kylo Ren does go to the secret Sith planet of Mustafar but instead of finding a living, breathing Palpatine making clones for no reason and randomly building an evil army, he discovers a “holocron” of the Emperor left for Darth Vader for if Luke kills him. This “holocron” instructs Vader to find Tor Valum, a 7,000-year-old “Lovecraftian” evil and the thing that trained Palpatine. Ren takes up his grandfather’s quest and heads to train with Tor Valum, the entire time being haunted by Luke’s Force spirit.
Meanwhile, the Resistance is struggling to find support throughout the galaxy, prompting a storyline that sees Finn, Rose Tico, R2-D2, and C-3PO heading out on a mission to light a beacon that will bring support for the final battle with the First Order. This doesn’t sound like the best plot point, but compared with Lando randomly flying around and finding folks it’s practically Oscar-worthy. It also gives Rose actual screen time without adding another needless character and continues the character building from the previous film. While Rose does this, Rey, Poe, and Chewbacca head to a remote planet to help Rey figure out exactly what’s going on — whether the Jedi should continue, what it means to be so gifted, what is the light side, etc. These were all questions set up in Last Jedi but pretty ignored in Skywalker.
This shifts the focus of the film and characters from a story about lineage and power into the tale of struggling with stark dualities of good versus evil and heroism that Last Jedi seemed to be leading into. The film unfolds into a movie about the blurred lines between good and evil as Rey is still convinced that Ben Solo can be saved, with one of her main arguments being Finn’s turn from the First Order (finally, a legit use of his character arc). The conclusion of the movie, devoid of any callback showdown with Palpatine, would see Kylo Ren fall to the Dark Side completely and is defeated after revealing he is the one who killed Rey’s parents, who were just two random people with no connection to anyone. It’s a far less happy ending but one that seems to play into the struggle between light and dark and the gray space between. It also makes Episode VII-IX a story of its own instead of a nine-part epic.
It’s hard not to hear about this iteration and think that it sounds much more in line with the overall arc that the trilogy set up with the first two films — almost as if there actually were a plan that Disney just completely abandoned. There is no guarantee that this would have been the final version of the movie or that Trevorrow could have pulled it off in any meaningful way. There are very clearly decisions here that would have enraged fans, but the movie also sounds challenging and interesting. In the end, however, The Rise of Skywalker is what we have, for better or worse.