When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012 and announced plans for the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy, the first live-action films in the franchise since 2005, many fans were overjoyed to hear the news and waited with bated breath for any scrap of information; what filmmakers would be at the helm, which characters, if any, would return, or who exactly was going to be the face of this new generation of Star Wars.
The first piece of news came with the announcement that JJ Abrams would be directing the first film in this new trilogy. Along with directing, Abrams would co-write the screenplay with Lawrence Kasdan, one of the screenwriters of The Empire Strikes Back. Following this, we got news that Mark Hammil, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford would be returning to their iconic roles, and not long after, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver were announced as the lead actors of the new trilogy.
While the film that would go on to be known as The Force Awakens went into production, Rian Johnson was hired to write and direct the follow-up; the middle entry in this new trilogy, The Last Jedi. Then, in August 2015, as post-production on Episode VII was ongoing, Colin Trevorrow was hired to direct the concluding film of the trilogy. As well, he was set to co-write the screenplay with his longtime collaborator, Derek Connolly.
The trilogy was underway; in December 2015, The Force Awakens was released to rave reviews, and earned over one billion dollars at the global box office. Episode VIII went into full production a short time later, while Trevorrow and Connolly continued their work on Episode IX. With filming completed in July 2016, and Rian Johnson working on post-production for The Last Jedi, everything seemed set for Trevorrow, who by December of that year had a finished script under the title Duel of the Fates, to get pre-production underway.
Then, on December 27th, 2016, the hearts of every Star Wars fan broke, as we received word that Carrie Fisher had sadly passed away. With many in mourning, questions were raised as to what would become of Episode IX; especially since Trevorrow had openly spoken about how, if The Force Awakens was Han’s film and The Last Jedi was Luke’s, then Episode IX would have been Leia’s.
Trevorrow would attempt to rework the script to fill the massive void left by Fisher’s passing, but in September 2017, with reports of “creative differences,” Trevorrow stepped away from Episode IX. JJ Abrams was brought back to direct and co-write the concluding chapter in not just the trilogy, but what would go on to be referred to as “the concluding chapter in the Skywalker Saga”. This film, now titled The Rise of Skywalker, released in December 2019 to mixed reviews but over a billion dollars at the global box office. Much the same as both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi in December 2017 did.
But I’m not here to talk about what Episode IX ended up becoming. Instead, I’m here to take a look at what might have been. I got my hands on a copy of the Duel of the Fates script dated 12.16.16. And I’ve read through it and compiled a summary for your enjoyment, so you get the chance to dive into a different universe and experience the film that never was…
A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far Away…
After a partially successful mission to the Kuat Shipyards where they managed to steal a new type of Star Destroyer, our team of heroes; Rey, Finn, Poe, and Rose, return to Resistance headquarters, where they’re on the back foot, while Leia is doing her best to keep the Resistance together. Rey and Poe have developed feelings for each other in the time since the Battle of Crait, but it’s “not the time.”
The First Order reigns supreme. From their new Capitol on Coruscant, Hux, now the Chancellor, holds daily public executions; his grip on the Galaxy constantly tightening. Still attempting to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, Kylo Ren stalks the remains of Darth Vader’s castle on Mustafar, where he discovers an old message from Emperor Palpatine informing Vader of Tor Valum, an ancient Sith being who would be able to teach Ren how to harness the power of Mortis. Ren sets out to find Valum.
While training with Luke’s force ghost, Rey senses the events on Mustafar and Luke informs her of Mortis, and how it can truly bring balance to the Force. He urges Rey to seek it out before Kylo Ren can reach it. With communications cut-off Galaxy-wide, the Resistance forms a plan. An old transmission system located in the old Jedi Temple on Coruscant could be used to unite the Galaxy and bring an end to the First Order. Finn and Rose agree to take this mission with R2-D2 and C-3PO’s help, meanwhile, Leia and the Resistance fleet will lie in wait. At the same time, Rey, with the help of Poe and Chewbacca will seek out the path to Mortis. With their missions assigned, the groups depart.
While getting information about the path to Mortis from an old acquaintance of Poe’s, he and Rey are attacked by the Knights of Ren, a ritualistic order of force-sensitive warriors that Kylo Ren leads. Defeating them, Rey realizes she must go on alone. Bidding a tearful goodbye, and sharing a kiss with Poe, Rey departs for Mortis, while Poe and Chewie return to the fleet. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren arrives at the dwelling of Tor Valum; an ancient graveyard of a battle between the Jedi and Sith. Valum teaches Ren about the power to harness and remove the life force from those connected to the Force. Desperate for more power, Kylo Ren drains Tor Valum of their life force, and makes his way to Mortis.
Meanwhile, on Coruscant, Finn and Rose reach the Jedi Temple and activate the transmission system. Their message of rebellion begins broadcasting across the galaxy until the system explodes. In the destruction, Rose is captured while Finn escapes. Running through the lower levels of Coruscant, he’s almost captured himself, but convinces the Stormtrooper holding him at gunpoint to break free of his conditioning. Coming across thousands of civilians living underground, Finn devises a plan to take the Capitol, and a revolution begins with Finn as its leader. Stormtroopers, led by the one Finn encountered, join the fight, leaving behind their First Order ties.
The Resistance fleet arrives above Coruscant and the tide begins to turn. Poe and Chewie lead starfighters down to the planet’s surface, while Leia commands the fleet in orbit. Hux orders the First Order fleet back to the planet to trap the Resistance. Rose breaks free from her captors and begins working from the inside to destroy the Capitol building. While at first, it seemed like they had an advantage, the Resistance begins losing ground. R2-D2 is almost destroyed, his power circuits fried and C-3PO is distraught at nearly losing his best friend. As the First Order fleet begins arriving, the Resistance fleet burns.
But then, in their most desperate hour, a thousand ships arrive in orbit, led by Lando Calrissian. They heard the message of hope. The First Order’s losses grow, and Hux, realizing he’s lost, commits seppuku with a lightsaber in his office, while outside, Finn, Poe, and the others route the last of the enemy forces. Rose manages to destroy the Capitol building and escapes just before it explodes.
The war is won, now all that remains is the duel.
Upon arriving on Mortis, Rey has a vision of what happened to her parents. They were hunted down by Kylo Ren for bringing a child into the world that could pose a threat to his master, Snoke. Making their way to the Temple of Mortis from separate sides, Rey and Ren meet at the gates, and duel, blinding Rey in the process. As she falls to the ground, Kylo Ren enters the Temple only to find nothing there. Luke appears to him, declaring Ren has failed, while Rey reaches out into the Force, to her friends, and regains her strength.
She and Kylo Ren duel one final time. When he gains the upper hand, he begins draining Rey’s life force. Leia senses this and reaches out to Ben, not Kylo Ren, urging him to return to the light. Through her pain, Rey does the same. In a moment of clarity, Kylo shuns the dark side and returns to the light, once more becoming Ben Solo. As the life force returns to Rey, Ben begins to pass into the Force, not as Kylo Ren, but as who he was born as, much like the grandfather he idolized did. Using his dying breath, Ben informs Rey of her family name; “Solana.” Rey sees a vision of Jedi past and is given a choice; move on to the Cosmic Force, or return to the living. Regardless, the balance has been brought back to the Force.
Back on Coruscant, peace has been achieved and the Galaxy is returning to some sort of normalcy. The heroes of the Resistance gather together to discuss what comes next. They are unsure if Rey is alive, but can sense she restored balance to the Force. Poe and Chewie leave in the Falcon in search of her, while Finn and Rose head out on a mission in Rey’s honor. Remaining on Coruscant to lead the restored Republic, Leia has R2 repaired before taking a moment to herself to remember all those she’s lost over the years. Her husband. Her brother. Her son.
Some time later, Finn and Rose are living at a homestead on the planet Modesta. There, they have brought Force-sensitive kids together. Finn senses a tremor in the Force. On the Falcon, Poe does too and spins the ship around. In the distance, Finn spots a silhouette approaching. The kids do too.
Rey, her vision healed, returns to her friends; ready to train a new generation of Jedi.
And there we have it folks, a vastly different film, with vastly different directions for all the characters involved; from the romance of Rey and Poe, to Finn leading a revolution, and Kylo Ren’s further descent into the Dark Side.
There’s a lot of nuance missing from this summary. A lot of emotion and gravitas. If you can, I’d suggest tracking down a copy of the screenplay. But I hope you enjoyed this look at Duel of the Fates and what might have been.
But that’s not the end of our time with the unmade screenplay for Episode IX. No, I decided to gather some friends and have them read through the screenplay too. So we’ll be having a round-table discussion of various aspects of it next week. Make sure to come back then for that, and remember, the Force will be with you, always.