Star Wars: Duel of the Fates – Screenplay Round-Table

Last week, I looked at the screenplay for the unproduced, Colin Trevorrow-written, Star Wars – Episode IX: Duel of the Fates. You can check it out here if you missed it. Not content to leave this fascinating window into another world with just a single visit, I decided to reach out to some friends, get them to read through the screenplay, and gather them all together for a round-table discussion on what they thought of it. I divided the discussion into six separate categories so that we can cover as much as possible. So, without further ado, let’s dig in!

Category I: How does this compare to your thoughts on The Rise of Skywalker?

  • Ashley: As I’m sure I’ll say many times within these segments, I liked different parts of them equally. After reading Duel of the Fates, I really loved the symbolism of dual thrones in Mortis representing balance within the Force. I liked that Rose actually had a role in this one! And I love that Luke made good on his word. Not sure what I’m talking about? In the last fight between Kylo and Luke in The Last Jedi, Luke told him, “Strike me down in anger and I’ll always be with you.” So, what does Force Ghost Luke do in Duel of the Fates? Why, he haunts our ever-spiraling buddy Kylo Ren! It just feels very on-brand for Luke. Who, by the way, is splitting his time with the continued training of Rey. I will say, I did not enjoy that more than The Rise of Skywalker, as I appreciated that Leia picked up Rey’s training from Luke in the final film. Something I did like within this script was the exclusion of Palpatine. Kylo Ren had his moment in the bad-guy sun (especially in the reveal that he was the one to kill Rey’s parents).  Overall, I saw more symbolism and completed character arcs in Duel of the Fates, but in a world without The Rise of Skywalker, I would never have Rey and Kylo’s fight amidst the thrashing seas of the sinking Death Star. If I wasn’t able to see Duel of the Fates on screen, I’m at least happy I can read it and imagine what-if.
  • Keigen: The Rise of Skywalker enjoyer (not defender) has logged on. Which is to say, of course there’s stuff that’s better in the Duel of the Fates script because much of The Rise of Skywalker is terrible. I especially liked Finn having something to do other than screaming Rey’s name, Poe’s characterization in general, and it weirdly feels more of a kind with both the other films in the trilogy than what we got was. It’s also dumb in a lot of ways, and not fun dumb but dumb dumb. So, uh, quite a bit like TRoS, huh?
  • Reagan: The Rise of Skywalker was easily the most disappointed I have ever been at a movie. It tops Hellboy (2019) in terms of how let down I felt. After how much I loved The Last Jedi it just felt like it was pandering to an audience that didn’t entirely include me because it sort of was. In many ways, Skywalker was the result of all of the (underserved) hatred that was directed at Last Jedi by fans who felt it was the worst thing to happen to Star Wars since the prequels. But the thing about The Last Jedi is that it has a theme, it has a point; The Last Jedi is about hope, about the fact that even in the darkest times, when everything seems like it’s ending and when it seems like the bad guys will win there is always hope. People will always resist. That message was beautiful, it made me cry for hours after I first finished The Last Jedi. Skywalker doesn’t have that theme; at times, it feels like empty pandering instead of something that actually has something it wants to say. Is it fun visually? Of course it is! Does it make me feel something? Not at all. Duel of the Fates in the meantime feels heartfelt and earnest, like it’s a proper follow-up to The Last Jedi instead of pandering to angry men on the internet.

Category II: What did you make of the Rey/Poe romance?

  • Ashley: I despised the Rey/Poe romance. It felt incredibly unnecessary. They’d shared little to no screen time together in the previous films and this sudden development was jarring to read and imagine. The Duel of the Fates script didn’t specify how much time had passed from The Last Jedi, making the whole thing feel incredibly forced. Most of Rey’s interactions in past films had been between Kylo, Finn, Luke, and Leia. Even though she and Finn seemed to share a friendship, I would have believed their romance far more probable being shoe-horned into this script than anything written with Poe. That being said, I don’t mind that they shared some adventures together in this script, I just would have enjoyed it far more if it was written platonically. 
  • Keigen: It’s almost certainly my least favorite thing in the script, and I like it less than anything in TRoS? And yet, it feels more true than the weird bickering they had in the film, and it is a bit funny for Rey to have been paired with each male costar throughout the trilogy. Along with that, the moment in the script where Rey used a mind trick on Poe was very effective, and I can see the argument that it works better if there’s romance between them. I think it may have helped the script with Poe’s characterization, and maybe I do like this more than “Mexican Cartel Poe” we got in TRoS. Still, it’s terrible, and my wife would like me to emphasize, worse than Reylo.
  • Reagan: While it’s better than Reylo by a mile, Poe and Rey just didn’t have any of the chemistry on screen that Poe and Finn had. I think that the Poe/Rey and Finn/Rose pairings are there to go “oh no Finn and Poe aren’t gay” more than anything else. Because here’s the thing, Finn/Poe? Should have been canon, in fact, I’ve decided that it is canon now. You’re welcome. Beyond the lack of chemistry between the characters, any romance between the characters feels like it’s there to check a box more than anything which is something that does a disservice to both them and the story. That being said Finn/Poe/Rey is the ultimate pairing and I will not be taking notes on this.

Category III: There are some previously unseen Force powers introduced in the screenplay. How well do you think these were handled?

  • Ashley: One of the moments was a scene where Rey and Poe are fleeing pursuers and hop in a boat. To propel them forward, Rey uses Force Wind, which made me laugh a little when I found out that was the official name (because I am a child). I believe the use of Force Wind was handled well in the sense that it arose out of an action scene and propelled the plot forward and seemed interesting. Outside of that moment though, I’m not sure how I felt about it. Force Lightning is a power of the Sith, but moving wind almost seemed like elemental magic? I guess there is energy in everything and the force is everywhere, so why shouldn’t a powerful Jedi be able to manipulate air? Upon some further research, I found out Force Wind is only new to film canon. Force Wind has been a “thing” since the mid-90’s within the Star Wars Legends universe and is another trait of the Sith. It seems like they supplanted Rey’s use of Sith powers in the Duel of the Fates script with Force Lightning in The Rise of Skywalker
  • Keigen: New force powers are a staple of new Star Wars, and the ones here are cool! They’re not video-gamey in the way that force powers can often be treated, and clearly, they were worth something for some of them to be carried over. Rey and Kylo both being trained throughout the script is really good stuff thematically and forms a backbone that would have been really cool to see. We get a lot of Jedi training throughout Star Wars, and not nearly as much Sith training. To get both in one film, featuring characters approaching mastery would have been a very cool feature. 
  • Reagan: Personally, I think that new uses of the force are necessary to any Star Wars media. Star Wars is and always has been a story in progress; we don’t know all of the rules of the universe. Showing new uses of The Force is just one of the ways we’re shown the boundaries of this universe. It’s like when something is discovered that alters our understanding of the laws of physics; we thought we knew the boundaries but turns out we were just guessing based on all of the available info and we guessed wrong. Basically, I think getting mad because “the force doesn’t do that” is stupid, after all, force healing is one of those things that just makes sense when you actually think about it for more than a minute. 

Category IV: Compared to The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo Ren remains an agent of the Dark Side throughout the screenplay. Did this work better for you?

  • Ashley: I actually enjoy the versions of Kylo that exist within both scripts. One of my favorite parts of the Disney sequel trilogy is Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. I love the emotional/fractured man-child that exists within the official scripts, but there is something to be said about the Kylo that grows within the pages of Duel of the Fates. He is a true villain up until the very end. Duel of the Fates allows Kylo’s redemption to more closely align with that of his idol, Darth Vader; a man who sees the light finally, but far too late. I am a sucker for a good redemption arc, so I think I prefer the conflicted Kylo we get in The Rise of Skywalker, but as my friends love to point out, he is indeed a war criminal, and perhaps his depiction in Duel of the Fates is more accurate to what his characterization should have been.
  • Keigen: Sort…of? I think because of his legacy, Kylo Ren is a character that interests me a lot, even if he doesn’t necessarily deserve the focus he gets, and hasn’t been utilized in a way that’s different enough from his grandpa. Moreover, TRoS especially hyper focuses on Kylo, to the detriment of the other characters and the plot, and he’s obviously a character that doesn’t really deserve to be redeemed. On the other hand, Duel of the Fates does even less with him, mostly keeping Kylo in a corner until Rey is ready to face him, and he still gets redeemed, or at least redeemed by Darth Vader standards. To me, this is mostly a wash, though, I think the Han conversation in TRoS is worth the bullshit, personally.
  • Reagan: I am a noted lover of a redemption arc but Kylo Ren needs one about as much as Hux does. From the start, I thought that Kylo would end up having redemption through death like Vader did, only becoming Ben once more by giving his life to save the galaxy. It would have been like poetry, it would have rhymed. But instead, in real life, we got “whiny emo war criminal decides to not be evil for true love and then dies the minute he has his first kiss.” The Rise of Skywalker was tailor-made to please as many people as possible, something that ended up weakening it considerably. Kylo’s redemption and love story with Rey was easily the worst element.

Category V: How did Finn and Rose’s mission to Coruscant come across for you? Did it do right by the characters?

  • Ashley: While there are moments I love from Finn in The Rise of Skywalker, I thought Rose and Finn’s escapades on Coruscant were far more fitting as a closing chapter for these two than anything they got in the film that was released. First and foremost, Duel of the Fates treated Rose as part of the main cast, something The Rise of Skywalker failed at. One of my biggest complaints about the film series as a whole was its misuse of Finn. Duel of the Fates course corrects, completing a character arc that sees him leading a band of ex-stormtroopers/First Order in the final fight. I much preferred this for Finn’s character; to see him standing up against his oppressors and not running from them. I’ll also sneak in here that I appreciated that Rose & Finn were included in the epilogue after the battle on Coruscant, something I felt The Rise of Skywalker was missing.
  • Keigen: I definitely think the Coruscant mission did right by the characters, especially Finn, who, for the first time in the trilogy, had something meaningful to do! That said, some of the stuff there felt contrived, and while I do love the idea of Finn going from Stormtroom to defector to Stormtrooper rebellion leader, I also feel like it’s the most obvious direction for him to go in. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing either, but much of this story would have been in the execution. Another small nitpick is that I’m not sure a dilapidated Coruscant really works for me, mostly for the fact that I don’t think the trilogy ever really sold me on this new war in general, let alone its ability to impact a planet like Coruscant, and the script doesn’t really touch on it either.
  • Reagan: Finn and Rose’s mission gives both of them actual character arcs like they deserved. Critically, it also gives Rose something to do, an element that was sadly missing from The Rise of Skywalker. The bones of Finn’s journey through Skywalker can be seen in Fates but here it’s more than anything he ended up getting in the actual movies. Rose, meanwhile, is allowed to actually exist here! Something that she doesn’t fully get the chance to do in The Rise of Skywalker. Rose deserved so much better, and she would have gotten it if this had been allowed to exist. 

Category VI: When it comes to the titular duel, how well do you think it worked in drawing to a close the Skywalker Saga?

  • Ashley: Answering this question gives me anxiety because I really like both respective scripts’ final duels. Duel of the Fates delivered on brutality. Kylo and Rey, instead of fighting together, are truly light and dark fighting to the death. Kylo blinds Rey, Rey chops off half of Kylo’s hand! There’s so much in this duel, it was fantastic to imagine as I read. Another glaring omission in this that was present in the Rise of Skywalker was the titular kiss between Rey and Kylo. It feels right not to be written in this one, as Kylo was well and truly a baddie until the end. I found it incredibly moving that the last moments of his life were giving Rey back the name she was born with. It almost felt more intimate than the kiss in the film. It also felt more in line with the narrative of Rian Johnson’s script; that Rey truly is no one – no one connected to the Skywalkers that is. That in and of itself is what I found to be the fitting end of the Skywalker Saga. There was a Force before the Skywalkers, and there will be a Force when they are all gone. A new generation of heroes will wield that power, write their own histories, and perhaps not succumb to the darkness that haunts their ancestors.
  • Keigen: This was, and would have been, the toughest part of making this film. Bearing the weight of capping off three films is too heavy for most films, let alone 9, and—wait, I just read Ashley’s answer and I wanna change mine. The sequel trilogy is more Star Wars than what is required. Return of the Jedi is a perfect ending to the Star Wars that existed, there really wasn’t a need for more. But if you were to continue the story, what should it be? What would the end of “The Skywalker Saga” have to do? Well, shouldn’t all the Skywalkers be dead? Shouldn’t they be either destroyed or succeeded? Wouldn’t that be the only meaningful way to continue the story, and to conclude it? 
  • Reagan: This is the second time I will say this but it’s like poetry. it rhymes. This duel is an echo of the ones that came before it (in many ways an echo of the duel between Anakin and Obi-wan at the end of Revenge of the Sith). I think this works well for nostalgia reasons but I think that the sequel trilogy was so beholden to nostalgia that it became a detriment, something that held it back rather than let it grow into something more. I think the line that sticks with me most is when Rey says “no one is no one”, that line would have been such a great tie-in to what Rian Johnson set up in The Last Jedi. It would have been more about the fact that anyone can be a chosen one, that it isn’t just a single family that has potential for greatness. The Last Jedi is the only Star Wars movie that has made me feel something for more than the runtime of a movie and I constantly mourn what was lost in the decision to make The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars: Duel of the Fates – What Might Have Been

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.