Before there was Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, there was… Star Wars: Duel of the Fates.
That’s the title of the version of the Skywalker Saga-capping film that existed as of December 16, 2016 — well, existed on paper anyway. Original Episode IX director, Colin Trevorrow, had penned the screenplay for Duel of the Fates with his Jurassic World collaborator, Derek Connolly, but never got to bring his story to the screen.
In September 2017, Trevorrow parted ways with Lucasfilm and Disney, and was almost immediately replaced by The Force Awakens helmer JJ Abrams, who started the script over from Page 1 with co-writer, Chris Terrio. (For the record, Trevorrow and Connolly do receive a story credit on the version of Episode IX that became The Rise of Skywalker.)
Now, Star Wars fans are getting a peek at what they missed after a leaked version of the Duel of the Fates script ended up in the hands of filmmaker and geek commentator, Robert Meyer Burnett.
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On 13 January, the Free Enterprise director recorded an episode of his YouTube series, Robservations, which featured an extensive breakdown of Trevorrow and Connolly’s script.
“I don’t know Colin Trevorrow,” Burnett emphasised, adding that he also doesn’t have a copy of the Duel of the Fates script to share with the world. “I will confirm I did look at something myself. I’m not saying what it is or where I saw it or how I even saw it. It no longer exists in any form, so no I can not share it with anyone.”
No matter: Burnett’s extensive recap quickly found its way to Reddit, and eventually to outlets like The A.V. Club, which claims to have confirmed the script’s authenticity via an independent source unaffiliated with Trevorrow or Disney.
Real or not – and as of now, it seems to be real — the overall sentiment on Twitter is that given the choice between Duel of the Fates (which, not coincidentally, is also the title of John Williams’s famous Phantom Menace track) and The Rise of Skywalker, many people would pick the former.
And it should be noted that the two scripts really are two very different movies, starting with the opening crawl.
In place of The Rise of Skywalker’s controversial opening line, “The dead speak!” announcing the return of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), Duel of the Fates begins with “The iron grip of the First Order has spread to the farthest reaches of the galaxy.”
It goes on to describe how newly-installed Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is intent on stamping out the Resistance, even as his mother, Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), plans a last-ditch “secret mission to prevent their annihilation and forge a path to freedom.”
Read on for more details about what Trevorrow and Connolly had planned, and how it differs from what the story that Abrams and Terrio made.
There’s a lot more Leia
After taking a backseat to Han Solo in The Force Awakens and Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, Leia was poised to be a major... um, force in Episode IX.
“She was going to be the last Jedi,” Fisher’s brother, Todd, told Yahoo Entertainment last year. While that doesn’t seem to be her arc in the version of Duel of the Fates that Burnett reviewed, the script is very Leia-centric, with the Resistance general planning the aforementioned secret mission to infiltrate a First Order base on Kuat Moon, encouraging Rey to forge a new path, persuading Lando to join her cause and ultimately leading her troops to victory during the climactic battle set on Coruscant.
Sadly, Trevorrow’s plans for Leia were upended by Fisher’s death on December 27, 2016 — 11 days after he and Connolly finished the script. That real-life tragedy necessitated extensive rewrites, and after Trevorrow’s departure, The Hollywood Reporter indicated that the direction of the screenplay had emerged as a contentious issue behind the scenes.
When Abrams came onboard, he made the decision to craft a story arc for Leia out of unused footage of Fisher from the previous movies (along with one special cameo) and laid the character to rest.
There’s also a lot more Rose
Created by Rian Johnson for The Last Jedi, Rose Tico very quickly emerged as a fan favorite, as evidenced by the emotional standing ovation that actress Kelly Marie Tran received at Star Wars Celebration last year. So it’s no surprise that her relative absence from The Rise of Skywalker rubbed so many moviegoers the wrong way, and both Abrams and Terrio have struggled to explain why they sidelined a popular character. In contrast, Trevorrow made sure to include Rose in the action in Duel of the Fates: She’s paired with BB-8 for the Kuat Moon mission, which ends with the duo — along with everyone’s favourite Star Wars couple, Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) — hijacking a Star Destroyer and speeding back to Resistance HQ.
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In the final battle on Coruscant, meanwhile, Rose is partnered with Finn, R2-D2 and C-3PO and tasked with locating the ruined Jedi Temple and light a beacon that will bring allies (including famed bounty hunter Bossk!) to the Resistance’s side.
The quartet then orchestrate a rebellion amongst the planet’s put-upon lower classes. Rose is captured and tortured for her efforts, but manages to escape and presumably joins in the victory celebrations. Yub nub, y’all!
But there’s no Palpatine
Once upon a time — April 2019, to be exact — Star Wars fans were delighted to discover that Emperor Palpatine would be returning from the grave for the grand finale of the Skywalker Saga. Flash-forward to the present, and most are wishing he’d stayed at the bottom of that elevator shaft.
That’s where Duel of the Fates opted to leave him, apart from a quick hologram-assisted cameo. In the script, the dead Palpatine speaks to Kylo Ren via a message he initially recorded for Darth Vader, informing his apprentice that he should introduce Luke to Tor Valum, a 7,000 year old “Lovecraftian” Sith Master who trained Sidious many, many, many years ago.
Kylo ends up making the trip that his grandfather and uncle never took, locating Valum on a planet called Remnicore. He trains with this ancient Sith, only to discover the hard way that he’s no Darth Vader. And by “hard way,” we mean that he gets his butt kicked by a ghostly version of Vader in a hallucinatory fight that’s similar to the one Luke has with his old man in Dagobah’s Cave of Evil in The Empire Strikes Back.
Consider that karmic payback for his parting words to his grandfather’s helmet: "You allowed love to cloud your judgement,” he says, before tossing the totem off a balcony and watching it shatter below.
Rey remains “no one”
No Palpatine also means no secret Palpatine son… which in turn means no secret Palpatine granddaughter named Rey (Daisy Ridley). Instead, Duel of the Fates preserves Rey’s status as the descendants of nobody, who becomes a somebody through this larger galactic conflict.
As in The Rise of Skywalker, Rey does spend much of the movie deep in training, watched over by both Leia and Luke’s Force Ghost, though she’s skeptical of bringing back the Jedi status quo. (As she tells Luke at one point: “Balance? The dark suffocates the light, light extinguishes the dark. Over and over and over again. How is that balance in the force?”) She also still strongly believes that Ben Solo (Adam Driver) can be found and salvaged somewhere within the human wreckage that is Kylo Ren.
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To that end, she eventually confronts him at Mortis, a place that exists inside of the Force, while the Resistance battles the First Order on Coruscant. In the course of their fight, he confesses to being the one that killed her junk trader parents on Snoke’s orders.
Not surprisingly, there’s no Reylo kiss after that revelation, but Rey still tries to save him with the aid of Luke, Obi-Wan and Yoda, all appearing in their spectral form. But it’s too late: As the First Order falls, so too does Kylo Ren.
Chewbacca gets a new ride
During the big battle at the end of the movie, Chewbacca would have been glimpsed piloting one of the most famous Star Wars spacecrafts above Coruscant. If you ask us, that’s even better than a medal.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in cinemas now.