If you’re unhappy with The Rise of Skywalker, and hoping that the holy grail of the #AbramsCut will make you feel vindicated, here’s some relevant news: The Abrams Cut is probably bullshit, but there might be yet another Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly script for Episode IX, that could be the answer to everyone’s unrealized Star Wars dreams.
According to writer and Hollywood insider Robert Meyer Burnett, at least one version of Trevorrow’s unfilmed Episode IX was called Duel of the Fates, and, even if you loved Rise of Skywalker, this leaked script sounds pretty incredible. On Monday, Burnett dropped a lengthy description of the unfilmed, alternate Episode IXon YouTube, and the details are compelling.
The trouble is of course, in determining the validity of the script Burnett claims to have read. Published on his YouTube channel, “Robservations,” Burnett talks for about 18-minutes about his background before getting into the nitty-gritty of the alleged Duel of the Fates script. Presumably, Burnett is making it clear that he’s been in and around Hollywood for a long time, and it’s not that weird to get your hands on an unfilmed script.
“Everything is gettable,” he claims, pointing out that after a movie is actually made, the interest in unfilmed versions of the movies is less important to the general public. Historically, he has a point, but relative to Star Wars, there’s obviously a huge interest (particularly now). Burnett also goes out of his way to sort of obscure how he got ahold of this supposed early Trevorrow draft of Episode IX, and even “jokes” at several points that “maybe I made this all up.”
On paper, the fact that Burnett cops to maybe inventing the script could scan as an admission that the whole thing is fake. But, the problem is, Burnett’s background indicates he has no reason to lie. Unlike full-time leakers like Jason Ward or infamous fake-Star-Wars-news guy, Mike Zeroh; Robert Meyer Burnett is a legit filmmaker who’s worked in Hollywood as a director for a long, long time. Along with Mark Altman, he co-wrote and directed the 1999 film Free Enterprise; a romantic comedy about two Star Trek fans who happen to meet William Shanter IRL. (It’s a pretty good movie!)
Burnett also is known for his work on DVD and Blu-ray special features and if you own any of the Star Trek series on Blu-ray or DVD, the chances you have at least one or two mini-documentaries produced and directed by him are pretty high. He also appears regularly on the podcast Inglorious Treksperts with Mark Altman (a huge, and respected journalist and producer of sci-fi/fantasy shows like The Librarians and Pandora). So it’s not like Burnett is a fanboy. He may be outspoken about his opinions on the directions of various franchises and has frequently tweeted out scathing viewpoints on the direction of Star Trek since its relaunch on CBS in 2017.
I don’t share Burnett’s viewpoints on Discovery, but even if he’s not everyone’s cup of Earl Grey, the reality is, he’s a guy who has worked in Hollywood for a long time and knows a thing or two about sci-fi franchises. So, the question with this Star Wars Duel of the Fates leak is: Why would he make this up and risk ruining his reputation?
Inverse has reached out to Burnett for clarification on a few aspects of the Duel of the Fates script and he has yet to respond. We will update this piece when he does. But for now, here are six major differences between the alleged Duel of the Fates script and The Rise of Skywalker. (Update: We still haven’t heard back from Burnett, but A.V. Club seems to have confirmed the script is real, citing an anonymous source.)
6. The title and crawl
First off, you can tell right away this would have been a different movie. “Duel of the Fates” obviously references the John Williams composition of the same name, which was such a big deal in Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Here’s the alternate crawl:
The iron grip of the FIRST ORDER has spread to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Only a few scattered planets remain unoccupied. Traitorous acts are punishable by death.
Determined to suffocate a growing unrest, Supreme Leader KYLO REN has silenced all communication between neighboring systems.
Led by GENERAL LEIA ORGANA, the Resistance has planned a secret mission to prevent their annihilation and forge a path to freedom…
5. Luke Skywalker’s role was much bigger
In this version of the story, the ghost of Luke Skywalker would have had an ongoing role throughout the film, and he wouldn’t just have been helping to train Rey. In this version, Luke’s ghost haunts Kylo Ren, too. In fact, Kylo Ren’s very first scene in the movie would have involved the ghost of Luke chastising him for going down the dark path. According to Burnett, Luke’s ghost says: “This is where the dark path leads; an empty tomb.”
This is pretty interesting, and clearly is a direct follow-up to Luke’s threat to Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi: “If you strike me down now, I’ll always be with you.” So, in the Duel of the Fates version, Luke takes that pretty literally, following Kylo Ren around, bugging him about being evil.
Luke also trains Rey in this script, (who is rocking a double-bladed saber from the very beginning) and even has a debate with her about the nature of the “balance of the Force.” In what seems like a meta-criticism, Rey questions Luke’s credibility in a pretty awesome exchange:
Rey: Balance? The dark suffocates the light, light extinguishes the dark. Over and over and over again. How is that balance in the Force?
Luke: I know that anger. My father had it too.
Rey: So says my master and his master before him. A thousand masters so eager to tell us how to live.
This is clearly very different than the chummy Luke and Rey we saw in The Rise of Skywalker.
4. Palpatine is in one scene and he isn’t Rey’s grandfather
The dead speak! Only this time, it’s through a hologram. Just like in The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo Ren does return to the planet Mustafar, but it’s to get a Sith Holocron, not a “Wayfinder.” In this scene, the Emperor reveals to Kylo Ren that he had a back-up plan for Darth Vader if Luke and Vader ended-up being the last two Sith standing. In this recorded message, Palps tells Vader to go the planet Remnicore because there’s a secret Sith master hiding there named Tor Valum.
The Emperor is not alive, and Rey is not related to Palps in this version of the story. Also, the version of Mustafar that Kylo Ren hits-up is very clearly Darth Vader’s castle and not the random woodland area of the planet we got in The Rise of Skywalker.
As for Tor Valum, secret Sith Lord, it’s not explained how the existence of this new character would have been reconciled with the Sith “rule of two,” if at all. But Burnett does say the script describes Tor Valum as “7,000 years old” and “an alien of unknown origin [with] spindly, intense sinewy muscle…very Lovecraftian.” So, basically, a Sith monster.
Notably, Kylo Ren’s face would have been badly scarred by the Sith Holocron and he would have been forced to wear some kind of new mask that was partially made of Mandalorian armor.
3. Duel of the Fates would have returned to two hugely important Star Wars planets
According to Burnett, Unlike The Rise of Skywalker, the important events of Duel of the Fates would have taken place on two very pivotal and famous Star Wars planets: Coruscant and Mortis. In this version, the First Order has constructed a galaxy-ruling citadel on Coruscant, with Hux serving as Supreme Chancellor.
Thanks to Luke Skywalker’s journals, Rey discovers a “Force Beacon,” hidden deep within Coruscant, which would allow the broadcast to be sent out to all the possible allies of the Resistance. A subplot involves Rose, Finn, C-3PO, and R2-D2 heading to Courscant to “light the Beacon.” This feels like Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, which is weird, but also pretty cool. It’s very clear Rose had a bigger role in this movie as well. (Burnett claims she’s a major character, but based on the summary it’s hard to see how much more dialogue she has. She certainly has more to do, though!)
Meanwhile, Kylo Ren and Rey would eventually get to the planet Mortis, where they would basically battle to try and balance the Force. At other points in the script, Luke would point out that Rey was “something new” and not related to anyone and that the “Force chose her” for a higher purpose.
2. Kylo Ren wasn’t redeemed
Although Burnett says Luke, Yoda and Obi-Wan’s Force ghosts would try to “release Ben Solo” in one scene, they aren’t successful and it doesn’t seem like Ben gets redeemed at all. There’s also no overt romance or kiss between him and Rey. It’s also revealed at one point that although Rey’s parents were “nobodies,” that Kylo Ren is actually the one who straight-up murdered them because Snoke told him to do it. (Snoke is not a Palpatine puppet in this version either.)
It’s tough to really see how Kylo Ren would have been redeemed or become the heroic guy we saw in The Rise of Skywalker. Basically, in this version, his journey ends as a giant bummer and in total tragedy.
1. The basic ending would have been similar, but for totally different reasons
Finally, Burnett notes that the idea of “good” Stormtroopers coming to the aid of the Resistance originates in this version of the script, but also says that it’s handled a little more organically. Another subplot early in the script involves the Resistance stealing a Star Destroyer, complete with AT-ATs and TIE Fighters, and then needing an army to operate them. Apparently, the rogue Stormtroopers help fix part of this problem, but, in the end, Lando rounds-up a bunch of smugglers and that fleet of ships seems to help turn the tide against the First Order. Which, though is similar to The Rise of Skywalker, happens for seemingly very different reasons.
Unsurprisingly, the First Order still loses, but the overall conclusion and climax to Duel of the Fates still feels murky. It’s not clear if he only had part of the screenplay or just chose to summarize the ending (or if the whole thing is a hoax) but at this point, it seems like one could imagine a similar ending to The Rise of Skywalker in terms of a space battle, just happening over a decaying Coruscant instead of Exegol (which sounds way cooler).
Is any of this legit? Does it matter? Right now, we don’t know, but if any aspect of what Robert Meyer Burnett presents as Duel of the Fates was ever really under consideration to be the real Episode IX, you have to ask yourself: What happened?
Was Lucasfilm totally against Kylo Ren ending up as such an irredeemable character? Was their pressure from elsewhere to bring in Palpatine back as a legacy villain? For the most part, for all of its specific differences, the broad strokes of this story are relatively the same, at least in terms of the larger galactic politics and the eventual balance of the Force. So we’re in a situation where the Dark side was in the details, and for whatever reason, those details caused a civil war inside of the Disney empire itself.