Like the ghosts of all the Jedi who came before, an unfilmed version of Star Wars: Episode IX has created a bombshell alternate universe. A vocal cohort of fans are now convinced what appears to be a genuine draft of Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly’s original Duel of the Fates script is vastly superior to the flawed, uneven Rise of Skywalker. But there are two fatal flaws with the script that would have made it unfilmable or just as divisive as J.J. Abrams’s version.
In Trevorrow’s script, Rey’s last name was revealed to be “Solana,” not Palpatine or Skywalker. The overall script seemed to be less fan service-oriented, though Chewbacca did get to fly an X-Wing.
For most who have been talking about this for the past few days, the takeaway of Duel of the Fates is that everyone at Lucasfilm is an idiot and Trevorrow was robbed. But that viewpoint is terribly reductive. I’m not crazy about The Rise of Skywalker, and would prefer Rey remain a nobody. But there are bigger Sith to fry here.
Alternate pop-culture universes are tricky things, and since we don’t actually inhabit those realms, it’s tempting to decide they are better. When you dig into the histories of murdered, alternate versions of sci-fi classics, like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s version of Dune or Harlan Ellison’s I, Robot, the facts quickly get mixed with the myth. The purpose of the research is often to make a case that a lost artifact would have created a better version of an imaginary universe we already cherish.
This bias is evident in the source of the Duel of the Fates leak: Robert Meyer Burnett didn’t just drop the script online, he provided commentary which gleefully celebrates the scripts strengths without lingering on any of its flaws.
Basically, this is the Jodorowsky’s Dune of Star Wars: the only source we have right now proceeds from a place of bias, which prevents anyone from making up their own minds. In some cases, this road-not-taken fan bias is proven correct, like the Richard Donner cut of Superman II. Overall though, just as Burnett admits in his video for Duel of the Fates, sometimes screenplays aren’t the best way to judge the final product, even if the dialogue is all the same. (Burnett admits he thought The Phantom Menace script was good before he saw the movie. So factor that shit in.)
With all that in mind, let’s talk about the two things nobody wants to mention about this Duel of the Fates script, which probably would not have gone over well with anyone.
Everything about Kylo Ren
In Duel of the Fates, Kylo Ren does not come back to the light, does not become Ben Solo again, and does not kiss Rey before dying. Instead, under the tutelage of uber-Sith master Tor Vallum, he becomes a Force vampire who wears a fucked-up Phantom of the Opera mask. Does this sound more fulfilling than Ben Solo heroically coming back to save the day? Sure, having the Skywalker line end in failure would have been a powerful statement, but it also would have been a huge bummer, and many fans would have been furious.
This isn’t to say that Ben Solo/Kylo Ren’s arc is handled well in TROS, but the vampiric Kylo Ren in Duel of of the Fates seems to wholly ignore the character’s good side established in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. As it stands, The Rise of Skywalker retcons Rey’s background, but it seems like Duel of the Fates would have retconned Kylo Ren even more dramatically. It seems reasonable to assume Kylo Ren’s arc in Duel of the Fates is at least part of why Lucasfilm parted ways with Trevorrow. And maybe, at least on this point, they were right.
It looks like the leaked Duel of the Fates script pre-dates Carrie Fisher’s tragic death in 2016. This obviously isn’t Trevorrow’s fault, but it’s pretty dishonest to think the Leia in this script could have been in the final version. She recruits Lando to organize the smugglers, has more scenes with Rey, and is essentially a larger presence in the movie. Even so, Leia still feels underused in this script. You could even argue Leia’s impact on The Rise of Skywalker is much more poignant and emotional than anything we see in Duel of the Fates.
For the most part, Leia’s role in Duel of the Fates feels logistical, rather than emotional. She’s relegated to doing stuff, rather than feeling stuff. Even if Fisher hadn’t passed, it doesn’t feel like Leia gets a proper send-off here. She’s going to die heartbroken and alone. At least in The Rise of Skywalker, Leia’s final act was to convince Ben to come back to the light.
Again, you can see why Lucasfilm might have been upset about this. The character’s portrayal in Episode IX was delicate business, and based on what we’ve seen in Duel of the Fates, it doesn’t seem better or smarter than what we ended up getting.
Obviously, problems with Kylo Ren’s arc or Leia’s emotional journey don’t justify bringing back Emperor Palaptine out of nowhere, or retconning Rey’s entire backstory. Still, when you consider that Leia and Kylo Ren are main characters, it’s hard to swallow what happens to them in Duel of the Fates. For everything The Rise of Skywalker did wrong, Leia and Ben Solo felt like real people, and it felt like their relationship at last got some closure. For all of its merits, Duel of the Fates doesn’t have that.
The Rise of Skywalker is out in theaters now.