Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker may have made $1 billion at the box office but its also become one of the most polarizing chapters of the Skywalker saga. Some love it, while others, such as our own reviewer, found the movie to be seriously lacking. In general, critics disliked the movie, and it currently has a 53 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, tied for worst live-action Star Wars movie with The Phantom Menace. Giving three trilogies a proper conclusion that satisfied everyone was never going to be an easy (or even achievable) task for director J.J. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio, but it’s safe to say that even they couldn’t have expected this chilly critical reception.
The movie may have left some fans wondering what could have been had original director and writer Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) been able to bring his own vision to the big screen. Trevorrow was originally tapped to direct Episode IX before being replaced by Abrams due to creative differences with Lucasfilm. But before Trevorrow left the project, he finished a draft of the script, co-written with Derek Connolly (Kong: Skull Island), which some speculated to be the main reason the studio fired him in the first place. Unsurprisingly, the contents of the Trevorrow/Connolly script remained a well-kept secret…until now.
Trevorrow and Connolly’s Episode IX script, which was titled Duel of the Fates, has leaked on Reddit, giving fans a deeper look at what the duo planned for the saga-ender. While you’d normally have to take this leak with a healthy amount of salt, AV Club and The Playlist has confirmed the legitimacy of the breakdown. So what have we learned about Trevorrow’s Episode IX and how does it compare to The Rise of Skywalker?
For one thing, much of the basic structure of The Rise of Skywalker was actually established in Trevorrow and Connolly’s script, which was completed on Dec. 16, 2016, just a week before Carrie Fisher’s passing. As described in the Reddit breakdown, Duel of the Fates also featured a search for an old Sith master, Rey’s quest to become a Jedi, and a big battle above a First Order stronghold. But while much of the puzzle is the same, some of the pieces look a bit different.
The Sith master Kylo Ren is searching for is Tor Valum, the 7,000 year old “Lovecraftian” alien that trained Palpatine in the ways of the Sith. Kylo trains with Valum on a Sith planet called Remincore instead of Exogol. Palpatine himself appears only as a hologram inside a Sith holocron Kylo finds on Mustafar during his search.
Fans of the Prequel Trilogy will be elated to hear that much of the action actually takes place on a First Order-controlled Coruscant, which Hux now rules as Chancellor. Rose, Finn, R2-D2, and C-3PO eventually sneak onto Coruscant in order to activate an old “Force beacon” to reach allies after the First Order strangles communication between planets. The beacon allows the Resistance to reach out to “50 planets” to join them for the final battle on the city planet.
Meanwhile, Rey struggles with the legacy of the Jedi and is unsure about her destiny, not unlike her journey in The Rise of Skywalker. In this draft, Luke’s Force ghost trains the young hero instead of Leia, who eventually commands the Resistance fleet in the battle of Coruscant. (Leia also survives Duel of the Fates.) Rey, Poe, and Chewbacca travel to the planet Bonadan to meet a “Seer” who can help Rey unravel her visions from the previous films. At some point, the Knights of Ren show up and Rey has to fight them off with a new, double-bladed lightsaber she’s constructed from what’s left of Luke’s weapon and her staff.
The third act is split between a space battle and “citizens uprising” on Coruscant and a duel on Mortis, a mystical Force realm first introduced in The Clone Wars that represents both the light and dark sides. It’s a fitting location for the final fight between Rey and Kylo Ren. In one of the script’s biggest twists, it is revealed that Kylo Ren killed Rey’s parents at the behest of Supreme Leader Snoke. This is likely the revelation that finally allows Rey to break from Kylo (until now, she’s still hopeful that she can save him). It’s basically the antithesis of the Reylo kiss in The Rise of Skywalker.
As you’d expect, the good guys win over the villains, and the galaxy is saved, with Kylo Ren perishing on Mortis. (During the duel, the Force ghosts of Luke, Obi-Wan, and Yoda show up to try and save Ben from the dark side but he is “extinguished.”) There is once again peace.
Other big moments in the screenplay include Luke’s Force ghost haunting Kylo Ren, the Supreme Leader dueling a hallucination of Darth Vader inside a Force cave on Remnicore, Chewie zipping through the Coruscant space battle in an X-wing, Lando Calrissian uniting the galaxy’s smugglers to fight for the Resistance, and a Han Solo cameo. Like The Rise of Skywalker, Duel of the Fates aims to be a fun-filled, easter egg-y Star Wars adventure. It’s impossible to say what the pacing of the script is like without reading the full screenplay, but Trevorrow and Connolly’s vision seems as snappy and fast-paced as what we eventually saw on screen.
So, is Duel of the Fates better than The Rise of Skywalker? That really depends on what you thought of Abrams’ movie. There are certainly elements of the script that negate some of the biggest complaints lodged at The Rise of Skywalker. Rose Tico has a more prominent role in the movie, for example, fighting alongside Finn and the others in the explosive opening scene on the planet Kuat as well as on Coruscant. Rey is no longer a Palpatine and no convoluted explanations are given for her background. In this script, she remains “no one.”
While Palpatine’s return in The Rise of Skywalker felt like an out-of-place retcon to some viewers, Duel of the Fates seems to more organically follow the events of The Last Jedi, although Kylo’s search for an old Sith Master does feel like it comes out of left field. Yet, without the Palpatine storyline, there is more of a focus on Kylo as the piece’s villain, one who ultimately proves himself irredeemable.
But Duel of the Fates also denies Leia her Jedi Master status, and Finn isn’t Force sensitive either. Colorful women characters like Zorii Bliss and Jannah are nowhere to be found. As far as I can tell from the breakdown, the script adds no new women to the story, while there are a few male additions, which is troublesome to say the least. The introduction of a new Sith master seems random at best. Tor Valum has even less of a connection to the Sequel Trilogy than Palpatine did.
Of course, this was only a first draft, and certain parts of Duel of the Fates would have undoubtedly evolved during the course of production. There would have been additional drafts, notes from Lucasfilm and Disney, and reshoots, all of which would have altered the script further. It’s hard to definitively say that Trevorrow’s movie would have been better when so much of Duel of the Fates‘ structure eventually made it to The Rise of Skywalker. At best, this script (or at least its breakdown) is an alternate look at the adventure with some pieces moved around. And it’s possible that even this version would have ended up more closely resembling The Rise of Skywalker by the time it hit the screen.
The real takeaway from this leak is the deeper look into the creative process behind The Rise of Skywalker, how the movie took shape, and how much of its story was already in place by the time Trevorrow and Connolly completed their script. We can only hope we’ll get to see even more of that process when the making-of art book is released later this year.