It was bound to happen: the screenplay for Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly’s version of Star Wars: Episode IX has leaked.
And it’s true. All of it.
A full draft of the script is nowhere to be downloaded (yet), but between the Reddit postings about its contents as well as other accountings by others who’ve gotten their hands on a copy all line up. The script being discussed is indeed a draft that Trevorrow and Connelly wrote, a fact that has been confirmed even by major outlets like the AV Club.
Predictably, a lot of people think it’s better than J. J. Abrams’ The Rise of Skywalker.
I say predictably because if the reverse were true – i.e. if Trevorrow’s version had been made (and inevitably picked apart) while an Abrams’s unproduced script leaked after it had been hated on – we’d likely see the same dynamic at play.
At this stage in our broken Star Wars fandom, any film that followed the divisive Last Jedi wouldn’t have been given a fair shake. Any screenplay that Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy would have rejected (as she did with Trevorrow’s, which went through multiple rewrites) would almost certainly be seen as better. Thus is the state of our cynicism.
As I did with my piece RISE OF SKYWALKER Doesn’t Retcon LAST JEDI, It Fulfills It, in which I tried to cut through the obnoxious clutter of our Rise of Skywalker discourse, I’d like to provide as reasoned a response to this Trevorrow script as possible while also acknowledging my own preferences and opinions. (As you can read in my review, I’m a big fan of The Rise of Skywalker.)
I’d also like to provide something that I haven’t seen anywhere else: a full bullet-point breakdown of Trevorrow’s narrative, rather than just a summary or a video discussion.
My source for this breakdown is an hour-long description given by YouTuber Robert Meyer Burnett, a longtime professional in the industry who, along with having served as a studio script and story analyst that breaks down screenplays, has produced a few small budget films of his own.
If you prefer to watch him go through the screenplay beat-by-beat rather than read the bullet points I’ve transcribed below, you can click here. Burnett does provide more commentary and details than my list does, although I would describe my bullet points as comprehensive, at least so far as to what Burnett describes in this video, along with added points I’ve come across elsewhere.
Burnett also produced a follow-up video in which he breaks down even more details in the script. I’ve used that to add to the bullet-point breakdown as well.
OF NOTE: This draft that is co-written by Trevorrow and Connolly is dated 12.16.16, a week before Carrie Fisher’s death. Consequently, the role you see written for Leia here is what was envisioned for her when everyone fully expected Carrie to a part of the cast.
Let’s begin at the beginning: the title, and the opening crawl.
Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?
First off, that title. Duel of the Fates. It’s an inspired theft of John Williams’ main theme title for Episode I. It was a fitting thematic idea for the start of the franchise, but I think it fits even more for the finale. And honestly, it could’ve worked just as well for Abrams’ Episode IX (and perhaps even better than The Rise of Skywalker, given how fated a Palaptine V Skywalker dynamic is). If this title had been the one revealed to the Star Warsfandom, I’ve no doubt it would’ve stoked just as much excitement if not being quite as mysterious.
Then that crawl. Very telling. From learning that the First Order now wields an iron grip across the galaxy to having all intergalactic communications be silenced, those first two paragraphs are a very credible result of where The Last Jedi left us, i.e. the Resistance had been cut down to a few hundred survivors and so the First Order moved quickly to assert its rule once and for all. Plus, the silencing of all communication was clearly a retaliation against the distress signal that General Leia sent out across the galaxy at the end of The Last Jedi, stopping any insurrection in its tracks before it could even get started.
In other words, that crawl draws a logical conclusion to the events of Episode VIII and where our heroes would find themselves now.
Okay, before diving into the beat-by-beat plot breakdown of Duel of the Fates, a few things:
- If you’d prefer a very brief summary, you can find ones here and here. Then, with your biggest curiosities answered, you can come back here for all of the details.
- If I were to oversimplify Trevorrow and Connelly’s screenplay into one statement, it would be this: Duel of the Fates rehashes many elements of The Last Jedi before rehashing the finale of the Return of the Jedi for its conclusion.
- If I were to be more specific: that kind of rehashing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially for an entire saga predicated on history being circular across generations, events repeating or mirroring themselves (sometimes even as inverse corollaries). We definitely see those kinds of things in Duel of the Fates, and that’s a very Star Warsthing to do. Cynics call that fan service; I don’t. It has always been in the fabric of Star Wars by design, intentionally done by Lucas since the original trilogy.
- Duel of the Fates is a very good Star Wars movie. There’s a lot of interesting ideas explored and avenues taken here. It certainly doesn’t come off as a disaster that would require starting over from scratch. Far from it. That fact seems to confirm my suspicion even more that the primary reason Kathleen Kennedy fired Colin Trevorrow (director of Jurassic World, which was produced by Kennedy’s husband Frank Marshall) was due to the disastrous reception that met his small indie film The Book of Henry. It’s not an overstatement to say it was the laughing stock of 2017’s summer slate. Along with that bomb likely concerning her, Star Warsfans in general became worried if the end of the Skywalker saga had been placed in the wrong hands. As a result, firing Trevorrow not only seemed inevitable (so as to calm the fears of the fandom), but so did the rehiring of Abrams.
- To me, Duel of the Fates reads like what I would’ve expected from Trevorrow: a solidly entertaining Star Wars movie that would’ve proved to be very satisfying conclusion. There are a lot of great, inspired moments throughout this script, if not necessarily any jaw-dropping blindside surprises.
- Even so, I can see how a few aspects concerned Kennedy and Lucasfilm, given the divisions that The Last Jedi created.I’ll address those at the end of this whole thing, following the script breakdown.
Beyond that, despite really liking much of this (and would honestly have loved to see it), Duel of the Fates doesn’t quite reach the epic magnitude of The Rise of Skywalker. Yes, Trevorrow ingeniously employs elements that call back to the two previous trilogies; he also utilizes aspects within the full Star Wars canon in very creative ways. Nevertheless, Duel of the Fates comes off more like the end of a trilogy rather than the conclusion of a saga. When set against The Rise of Skywalker, it feels smaller by comparison. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, I’ll leave to you.
Also to consider: even if you prefer this version, there are things it doesn’t give us that The Rise of Skywalker did. Here are a few key elements we don’t get in Duel of the Fates that Rise gave us:
- Leia as a Jedi Master, seeing a flashback to her training with Luke, or seeing Leia fulfill in any way her status of being “another” hope, as Yoda had described her. (Quite the opposite, actually, as you will see.) As much as anything that Rise gave us, I’m thankful for its Leia.
- Trevorrow doesn’t utilize or explore the Force Dyad connection between Rey and Kylo nearly as much as Abrams’ does. It’s referred to but not used, which feels really strange given how fundamental it had been. At moments in Duel of the Fates, I questioned why Kylo wasn’t accessing it.
- Duel of the Fates doesn’t team up Rey, Finn, and Poe for the bulk of the story like The Rise of Skywalker did. Other than the opening sequence, Finn remains separated from Rey for essentially the entire movie.
- In Duel of the Fates, it is never revealed or suggested that Finn is Force sensitive.
- Rey doesn’t use any new or extraordinary Force powers (like, say, healing powers or the Palpatine electrical energy coming from her hands as we saw in Rise). More to the point, there’s no real follow-up to what we saw revealed about Rey during her training on Ahch-To, especially regarding Luke’s shock and fear of how quickly she reached out to the Dark Side. Being a Palpatine explains everything that had been mysterious about Rey. Nothing in Duel of the Fates really does.
- There’s no Emperor, of course, although it seems as many people would be as pleased by that as not.
- And finally, something both scripts ignore: how Maz Kanata ever got her hands on Luke’s lightsaber to begin with, something that was clearly teased to be followed up on in The Force Awakens.
Yikes. Okay. By this point I’m sure you’re ready to get on with it and dive in. I understand. So, without any further adieu, here is Colin Trevorrow’s story for:
Star Wars: Duel of the Fates
- Rose Tico is front-and-center in the film’s opening sequence (with BB-8) and, according to Burnett, is present throughout the entire script. She’s on a mission with Finn and Poe to the Kuat Shipyards, a location that has always been in the Star Wars extended universe, a place where warships are built. The trio is there to sabotage the efforts at the shipyards; Finn and Poe are at another location in Kuat, but all are working together. Rey ultimately joins them, disguised as a Tuscan Raider.
- Rey debuts a new weapon: she has melded the smashed parts of Luke’s lightsaber (the remnants from the one that split during her duel with Kylo in The Last Jedi) with a Tuscan Raider staff. With these pieces, she has created a new, double-bladed weapon. This fits very well into her past history on Jakku as a scavenger of parts.
- They are successful and, to cap off the opening 15-page sequence, they leave Kuat by stealing a Star Destroyer.
- The Knights of Ren first appear after this sequence, killing a First Order Admiral that they feel is responsible for allowing this to happen.
- The story then goes to Coruscant, the central planet of the Old Republic and featured in the prequel trilogy, but instead of having maintained its pristine glory as a major City-Planet, it is now rundown and in ruin. The City-Planet has become a Slum-Planet with impoverished citizens. Like other planets in the galaxy, it has been subjugated by the First Order. They have built a base there, too; it is a major citadel. Coruscant becomes a primary location in Trevorrow’s Duel of the Fates.
- General Hux is on Coruscant, now ranked as Chancellor Hux. There, a spy within the First Order (named Bisc Kova) who helped sneak intel to the Resistance for their Kuat mission has been exposed. Hux has him put to death via a light-blade guillotine. On Coruscant, Hux is strategizing with galactic warlords who’ve allied with the First Order to help them secure their galaxy-wide totalitarian grip. At issue: where is Kylo Ren? He remains the Supreme Leader, but he’s gone and no one knows where he is. All they know is that Kylo Ren is off in search of…something.
- Kylo Ren is on Mustafar, the lava planet on which Anakin met his fate against Obi-Wan Kenobi and became Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith. He’s alone, disheveled, only with a droid companion to help him (one that, apparently, looks similar in appearance to Darth Maul). Kylo is living in Vader’s temple, tormented. There, he is being haunted by the Force Ghost of Luke Skywalker. The uncle has not given up on trying to turn the nephew to the Good Side.
- In Vader’s temple, Kylo finds a Sith Holocron (a data storage device). He turns it on and a hologram of Emperor Palpatine is activated. It is a message created for Vader. In it, Palaptine lays out a plan for Vader to follow if Luke had actually been successful in striking down the Emperor down on the Death Star at the end of Return of the Jedi, because killing the Emperor would’ve turned Luke to the Dark Side. The plan? For Vader to take Luke to the Remnicore System to have him trained by Tor Valum, the Sith Master who had instructed Palpatine. The Holocron then scans Kylo Ren. Recognizing that he’s not Darth Vader, the Palpatine hologram glitches out in a burst of lighting and fries Kylo Ren, severely disfiguring his face. Kylo Ren screams in unbearable agony.
- Cut to the main Resistance base. There, General Leia senses what is happening to her son Ben (Kylo Res). At she does, Rey and the gang arrive with the stolen Star Destroyer. After this moment of victory, Rey confides with Finn that she is still having doubts about herself, haunted by her connection with Kylo Ren. Meanwhile, the Resistance discovers that the stolen Star Destroyer is (unsurprisingly) loaded with First Order weaponry. There are also soldiers and storm troopers aboard, some of whom Finn comes to learn were forced to serve with the First Order just like he was. (This idea is one of the ideas that J.J. Abrams grafted into his screenplay for The Rise of Skywalker.)
- Reading the Jedi texts she saved from Ahch-To, Rey learns of an old communications system that pre-dates the Old Republic by over 1000 years. The system is on Coruscant, hidden beneath the old Jedi Temple. It is connected to fifty other planets and could serve as a way to covertly send a signal out to planets that have fallen under the boot of the First Order, and serve as a rally call for the Resistance. It is powered by a big Kyber crystal, the same Force-attuned element that is used to create a lightsaber. Rey says that the signal which is sent out by this system is called a Force Beacon. Since it pre-dates current technology, it is believed that the First Order wouldn’t be able to detect it, thus bypassing the communication restrictions that have been imposed. The decision is made to send a team to Coruscant to turn on the Force Beacon.
- As all of this is going on, Rey is self-training in the ways of the Jedi (Leia is not her Jedi Master), even as she still struggles with doubt and pain, with the idea of whether or not she should even become a Jedi, and if the Jedi should be continued at all. Perhaps Kylo was right; maybe it should all just end. As she trains and struggles, she receives counsel from Luke’s Force Ghost. (And you can begin to see, Luke’s role is expanded here from what we see of him in Rise, serving as an influence – as a conscience – for both Rey and Kylo).
- Severely disfigured by the electrocution on Mustafar, Kylo Ren returns to the citadel on Corsucant. Rather than having a helmet constructed to cover up his hideousness, Kylo has Mandalorian armor literally smelted onto his face.
- Rey continues to argue with Luke, confused over how “balance” is having the Light Side defeat the Dark. Luke says he recognizes her anger, that he had it, that his father had it. Rey fires back at him saying that her master (Luke), her master’s master, and a thousand masters before them seem eager to tell everyone else what to do, to define what the Force means, and how to live by it. Rey concludes that, for her, family is most important. It’s something she never had, but she has it now in the Resistance. She won’t abandon them for anything else, including becoming a Jedi. Luke says the Force is speaking to her. Rey says she’s not who Luke thinks she is. Luke asks, “Who are you?” She replies, “I am no one.” Luke says, “If you truly believe these things, then perhaps the last Jedi really is dead.” Rey replies, “Maybe he is.”
- Back on Coruscant, Hux is trying to bring Supreme Leader Kylo Ren up to speed on all that’s going on, but Kylo doesn’t want to be bothered with it. He’s obsessed with achieving full Sith power, which he says will make the ability to destroy planets seem insignificant. Kylo tells Hux to feel free to wipe out the Resistance but to leave the girl (Rey) to him. Then, in a private moment, Kylo takes the remnant of Vader’s helmet, looks at it with disgust, saying that Vader allowed love to cloud his judgment, and that is why he failed. Kylo throws Vader’s helmet off of a balcony, rejecting the legacy of his grandfather for the last and final time. Vader’s helmet falls to the ground and shatters. Kylo leaves Coruscant, headed off to find Sith Master Tor Valum in the Remnicore System. He leaves just as the team of Finn, Rose, R2D2 and C3PO are en route to Coruscant for their mission to activate the Force Beacon.
- In search of how to define herself by something other than being a Jedi, Rey goes on a quest to a planet where she believes she can find her answers. Poe, Chewbacca and BB-8 join her. Leia remains with the Resistance. Before they go, Leia has a conversation with Rey. Rey says that she can save Kylo Ren. Leia replies, “I believed that once…like you.” Rey affirms her belief that there is good in him, like in Vader, but Leia doesn’t believe it, saying that the son she knew is gone. Rey tries to assure Leia, saying that Luke trained her well, but in despair Leia says, “You can’t train for certain things.” They go on to have an exchange – a debate, really – about the rules of the Jedi, with Rey defending them but Leia seeing them much more cynically.
- REY: There are rules. Jedi rules.
- LEIA: Written by whom? Some old man a thousand years before you were born?
- REY (becoming disheartened again): My whole life I’ve heard about balance. I don’t even know what that means.
- LEIA: You’re not like my father or brother. You’re new. Whatever happens, remember: the Force chose you, Rey. Your story isn’t written by anyone else.
This end of this scene would roughly mark the film’s halfway point.
- The First Order has tracked the location of the stolen Star Destroyer, leading them to the Resistance base. The rebels escape on the Star Destroyer before the Imperial troops arrive. The whole Resistance alliance is now on that Star Destoyer.
- Meanwhile, Finn, Rose, R2 and Threepio have successfully infiltrated the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and turned on the Force Beacon. (In a follow-up video, Burnett says that the Beacon signal is one of Leia; she makes the call for people to rise up and join the Resistance in the fight, ala a callback to Leia’s distress message to Kenobi in A New Hope.) On different planets across the galaxy, people begin to pick up the beacon’s signal. Some are older, and many are spiritual, monk-like figures. But one creature, interestingly, is Bossk, the lizard-man bounty hunter from The Empire Strikes Back who is now living in the lap of luxury. He has made a good life for himself by falling in line with the First Order, but the beacon causes him to question those life choices. Others like him are moved by the beacon as well.
- And yet, as the beacon goes further and further, the First Order is able to detect it after all and cuts it off. This causes Finn, Rose, R2 and Threepio to flee. As they run into the streets of Coruscant to escape, they discover that the streets filled with the poor and needy, the people who have suffered underneath the rule of the First Order. (You could say this is the polar opposite, or the counter parallel, to their experience on Canto Bight in The Last Jedi. The citizens on Coruscant are the kind who suffer from the actions of the elite on Canto Bight.). Finn and Rose are inspired to help them and, together, they rouse the downtrodden Coruscants and lead an uprising.
- Rey, Poe, Chewie, and BB-8 arrive at the planet of Bonadan, where she hopes to find her answers, and Kylo arrives at Remnicore where he confronts Sith Master Tor Valum; hd is described as being a creature of unknown origin, 7000 years old, spindly and tense, of sinew and muscle.
- In the follow-up video, Burnett describes the meeting of Kylo and Valum at length. Surprisingly, Valum denies that he is a Sith Master or that he knows Palpatine. (Burnett never explains why this discrepancy exists, so I don’t know if the screenplay ever explains it either.) Valum also tempts Kylo with the power to literally extract the Life Force from other beings (sort of like a Vampire, but via the Force rather than a a bite or blood). This concept was clearly adapted by Abrams, but he turned it around so that Rey would use it for to heal rather than having Kylo use it steal, empowering Rey with the ability to miraculously heal people and living beings via a transfer of her Life Force into them. Trevorrow’s idea was a Dark power of extraction, Abrams made it an act of giving by the Light.
- Regarding the plot line with Rey, Poe, Chewie and BB-8 on Bonadan, Burnett also points out in the follow-up video that Poe has a thing for Rey in this script, that there is romantic tension between them, although it’s more on Poe’s side than Rey’s. He’s the one making the moves, and she turns him down with comments like “Now is not the time.” They even share a kiss, but Rey uses it more like a Jedi Mind Trick on Poe than as an expression of attraction.
- Incidentally, in one of their exchanges, Rey says to Poe, “I am no one,” to which Poe replies, “No one is no one.” Later in the story, as you will see, Rey makes a callback to this sentiment by Poe.
- Kylo begins training with Valum, like a Dark Side version of Luke training with Yoda on Dagobah, complete with a scene where Kylo faces an apparition of Vader just like Luke did in the cave in The Empire Strikes Back. In Empire it was a brief moment; her, Kylo and Vader have a full-on extended lightsaber duel. It’s a major sequence that ends with Kylo Ren losing. There is another sequence where Han appears to Kylo; this involves flashbacks to moments hat they shared while Kylo was growing up as Ben Solo. Eventually, Kylo decides he is prepared to face Rey and either turn her to the Dark Side or defeat her. But before he leaves Remnicore, Kylo Ren kills Tor Valum.
- On Bonadan, Rey seeks out a mystic who can read minds. By accessing the visions that Rey has had of Kylo Ren, they’re able to map out a star chart of where Rey must go to face Kylo Ren. The Knights of Ren are in hot pursuit, however, and they catch up to them on Bonadan. The heroes escape after an initial battle, but then Rey faces off against the Knights of Ren. It is another major lightsaber duel scene between Rey and all of the Knights of Ren, in which Rey continues to use her new lightsaber/wooden-staff hybrid weapon. She ultimately defeats all of the Knights.
- After these corresponding threads playout – Kylo being trained by Valum, Rey defeating the Knights of Ren – the two arrive in the realm of Mortis. This is where their final confrontation — the duel of the fates — takes place and unfolds. Mortis is an ethereal realm outside any star system, the place where some believe were the very origins of the Force. There is a temple at its center of Mortis, which becomes a crucial location.
- Meanwhile, Leia recruits Lando Calrissian to join the effort to face the First Order in one last battle. She goes to the cabaret club that Lando owns and operates. (Burnett describes this scene as being similar to the one from Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy goes to Marion’s bar in Nepal.) Leia asks Lando to lead a band of smugglers, bounty hunters, etc. who are responding to the Force Beacon (i.e. all of the people who had been relegated to the fringes of society in the galaxy). Leia believes Lando is the man who can lead these people who were once skeptical of the Resistance, and to take them to Coruscant where the final battle against the First Order will be waged. He is hesitant, saying they won the war before at Endor and what good did that do? Lando kisses Leia on the forehead, respectfully declining the request. (Later, though, he comes around and joins them, leading these “fringe” creatures who decided to join the Resistance.)
- On Coruscant, Rose is captured by the First Order and tortured, but eventually escapes. Finn, R2, and Threepio continue to lead the citizen uprising against the First Order citadel.
- On (or in) Mortis, Rey and Kylo Ren discover this is where the energy of their unique connection comes from (but it is not called a Dyad or defined in that way as it is in Rise of Skywalker). Kylo tries to convince Rey again to join him as co-leader of the galaxy, using the ultimate power present in Mortis. He believes they could rule together – Dark Side and Light Side – and that’s how they would bring balance to the Force. Rey’s not buying it, in part because she has discovered the true fate of her parents. They didn’t abandon her. In truth, Kylo killed them, fulfilling an order given to him by Snoke.
- The two face off in an epic lightsaber duel that also involves both of them trying to extractthe Force power out of each other. As this crescendos, Luke, Obi-Wan and Yoda appear as Force Ghosts to help sway the battle to a positive outcome, including attempts to turn Ben Solo to the Good Side. They are unsuccessful at turning Kylo as he begins to get the upper hand and defeat Rey. Kylo actually blinds Rey, causing her to cry blood from her eyes. She screams on the ground in agony. Leaving Rey for dead, Kylo turns to enter the Temple of Mortis.
- The final battle on Coruscant between the Resistance and the First Order intercuts with the Rey/Kylo showdown. Epic sci-fi warfare unfolds on the planet surface (lead by Finn and Rose) while massive dogfights swarm in the airspace above it (led by Poe Dameron). At one point, Chewbacca even pilots an X-Wing.
- At another key point, R2D2 takes a direct hit, scorching him all over, damaging his dome, and effectively killing him. C3PO grieves. Chewbacca picks up R2 and straps him to his back, mirroring what he did for Threepio on Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back.
- Kylo enters the Temple of Mortis. The statues of the ancients are all around, looking down on him (sounds similar to the ancient Siths on Exogol in The Rise of Skywalker). At the center is a stone slab and small structure (think Ark of the Covenant). Kylo opens it. It is empty. Luke appears, confronting Kylo, saying, “You’ve lost, Ben.” After a heated exchange, Luke ends it by saying, “You are no Skywalker.”
- Rey begins to stir. She is not dead. Determined but blind, she rips a piece of cloth and ties it around her eyes, serving as a familiar reference of blinding oneself while battling a remote during Jedi training. As she does, Luke continues to confront Kylo, reiterating the power of the Force, how it surrounds us and penetrates us and binds everything together. Luke is able to “telecast” this speech as well, sending it all the Resistance fighters as a rally call, to unite them,, literally exemplifying the “bond” of the Force he’s describing, that that Force bond is meant for them. He ends it by saying, “We will not be broken.” This final statement, and the power of the truth that Luke has spoken, is what empowers Rey to rise again and take the fight back to Kylo. Luke disappears.
- And here’s possibly the most interesting point of dialogue by Trevorrow. As Rey approaches Kylo, she says:
- REY: Our masters were wrong. I will not deny my anger, and I will not reject my love. I am the darkness and I am the light.”
- KYLO: You’re nothing. You are no one.
- REY (igniting her lightsaber-staff weapon): No one is no one.
- As the First Order begins to show signs of losing the battle, Hux pulls out a box of lightsabers that he has collected and stashed away. Throughout the film, he has shown signs of wanting to be Jedi-like (but not an actual Jedi), of being a Force user. With defeat looming, however, Hux pulls out a purple lightsaber, ignites it, and kills himself.
- The duel wages between Rey and Kylo. At a key moment, Rey strikes Kylo’s lightsaber, causing it to shatter and cutting off several of his fingers from his hand. Like his lineage, Kylo’s hand has also become damaged. Lying on the ground, he looks at his hand in disbelief. Rey stands over him. She has separated the two parts of her weapon now, and points the lightsaber at her chest (why she does this, Burnett did not say). Kylo looks up at her, stunned. She is glowing unfathomable light because of the Force within her. This sparks a rage in Kylo unlike any he has felt since he first turned to the Dark Side. With his one good hand, he reaches out to Rey and begins to extract the living Force from her. She screams in agony, pulling off her blindfold, as she starts to levitate into the air. Kylo stands tall. The metal that had been smelted to his face falls off; his face is now healed and restored. Rey is almost dead, begging Kylo with screams of “Ben, please!” (just as Luke pleaded to his father when the Emperor was killing him with Force electricity).
- Leia begins to sense what is happening. By using the Force, she starts to plead with Ben as well, for him to stop, to help the Resistance instead, to turn back to the Good Side. In that moment, Ben begins to feel what Darth Vader felt when his son Luke pleaded to him in Return of the Jedi: Kylo begins to feel love. He reaches out to Rey, who is near death. With his outstretched hand, Kylo takes hers. The life Force suddenly flows back into her. The Light and Dark swirl within Rey…as Kylo is reduced to an empty shell. He has sacrificed his own life by giving it back to Rey. (Obviously, this is a key act of sacrifice that Abrams implemented into his script as well.)
- Rey, now alive again, leans over Kylo. He whispers something to her. It is Rey’s last name: Solana. Rey is stunned to hear her actual family name. Then, in that moment, Ben Solo dies and disappears…or, as the script puts it, he is extinguished.
- Of course, as this occurs, the Resistance wins as well. It’s capped by an attempt from the First Order to escape in their citadel which turns into a massive ship, but Rose has secretly sabotaged their navigation computer. As a result, despite having initially escaped Coruscant, this massive citadel starship – which contains the entire leadership of the First Order – ends up crashing into a planet when the light-speed navigation goes awry, killing everyone.
- In the temple, the light of the Force begins to encompass Rey, lifting her up into the air, the energy glittering like fireflies, bringing her through a portal into a whole other astral plane. There, appearing before her, are Yoda, Luke, and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Rey begins to speak with them:
- REY: Is this death?
- OBI-WAN: In this place, there is no such thing as death.
- REY: I can see…
- OBI-WAN: Your true self is free of suffering. Free of pain.
- YODA: Taught us much, you have.
- REY: Taught you?
- YODA: Succeeded where we have failed. Narrow was our point of view.
- LUKE: You chose to embrace the Dark Side and the Light. To find the balance within.
- YODA: Co-exist they must, as such feelings do in all of us.
- REY: But if I am here…with you…
- YODA: A choice you must make. To return…or to remain.
- LUKE: Here there is serenity. Knowledge. Peace. Those lost but not forgotten.
- REY: And there?
- OBI-WAN: There…you will face a galaxy in turmoil. Pain. Suffering. The loss of those you love.
- YODA: But living you will be. Love, you shall.
- REY: Thank you…
- And with that, the spirits fade into the Force. Light engulfs Rey. As it does, Obi-Wan’s voice is heard: “You are a Jedi, Rey Solana, but you will not be the last.”
- The Resistance is victorious. Amongst the celebration, we see Chewbacca working on the severely damaged R2-D2. Another droid helps him as C3PO watches. Leia enters to check on the progress, assuring and comforting the heartbroken Threepio who says, “I can’t imagine what I’d do without him. He’s so stubborn but I…I…” (trailing off, as if he’s about to cry). Leia says, “I know.” (The classic Han/Leia line of expressing love.) Leia picks up the memory drive that belonged to R2. He is upright but still lifeless. She kneels before R2 and places the drive inside him, reminiscent of that early moment from A New Hope when she placed the message to Obi-Wan into R2’s memory banks. After Leia puts the drive in, R2-D2 comes back to life. We suddenly see R2’s data projected out; the others see it too. As the upload occurs, we see the entire sixty-year history flash forward chronologically before our eyes but all from R2-D2’s perspective…essentially seeing the key moments of the entire saga in extreme fast-forward from R2’s POV. Leia and the others are moved, seeing it all again. (This is a classic example of what cynics would dismiss as “fan service” but is something that I find to be very poignant.)This is the final scene for these characters.
- The film’s coda takes place on a planet called Modesta. We arrive at a ranch there; the setting is very serene. (This, no doubt, is an affectionate reference to the city of Modesto, California, where George Lucas grew up. It’s also where Skywalker Ranch was built.) Finn and Rose are there. They have brought with them many Force Sensitive youth, kids and young people who they met during the climactic fight. These young people include the “Broom Boy” from the final shot of The Last Jedi. Rey meets them all there. They will become the new Jedi, and Rey Solana will be their master.
For those who love The Last Jedi and feel that The Rise of Skywalker betrayed it, retcon-style, there are two fundamental things in Trevorrow’s Episode IX that will likely make them wish this is the IX they got:
- Rey’s parents remain actual nobodies
- Rose Tico is as prominent here as she was in Episode VIII
Those two things seem to be what TLJ devotees hold most sacrosanct. Having honored those two things, Duel of the Fates will undoubtedly find its own passionate acolytes among TLJ diehards.
So what do I think of it?
I really like it. I’m almost surprised Kathleen Kennedy didn’t move forward with it, or at least some variant of it. But I’m glad she didn’t. For as much as I would’ve found aspects of this version to be thrilling, satisfying, and even deeply moving, I’m more grateful for the things we get from Abrams’ The Rise of Skywalker (a few of which I highlighted in the intro to this piece).
I also prefer how Abrams’ evolved some of Trevorrow’s concepts, the biggest being how he shifted Kylo’s Force Vampirism into Rey’s Force Healing. I’m also thankful that Abrams’ kept Trevorrow’s impulse to have that new Force power be the conduit of Ben Solo’s ultimate sacrifice and salvation.
Even so, as I came to discover some of the things that Trevorrow had planned – from some of his big ideas to some of the small, cool nuggets – there’s certainly a part of me that’s disappointed we didn’t get to see his version. But there’s another element that makes me very relieved we didn’t.
I love what Trevorrow does with the third act, especially with Rey and Kylo. It is so well-conceived, from the location of Mortis and what that place is (I mean, what a perfect location for the Fates to be decided) to how Rey and Kylo spar with each other philosophically and emotionally in the midst of their final battle. It’s as rich in character as it is in plotting, and it all feels very substantial.
And once Rey is victorious, I also love the idea of having her share this spiritual moment with Luke, Obi-Wan, and Yoda. I say very intentionally that I like the idea of it…because I don’t like the philosophical and mythological details.
To be more blunt, I find Trevorrow’s ultimate definition of “balance” to be very problematic, both within the mythos itself as well as how it works as a metaphor to how we view our own concept of good and evil.
This idea that Rey expresse, of how she defines “balance” as her being both the darkness and the light, flies in the face of the Star Wars mythos that George Lucas established. An then to have Yoda, Obi-Wan and Luke affirm this view just makes it even worse.
To say that balance is to be both the darkness and the light may sound intriguing on the surface, or even true from a certain point of view, but it’s a misunderstanding of the yin and yang philosophy that Lucas employed. Yes, the light and the dark are two sides of the same coin, and yes they exist in all of us, but they are opposing forces in tension with each other, not things that can be reconciled. They battle for our soul, not bring balance to it. This is true for the Star Wars mythos and it’s also true for the moral and ethical foundation of humanistic and religious values across cultures and time.
To conclude that we can be both dark and light, and find balance in that, is to then say that anger, fear, aggression…aren’t really that bad after all. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering…or maybe it doesn’t actually have to if you’re balanced enough.
From Trevorrow’s perspective, the vices of the Dark Side aren’t necessarily bad; it just comes down to how you use them, apparently.
That kind of thinking, sincere and well-intentioned though it may be, is ultimately born of arrogance and vanity. To think that anyone has the moral strength to use bad impulses for good ends, or that anyone could make bad things virtuous so long as they find the right so-called “balance” for them, is ridiculous. It’s even dangerous. That gives people way more credit than we’ve ever earned or deserve. That’s not how light and dark, how good and bad, relate to each other. Or to quote Han Solo: “That’s not how the Force works!”
Also, how would this form of “balance” work out? What does it look like, practically speaking? How is it lived out? We don’t see an answer to that question here, other than Rey being assertive about it.
It’s a BIG DEAL to define balance in this way, and Trevorrow doesn’t provide a definition that even comes close to being adequate, let alone be consistent with what Lucas has established.
Balance looks more like what Luke came to in Return of the Jedi, an understanding that some of the Jedi traditions and values were short-sighted, namely that good, honorable emotions (like love, having close relationships, nurturing intimate connections rather than denying them) were obstacles rather than virtues for a Jedi. Luke’s lovefor his father is what saved Darth Vader, after all, and that act of love was contrary to the only solution that Yoda and Obi-Wan could envision, which was to kill Vader.
Balance, if anything, is to believe that there is no aspect of the Good Side that’s off limits to a Jedi, or to anyone. Not a single virtue of the Good Side should be denied. They can all be embraced, even by a Jedi. That’s how the Light wins out over the Dark. The Dark will always be there, to be sure, but we bring peace – we bring balance – to our tension with the Dark by embracing ALL good virtues, not denying them.
Choosing temptations of the Dark Side (as in to willfully murder someone, even someone Darth Vader or the Emperor) is not an answer. That doesn’t bring balance. Choosing the Good in everything is what brings balance.
In short, balance is maintaining peace while the tension of the dark side is always there, is always a possibility. It’s not being both Light and Dark equally.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this issue of how to define balance is what became the ultimate impasse between Kennedy and Trevorrow. No doubt other things caused concern, like separating Rey and Finn yet again, two characters who shared such a strong, intimate bond in The Force Awakens. (My script note for that, incidentally, would be to have had Poe and Rose pair off together to lead the Coruscant mission while Finn would join Rey on the trip to Bonadan; this also would’ve eliminated one of Trevorrow’s worst ideas, i.e. having romantic tension between Rey and Poe.)
Another thing that couldn’t have sat well with Kennedy: having Leia view the Force so cynically. But of course that was essentially an extension of Trevorrow’s problematic definition of balance. It’s also an extension of Rian Johnson’s Last Jedi subversions, a.ka. the “kill it all” philosophy.
Nevertheless, Duel of the Fates is a thoughtful, smart, entertaining and emotional Star Wars adventure, and it inspired some of my favorite elements from The Rise of Skywalker. For as heated (and unhealthy) as the online debate will likely be about this leaked screenplay, I’m glad that it’s out there for people to consider. I feel Trevorrow’s efforts in working it all out onto the page (only to be fired for it) deserve a hearing. Now he has it. And so do we.