“Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker Should Have Used George Lucas’ Original Ending”
Warning: This post contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker should have used George Lucas’s original ending for the Skywalker saga, particularly given the finale that audiences did receive: Rey Palpatine arrives at the Lars homestead on the dessert planet of Tatooine to bury the two Skywalker lightsabers (one having originally belonged to Anakin and Luke, and the other being Leia’s just-introduced weapon). While doing so, a local approaches her and asks what her name is, to which the heroine somewhat defiantly says “Rey Skywalker” – with the Force ghosts of both Luke and his twin sister looking on approvingly.
While one could argue that such a denouement is at least somewhat fitting for the sequel trilogy, specifically, and the nine-part Star Wars saga, generally, it still remains a problematic one, on several different fronts – not the least of which being the fact that Lucas’s climax hits some of the same notes, albeit in a more narratively expansive way. By eschewing these earlier concepts for brand-new (and, perhaps, safer) ones, Disney is potentially limiting the storytelling scope of its still-recently-acquired property – and is perpetuating a pattern that has plagued the sequel enterprise literally from day one.
Putting everything into the proper context will require a quick recounting of George’s evolving story over the decades, a brief survey of what few scraps did manage to make it into the finalized Star Wars 9, and an explanation of how the filmmakers behind that enterprise definitively chose nostalgia over narrative.
The story of Star Wars, from the original trilogy 40 years ago to the sequel trilogy of today, underwent countless revisions and rewrites over the course of George Lucas’s creative career. Central to this evolution was the concept of the Whills, who went from being an ancient order of galactic historians that were framing the story of the Skywalkers to being, ultimately, some type of Force entity that may have been microscopic in scale and that helped link midi-chlorians to sentient lifeforms (the latter was the premise of the outlines for Episodes 7 through 9 that Lucas wrote just prior to selling his cinematic baby – plans that were subsequently abandoned by Disney).
It is the Whills writing their journals of interstellar history that the filmmaker had in mind when first sketching out a possible ending for his magnum opus: the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO, having been the only characters intended to appear in every single film, would be regaling the Whills with the stories of their exploits with the Skywalker family at some point in the future, perhaps even a full century later. This would not only give the franchise a proper mythological scope, putting it in the same league as JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (whose narrative was relayed to future generations by the Bagginses and their diaries), it would play off the intro that every Star Wars installment opens with: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”
Having director and co-writer JJ Abrams pull such an old feather out of Lucas’ narrative hat wouldn’t have been unusual in the slightest, despite Disney’s interest in forging its own story for the sequels – the practice of routinely going back through older screenplay drafts or unused concept art and resurrecting certain items was established almost from day one, with such movies as Attack of the Clones including the air whales that were originally created for The Empire Strikes Back and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story utilizing Darth Vader’s formidable lava fortress that was initially designed for Return of the Jedi.
What makes this R2-D2 ending omission even more notable is how Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy, the new president of Lucasfilm and grand overseer of everything Star Wars, did end up going back to George Lucas’s well to pull out other little tidbits for inclusion in the finished The Rise of Skywalker.
In the midst of the original films’ creation, Lucas jotted down several different ideas for what both the prequels and sequels could contain; Obi-Wan Kenobi wasn’t expected to be chronologically introduced until Episode II, for instance, and Luke’s twin sister – who, at this early stage in the game, was most definitely not Princess Leia Organa – would first pop up in Episode VIII, after it was established that she was being trained in secret all the way on the other side of the galaxy. In this early iteration, Luke would have confronted – and defeated – Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi, but Sheev Palpatine himself would still be left at large (and off-screen), continuing his tyrannical domination. After the female Skywalker would have joined the fight against the Emperor, she would grab Luke out of the seclusion that he forced himself into and then confront Palpatine alongside him, making the Sith Lord’s death – and the ultimate defeat of the dark side – the rousing climax of the entire saga.
And then, earlier this decade, when Lucas finally penned the outlines for the sequel trilogy in preparation for the Disney transfer, he retained the idea of a central female protagonist in the form of a young, teenaged girl named Kira, who would have similarly sought out a hermited Luke and trained under him. Although, under JJ Abrams’ eye, Kira would become the (slightly) older Rey and Darth Sidious would be quite literally resurrected for one final confrontation with Ben Solo, the last of the Skywalkers, it’s pretty easy to see how these original plot points were still fundamentally instituted. (Another rescued concept was Luke teaching his sister the ways of the Jedi, which made it only as a quick flashback in the finalized film).
The Rise of Skywalker revisiting Tatooine for the fifth(!) time, and having Rey and her trusty sidekick of BB-8 walk off into its familiar-looking dual sunset, is an ending that is fundamentally moored in nostalgia, in recreating the iconic story beats of Star Wars: A New Hope instead of treading its own narrative ground. Of course, this is the very same charge that has been (accurately) leveled at Abrams’s previous stab at a Star Wars sequel, The Force Awakens, and when combined with other out-and-out repeat elements found in the final Skywalker saga movie – such as the Resistance’s celebration sequence, which is lifted wholesale from Return of the Jedi – audiences are left with almost an entire trilogy that looks to the past instead of turning to the future, let alone resolving it. (Indeed, it also doesn’t help that writer-director Rian Johnson opted to pay off that sunset shot himself in the previous entry, 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which makes Rise of Skywalker’s utilization of it even more of a retread.)
Going with George Lucas’s original scenario would’ve instead pushed The Rise of Skywalker into fresher territory, moving the franchise forward – both figuratively and literally, thanks to that sizable time jump – instead of attempting to close itself into an ouroboros-esque loop. It also would’ve given audiences the possibility of even just a little resolution on the galaxy’s political state, something which garnered considerable attention under Lucas’s reign; there could be just a quick glimpse of the New Republic’s successor, of a reformed and reconstituted Jedi Order, and of the Skywalker family itself. It’s actually this last item that’s the most important, given that much hay was made by Abrams and company about Rey’s (retconned) status as a Palpatine and her chosen identity of a Skywalker, the adopted daughter of Han Solo and Leia Organa and the last apprentice of Luke.
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