The worst thing about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker not being universally beloved is it makes people ask “What if?” What if other decisions had been made? Could the movie have been improved? These kinds of questions feel natural with this movie in particular because Colin Trevorrow, the original director and co-writer, left the project years before it was released.
In the days since the release of The Rise of Skywalker, that’s become a big topic of speculation among fans. What did the movie look like when Trevorrow, who’d been working on the project for over two years, left in 2017? Normally that’s not something we’d find out, but at least one person claims they know.
That person is filmmaker Robert Meyer Burnett. Burnett, who directed the Star Trek-themed film Free Enterprise, went on his YouTube show, Robservations, and over the course of two days detailed an entire script he believes was written by Trevorrow and Derek Connolly and completed on December 16, 2016. That script was called Star Wars Episode IX: Duel of the Fates.
Gizmodo contacted Disney to ask about the script, but the studio does not comment on rumours or speculation and once again wouldn’t in this case. We also reached out to Lucasfilm specifically but had not heard back at the time of publication, and when contacted, Trevorrow’s representation had no comment. That means, as of now, no one has confirmed or denied the veracity of Burnett’s claims. If that changes, we’ll update this story.
As for Burnett, he doesn’t say on his show where he got this script, nor does he technically confirm he actually has a copy of the script (even though on the show, he’s clearly reading from some kind of monitor). What he does say though is as follows: “I don’t know if it’s real but I really believe that it is. I believe with all my heart it’s a real script because one, it’s a really well-written screenplay, and two, it’s too good to be unreal.”
We spoke to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation and they either claim that the script is real or at the very least that Burnett is well-connected enough in Hollywood that he could have procured it. Our friends at the AV Club have also independently confirmed the legitimacy.
If we go by those sources and assume it’s legit, the first thing to note is that date of December 16, 2016. That’s crucially important because it’s 11 days before the death of Carrie Fisher. Duel of the Fates was then written under the assumption Fisher could play a large role in it, which she does. Her passing, as we know, was not just a blow for fans everywhere, but the people making this movie.
It impacted the direction of the story greatly and J.J. Abrams himself has said as much. December 2016 was also a year before the release of The Last Jedi, so any idea of what fans would think of the choices in that film was still a long way away. All of which is to say, Duel of the Fates, in this form, was still relatively far from being what even Trevorrow could have put on screen.
All of this first came to light in a Reddit post where fans began discussing Burnett’s claims. However, that post only dealt with Monday’s episode of Burnett’s show. On Tuesday, he was back and provided more detail, specifically on the ending. If you want to read a detailed breakdown of the film’s intro and second act, you can do so on that Reddit post, or you can watch the full video. We’re just going to talk about the end of the movie as revealed on Tuesday’s episode, which can be watched here.
In the purported script, Burnett says Rey and Kylo Ren meet on Mortis—the infamous planet first seen in the third season of Clone Wars. It’s a nexus of the Living Force and home to mysterious beings encountered by Ahsoka, Anakin, and Obi-Wan who embodied the light, dark, and cosmic elements of the Force itself.
Mortis, Rey and Ren believe, is the origin of the Living Force, a place where they’ll find answers. And of course, a huge lightsaber battle ensues, with Rey trying to stop Kylo from getting into one of the temples there. During the battle, Kylo slashes Rey across the face, she falls down some stairs, and he leaves her for dead. Kylo goes into the temple only to find…it’s empty. There’s nothing there.
At this moment, Luke’s Force Ghost shows up (yes, in 2016 Trevorrow and Connolly were apparently working under the assumption that Luke died) and gives a last-ditch effort to turn him. During his speech, Rey picks herself up but has been blinded. Nevertheless, she puts something over her eyes and races back to confront Kylo.
“Our masters were wrong,” Rey said. “I will not deny my anger. I will not reject my love. I am the darkness and I am the light.”
“You’re nothing. You’re no one,” Kylo responds. Rey then ignites her lightsaber and says “No one is no one,” before running at him, and the battle continues. The line, according to Burnett, is a callback to earlier in the film when Rey is discussing her lineage with Poe and he explains that everyone is who they want to be. No one is no one.
Rey, now embracing the light and the dark, gains a whole new level of power, slashes at Kylo’s hand, severs his fingers, and destroys his lightsaber. “There’s an unfathomable Living Force within her,” the script says. However, earlier in the movie, Kylo had learned the unnatural ability to steal the Living Force from beings and starts to do that to Rey. She can’t handle it. Kylo is healing and he’s about to win.
Just then, he hears the call of his mother, asking him to come home. Kylo gives in and gives Rey her life essence back, but in the process begins to die himself. In his last breath, he reveals her real name: Rey Solana. (I think that’s the spelling, based on hearing it. Also of note, Kylo knows this because he’s the one who killed Rey’s parents in this version. He used to kill Force-sensitive kids for Snoke, who is also not in this script, which makes sense given The Last Jedi, and had tracked down Rey years ago. She escaped. Her parents didn’t.)
So Kylo is dead, Rey is alive, but just barely. She then ascends to a higher plane of existence and encounters the Force Ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Luke. “Taught us much you have,” Yoda says to Rey. Rey is confused. “Succeeded where we have failed. Narrow was our point of view,” he says. “You chose to embrace the dark side and the light. To find the balance within,” says Luke. “Co-exist they must,” says Yoda. “As such feelings do in all of us.”
In a very Harry Potter-esque moment, Rey is then faced with a choice: Stay in this place and gain enlightenment, or go back to the world of the living, which will be harsh, but she’ll be alive. As she thinks about it Obi-Wan leaves her with one final thought, “You are a Jedi, Rey Solana. But you will not be the last.” This whole description is from about 1:35 minutes into Burnett’s show through about 1:44.
Meanwhile, as this is happening, the big battle between the Resistance and the First Order is happening on and around Coruscant. During the fight, R2-D2 is brutally damaged but Chewbacca puts the parts on his back and continues to fight. After the Rey and Force Ghosts scene, the film cuts back to Coruscant post-victory. Chewbacca, Leia, C-3PO, and others are putting R2 back together and reminiscing.
The final piece of the puzzle is to reinstall his memory bank which Leia herself does, in a pose reminiscent of A New Hope. When she does, R2’s memory starts to reconstruct itself and, as that’s happening, all of those memories start projecting themselves. Sixty years of struggle all from R2’s perspective. Which basically ends up being a nine-episode Star Wars highlight reel, something Trevorrow had hinted at way back in 2016.
From there, the final scene of the film took place on a planet called Modesta (probably a wink to the birthplace of George Lucas, Modesto, California). Finn is there with a bunch of kids and Rey arrives, ready to train the next generation of Jedi. Roll credits.
Two other fun sidebars from the end of the film. The First Order loses, in part, because its headquarters on Coruscant is a giant ship. During the battle Rose Tico (who has a much larger part in this version of Episode IX) rewires their hyperdrive so that when the headquarters tries to leave, it ends up crashing into a planet.
Also, before that, Hux also has a great death scene. Apparently a running joke in the script is that he keeps trying to use the Force to compete with Kylo. When he realises the First Order is finished, he goes into his chambers and we find out he’s a secret Jedi nerd and has been collecting lightsabers. He lights one up and uses it to die by suicide.
There’s so, so much more too from earlier in the movie—and, again, if you’re interested, I urge you to go and listen to both of Burnett’s shows. They’re long and a little drawn-out but over the two videos he explains so much more of what this movie might have been. And they may be the closest thing we ever get to their realisation.
Again, that’s if this is script is real. Would seeing what we described here have been cool? Yes. Better than what we got? For some, perhaps. Ultimately it would’ve come down to execution, and there’s no guarantee it would have played out on screen as it does in your head reading these descriptions. There’s also no indication, at all, that this script is universally “better” than what we got. It’s just…different. And, in the end, none of this matters. This is not the script that was made; if it’s true, it’s a fun piece of trivia and that’s all that it is. She’s not Rey Solana. She’s Rey Skywalker, a descendant of Sheev Palpatine. And love it or hate it, that’s what it is.
If anything, Burnett’s review of Duel of the Fates is a testament to the incredible talent and effort the team at Lucasfilm have developing these movies as well as a potential window into the process. If this script is real, it’s proof that there was more than a little communication going on during the development of all three movies. This script knows Luke was dead. It knows Snoke was dead. And the bones of it—Kylo’s search for power from a higher being, a message reuniting the Resistance, Force healing—are what J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio used to make their movie, which is why Trevorrow and Connolly got story credit.
The Rise of Skywalker is an evolution of these ideas, not a reset.