Improving the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy

Another month, another Star Wars post? Why not? Today my thoughts turn not to making a whole new distant-future sequel trilogy or a Darth Bane trilogy, but rather to the more down-to-earth issue of how the sequel trilogy we ended up with could have been handled better.

And it could have been handled much better. In my view the whole premise was too insipid to achieve true greatness, but it could have at least been an interesting addendum and a pleasant romp, much like how fans tend to view “Rogue One” or “The Mandalorian”. Instead we got a trilogy that overwrote the happy ending of the saga proper, turned the main characters we loved into failures, and was incredibly disjointed due to having two filmmakers, namely J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, at war with each other.

A flawed Setup straight from the Opening Crawl

Already in the opening crawl of “The Force Awakens” we’re told “Luke Skywalker has vanished”. Well, that’s interesting. But it goes on “In his absence, the sinister FIRST ORDER has risen from the ashes of the Empire and will not rest until Skywalker, the last Jedi, has been destroyed.”

The idea that only Luke was holding back the Imperial Remnant, implied here, is quite odd, but the general premise of a remnant of the Empire making trouble and romping through the galaxy trying to kill (or turn?) Luke is actually kind of interesting.

Then we see “With the support of the REPUBLIC, General Leia Organa leads a brave RESISTANCE.” A lot of fans seem to be confused by this line, which is worded rather strangely, but it makes perfect sense that the (presumably restored?) Republic would be backing groups rebelling against the First Order deep behind enemy lines, and I actually kind of like the idea of Leia leading them. Only why does she have to be just a General? Jedi Master Leia leading these rebels would have been much more interesting.

It goes on “She is desperate to find her brother Luke and gain his help in restoring peace and justice to the galaxy.” Eh, makes sense I guess, considering how instrumental he was in the original trilogy. Then we see “Leia has sent her most daring pilot on a secret mission to Jakku, where an old ally has discovered a clue to Luke’s whereabouts”, which sets up the action we see in the actual movie.

The First Order could have made Sense!

Now, this setup J.J. Abrams created isn’t anywhere near as great as many lovers of “The Force Awakens” claim it is, but most of the deficiencies of it were in the execution, specifically the worldbuilding. In particular the idea of the First Order hiding out in the Unknown Regions gathering strength to retake the galaxy is actually a good concept, but in any case their military should be much smaller, weaker, and more vulnerable than the Republic’s, so their strategy should have relied on surprise, deception, and finesse rather than brute force, learning some lessons from the Rebel Alliance and adding twists and flourishes of their own.

One of which would be Starkiller Base. It makes perfect sense for the First Order to stake everything on planet-killing superweapons that can instill terror. It was already hopeless for the Empire to put down rebellion conventionally, hence why they created the Death Star to rule by fear, and it would be even more hopeless for the First Order to do so, since logically they’d have a much smaller fleet available. Also helping them down this path is being an Imperial remnant that may well have many of the Death Stars’ designers working for them.

Except that none of this was made remotely clear in any part of the trilogy. Indeed, the First Order fleet seems to greatly outnumber the Resistance the whole time, which makes no sense. Logically, if Starkiller Base or perhaps a few dreadnoughts like the Supremacy were able to quickly inflict decapitation terror attacks upon the Republic leadership and move against the most important free worlds, they might just destroy the Republic and become the hegemons of the galaxy, as “The Last Jedi” tells us in its opening crawl: “The First Order reigns.”

But this level of control would be extremely loose and tenuous, prone to collapsing at any moment, especially given Starkiller Base being destroyed in “The Force Awakens”, leading them to rely purely on their dreadnoughts to maintain terror. An uneasy truce would reign, turning the galaxy into a powder keg, as the free peoples widely flout the First Order’s rule but shy away from outright mass rebellion, fearful of the superweapons, while the First Order must rule with a light touch to prevent mass rebellion from breaking out.

The Final Order could have made Sense too!

This brings us to “The Rise of Skywalker”, where a big part of the plot seems to be the First Order craving the addition of the Final Order’s massive fleet to their ranks, which fits in perfectly with the situation I’ve described, and would have fit in perfectly if it was a big worldbuilding point in the previous two movies.

But instead everyone acts like the First Order is as powerful as the Empire, which gives the impression the First Order would only get a massive power boost from joining the Final Order rather than face certain defeat if they didn’t. Even more confusingly, the galaxy erupts in rebellion and destroys the First Order at the end of the movie anyway, as if the situation in my version prevailed and the powder keg went off. Logic and the actual plot suggest my version is what actually happened, but all the characters act like it didn’t.

Maybe a new Republic doesn’t make Sense?

As an aside, given that we see virtually nothing of the new Republic, it might have made more sense if there was not a new Republic after the Battle of Endor, with the galaxy instead falling to various Imperial warlords, gradually pushed back by regional alliances and factions under the auspices of the Rebel Alliance. But in this version the Rebel Alliance would have been just that, an alliance, not a restoration of the Republic.

The whole premise of a new Republic doesn’t make much sense to me anyway, considering central galactic government was so ineffective in the first place and, worse still, transformed into Palpatine’s dictatorship. A prolonged period of fragmentation seems likely. In this event instead of decapitating the Republic leadership the First Order decapitates the most important of these regional factions. It works fine in either case.

Improving Rey

So with the premise more or less patched up, what about the characters? Rey is the heroine, and fundamentally a rather interesting one: a scavenger girl who discovers her Force powers as she’s thrust into a prominent role in the galaxy.

Changes I would make would be for her not to come from a desert world, but rather an ocean world; my Rey would have scavenged ghost ships and underwater shipwrecks, and have lived on a sailboat. The skimmer in “The Rise of Skywalker” looked really cool on the water, and it really seemed to suit Daisy Ridley. Unlike the Tatooine knockoff we actually got, a maritime Jakku would be something we haven’t seen yet in Star Wars.

The harshness of her life on Jakku was also overdone; if Lor San Tekka had been a grandfatherly figure caring for her on my maritime Jakku the whole setup would have been both less bleak and more sensible. His death would also have given her a strong motivation to join the struggle against the First Order.

Out with Snoke, in with Palpatine: yes, Really!

The overarching villain was obviously originally supposed to be Snoke, but to me he always just came off as a discount Palpatine. Killing him off in “The Last Jedi” made for a great plot twist without losing too interesting a character, and I actually like the idea of him having been created by Palpatine to serve as his agent, i.e. a literal discount Palpatine!

Palpatine’s return was by far the biggest problem of the trilogy, since even aside from the premise negating Anakin’s sacrifice and the Chosen One prophecy it’s rather unbelievable considering he was thrown miles down into a reactor pit and exploded, and then on top of all that the station he was on was vaporized!

No, Palpatine shouldn’t have returned in the flesh. But there is an excellent alternative: a holocron created by Palpatine! He could have created a Sith holocron and infused it with his power and placed it on a dark-side Force nexus, i.e. Exegol, to control his Sith cult there with instructions to wreak havoc upon the galaxy should be ever be killed. It could also take on his form and create Force visions of him, so Ian McDiarmid could still ham it up.

A Star Forge: the Perfect Explanation for the Final Order

The Sith Eternal would worship Palpatine as a god, and obey his holocron’s every command. As for the infamous Final Order fleet, that could easily be explained by Palpatine having found another Star Forge, maybe in the Exegol system itself, perhaps a discovery from one of the Empire’s expeditions into the Unknown Regions.

In “Knights of the Old Republic” the Star Forge was a giant automated shipyard from the ancient Rakata Empire that used a star’s matter and the dark side of the Force to create an endless supply of materiel, including ships. Sounds exactly like what the Final Order pulled off. The KOTOR Star Forge was destroyed four thousand years earlier, but there may well be another one out there. Seems like an ideal place to site a Sith cult to boot.

A Sith-Holocron Palpatine: a missed Opportunity?

The First Order might have evolved independently and have been taken over by Palpatine’s holocron via Snoke. Perhaps the First Order and Snoke is a test for a prospective new Sith apprentice to overcome before they are permitted to find their way to Exegol, using the Sith wayfinders (a.k.a. holocrons designed for navigation), and unlock the Palpatine holocron, and all the Sith teachings within.

Kylo Ren going to Exegol and opening Palpatine’s holocron with the Force would have made for a far cooler visual than what we actually did see, and would have connected much better with the lore, a win-win compared to bringing him back as a clone; indeed, I’m still surprised they didn’t bring Palpatine back as a holocron, since to me it seemed like the obvious way to do it.

Snoke as a Figment of the Palpatine Holocron?

Back to Snoke, the whole idea of “making” a powerful Force-sensitive being doesn’t sit well with me, so I might have made Snoke not Force sensitive at all but rather a military leader a la Thrawn. Alternatively, Snoke himself might also be a holocron, a kind of ghostly presence that’s only ever seen in the form of a projection and through his Force powers, the nigh-magical artifact the First Order possesses being their only way of communicating with their leader, not knowing of course that he isn’t even a real person, just an emanation of a Sith holocron. That would have been a really cool idea and have upped the mystery factor.

Considering Kylo Ren and the Knights of Ren

The other main villain is Kylo Ren, who is Han and Leia’s son turned to the dark side, essentially discount Darth Caedus. Adam Driver’s excellent acting deserves mention for making Kylo into the most charismatic and interesting of all the main characters, despite having relatively little to work with.

In my version we see a lot from the Knights of Ren, who I would make into a Force cult who broke away from Luke Skywalker’s Jedi, instead following a Force philosophy called Ren (which they were supposed to in the real version) that is unlike either Jedi or Sith, fashioned by Kylo Ren himself, after his idea of what his grandfather Anakin Skywalker would have done if the Jedi and Sith had not used him as a pawn.

Perhaps Kylo somehow discovered Anakin’s experience on Mortis, possibly with the aid of my holocron version of Snoke (who would be secretly acting on Palpatine’s knowledge), and felt after learning about that that Anakin’s true destiny was to be neither Jedi nor Sith, which would neatly explain his desire to “finish what you started”.

I would make Kylo not be on the dark side, at least at first, instead walking the line while staying on the light side as he and his knights go rogue and join the First Order in an effort to learn Snoke’s power and restore order to the galaxy. Under Snoke’s influence they are corrupted and become more brutal and Sith-like, gradually and imperceptibly falling ever-deeper into the dark side.

Make Reylo a Thing! Yes, Really!

In this version of “The Last Jedi” Kylo still dispatches Snoke, but as he becomes Supreme Leader I would have Rey join him as a Knight of Ren and as his consort. Yes, I would make Reylo a thing; I think the two had real chemistry, and the hero actually joining the villain while falling in love with him is very different from anything seen before in Star Wars.

The Force dyad was a cool concept and I would introduce it in a big way in “The Force Awakens”; as Rey’s Force powers are honed, so is the link to Kylo, and that pull leads them to join their fates together at the end of “The Last Jedi”. This flips the ending of “The Empire Strikes Back”, parallels the end of “Attack of the Clones”, and teases the audience with the idea that the “Empress Padmé” what-if scenario was actually her and Anakin’s true destiny.

To hammer home the parallel I would have Rey become pregnant with twins on her honeymoon, and unlike Padmé give birth to them without incident, lovingly raising them with Kylo; by the time of “The Rise of Skywalker” they’re walking, talking, and using the Force in a rudimentary way. That would take at least two years or so post-TLJ.

Rey and Kylo themselves have grown much better at using their Force powers during that time, and in the household all is blissful. But due to the aforementioned very loose level of control, the First Order’s grip over the galaxy is crumbling, to the extent their regime is on the brink of collapse by this point, driving Kylo and Rey to rage in desperation for any source of power that may help them.

Rey and Kylo meet their Destiny on Exegol

Then one day they find the Sith wayfinder, travel to Exegol, unlock the Palpatine holocron, and are faced with a choice between submitting to Palpatine or submitting to their regime’s destruction. In the end they redeem themselves and turn back to the light side of the Force; they refuse Palpatine’s holocron’s attempt to seduce them to the teachings of the Sith and the power of the dark side. Perhaps the rebirth of the Sith is only narrowly prevented at the last moment by the sudden appearance of the ghost of Anakin Skywalker, played by Hayden Christensen, who inspires his grandson, and perhaps also his wife and family, to do what is right.

The Sith Eternal is destroyed at the end by whatever means, along with their Star Forge. The First Order too is destroyed, but Rey and Kylo are inspired by their experience to let go of their attachment to power, abandoning the First Order, and at the end are seen having retired to a sweet life on a paradise-like planet with only each other and their children, love having triumphed over hatred, peace having triumphed over power, the Skywalkers living as they were meant to have lived. I like the idea of the paradise planet being none other than Naboo itself, the last shot being the whole family gazing at the sun rising in the Lake Country, a call-back to Anakin and Padmé’s sunset marriage.

A Son for Luke, a first Love for Rey

In my version I would add a new character from the old Expanded Universe: Ben Skywalker, son of Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade. In my version he is the man who meets Rey on Jakku and uncovers the map to Luke Skywalker, going with Rey to Ahch-To, meeting Luke at the top of the Jedi Steps. Rey and Ben fall in love during “The Force Awakens”, and he awakens the Force within her, but this also awakens the link to Kylo, with him already being a presence in Rey’s mind, luring her away from her first love Ben, even during “The Force Awakens”. In this love triangle Kylo wins by the end of “The Last Jedi”.

Improving Luke Skywalker in “The Last Jedi”

Obviously Luke being the way he was in “The Last Jedi” went over like a lead balloon with the fans, and rightly so, but it was a good concept for him to be exiled. I like the idea of Luke meditating deep into the Force and journeying throughout the Unknown Regions to find the power to defeat a looming dark side threat, which he felt became urgent with the rise of the First Order, prompting his exile; this dark side threat of course turns out to be Palpatine’s plan for revenge starting up, not to mention the Star Forge reaching greater levels of power.

Indeed, Luke might actually have found a way to defeat Sith holocrons and the Star Forge, even if he is not consciously aware those are the specific threats he will be facing; all he will know is that Rey must be trained to resist and overcome the dark powers, and Rey spends my version of “The Last Jedi” mastering these abilities. Perhaps Rey is the only person, bar Luke, who can master it, with Ben proving to be wanting. Luke senses Ben’s destiny lies along a different path. The audience would gasp at the end as Rey, the last hope to defeat the coming darkness, goes over to Kylo.

I for one think all these changes would have made for a much better sequel trilogy, while still following roughly the same plot line and keeping roughly the same characters as we got.

Proof Positive George Lucas intended to respect the old EU?

The reason I’d like to bring Ben Skywalker from the expanded universe into this is because Domhnall Gleeson would make a perfect EU Ben Skywalker. He looks just like him, and his acting shows he would have played a son of Luke well. Indeed, if Luke Skywalker went into exile after the events of “Crucible” in the EU, which was 45 years after the Battle of Yavin, for 14 years, at the end of that time Ben Skywalker would have literally been the exact same age Domhnall Gleeson was in 2015: 32.

It gets even better. Allana Solo, granddaughter of Han and Leia in the EU, would have been 23 at the time. Daisy Ridley’s age in 2015? The exact same: 23. Daisy Ridley even looks exactly like Allana Solo!

One or the other might be an odd coincidence, but both of them being such a good match? I agree with this Reddit poster who pointed this out and doesn’t believe that could possibly be a coincidence. Keep in mind both Ridley and Gleeson were hired before the story of the sequels as we know them today took shape.

It is well possible that George Lucas originally intended to respect the EU, at least in the broad strokes, and his story would have been set in a period without existing EU stories to contradict, a blank canvas for all practical purposes. Lucas had no qualms about contradicting the EU when it suited him, but notice he never decanonized huge swaths of continuity; he might not have viewed it as his Star Wars, but he always respected it. Together with the Ridley-Alanna Gleeson-Ben connections I’m convinced that Lucas, had he made the sequels, would have respected the old EU.

Also worth noting: Luke and Leia would be 78 as of 59 ABY, and while that is a bit up there compared to the actors I think they would have been convincing as that age. Ditto for Han Solo, who would have been 88. We might also expect Jaina Solo, daughter of Han and Leia, to show up, who would have been 50.

Wiping the old EU: a waste of Time?

Indeed, with relatively few adjustments the existing sequel trilogy would fit in with the old EU anyway; it takes place in 34-35 ABY. That’s ten years before “Crucible”, but there’s no particular reason for it to take place that early. It could just as easily have taken place twenty years later, which would place it in 54-55 ABY, ten years after “Crucible”.

Aside from details about the Skywalker and Solo family trees and the new Republic being the Galactic Alliance instead it would actually have worked, or at least have worked as well as it did anyway, so I can’t help but wonder what the point was of decanonizing the old EU in the first place. We were told we’d get “creative freedom” and instead we got “Dark Empire” deluxe.

Conclusion

Needless to say it could have been a lot better, and I think my suggestions would be some good ways of making the sequel trilogy into a worthy addendum to the saga proper. The premise and plot isn’t the best and isn’t the direction I would have taken Star Wars in, but there was enough potential there to make something good. If only…

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