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Hidden details discovered in the Rise of Skywalker script

When Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker was released in theaters, the general consensus among critics was that the film was a total dud. Many assumed that this anticlimactic end to the new trilogy would be the last time we'd think about Star Wars for at least a little while, but then there came a J.J. Abrams-worthy plot twist that no one saw coming: leaked evidence that the saga almost ended very differently.

The leak came from Robert Burnett, a filmmaker and YouTuber who worked for years in Hollywood as a story analyst. He claims to have read an early script for Episode IX, dating back to when Colin Trevorrow was the director and the film was called Star Wars: Episode IX – Duel of the Fates. In a pair of YouTube videos, Burnett breaks down the story that could have been. To be honest, it sounds like a pretty darn good movie.

Though many doubted him at first, Burnett's story was later confirmed by The A.V. Club through an anonymous source. Adding more veracity to his claims is a slew of early concept art for Episode IX, first posted to Twitter by DR Movie News. We'll be including some of that artwork here, as it often perfectly illustrates Burnett's description of the story. What follows are all the juicy hidden details we've discovered in Robert Burnett's breakdown for the script of Star Wars: Episode IX, long before it was renamed The Rise of Skywalker.

The opening crawl promises a simple story, well told

Throughout his video, Robert Burnett typically just summarizes the film in broad strokes, rather than recounting long stretches of dialogue or showing actual script pages. There is, however, one exception to this, when he displays the entirety of the film's opening crawl, as it is seen in the script, on screen. It reads:

"The iron grip of the FIRST ORDER has spread to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Only a few scattered planets remain unoccupied. Traitorous acts are punishable by death.

Determined to suffocate a growing unrest, Supreme Leader KYLO REN has silenced all communication between neighboring systems.

Led by GENERAL LEIA ORGANA, the Resistance has planned a secret mission to prevent their annihilation and forge a path to freedom..."

For all the speculation about what unexpected new plot elements would be introduced in Episode IX in the months leading up to the film's release, this version of the script seems to promise a relatively straightforward film. It sets up the idea that interplanetary communication is going to be a key plot point throughout, but apart from that, it's a pretty basic story.

Much like how you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, you shouldn't judge a Star Wars film by its opening crawl, but from the way Burnett goes on to talk about this script, it seems like it works. Burnett consistently lauds the fact that the story "Doesn't rely on MacGuffins or anything weird," and instead spends its time on the characters.

Rose is part of the team

Duel of the Fates starts with a bang. It opens with an action sequence in the Kuat Shipyards where our heroes are attempting to destroy a fleet of the First Order's Star Destroyers. The way that Robert Burnett describes it, it's a solid opening. The action is thrilling, the dialogue is sharp, but perhaps the most exciting thing of all is that Rose Tico is leading the charge, fighting alongside Rey, Finn, and Poe as a central character in the film.

One of the more common complaints leveled at The Rise of Skywalker is that Rose Tico, one of the principal characters of Episode VIII, was demoted to a minor side character in Episode IX, stuck at the Resistance base with just over a minute of screen time. Writer Chris Terrio claims that he was planning on including more scenes of Rose working at the Resistance base alongside Leia, but that "a few scenes we'd written with Rose and Leia turned out to not meet the standard of photorealism that we'd hoped for," so those scenes were cut.

Regardless of why it happened, it's a tragedy that Rose didn't get to be a bigger part of Episode IX, but it sounds like if Trevorrow's draft had been filmed, she'd have plenty to do all throughout the story. Burnett says, "I hope that Kelly Mary Tran never ever reads this script ever, because Rose Tico is front and center throughout this whole movie, and her character is great as written."

Rey wields a totally new kind of Lightsaber

We've seen a lot of cool lightsabers over the years: Mace Windu's purple one, Count Dooku's curved one, and what many fans consider to be the coolest saber of all time: Darth Maul's double-sided monstrosity. After six films, we thought we'd seen every possible way to attach light blades to a handle, until Kylo Ren's cross-shaped saber showed us that there might be other lightsaber innovations still undiscovered.

Rey, however, had yet to find a unique saber all her own. In Episodes VII and VIII, she was wielding Luke Skywalker's old blade, but at the end of The Last Jedi, Kylo and Rey accidentally destroyed this hand-me-down in a Force tug of war match. Because of this, fans were wondering in the lead up to Episode IX whether or not Rey would finally get a weapon of her own.

In the film that hit theaters, Rey is inexplicably wielding Luke's lightsaber once again after presumably repairing it between films. There's nothing inherently wrong with this development, but compared to what Trevorrow was planning, you'll most likely agree with us that it now seems somewhat underwhelming in retrospect. In Duel of the Fates, Rey makes a new weapon by combining her staff and the two broken halves of Luke's lightsaber into a double-bladed "lightstaff" that can also split into two regular lightsabers. It's a shame we never got to see this weapon, because this superfluously cool design just might have dethroned Maul's as the most awesome weapon in Star Wars.

The Knights of Ren are actual characters

Though our heroes fight valiantly, the opening action sequence of Duel of the Fates ends in failure. When the villainous Admiral Vaughn crosses paths with the team, they are forced to abandon their mission to destroy the Kuat Shipyards and retreat. However, Rey and the gang do manage to achieve a different sort of victory when they escape in a stolen Star Destroyer, full of First Order weaponry and vehicles. Moments later, a ship called the Knife 9 arrives at the shipyards, and a group of mysterious armored figures disembark: the Knights of Ren.

For the first two movies of the new trilogy, the Knights of Ren were alluded to as being Kylo Ren's brethren, but we never really learned who they were or where they came from. They finally got a little screen time in The Rise of Skywalker, but it was somewhat brief, and we didn't learn much about them before they were killed. They didn't even get individual names. Based on Burnett's description, it seems like the Knights of Ren were a bit more fleshed out in Trevorrow's draft. Burnett also drops the name "Nataska Ren" talking about their leader, indicating that these Knights of Ren were, in fact, named onscreen.

After their introduction, the Knights promptly kill Admiral Vaugh for his failure, and vow to track down our heroes. They then continue to be a thorn in the Resistance's side throughout the rest of the film.

Hux is the ruler of Coruscant

Another character who would have had an expanded role in Duel of the Fates, compared to his part in The Rise of Skywalker, is Admiral Hux. In the film as released, Hux is absent for large sections of the story. He is featured prominently in one brief sequence where he is revealed to be a traitor, secretly helping the Resistance to undermine Kylo Ren, but he's killed shortly thereafter by Allegiant General Pryde. However, Burnett indicates that Trevorrow had much larger plans for Hux in his original script.

In Duel of the Fates, Hux has appointed himself "Chancellor Hux," and has created a new citadel for the First Order on a ruined, occupied Coruscant. In his first scene of the film, Hux publicly executes a traitor named Biss Kova with a "light blade guillotine." However, despite Hux's attempts to intimidate the people of Coruscant into submission, there are rumblings of rebellion beneath the surface, which will come back to haunt him later in the story.

Hux then has a meeting with an alliance of alien warlords from various scattered star systems, allies of the First Order who are helping them maintain control of the galaxy. Burnett describes the meeting as being reminiscent of the Death Star conference room scene in "A New Hope," but beyond that we don't get any other information about this alliance of warlords, apart from the fact that one of them is a Weequay, one of Star Wars' more obscure alien species.

Luke is haunting Kylo

As is often the case when old Jedi die, Luke Skywalker appears as a Force ghost in both versions of Episode IX, to help guide Rey when she is at a particularly low moment. But whereas Rey is the only person Luke visits in Rise of Skywalker, Luke also hangs around another young person in need of guidance in Duel of the Fates: Kylo Ren. Throughout the film, as Kylo Ren descends deeper and deeper into darkness, Luke appears as a sort of angel on the boy's shoulder, trying to bring him back to the light.

Whenever Burnett quotes direct dialogue from the script, it's surprisingly good, and the following exchange is no exception. At one point, when Kylo is searching through Darth Vader's old castle on Mustafar, Luke tells Kylo, "This is where the dark path leads. An empty tomb." Kylo responds with the even snarkier line, ""And where did your path lead?" Now that's some top-tier Star Wars dialogue.

The idea that an unwanted Force ghost could hang around someone who wants to be rid of them is certainly an interesting inversion of how Force ghosts have been used in the past. In addition, Luke continuing to haunt Kylo after death could be interpreted as paying off his final line in The Last Jedi, when he tells Kylo, "See you around, kid."

Kylo meets Palpatine's boss

In Darth Vader's old castle, Kylo Ren finds a Sith Holocron, a sort of Force powered computer. On the device is a recording of Emperor Palpatine, telling Darth Vader of Palpatine's last wishes, should he be killed by Luke Skywalker during their final battle: Vader is to take Luke to the planet Remnicor to see Tor Valum, the ancient Sith lord who taught Palpatine. At this point, the Sith Holocron scans Kylo Ren and discovers that he is not Darth Vader, so the device unleashes a blast of red lightning which scars Ren in a manner similar to how Palpatine himself was scarred during Episode III.

Kylo decides to travel to Remnicor and visit Tor Valum, who is described as an ancient spindly Lovecraftian alien that's over 7,000 years old. Based on Burnett's description, we don't get a sense of exactly how big or how humanoid this creature is supposed to be, but it certainly sounds unlike anything we've seen in Star Wars before.

Kylo then trains with Valum, who teaches the young Sith an ancient dark side technique for siphoning the living Force out of other beings to make himself stronger, essentially transforming Kylo into a Force vampire. Valum also tells Kylo Ren of the planet Mortis, which he calls "The well of the Living Force, the source of the galaxy's birth." Kylo wants to go to this planet, to consume its power, but Valum tells his pupil that he isn't worthy yet.

Our heroes find some tech from the Old Republic

As the opening crawl mentions, the central conflict for the majority of Duel of the Fates is about interplanetary communication. Plenty of people across the galaxy hate the First Order, but since this vile dictatorship has blocked all communication, these disparate groups can't contact each other to organize an attack against the First Order's headquarters.

The solution comes when the Resistance discovers a "Force Beacon" that's buried in the ruins of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. It's an ancient device that exists as part of an old forgotten Jedi communication network, it's capable of sending signals to over 50 different inhabited worlds across the galaxy, and it was built during the Old Republic. Fans of the "Knights of the Old Republic" video games know this time period well, but if you're not up to date on your Star Wars chronology, that means this device is over a thousand years old. When asked whether or not it still works, Poe claims that technology built during the Old Republic is more impressive than the newer technology that's been made since.

During the bulk of Act 2, the team is trying to find the Force Beacon so that they can send a signal to their various allies scattered across the galaxy. When they finally locate the device and get it working, they send out a recording of Princess Leia calling on anyone who can hear her voice to join together in a final assault against the First Order's citadel.

A climax to end all climaxes

In standard Star Wars fashion, the climax is a giant multi-front battle on the ground and in the skies. Finn leads a rebellion against the First Order on the streets of Coruscant, alongside a group of other former Stormtroopers who have, like Finn himself, turned traitor. Then Poe, Rose, and the rest of the Resistance join the fight, using stolen Imperial weaponry and AT-ST's that they recovered from their hijacked Star Destroyer. After the Force Beacon is lit, an air battle begins. This is when Lando Calrissian shows up, leading a fleet of smugglers from across the galaxy. One fun side note: during this portion of the fighting, Chewbacca gets a chance to pilot an X-Wing.

In the end, when the First Order begins to lose the battle, Hux retreats to his chambers. There we learn that Hux has a collection of lightsabers, and he has been trying in vain to train himself to be Force sensitive. In his last moments, Admiral Hux kneels, points a lightsaber at his own chest, and ignites it. The rest of the First Order attempts to flee as their headquarters lifts off the surface of Coruscant, revealing that it is also a spaceship. The citadel then attempts to jump to lightspeed, but we then learn that Rose Tico sabotaged their navigation computer, and so instead it flies straight into a nearby planet and explodes.

Rey is a nobody

While the final battle is raging on Coruscant, Rey and Kylo both are also having their final duel on Mortis, for control of the "Well of the Living Force." And while on this planet, due to the high levels of Force energy present on that world, Rey has a vision of the death of her parents, and this brings us to one other huge change in this version of the story.

In The Rise of Skywalker, we learn that Rey is actually the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine, but in Duel of the Fates, this was not the case. Apart from one brief appearance in a hologram, Palpatine isn't even in the film. Rey truly is a nobody. Rey does, however, discover a new wrinkle to her backstory, when her vision shows her that Kylo Ren was the one who killed her parents, on Snoke's orders.

During her final duel with Kylo Ren, Kylo slices Rey across the eyes, blinding her, and she has to fight the second half of the battle using only her Force sensitivity. But even without her eyes, Rey manages to destroy Kylo's lightsaber and sever a couple of his fingers. But then, before she can strike a killing blow, Kylo then starts to drain the life force out of Rey. As he does so, he begins to heal, his missing fingers returning, and the metal mask falling away from his face.

Kylo only gets semi-redeemed

In The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo Ren arguably becomes a genuine hero for the final act of the film. This is not the case in Trevorrow's original draft, where Kylo doesn't show any remorse until his dying moments, and before that, he descends further into darkness than we ever thought possible.

First, Ren destroys Darth Vader's helmet, now believing that Vader was weak for turning to the light at the end of his life. Kylo then makes a new mask for himself, which he purposefully melts into his face, presumably so it can never be removed. Finally, after growing impatient with Tor Valum for not letting him travel to Mortis, Kylo uses his Force vampirism to kill his new master and gain his strength.

Kylo's semi-redemption doesn't come until his last moments. As he is absorbing Rey's life force, Leia, sensing what's happening, reaches out to her son and finally manages to connect to him. As Kylo watches Rey dying at his feet, he realizes that Anakin's love was not his weakness, but his strength. Filled with regret, Ben Solo reverses the flow of the Force energy he had been pulling out of Rey and restores her to life, killing himself in the process.

Obviously a good script does not guarantee a good movie. There are still any number of ways this project could have gone astray before it hit the screen, but if you ask us, Duel of the Fates sounds like a killer Star Wars film.