Writing exercise: coming up with an alternative Star Wars sequel trilogy
So it’s over. The nine Star Wars films that make up the ‘Skywalker saga’ have finally concluded with the latest instalment, The Rise of Skywalker, and overall the reaction has been somewhat mixed. After a perfectly decent (if derivative) soft reboot with Episode VII, Episode VIII divided fans due to the direction it chose to take the story, while Episode IX seemed to be attempting to ‘put things right’ so much, many felt it suffered from immersion-breaking levels of retconning and gaping plot-holes as a result.
The internet is awash with reviews of The Rise of Skywalker at the moment, and as I’m not really sure what I can add to the conversation about what did and didn’t work about the latest film, I’m not going to bother reviewing it as well. Instead, I thought it would be a good writing exercise to think about how I would have approached making the Star Wars sequel trilogy differently, taking all the strands and characters from the original trilogy and letting them play out across a storyline of my own creation. So here’s what I would have done, starting with…
Star Wars Episode VII: A New Fear
The first film in this new trilogy would be set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, with a married Leia and Han preparing for a memorial ceremony for those that lost their lives at the Battle of Endor, which Leia is hosting on Coruscant in her capacity as the long-running elected leader of a new galactic government. Through this ceremony, new fans would be on-boarded with the lore and events of the previous films (very important after a long break since Episode VI), and we would learn about the many new alliances and political relationships that have established themselves since then.
The ceremony would be interspersed with scenes establishing the fate of the old Empire – the military fleet is in the process of being dismantled, senior officers were put on trial and sentenced to life imprisonment on a high-security exile planet, and lower-grade staff (many of whom were either clone troops or forced to join the Imperial Navy against their will) have been pardoned and re-integrated into society. However, not all the senior Imperials were captured – many changed their identities and disappeared, and Leia’s intelligence network believe they have become sleeper-agents; dormant loyalists to the Emperor waiting for a supposedly prophesised event that will give the Empire an opportunity to rise again. But with the Emperor dead and the galaxy entering an era of peace, what could this event possibly be?
The Endor memorial ceremony would show how Leia has grown to be a strong, experienced political leader, and how Han, as an ex-smuggler, has found he has a knack for his own special brand of diplomacy, using his connections and charm to forge alliances with the criminal underworld, brokering peace treaties with systems that might have traditionally been somewhat unsavoury. From the representatives of the different star systems we meet at the ceremony, the audience would quickly understand the geography of the Star Wars universe (something I always felt would benefit from being better established), the scale of the new government, and the fragility of some of the treaties (particularly with some of the shadier systems Han has dealings with.)
The ceremony would show what a great team Han and Leia are, and make the audience appreciate what they have built together since the Empire was defeated (this is also important, as it establishes what is now at stake). However – there would also be rumblings that some people are unhappy that Leia has been in power for so long, and feel a change of leadership would not be unwelcome. Leia understands this perspective, but is also conflicted about stepping down – although she knows she is getting old, she still feels very protective over what she has built and is not ready to hand it over to someone else (or at least, she has not yet met the person she feels she could trust to take over).
It is at this point the audience would be introduced to the sequel trilogy’s new villain – a female Imperial Admiral in her late 60’s, in command of a single, old-fashioned Star Destroyer. It would transpire that this Admiral was sent on a top-secret mission to the far reaches of the galaxy by the Emperor, years before the Empire collapsed (sometime in-between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), and has only just returned. She is shocked to discover that the Emperor is dead and a new government is in place, however her mission has been a success, and she has come back with the very thing the Emperor sent her to find – something that would have crushed anyone who stood in the Empire’s way, and something she knows she can use to tip the balance back in the Empire’s favour. Learning of the heavily-defended exile planet where many Imperials are being held prisoner and the old fleet is slowly being dismantled in its orbit, she sets a course for that system with a plan to free everyone. But with just one Star Destroyer under her command, how on Earth does she intend to do this? Just what did she discover on her secret mission that gives her the confidence to take on a seemingly more powerful opponent?
Meanwhile, the audience would catch up with Luke, and see that he has established a Jedi Academy on an uninhabited jungle planet in the outer rim. Over the last 30 years he has been training a new generation in the ways of the force, with the hope of creating a new Jedi order. This includes Han and Leia’s son Ben, who has been particularly adept as a force-user ever since he was a child. However, it transpires that Ben has recently been having issues controlling his power for some unknown reason, at times being cut off from the force completely, or not being able to yield it as he wishes. On the day of the Endor ceremony, Ben has a vision that something terrible is about to happen, something that may even change the nature of the force forever. He tries to warn Luke, however his Master senses nothing and fears that this ‘vision’ is another symptom of the issues his apprentice is having using the force. He suggests Ben takes a break from his training and fly back to spend time with his mother and father, so Ben sets off in the Millennium Falcon (which he has borrowed from his dad, as you do) to recuperate.
After the Endor Ceremony on Coruscant, the audience would witness the day-to-day running of the new galactic government, as well as some of the political complexities that Leia has to deal with as leader, with different factions attempting to pursue their own agendas. (For example, Leia may be attempting to pass a law banning slavery, but certain planets Han has set fragile treaties up with fear their economies will collapse and are trying to weaken the legislation). Leia is desperate to improve the rights that the Empire eroded away, but she is also conflicted, as she recognises the need for democracy to accommodate different views.
Meanwhile, during his flight back to Coruscant, Ben has another force-vision, compelling him to pull the Falcon out of hyperspace and investigate a massive disturbance he has sensed in the force. He receives a distress call and finds himself flying to the exile planet where the Imperials are being held prisoner. However, when he arrives, the planet and its defensive fleet have been totally devastated, and hundreds of thousands of Imperial officers and other dangerous prisoners are gone. He also notices a large number of Imperial capital ships that were in the process of being dismantled in orbit are missing, including a Super Star Destroyer. Upon landing on the planet, he rescues a sole survivor – a girl in her early 20s called Rey. Rey says she worked at the prison as a security guard, though Ben’s issues with using the force mean he is unable to determine if she is telling the truth or not. As they attempt to flee the planet, more Star Destroyers (crewed by freed prisoners) start up out of the mothballed fleet and attempt to catch them. Here you could have a cool chase through a ship graveyard in space, which the Falcon would eventually escape through and enter hyperspace back to Coruscant. Because you gotta have some action in Star Wars.
The Admiral’s next stop is Luke’s Jedi Academy (the existence of which she learns from the staff on the exile planet, some of whom are captive on her ship), and she arrives in her Star Destroyer accompanied by a few of the other Imperial ships she liberated. She leads a platoon of Stormtroopers to attack the Academy, and whilst Luke and his apprentices are able to put up a valiant defence for a while, eventually they are overwhelmed. In fact, Luke’s attempts to use the force begin to fail, much to his horror and surprise. With the Jedi mysteriously subdued, the Admiral meets Luke, as she is still saddened by the Emperor’s death and wants to confront the man responsible for killing him. At this point the force ghost of Anakin appears and reveals it was he who threw the Emperor to his death on the second Death Star. The Admiral is furious and responds by doing something that stuns Luke – with a movement of her hand, she is actually able to inflict pain on Anakin’s force ghost, bringing him to his knees! The Admiral sees the shock on Luke’s face at this ability and smiles, telling him that whatever powers the Sith or Jedi ever thought they had over the force are nothing compared to what she is now capable of. She takes Luke prisoner, decimates the Jedi Academy from orbit, and heads for Coruscant.
Ben and Rey arrive back at Coruscant and rush to warn Leia and Han about the attack on the exile planet, only to discover Leia is in a massive senate session and cannot be reached. During a heated argument in the senate between Leia and the leader of a disgruntled planet objecting to a piece of legislation she is trying to pass, a number of representatives from different regions of the galaxy are force-strangled in their seats and die. Later investigations into this mass-assassination reveal that all of those who died were from systems that had issues Leia’s role as Galactic leader, and had been campaigning for her to step down.
At this moment, the Admiral arrives in orbit around Coruscant accompanied by a few ships reclaimed from the exile planet, and broadcasts a planet-wide message saying she has uncovered a conspiracy by the Skywalkers to use the dark side of the force to rule the galaxy as they see fit. She explains she has Luke in custody, and refers to the mission the Emperor sent her on, saying she has come back with something to end the tyranny that force-users have been able to exert on the rest of the galaxy until now. This accusation, coupled with the fact that Leia is known to be a powerful force user, make Leia the primary suspect for the murders, and the situation is not helped by a number of dignitaries and influential people across the senate who quickly take the Admiral’s side. (Leia begins to suspect that these people may be those gone-to-ground Imperial agents her spies warned her about.) Leia protests her innocence but agrees to be taken into custody until the truth is uncovered. Although not under suspicion, Han refuses to leave her side and goes with her.
We would then have a prison-break set-piece, with Ben and Rey breaking Han and Leia out of their prison on Coruscant. In the end, Leia chooses to stay behind to attempt to maintain some degree of influence over the government whilst fighting the charges against her but insists Han escapes with Ben and Rey so they can learn more about what is going on at a safe distance and formulate a plan to take on the Admiral. As they leave, they see Leia being put on board a ship to be taken to the Admiral’s Star Destroyer. They attempt to intercept the ship but are chased by other Imperial fighters, so Han begins to calculate Hyperspace co-ordinates for them to escape.
Meanwhile, on board the Admiral’s Star Destroyer, Luke attempts to mount his own escape from his ‘quarters’ (basically a large prison cell with a window), though he is still hampered by his lack of force powers, which is distressing him. He calls out to Obi Wan and Yoda but they do not reply. He suspects the visions Ben was having and the issues he was having with the force actually point to a very special ability Han and Leia’s son may have in foreseeing and perhaps combating this new dimension the force has taken on, and laments not realising this sooner.
Suddenly, he senses his force powers return and uses them to escape his cell and investigate the ship. He discovers a room secluded in the middle of the Star Destroyer where he overhears the Admiral having a conversation with a strange apparition; a conversation he can only perceive by stretching his force-perception to its limit. The tone of the conversation suggests some sort of disagreement is taking place, but before he can discern any more information, the Admiral notices him and ends her conversation. The moment she does this, Luke loses his force powers again and is taken back to his quarters.
When he arrives back in his room, he finds Leia there as well. She is looking desperately out of the window at the fighters chasing the Millennium Falcon, and other Star Destroyers firing at the ship. As they watch it take heavy damage before finally escaping into hyperspace, Luke puts his arm round Leia’s shoulder and they stare into the empty void in front of them, ending the film with a shot mirroring the ending of The Empire Strikes Back.
So there you go – as I say, I just wanted to have a bit of fun with this a writing exercise, so I hope you enjoyed it. But what will happen next? Are Han, Ben and Rey alright, and will they be able to rescue Luke and Leia? How does this mysterious Admiral have such an unnatural control over the force? What/Who was that mysterious apparition she was talking to? And what is so special about Ben? Find out more in my alternative Star Wars Episode VIII, coming soon-ish!