Sixteen pages into the recently-leaked script for Duel of the Fates–which may or may not be completely fake–an alien is executed by a lightsaber guillotine. Five pages after that, Kylo Ren’s face is violently mutilated by a surge of red lightning. His skin is later scalded with a mask made from burning hot Mandalorian iron. In the end, Rey’s eyes are cauterized and Hux, now a Chancellor of the First Order, commits seppuku with a decorative lightsaber.
Star Wars has had heavy metal vibes before. But this script, whether it’s real or not, feels like it was found bubbling up from the depths of hell. This is like death metal, man. I’m into it.
For weeks now, rumors about the existence of a 2016 draft for Duel of the Fates had been sprouting up all over internet. First there was the script breakdown last month. Then, the leaked concept art–which was verified by Trevorrow himself. After that, screenshots of an actual script began appearing on Twitter and Reddit. The elusive PDF, allegedly, was Colin Trevorrow’s original plan for Episode IX that was abruptly cancelled when Disney fired him in 2017. Or, at least, some semblance of what he had in mind.
Late last week, the PDF was finally shared in full.
We have no way of knowing if this script is legit. And even if it really is an early draft of the project, it’s worth keeping in mind that, at the time, Carrie Fisher was still alive. So, things were inevitably set to change in a pretty big way anyway. But, if you’ve been keeping up with all the leaks, it is kind of hard to believe that this draft is anything but the real deal. The screenwriting is world-class. No offense to fan fiction writers–but this shit is not fan fiction. If it’s a fake, then whomever wrote this has a future in show business.
What makes this Duel of the Fates PDF seem so authentic is how closely it matches up with a lot of the concept art that we’ve already seen. Concept art that, again, was verified by Trevorrow himself.
In the script, the entire galaxy, not just the heroes of the Resistance, has been utterly crushed by the fascist regime of the First Order. Not just dominated. Crushed. Chancellor Hux rules over the world of Star Wars with an iron fist, and unlike the relatively inconsequential “Final Order” we saw in Rise of Skywalker, the new Empire in Duel of the Fates is a real force of devastation. It’s a vision for the final act of the Skywalker saga that feels downright apocalyptic. The same apocalyptic sort of imagery we saw in the leaked batch of concept art from a few weeks ago.
Much of Duel of the Fates takes place on Coruscant, where the First Order has established their stronghold. Finn, Poe, Rey, and Rose Tico–who has a deservedly large role in this version of Episode IX–are operating under cover, attempting to detonate an orbital ring that would bring sure disaster to Hux’s gigantic military operation. Rey begins the film disguised as a Tusken Raider, until she whips out her double-sided blue lightsaber to lead the Resistance as the last Jedi, a hero and inspiration to all.
Kylo Ren, absent from the opening of the film, is on a mission of his own. Just as we saw in the concept art, he’s lurking around Darth Vader’s castle on Mustafar, in search of an ancient well of power from a Sith temple known as “Mortis.” And, again, just as the leaked imagery showed us, he’s being haunted by the ghost of Luke Skywalker. The sequences would have given Mark Hamill a chance to actually show off his range, as he did in Last Jedi. Here’s a portion:
This is where the dark path leads. An empty tomb.
LUKE SKYWALKER’S VOICE. Haunting his nephew like a spirit.
And where did your path lead? You’re a ghost.
I know what you’re searching for, Ben. Your Master promised you strength, but you feel hollow.
Soon I will be more powerful than any Jedi. Even you.
Are you sure?
The two stories converge when Rey discovers Ren’s quest for an unbeatable ancient Sith power–which, by the way, he almost fully attains. Rey goes to stop Ren, who, after being trained by the Sith monster who instructed Emperor Palpatine’s master, has finally gone full Sith Lord, with a Darth Vader mask of his own.
While Rey tracks down Ren–and cuts through the satisfyingly vicious Knights of Ren along the way–Leia and the Resistance concoct a plan to send out a beacon across the galaxy in search for someone, anyone, to come help kill the First Order. The beacon is “analog,” so it’s undetectable by the new Empire’s advanced fleet. And it comes from the bowels of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.
Clearly, this is a very different story than Rise of Skywalker. Better or not, what’s evident on the pages of this unverified text is, the writers, if they really were Trevorrow and Connolly, were prepared to make some choices. Not small choices, like unplugging C-3PO only to bring him back again. Not lightweight moments, like Finn, Rey, and Poe merely hugging at the end, with no sense of what sort of interpersonal relationships transpired between the three of them. Not cop-outs, like making Rey’s parents “no one”…and then the children of the most powerful Sith lord ever. But, real god damn choices.
Finn, for instance, inspires First Order stormtroopers to find something worth fighting for. With his help–and by harnessing his traumatic past–he’s able to turn the tide and preach the good word of the Resistance to his former brothers. It’s a character beat that feels not only satisfying, but necessary. Rise of Skywalker barely gave him anything other than a few exasperated screams.
Poe gets to have his Han Solo moment. The character has always been Solo-adjacent, but in Duel of the Fates, Trevorrow and Connolly have him and Rey in a sort of Empire Strikes Back “will they or won’t they” thing. The script sends the odd couple off together, and the characters get to fulfill their attraction for each other–they make out! Rey and Poe! Can you imagine?
Even Chewie gets his due. Towards the big finale–a starship battle that takes place mostly in the skies of Coruscant (very cool imagery there)–Chewbacca is left without a ship of his own, so he decides to hop into an X-Wing. And he kicks some ass! As he should! The big dude is almost a century old at this point, and he’s been flying since before all of these pilots were born. I want to watch that scene.
But despite its promise, Duel of the Fates doesn’t exactly stick the landing in the end. Whereas Rise of Skywalker had a fairly tidy conclusion, this (alleged) version of the film ends in messy fragments. Rey is blinded by Kylo Ren, who has grown more powerful than any Sith before. She loses. It’s revealed that it was Ren and his Knights who killed Rey’s parents. Before Ren can gain control of the all-encompassing power he’s been seeking throughout the film, he’s confronted by the ghost of Luke Skywalker. While the two of them face off, Rey manages to bring herself back to life. She ties a bandana around her eyes and enters again, this time completely blind–but with the power of all her friends at her side. Somehow. They kind of…hype her up from afar. With the Force. It’s not clear.
But she loses, again. Yeah, the bad guys win a lot in this script. Which is actually pretty satisfying. This time, Leia reaches out to her son, much like how she does in Rise of Skywalker. She manages to force Ren to bring the slain Rey back to health, which kills him in the process. But he dies as Ben Solo, with, as the script says, “a look that could be perceived as love.” He also happens to tell Rey that her last name is “Solana,” as if that means anything to us.
With the help of a massive insurrection from the poorer regions beneath the surface of Coruscant, the Resistance prevails over the First Order. Lando leads a huge brigade of smugglers and pirates to aid them. R2-D2 is fried in a heroic final moment (they fix him up later). The film ends as A New Hope ended. With a medal ceremony. Finn, Poe, and Rose get high honors. Even Chewie finally gets his medal this time. But one person’s missing. After her climactic showdown with Ren, nobody knows if Rey is alive or not.
In the last moments of the film, on a distant planet called “Modesta,” we see Rey Solana, her face fully healed, teaching the next generation of Jedi. The ending reads, “Here she will train a new generation of Jedi and pass down what she has learned–that only an understanding of the balance within can lead to peace and justice in the galaxy.”
It’s unfair to make a comparison between this shady leak and the actual Rise of Skywalker. With Leia playing such a central role in Duel of the Fates, it’s a bit of a fantasy, anyway. A lot of this was going to be overhauled. But what is made extremely clear in this script–leak or not–is that Star Wars is good when there is consequence. We love Empire Strikes Back because the Rebels really fucking lose. That moment between Luke and Darth Vader is so affecting because, well, something actually happens. His hand gets chopped off. His dreams of his parents come crashing down. He falls out of an airshaft into space.
J.J. Abrams didn’t have the courage to kill off a single main character in Rise of Skywalker, aside from the villain who had already been dead for so many years, and Ben Solo, who had been irredeemable from the start. This Duel of the Fates screenplay is so fun to read because it’s adventurous. It’s weird. It’s dark. It’s metal. But above all–it’s conclusive. That’s something Rise of Skywalker just never managed to be.