As both a licensed Star Wars nerd and an unlicensed Story Doctor, I am somewhat fascinated with the question of, “What would I have done differently?” Now that the sequel trilogy (heretofore referred to as “the ST”) is over, I’m driven specifically to that span of films — what would I do if I magically got control of making these three movies from the beginning?
Let’s first and foremost note that I don’t mean, “What would I do to fix them?” because I don’t consider them broken. I like the ST movies a whole damn bunch, and do not consider the trilogy broken. But as a person who writes books for a living, I also recognize that we as storytellers put our own heart stamp on the tales we tell (at least, if we’re telling them right and true), and so I wonder then what would my version of the ST look like?
Why me? Well, I’m a jabroni with a blog, and I am allowed to just say stuff here. But I’m also a jabroni who has — and here you’ll need to excuse the not-so-humble flex — written a whole damn Star Wars trilogy himself, and there aren’t a lot of people who have done that. And I wrote the Marvel adaptation of the film, so I mean, I’m uniquely qualified.*
*not actually qualified, just a nerd
So, fuck it, let’s do this.
Mission Statement, and Caveats
Let’s start off with a massive lack of bravery (and work) on my part and say, I like the ST in its current iteration enough that, honestly, I’d keep most of it. Rey, Finn and Poe are my godsdamn favorites, and I wouldn’t ever want to lose them. They are a darling basket of warm cinnamon buns and don’t you dare touch them. Same with Kylo! And Rose! So, the goal is to keep the relative framework of these films, but see where I’d diverge. If we’re talking about creating a whole new sequel trilogy out of thin air — well, I’d need to get a paycheck for that kind of intellectual heavy lifting. *clears throat*
Final caveat here is that, and I hate I have to say this, but *turns on megaphone* THIS IS ALL JUST ONE JABRONI’S OPINION, I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER RETCONNING THIS FILM, YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE MAD AT ME.
I’m not trying to rile anybody up, ease off the throttle.
So, let’s take this film by film, see what I’d keep, tweak, and where we diverge.
We begin with:
The Force Awakens
I totally love this movie. Unironically, unabashedly, I love it. It’s both a love letter to Star Wars and also an endeavor to use a familiar formula in a new way (that also helps re-center characters who are not, for instance, handsome white boys, Kylo excepted). It’s great. Like Return of the Jedi, I can re-watch this movie endlessly, and just not care about whatever is wrong with it. But, just the same, I have changes, because I am a Star Wars fan, and Star Wars fans have Star Wars opinions.
Here’s what I’d change:
It’s too fast, so I’d expand the timeline out a little.
I’ll write a longer, larger post at some point about how modern blockbusters have forsaken breathing room in their narrative for breathless plotting — and TFA falls right into that trap. Outside of Rey’s one instance of getting some sleep, the movie feels like it takes place in the span of its own running time, like an episode of 24, but in space. It feels hasty as shit. (A problem that tROS accelerates, especially in the first half of its running time.)
Why is this? I dunno. I think filmmakers feel like this will create urgency, but all it does it become a rhythmless din of noise and event. It used to be that, because resources were limited and CGI didn’t exist, you had to do a lot with a little. Which meant every scene couldn’t be WHIZ BANG BOOM, you had to… you know, actually have characters just sit around somewhere and talk. Like in Jaws, sometimes the shark breaks, and you learn that less is definitely more.
It offers the added value of letting us get to know the characters. And they’re why we come to the movies. We want to know who they are. We want to see them play off one another. We want to deepen our relationship with them as they deepen their relationships with one another. Just throwing automatons into danger again and again isn’t exciting, because we don’t give one cold fuck about a bunch of automatons. I’m not suggesting this film has that exact problem — it gives us reason to care enough. But it also shortcuts that journey a little.
So, here’s what we (read: I) do.
Halfway through the film. Finn has “rescued” Rey by which I mean, Rey has mostly rescued Finn. First Order attack. “The garbage will do!”
Finn and Rey steal the Falcon. They blast their way free, through the Ravager —
But from there they don’t go right into space. They hunker down somewhere on Jakku — somewhere Rey thinks is safe. Hiding from First Order patrols whizzing overhead, etc. The hunters are closing in. They know their time is dwindling. They’ll get found. But they can’t just escape, either. Remember: there’s supposed to be a goddamn blockade, but somehow in the film it gets relegated to like, one star destroyer? And despite them being in a known ship when they leave Jakku — literally nobody from the First Order is there in space waiting for them.
So, they stay on Jakku.
And that’s when Solo and Chewie track them there.
This is gonna cut the Rathtar business — it’s a fun scene, and I’m loathe to cut a franchise-appropriate creature scene (see: trash compactor, space worm, rancor), but it just doesn’t feel essential. Yes, the Rathtar bullshit gives us the sense that Solo is still a smuggler, back to his old ways, but there’s another way we can earn that.
Solo and Chewie show up and say, hey, yeah, we’re stealing the Falcon back. Finn and Rey decide to go with (because they gotta escape the First Order and also, c’mon, it’s Han Motherfucking Solo), but that still means escaping a First Order blockade. One of Solo’s great skills is blockade running, so let’s see it — a return to form. And then let’s complicate it further — as the Falcon blasts into space, Ren senses the ship. And also jumping into frame are the Guavian Death Gang and Kanjiklub, both attracted by seeing a Falcon ping on their Plot-Convenient Space Radars. So, you get a crazy space battle as they have to stunt-fly the Falcon through the chaos, playing the three separate forces off one another so they shoot each other instead. Meanwhile, Hyperdrive isn’t working, so Rey has to help fix that, still showing off her mechanical skills. (If we want her pilot skills shown off, maybe Chewie mans guns as she helps get the hyperdrive compressor working, showing off skills in two directions — co-piloting the ship and keeping it running.) Shit, maybe Unkar Plutt comes after them here instead of later (per deleted scenes), gets blasted out of the sky.
Just as Kylo Ren is about to descend upon the Falcon, they leap to hyperspace.
And then — we let that play out.
They don’t just leap to the next system.
The talk that Han gives her — “Hey, you’re good in a fight, join my crew?”
In this version, she takes him up on that offer. She says yes. See, TFA wants to set up this dichotomy where both Kylo and her consider Solo a father figure, but it lends the story no time to believably achieve that. (This isn’t new to Star Wars. Ben Kenobi is super-important to Luke, but their time in training consists of one scene with that little dickhead laser-bauble.) We need Rey to have a real relationship with Han Solo — so he becomes a proxy father figure. This is, in a sense, part of her journey, right? Realizing she doesn’t need whoever abandoned her on Jakku first, and relying on Found Family — and then also eventually coming to terms she doesn’t necessarily “need” them either, she needs herself. (Not in a way that diminishes her friends, but in a way that empowers herself as a singular being in the galaxy. With family by choice, not by reliance.)
So. Rey and Finn join his crew. BB-8 has important information, sure, and it needs to get to the Resistance — but remember, Finn is pretending to be a Resistance agent. And he likes Rey. (It’s unclear in TFA how much of this is that he like-likes her, but in this, we’d make that more explicit. More on this at the end of the post.) Further, Rey just wants to go back to Jakku soon as she has the chance. Either choice — they go find the Resistance base, they go back to Jakku — likely ends Finn’s journey, and it takes him away from Rey. So, he convinces her to stay with the crew. Go on a few adventures. And it’s not like Han wants to go to the Resistance, either. (More on that in a few.) That way, Finn gets to not be a stormtrooper and continue the illusion that he’s… somebody, a Resistance agent, a smuggler, anybody at all but the unnamed soldier.
(Here we get to the heart of a lot of this trilogy: people trying to figure out who they are, and where they belong. It’s a beautiful thing. And as true a story as any, in terms of a story we all understand.)
Now, we don’t need to see them go on a bunch of missions with Han Solo. (Though a montage would be doable, I guess.) We just need to move the needle forward in time. We need to see them come out of hyperspace, going to Maz Kanata’s castle, with the sense that they’ve had some adventures. Weeks. Months. Whatever. New outfits, a new rapport, some mild drama and conflict between the “crew,” and so on. Stretch out the narrative. Just make it a little more lived in. And we also know that Han’s onto Finn (“Big Deal”). Maybe BB-8 is getting antsy, and someone gets the droid to spill what he’s carrying (leading to the “It’s true, all of it,” scene with Han talking about Luke).
Point is, they still get to go to Maz’s place, and with minimal narrative rejiggering, you’ve created a whole different impact while keeping structure relatively the same. We can have a moment of quiet contemplation still where Rey regards so much green in the galaxy (play it out like the opposite of Luke regarding the twin suns of Tatooine, because there he’s regarding a galaxy he yearns yet to see, and here she’s regarding a galaxy she didn’t know existed). Then it… roughly works out the same. The one obvious difference is that I don’t think you can have Finn bailing for the same reason of theoretical cowardice — I think it’s more that he knows the adventure is about at its end, Rey and BB-8 will go on without him, and he doesn’t know what to do.
I’m torn on this, but fuck it, this is all theoretical — I think I’d like to see Poe’s return to the world play out on screen. His escape from Jakku could even coincide with the Falcon leaving the planet, seeing it fly overhead. I don’t think it needs to be like, 20 minutes of screentime — but a short bit of him crawling his way into Niima Outpost or some shit.
I say this because the reveal he’s alive in TFA feels less plotted as a “reveal” and more accidental, like we weren’t ever supposed to think he was dead in the first place.
(Which is likely accurate, since Poe was supposed to die, initially.)
That Dipshit Map
I don’t know why, but JJ Abrams loves himself a fetch quest. Find the droid, the map, the girl, find the Sith wayfinder, the saber, the Cosmic Porg, the whatever. It’s less mythic and more video game? Less Campbell and more Kojima.
It’s MacGuffins all the way down.
So: let’s talk about the “map” to find Luke.
Now, it’s not all video-gamey — there is something to a “treasure map” that’s intriguing here, but it just doesn’t make a lick of sense. That’s not a huge knock against Star Wars, because a lot of Star Wars… enh, doesn’t make a huge lick of sense. But this feels really unsound, especially since we’ve never really cared much before about “maps” in this galaxy. We care about planets and coordinates, and that’s easy enough, isn’t it? In Star Wars-ian terms, we know the galaxy is home to hundreds, maybe thousands of planets, and Luke Skywalker has gone to one of them, and we don’t know which one. Thassit. Easy. But he’s left behind the coordinates with one man, Max Von Sydow (shut up, I prefer to believe Max Von Sydow is the actual character, because honestly that’s a pretty Star Warsy name). So, when they finally get to the Resistance Base on D’Qar, they think, “We can go get Luke!”
But, turns out, the data is encoded. It’s gibberish. Locked behind a cipher.
And who has the key to that cipher? Artoo.
This also prevents us from having Artoo be nebulously “dormant,” which further prevents Threepio’s weird “As you know, BB-8” scene. (Sidenote: I petition all writing advice to refer to expository dialogue infodumps not as “As You Know, Bob” scenes, but rather, “As You Know, BB-8” scenes, please and thank you.)
Also, Why Don’t They Evacuate D’Qar?
Why don’t the Resistance fighters on D’Qar evacuate the base? They know they’re being targeted by BOMBAD DESTRUCTION from Starkiller Base, right? And yet they’re all like, “Gosh, I hope it doesn’t happen” instead of like, just running to spaceships and being like, “welp, fuck this shit, we out.” In Empire Strikes Back, the Hoth base isn’t in the sights of the Empire and they… evacuate. I guess there’s an argument here as to why they don’t evacuate Yavin IV in A New Hope, but I’d argue there it’s because the GIANT DEATH MOON is coming at you like a big laser-faced Pac-Man. Where you gonna go? Anyway. In my TFA, they simultaneously mount an evacuation while sending the rest of their forces to attack Starkiller.
(And yes, we keep Starkiller. Is it stupid that there’s DEATH STAR TRIPLE XXXTREME? Sure. But the First Order are Empire fanboys, and even in real life, mankind seems ever more interested in huge, nation-killing weapons.)
Clarity of Opposition
I’d also do a little work to establish what the First Order and the Resistance actually are — it’s never made super clear, and I’d clarify that the First Order is basically a rogue nation. Fascist Imperial fanboys who have glommed onto old Imperial tech and forbidden brainwashing techniques to bolster their forces (and this presages a bit of the Palpatine stuff, because, how’d they get all this shit?). Use the Crawl maybe and a few worldbuilding lines remind us that the New Republic has locked down the galaxy’s core, but its edges are wild fuckin’ space, man, full of rogue nations and criminal enterprises and they’re all jockeying for power. First Order has that power. They’re not the old Soviet Union or Nazi Germany or even the Roman Empire — they’re somewhere between North Korea and an American militia, politically speaking. Been trying to get a superweapon, now they have one.
The Resistance operates in the shadow of the New Republic — an “unauthorized” A-Team of problem solvers who push back these rogue nations in an effort to protect worlds the New Republic can’t get support for in the Senate. They lead literal resistance movements around the galaxy — a seed planting as far back as The Clone Wars cartoon, and carried on in Aftermath. It would explain why they’re such a small fighting force — because they explicitly aren’t a rebellion. They train rebellions, something Leia is, and has been, good at. It’s also why they don’t have tons of support in the galaxy — they have some allies, but they’re not some massive galaxy-wide presence. They’re small, nimble, and leave few fingerprints. Get these pole positions right and it clarifies the “geopolitical” landscape of the films a bit more, I think.
The Lightsaber Dream
What if…? (That’s what this post is, in a lot of ways — a big bag of what ifs.) What if, when Rey was having her lightsaber dream, and she sees Kylo out there — he sees her, too? It establishes the first Force link between them. Just a touch. Maybe that’s what brings the First Order to Maz’s castle…
Han & Leia
The story needs to commit to their fracture. As it plays out, it feels dramatically weak — they seem to love each other, they’re just off doing shit away from one another. Commit to it, and actually have their son’s radicalization by Snoke be a breaking point. They had some blow-up, blow-out, and it broke them apart. Haven’t seen each other for some amount of time. It makes sense — the two of them run hot. They’re Hulk and Thor, two fires that fire together. We don’t want to infer Ben Solo came from a dysfunctional family (though perhaps a really busy one), but rather, that his fall to the dark side made them dysfunctional. Because it should.
The value-add here is that it gives us a chance to get Han and Leia back together — and in a way that’s a bit more romantic than the weird fatherly hug he gives her at the end? A call back to the I Love You / I Know scene, maybe, or just, like, they figure it out. They fall back in love, or realize they were never out of it. They crash back together like two celestial bodies. (Not inferring they make sexy-times in the Falcon refresher, to be clear.) But we definitely want that sense of two of our series’ epic heroes finding each other again. More than a gee-shucks nostalgia reunion.
Love Is Love Is Love
Here is the big one. One that has ramifications beyond this movie.
So. These films seem to stridently try to avoid most romantic entanglements. Right? Even Han and Leia’s romance now just seems soft, like old fruit. Part of me thinks this is because romance in these genres can be awfully tropey — ahh, of course there is a WOMAN and a MAN and they are gonna ROMANCE EACH OTHER. Something something destiny, just make out already, you hornballs.
Except… the tropey part of it is also a part I like. Though the romance in the prequel trilogy feels awfully strained, it’s still essential to the core of that story. And it should be essential to the core of this one, too. These films are space operas. Operas are… about drama, and conflict, and not just about BIG DAMN SPACE CONFLICTS but more about the relationships between characters. Love and hate and jealousy and friendship. The ST does well with friendship, and… not much else.
In TFA, then, the biggest change is yet a subtle one, and one that is already almost there — you gotta start planting seeds that these characters are gonna fall in love with each other. And I say “these characters” because I mean, all of them. The scope of the changes I’d make would be to put in play a love-triangle that becomes a love rhombus that becomes a love pentagram that becomes, I dunno, some kind of midichlorian fuck-pile. Or cuddle-kissy-pile. It is PG-13, after all.
This one sets up Finn being in love with Rey. (Suggested above, this romantic interesting beind why he doesn’t want to go back to Jakku or to D’Qar.)
It also sets him and Poe being a thing. They have chemistry. They flirt. It’s there already.
Rey needs to meet Poe, too, at the end of all this. Not at the end of TLJ. But here and now. (It doesn’t really add up that she never meets him, so put that shit on screen.)
Eventually, it factors in Rose and Kylo — AND PALPATINE HIMSELF okay lol no, not that one. Ew. *hurrk* Sorry. I went too far. But seriously: friendships are nice, and yay friendships, but these are young adults in a rough, raw galaxy, and sometimes the spark isn’t just about the rebellion, y’know? SOMETIMES IT’S ABOUT A SPARK IN YOUR SPACE PANTS. Also, your space heart. *audience awwws collectively*
And That’s It
Not much else to change here, I don’t think. Han still dies. Phasma still gives up Starkiller Base. It’s a good movie, it holds together, it’s a lot of fun. Again, were I doing a *total rewrite* I might do some stuff really different — it’d be all new characters, Snap Wexley and Mister Bones would be major protagonists, there’d probably be a sexy robot? I’d make changes. But again, going with the raw material of the film as-is, these are the changes I’d make. Probably. Ask me tomorrow, I’d probably change my mind. This shit ain’t math. It’s space math, and space math is some flyboy stuntwork.
Remember, too: Star Wars is junk.
Soon: my re-do of The Last Jedi.
RELEASE THE WENDIG CUT**
** there is no Wendig Cut***
*** there also isn’t likely a JJ Cut, or a Snyder Cut, or whatever, shut up