AS A CERTAIN SWAMP dwelling Jedi Master once taught us, “Always in motion is the future.” But in Hollywood the past is equally in a state of flux. Every completed film trails countless possibilities behind it: discarded drafts of screenplays; abandoned storytelling choices; dead end plot avenues; characters and scenes that are tweaked, reshaped or deleted. Movies are built on the backs of what-ifs and might-have-beens. The ghosts of the great unmade haunt the screen, concealed between the frames of the final product.
“For me, it becomes an obsession with what could have been,” says Stephen Scarlata, co-host of the Best Movies Never Made podcast and producer of Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary on the cult filmmaker’s attempt to bring Frank Herbert’s epic SF novel to the screen. “I just need to know everything and put it together, the best I can in my head. It’s that mystery and how it would have shaped the landscape of cinema.”
About this time last year an alternate vision for Star Wars Episode IX tumbled through a crack in hyperspace. Jurassic World writer/ director Colin Trevorrow was Lucasfilm’s original choice to land the ending of the trilogy of trilogies. Collaborating with Derek Connolly (Jurassic World, Kong: Skull Island), he delivered a draft of the screenplay in December 2016, only to leave the project by September 2017, replaced by JJ Abrams.
Trevorrow’s exit was covered by that catch-all movie industry smokescreen: creative differences. “Colin was at a huge disadvantage not having been a part of Force Awakens and in part of those early conversations because we had a general sense of where the story was going,” Lucasfilm supremo Kathleen Kennedy told io9 in December 2019. “Like any development process, it was only in the development that we’re looking at a first draft and realising that it was perhaps heading in a direction that many of us didn’t feel was really quite where we wanted it to go.”
Some said the bruising critical response to Trevorrow’s family drama The Book Of Henry – released June 2017 – contributed to him departing that galaxy far, far away. “I can’t really speculate on it,” he stated a year later. It’s clear, however, that the decision was wounding, the forcible amputation of a passion project. A lifelong Star Wars fan, he described the experience as “a very personal loss.”
In February 2020 what was claimed to be Trevorrow and Connolly’s screenplay finally found its way online, posted by a Bothan spy on a Star Wars subreddit. Purported concept art followed, its legitimacy soon verified by Trevorrow himself. Kylo locked blazing lightsabers with Darth Vader; Threepio cradled a seemingly mortally damaged Artoo; Chewbacca seized a Knight of Ren by the throat. These images were true splinters of the mind’s eye, the closest any of that unmade, built-to-be-imagined draft would come to concrete reality.
UNMADE STAR WARS!
SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE
If Star Wars had been a middling hit George Lucas planned a thrifty sequel. Alan Dean Foster – ghost-writer of the first film’s novelisation – was commissioned to write a book that could be brought to the screen with minimum effects spectacle and no place for an unsigned Harrison Ford. “Make it work as a Sergio Leone Western,” Lucas instructed – but Luke and Leia’s quest for a Force-channeling artefact has a prophetic touch of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, too. Set on the fog-wreathed world of Mimban, finally visualised in 2018’s Solo, Splinter climaxes with Leia battling Vader with a lightsaber and sees Luke slicing off the Dark Lord’s arm, echoing Ben Kenobi’s badass move in the Mos Eisley cantina. Its central MacGuffin of the Kaiburr crystal was later folded into Star Wars canon. And Mimban, with its swampy environs, feels like a practice run for Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back.
Dated 16 December 2016, the screenplay for Duel Of The Fates offers a tantalising counterpoint to The Rise Of Skywalker. There’s already an invocatory power in the choice of title – that was the name John Williams gave to the thrilling, choral-led piece that scored the showdown between Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn, a sequence that always gleamed amidst the wreckage of disappointment that was The Phantom Menace.
“The moment I heard Duel Of The Fates, I was into it,” Stephen Scarlata tells SFX. “It had a much bigger impact on me compared to hearing the title The Rise Of Skywalker.”
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