In case it’s not evident, I’m a huge pop culture nerd. Growing up as a teen in the 1980s and aspiring to write, I had a writing bucket list – and, tragically, it still exists today. I’d love to write features for DC superheroes, such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman; I’d love to write a James Bond movie; I would love to create a Star Trek series; and I would love to write a Star Wars movie. (Even more tragically, this is not a comprehensive list.)
In the early 1990s, I wrote some of this as fan fiction. I probably actually wrote too much, given I had no avenues to pursue to realise those visions. But I believe writing fan fiction is a good exercise in teaching a writer about characterisation, pacing, tone, and structural parameters, because all that stuff already exists within that property, and you need to fit in it and make your story work.
In about 1990 or 1991, I did handwrite a Star Wars feature that would’ve taken place as Episode VII. Lots of it is rough, but I did have a general overview of the way the trilogy would work. I also wrote my draft before the Prequels came out, and before I’d read any of the Star Wars books that continued the Original Trilogy story.
My opening scene had an Imperial ship fleeing a New Republic battlecruiser. This was meant to literally mirror the beginning of A New Hope, where an Imperial ship pursues a Rebellion freighter. But now the dynamics are polarised: the New Republic is in power, and the remnants of the Empire are in tatters. Just with that one shot, we show how things have changed.
The New Republic ship captures the Imperial freighter and boards it. They’re looking for information – the whereabouts of the new imperial leader. Stormtroopers in dishevelled armour line up in a corridor, their firepower concentrated on a door. The door blows and we see the silhouette of a figure – at the time it was Han. I’d now make it Leia. Again, this is a mirror of A New Hope, where Darth Vader appears.
I’ll start describing things in broader strokes now, as I don’t remember every detail of that screenplay. But I do remember the gist.
Mystery surrounds the new leader of the Empire. There have been other aspirants, but they’ve been murdered in coups. This one is different. He’s eliminating the competition. The dregs are flocking to him. What’s left of the Empire is finding order around him. He represents a genuine threat to the fledgling New Republic. He has to be stopped before the fallen Empire is given new hope.
The New Republic gain leads. Rumour has it that the new leader is learned in the Force. They pass this information onto Luke, now training Jedi apprentices on Dagobah. Luke takes his apprentices and investigates. (He’d have a favourite apprentice, who I had as Wedge Antilles’ niece, Echo.) They learn of a single Stormtrooper who rose up – a charismatic figure who united the tattered Imperial forces behind him. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll call this Stormtrooper Bob.
As Luke investigates he is repeatedly tested, and is constantly pushed to use his Force abilities. At the end of the story, Han (who’d be like a Fleet commander) and Leia (who’d be in charge of the New Republic) learn of a location where the Imperials are regrouping. They take the Millennium Falcon – now repaired, so it’s in peak condition – and with Luke and his apprentices go to reconnoiter. They’re expecting a rag-tag group, so they’re really thinking they’ll just duck in and duck out. (Han’s and Leia’s jobs now would also be bureaucratic, so they’re also eager for a bit of adventure.)
But it’s a trap. What they find is a new Death Star under construction (although it would’ve been a really cool shape, like hexagonal) and Imperial ships waiting. The Empire’s redevelopment is much further advanced than they anticipated. The Death Star transmits to the Falcon, demanding their surrender. There is some sort of visual transmission, where Luke and the others get their first sight of Bob: he’s just a normal-looking guy. But behind him is Darth Vader.
Luke is shocked to see Vader; Luke feels whoever’s in Vader’s suit is familiar, but it’s most definitely not Anakin. Leia declines to surrender. The Imperials attack the Millennium Falcon and batter the crap out of it, knocking out its engines. Han and Chewbacca try to restore the engines as a Star Destroyer comes in to lock on a tractor beam. Luke closes his eyes and concentrates.
(Cue music beginning softly, subtly, and building up.)
The Falcon begins to move. It builds up speed, manoeuvring brilliantly. Luke points at the gun turrets and they fire, destroying TIE fighters. Han asks for more time to get the hyperdrive back online. The Falcon continues to weave in and out of the Imperial fleet, wreaking havoc. It then jumps to hyperspace and escapes.
Back at the New Republic, Luke explains it can’t be Vader, and that the sense of Bob’s Force powers isn’t normal – not as he’s known it. Troubled, Luke leaves to meditate. Leia comments to Han it’s lucky he got the hyperdrive online when he did. Han confesses he didn’t. Leia works out that Luke somehow did it with the Force.
In the second story, the Empire rises to oppose the New Republic. Darth Vader commands the fleet, and the once-despondent Imperial troops rally. Luke and his apprentices are constantly in battle, trying to fight the Imperials. His apprentices are concerned at the strain Luke is under, and how far he’s been pushed. The constant use of power is changing Luke. It’s seducing him. When they confront him and he Force-pushes them away, he is shocked at his response. He flees, determined to end this.
He tracks the location of the Death Star, lands, and fights his way to the throne room, obliterating everybody in his path. He confronts Bob and Darth Vader and fights Vader, decapitating him. The mask comes off Vader’s head: it’s a clone of Luke, created from the hand he lost on Cloud City. It’s also semi-prophetic, given Luke’s battle with Vader in the cave in The Empire Strikes Back.
Luke confronts Bob. A Force-ghost of the Emperor steps from Bob, whose body falls to the ground. The Emperor had been using Bob as a figurehead – possessing and manipulating him. Now the Emperor holds Luke accountable for all the death he’s wreaked to get here. Luke realises his behaviour has been Dark-side bad, but the Emperor gives him the choice to take the Empire and do good with it. Luke accepts, not realising how he’s changed, and how such power will continue to corrupt him – which the Emperor is counting on. The Emperor has an end game that domination will equal the Dark Side of the Force flooding the galaxy to the extent that it will givie rise to every Sith Lord spectre (my label for Dark Side Force ghosts), heralding an eternity of darkness. Effectively, the galaxy would become like the cave on Dagobah.
In the final movie, Luke starts out with the best of intentions, but the Dark Side seduces him. He becomes unreachable to Han and Leia. They launch an assault on the newly completed Death Star. Luke’s apprentices launch their own mission to save Luke, flying onto the Death Star and fighting their way to the throne room. Luke smashes them, and comes close to killing them. Then he realises how far he’s fallen. Sith Lord spectres arise. The apprentices combat the spectres while Luke fights and vanquishes the Emperor. Luke and the apprentices flee. The assault on the Death Star is successful. The galaxy is saved. Because of what’s happened, Luke banishes himself (to train Jedi). He doesn’t want to be tempted again, and wonders if this is why Yoda was on Dagobah (remember, this is before the Prequels established Yoda’s back-story).
Again, this is a lot of broad strokes. I remember the gist of the first story, given I handwrote the screenplay, but it has been twenty-eight years or so (and I believe the exercise book that contains that story is now exiled to my old filing cabinet). I knew what I would’ve wanted to happen in the next two installments, but not the finer strokes. That’s something I would’ve had to thrash out. And, in thrashing it out, I would revise and ask questions. I would’ve also fleshed out the new characters more, as the existing characters (Luke aside) were meant to function more on the periphery.
A lot of this might seem trite – resurrecting the Emperor, creating a new Death Star, etc. They’re storylines that have been pursued in some form. But the Emperor’s resurrection seems a given. If Obi Wan, Yoda, and Anakin can return as Force ghosts, why not the Emperor? And if he was going to be back, then the story has to centre around him and his motivation – a determination now to turn Luke, but doing it by throwing challenges and obstacles constantly in his path that would compel Luke to use the Force, and through that usage, enamour him with power.
Anyway, obviously none of this is going to happen.
But that’s how I would’ve done it.