As Darth Vader learned in Revenge of the Sith, the only true victories are pyrrhic by nature. When Disney bought out George Lucas in 2012 and installed a new team in charge of Lucasfilm and Star Wars, many of us who detested the terrible prequel films (but loved the original trilogy) were delighted that the man who brought us Jar Jar Binks, as well as those awful CGI-assisted special editions of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, had been unceremoniously removed from the tiller.
It all started out so well, too, with the world-beating JJ Abrams-directed The Force Awakens. Gone were tedious trade delegations, midi-chloreans and galactic senates, back were knockabout space romps and realistic looking sets. And yet, in retrospect, it’s possible to glean the rotten roots that ultimately led to The Rise of Skywalker being the worst Star Wars movie since Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure – gaping plot holes, lost story threads, and a determination to cannibalise everything that was great about the original trilogy movies without ever moving the action forward. These failures were eventually crystallised in the abomination that was Abrams’ second turn at the helm, a movie that seemed determined not just to rinse Lucas’s early films but ruin them in the process.
So what if we got it all wrong, and Lucas should have been allowed to deliver the sequel trilogy himself after all? A new book, The Star Wars Archives: 1999-2005, details the film-maker’s abandoned plans for the first time. The horrifying thing is that they would have made a lot more sense than bringing back the Emperor from the dead, turning Luke into a moaning wimp (though I still have a soft spot for The Last Jedi) and having Han Solo’s emo-Sith son commit patricide.
It seems Lucas would have kickstarted the new trilogy almost immediately after the end of Return of the Jedi, mining the same furrow that the incredible The Mandalorian is working within on TV. “Episodes VII, VIII and IX would take ideas from what happened after the Iraq War: Okay, you fought the war, you killed everybody, now what are you going to do?” says Lucas. “The stormtroopers would be like Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist fighters that joined Isis and kept on fighting. The stormtroopers refuse to give up when the Republic win.”
Leading the dark side in this new reality would have been Darth Maul, the Phantom Menace villain who was once thought dead after his battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel film, but has already been resurrected (albeit with robot legs) in the Star Wars Rebels animated series. Disney also brought Maul back in Solo: A Star Wars Story, but abandoned that storyline when the movie tanked. Lucas would have paired the red-and-black-striped alien with a new female Sith Lord, Darth Talon, who acts as the Vader of the new trilogy.
What’s striking about these ideas is that they make sense as part of a coherent multi-episode narrative arc. Many Star Wars fans might have hated the prequels, but at least they offered a rational (if glacially paced) explanation for how Anakin Skywalker eventually became Vader. The sequel trilogy doesn’t even bother to explain how the First Order came into being in The Force Awakens, while The Rise of Skywalker brings back Emperor Palpatine and reinstalls him as Sith Lord Big Bad with no viable explanation of where he’s been all this time, and how he managed to build a huge fleet of star destroyers without any of the resources of the Galactic Empire available to him.
The sequel trilogy felt rushed and under-planned, while the prequel trilogy felt like Lucas spent far too much time focused on cosmic macro-politics. Perhaps, as Yoda would no doubt tell us, the secret to Star Wars is finding the right balance between such hugely varying positions.
Of the two standpoints, Lucas’s currently seems the more sensible. And yet we should not forget who we are talking about here. The authors of The Star Wars Archives: 1999-2005 also find time to get the film-maker’s view on his appalling special-edition versions, and it’s clear that Lucas will go to his grave insisting that these are the definitive cuts of his famous trilogy, CGI Jabba, stoopid lizard Sarlacc and all.
“A hundred years from now, the only version of the movie that anyone will remember will be the special edition. The other versions will disappear,” says Lucas. (I like to imagine him cackling evilly at this point, like Palpatine in Return of the Jedi.) “Even the 35 million VHS tapes of Star Wars out there won’t last more than 30 or 40 years.”
And so we have it: just as it seemed we might start dreaming of a Lucas-shot remake of the sequel trilogy, the man himself brings us right back down to Tatooine’s sandy surface. Never mind, there’s another episode of The Mandalorian out soon.