After the divisive response to The Rise of Skywalker, Colin Trevorrow’s version of the story, aptly titled Duel of the Fates, represents a great “What if?” scenario for Star Wars fans. Would this version have been better than what was released? After getting a good look concept art and leaked plot points, it seemed very much so. But after digging into the full script (which has been floating around online for months now), how would this version have fared? As with all things, the answer is quite complicated, so let’s dive in…
Trevorrow’s Duel of the Fates is certainly a mixed bag and much of it does survive in Abrams’ film in some form or another (all of the First Order ships have planet-killers on them in this too). Like Rise, it is heavy on fan service from the title to R2-D2 replaying the whole saga through his memory banks at one point. The best thing about Duel is that it focuses much of the action on Coruscant, which helps tie the whole saga together in a really strong way. It doesn’t move around as much as Rise and sequences are given time to properly breathe. Finn and Rose are off on another adventure together as they break into the Jedi Temple and Rose is the MVP of the story in a lot of ways. Finn also completes his arc in a much more satisfying way by inspiring and leading a Stormtrooper rebellion (though the execution is quite rushed). Lando more or less plays the same role by bringing an additional fleet to save the day, but it’s threaded much better in Duel than in Rise. There’s also plenty of stunning visuals throughout such as a chase through the debris of an exploding planet and Mortis, a planet that fans of the Clone Wars series are quite familiar with. The force ghost of Luke Skywalker is much more prominently used as he both haunts Kylo and trains Rey. The ending with Rey returning to Rose and Finn’s sanctuary for Force-children is also much stronger than the homestead on Tatooine — the film also breaks down the paradigm of light side and dark side Force users, making it feel like we’ve reached a new beginning.
Duel does have a lot of issues though. Most notably it has a big villain problem. Kylo Ren spends the majority of the movie on a quest to strengthen his dark side powers (which Rise truncates into the first 10 minutes of its running time). Why this doesn’t quite work is that you could remove Kylo Ren completely from the story and it wouldn’t have any effect on the fate of the Resistance or First Order. He’s very removed from the story and his redemption doesn’t effect much of anything either. The Knights of Ren play a bigger role and feel like the chief antagonists but they aren’t developed much more than they were in Rise. Rey does have a really cool fight against the Knights of Ren though in this version. Rey and Poe spend the movie trying to track Kylo down and there’s a blooming romance between them that feels abrupt and unnecessary. The Force connection between Rey and Kylo from The Last Jedi is more or less discarded here. Duel also does its own form of revisionist history when it comes to Rey’s parents (just like Rise did) but in this version Kylo reveals to Rey that he actually killed her parents. This makes very little sense as the characters have been portrayed to be more or less the same age.
So would Duel of the Fates have been better or worse than Rise of Skywalker? Yes in some places, No in others. Everything with Finn, Rose, the Resistance, and the First Order is a large improvement — particularly the way the script focuses on the human cost of the war and what the First Order’s grip on the galaxy actually looks like. However the Rey-Kylo story works much better in Rise. The inclusion of the Emperor in Rise does a lot to solve the villain problem and allows all of the action to take place in one location, which also lets the movie focus on and evolve the Rey-Kylo connection — which is the heart of this new trilogy. Though I thought the Emperor was poorly handled in Rise, it is better than what was in Duel. Duel also doesn’t have any new characters of its own that are very memorable (no Zori Bliss or Babu Frik). It’s unfortunate there wasn’t a better marriage between a lot of these ideas such as Coruscant, Mortis, and Rey’s double-lightsaber, but with how little time Abrams and co. were given to salvage the project, Rise does end up looking better in lots of ways.