UPDATE: Mark Hamill has revealed the original ending for The Force Awakens was changed after The Last Jedi was written. Original article follows.
Fans assumed for two years that J.J. Abrams was setting up plot points and teases in Star Wars: The Force Awakens that were meant to be integral to the next installment. If that was the plan, however, it didn't happen: Rian Johnson retconned major parts of the sequel trilogy with The Last Jedi. Today we'll take a dive into what exactly changed.
Now, it's worth noting that in some cases these "changes" to the story were actually always planned, with fans hyping up big reveals that were never there. Take Rey's parentage, for example. Many saw that as a potentially exciting reveal that was prepped in Episode VII that Rian Johnson then failed to pay it off in The Last Jedi. Yet, while it's true some of the early marketing material suggested there was more to Rey than meets the eye, The Force Awakens itself never suggested that her parents were anything other than the nobodies they turned out to be. In other words, that's no retcon.
Nor would a retcon necessarily be bad. Movies change during production in a wholly natural way. In fact, this happened to The Force Awakens' own story; it's well known that Abrams intended to kill off Poe Dameron, and Maz Kanata originally had a larger role and used the Force. These are both minor in the grand scheme, but show how things shift.
That's presumably what led to the cases where Johnson did totally retcon the plan; change is always going to happen — and usually to the benefit of the story. Here are the biggest instances where, for whatever narrative reason, the director of The Last Jedi had no interest in pulling at some of J.J. Abrams' threads.
Snoke and the Knights of Ren (This Page)
Snoke Became A Red Herring
The Force Awakens introduced a nasty new "big bad" villain, a mastermind pulling strings behind a Wizard of Oz-type holographic veil. His name was Snoke, and he was Supreme Leader of the First Order, aka the clandestine military force built upon the remnants of the Empire. And he was important; Snoke was the Force master who corrupted young Ben Solo into becoming Kylo Ren, known to the likes of Leia and Han. But that was the sum total of what was revealed about Snoke; Abrams spent no time in his origins or overall plan for the First Order.
What the plan was, nobody knows, but it wasn't what happened. Johnson decided to kill Snoke while writing the script to better power Kylo Ren's arc, completely undercutting the character without a hint at whatever his backstory was. Whether he really was actually ever the big bad is up for debate, but there's a general lack of prestige.
The Knights of Ren
Further on the villain side, The Force Awakens introduced viewers to the Knights of Ren, Ben Solo's sidekicks/order. There was a brief shot of them in Rey's Force vision, and Snoke mentioned them by name at one point. Abrams planted a seed with the Knights of Ren that Rian Johnson completely abandoned; they were never seen or even mentioned in The Last Jedi.
It's possible they were never meant to be seen, but the context they were first seen in seems to have been left behind as well. In Rey's vision, she sees Luke kneeling beside R2-D2, reacting in grief and horror to the destruction of his Jedi Academy. The camera then pans across to show Kylo Ren standing ominously in the rain among his comrades in arms. The immediate implication is that Kylo destroyed the Jedi school with the help of his allies, but at the least there's an event of the assembled bad guys that's unseen. In The Last Jedi, the academy destruction is focused on Ben's turn and shown offscreen, with only a light suggestion of who the Knights of Ren are.
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019