Star Wars 9 now has five screenwriters to its name and is on the fourth major version of its script. Today we're going to take a look at the continued attempts to wrap up the Skywalker Saga in a satisfactory manner.
Finishing what he started, J.J. Abrams has come onto Episode IX as director and co-writer with Chris Terrio, replacing the recently departed Colin Trevorrow. There has been a semi-predictable mixed reaction to this appointment, mainly due to Abrams playing it narratively safe with The Force Awakens and Terrio's major connections to the DC Extended Universe (he rewrote Batman v Superman and worked on the story and screenplay for Justice League). However, both of these complaints do seem to ignore the bigger context of those movies - Episode VII had a lot of weight on it so had to be a mega-hit, while Terrio's wrestling with directing and editing issues in the DCEU - and, indeed, of Star Wars 9 itself.
When Episode IX arrives in December 2019, it will have been in active development for over four years. And it's a turbulent time for Kathleen Kennedy's Lucasfilm, with Han Solo going through a director change-up almost (but not exactly) 85% of the way through production, and now Episode IX having to make a similar switch after two years of pre-production. Abrams and Terrio are clearly there to do two things: deliver a satisfying ending and do it without any drama.
But while Solo's behind-the-scenes developments have been well-documented care of candid reporting, the story of Episode IX - which, lest we forget, is still well over two years out - is a more mysterious one. Let's dive into it.
Now, before we begin, first a little clarification. Obviously, most movies have multiple drafts. That's the only way to refine complex ideas across a sprawling 120-page script. And it's not uncommon for new writers to come in and tighten up a lacking screenplay later on in pre-production either. However, with Star Wars 9 we're dealing with something different. Each of these rewrites is a distinct go around that explicitly moves beyond what came before. We're sure Episode IX will be all good when it arrives in a couple of years, but it's certainly taken quite a few parsecs to get here.
The First Trevorrow/Connolly Script
It was reported in 2014 when Rian Johnson was hired for The Last Jedi that he was working on a story treatment. That was since denied by the filmmaker, but due to his role in the trilogy's middle Episode will have had a hand in mapping out the game plan. Script-wise, Trevorrow joined Star Wars 9 as director in mid-2015, with him and writing partner Derek Connolly started work on this script that same year.
When The Force Awakens rolled around, the director said that the ending wasn't yet set, and a few months later Kennedy backed this up saying there was an ongoing discussion over whether Episode IX was the end of the story or not. Of course, given the lengthy pre-production, Lucasfilm still finding their feet in the new era and the writers also working on The Book of Henry, this protracted development was to be expected.
We don't know how far along this screenplay got due to the tight secrecy at Lucasfilm and three impending movies to distract. There were rumors of an April 2017 filming start date that would suggest things were beginning to really coalesce at 2016 drew to a close, but those are disputed. It was later said by Kennedy in April 2017 itself that she hadn't read a script yet, although she may have been referring to a subsequent, changed draft.
The Sans-Leia Script
The death of Carrie Fisher appears to have hit Star Wars 9 hard. If The Force Awakens was Han Solo's film and The Last Jedi Luke's, then Episode IX was set to be Leia's; by all accounts was going to have a bigger role than in either previous sequel, meaning Fisher's tragic loss had a fundamental impact on the film. Trevorrow met with Kennedy in early 2017 to discuss how to proceed, which led to much speculation in the fanbase about CGI body doubles or repurposed footage (both methods Lucasfilm had trialed in Rogue One), but at Star Wars Celebration it was confirmed that Leia wouldn't appear at all.
This obviously meant she had to be written out completely and, as a core of the story, a rejig of the big picture was needed. At Celebration, Kennedy also said they "pretty much started over". Now that could mean the entire thing was rebuilt from the ground up, but it's worth pointing out that's vague on purpose - there could have been a more chop and change situation. While how big the changes are again up to discussion, what we know (per Trevorrow) is that a complete draft of this new version was done by April 2017.
The Jack Thorne Rewrite
In August 2017, Jack Thorne came on board to do a rewrite of the script. Specifics were and remain unforthcoming, but at the least we know he was giving the Non-Leia script a polish up.
However, if we pair his hiring with another behind-the-scenes turn we may get something more. Shortly after Trevorrow left it was reported it was a result of him being difficult, egotistical and above all "really, really, really confident". It's possible he was incredibly sure in a version of the story that Kathleen Kennedy didn't think was up to scratch, so she brought in a tried-and-tested outside voice to punch it up. Whether Thorne's take still wasn't up to snuff or Trevorrow just continued down the same driven path is unknown, but we do know how it ended up: both are no longer linked to the project.
The Abrams/Terrio Script
And so we get to what will be - bar another classic Lucasfilm SNAFU - the early basis for the shooting script. A week after Trevorrow was fired, J.J. Abrams came on as director. Second to the announcement was that he and Chris Terrio will be co-writing the screenplay with him.
Because Lucasfilm rarely officially addresses their mistakes, we've no idea if this is a rewrite of previous versions or a complete reset. However, the fact that none of the previous writers are included suggests that we're getting something of an overhaul.
The unseen force here is the Star Wars Story Group, who have a big influence on the direction of the franchise and the movies' ultimate ending (although in an ideal world wouldn't totally override a director's vision). It's likely that much of what's gone down in the past two years - the franchise's mega-successful return with The Force Awakens, Rogue One proving the Star Wars Story enterprise works and the death of Carrie Fisher - had a considerable influence in where they wanted the Skywalker Saga to go, especially in terms of setting up further Episodes. But, from everything we've heard, this is the clearest order of events.
We won't know quite what the genesis of Star Wars 9's story was until well after the movie, but right now then we can say one thing with certainty; the writer credits are going to be interesting.
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- 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