The plot of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is well-known now, almost three years after the film's release, but the narrative almost followed a completely different trajectory surrounding Luke Skywalker's lightsaber. Despite being lost during the fateful duel at Cloud City, Luke's old weapon returned in the sequel trilogy, calling to Rey at Maz Kanata's castle. The mystery surrounding the saber's reappearance is one of the biggest sticking points of the new films, as there's never been a sound explanation for how Maz came to be in possession of it. The filmmakers weren't sure what to do about it, infamously brushing it off as "a good question for another time."
It seems highly unlikely that question will ever be answered (Episode IX has plenty else on its plate to take care of), illustrating how the lightsaber's role in the modern movies evolved over time. At one point, during peak speculation about The Force Awakens' plot, the ancient weapon was going to be the driving force behind the whole story. Fortunately, things changed.
The Lightsaber Was The Force Awakens' Original Plot Device
Episode VII picks up on Jakku, where daring pilot Poe Dameron retrieves a portion of a map that supposedly leads to the missing Luke Skywalker. At least from a superficial perspective, the map plays a similar part to the Death Star plans in A New Hope. For the first half of the film, it's what the heroes and villains of the story are both after, as the prevailing belief is Luke's triumphant return or brutal death would change the tide of the brewing conflict forever. In particular, Supreme Leader Snoke is worried about what Skywalker's reemergence would mean.
The map is a simple and effective MacGuffin, easing audiences into this new era for Star Wars and firmly establishing what's at stake. But for those with long memories and fondly followed the ever-brewing Force Awakens rumor mill, the Ahch-To map was hardly a thought on anyone's mind for much of the discussion. Just about every plot rumor that came up pointed to Luke's lightsaber being the main plot device that led to Rey and Finn encountering Han Solo and taking their first steps into a larger world. It allegedly was so prominent in Episode VII that it was set to be the first thing audiences saw after the opening crawl.
The Lightsaber in Space Opened The Force Awakens
In keeping with Star Wars tradition, The Force Awakens opens with the classic pan up in space, revealing a First Order fleet embarking on Jakku. Stormtrooper transports arrive on the surface, take Poe captive, and the rest is history. But well before the film's release, it was theorized the opening shot of the movie was the lightsaber falling from space. A rumored opening sequence suggested a Jakku villager named Naka happened upon it and accidentally started a fire by igniting it. Naka brought the weapon before the Vicar (which is what Max von Sydow's Lor San Tekka was known as at the time), who alerted the Resistance about the lightsaber's appearance. Of course, the First Order learned this information as well and went on their own mission to retrieve it. Much like he did with the map in the final film, Poe hid the saber in BB-8 and told him to flee.
Kylo Ren was said to be actively pursuing the saber because, potentially, its kyber crystal had the ability to open an ancient Sith tomb Luke was guarding. As Kylo tried to track it down, Rey and Finn crossed paths with Han and Chewbacca, sending them all on a quest to find Skywalker so they can return the saber to him. Instead of being a tortured old man consumed by regret, Luke was said to be going insane because of his responsibility to keep the tomb safe. Obviously, this didn't pan out, but there are some striking similarities between the rumors and the actual movie. The basic set up is the same, but the plot revolved around the map, and nobody knew the reasons why Luke vanished. Even when there are inklings of truth in Star Wars speculation, the theories can be all over the place.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019