What Star Wars The Last Jedi Could Have Been
Lots of people had extreme reactions when they stepped out of the theater after seeing The Last Jedi. Quite a few people loved it, but a greater number absolutely hated it. As you can guess from the title I fall in the second group. I thought The Last Jedi was a tragically squandered opportunity, maybe because it was so close to being good, but utterly missed the mark.
I decided that I could do it better. Yes, I realize how arrogant that sounds, but I encourage you to judge for yourself.
So how would I go about fixing it while making the least amount of changes to the original plot? I wanted to come at this with a light touch, and preserve as much of the existing movies as possible, while still making a film that I would have been true to the universe and the characters.
To fix The Last Jedi I first need to make a few changes to The Force Awakens, so let's start there. I understand that my vision is probably different than yours, and if you've got more creative solutions, or if you think the movie didn't need changing I'd love to hear about it in the comments!
The movie begins exactly the same. Poe lands in an X-Wing and is here to find a map to Luke Skywalker. All good so far.
Change #1- Kylo kills a Jedi Master
Kylo Ren shows up at the same village looking for the map to Luke, but instead of murdering Luke's defenseless butler he squares off against Luke's friend and student, a master Jedi, one of the first Luke trained. Our nameless Jedi gives Kylo a run for his money. They have an epic lightsaber duel, and Kylo wins. The Jedi is struck down.
Now why make this change? It isn't just to add a cool lightsaber fight, though I seriously doubt fans would give much pushback on more lightsabers. No, the reason for the change is what it sets up. It shows a few things. First, Luke had a lasting impact on the galaxy. His students are out there, a handful of Jedi trying to do right by the galaxy.
Second, and more importantly, it shows that we need to fear Kylo. He cut down a Jedi master in a fight, right off the bat. He's a badass MOFO and the audience knows it. What's more, this sparks the conflict between Luke's Jedi and the Knights of Ren that are alluded to but never used.
Back to the story! We switch to Rey's perspective as a junk scavenger on Not Tatooine and her whole sequence plays out the same with a couple notable changes.
Change #2- Rey sells BB8
Firstly, Rey does sell BB8. She straight up sells him off for food. Then Rey carries that food back to her shack, and we see why. Rey is taking care of an old woman, her mentor. Let's call her Mentor Chica. This woman took pity on Rey after she was dumped here as a kid, and has helped raise her. She was a fighter pilot in the battle of Endor and has taught Rey her skills, and raised her on stories of Luke Skywalker because she was there and she mattered.
This woman is losing her vision, and can no longer scavenge. When she learns what Rey has done she asks where the food comes from. Rey makes an excuse about a lucky find, but is obviously wracked with guilt as she prepares that cool instant bread stuff from the movie.
Rey's guilt is so powerful that she sneaks out and tries to steal BB8 back. She gets there at the same time as Finn, and they brawl with some stormtroopers, and steal BB8.
Now she has a terrible choice. She can't lead them back to Mentor Chica, so she decides to flee the planet to keep her mentor safe. Mentor Chica has enough food for months, and she has friends. She'll be fine, but not if Rey brings the First Order to her door.
They flee in the Millennium Falcon as before.
So why change this? What does adding this mentor do? Several vital things that are missing in Episode VII as written. We have no idea how or why Rey can pilot, for starters. She mentions simulators, but anyone who's used simulators can tell you that actual flight is a whole different ballgame. Mentor Chica white washes this and makes Rey having this skill, plus being able to fight, believable.
More importantly it humanizes Rey. We see her make a mistake. She sold BB8. She did a bad thing. Granted she had a good reason, but she isn't perfect and the audience now knows it, while still sympathizing with her.
Plus, Mentor Chica gives us clues as to the state of the galaxy. Things must have gone tragically wrong for a veteran of the Battle of Endor to effectively be a junk slave on some random planet.
Change #3- The Meeting With Han
The existing scene wouldn't change much. I'm not in love with Han as a scoundrel again, as erasing character development never sits well. But in this instance it makes sense. Han's son is a Sith, terrifying the galaxy. I might run and hide too.
We get Finn and Rey working together which is wonderful, so no change there either. The only thing I would change is who solves the hyperdrive problem. Instead of Rey bypassing the compressor Chewie does it. It makes far more sense because he's been flying this ship for 40 years and knows it far better than Rey.
However, Rey knows enough about ships to recognize the change he made, and explains it to Han since Han can't figure it out on his own (though of course he pretends to).
There's a lot of very valid criticism about Rey as written being a Mary Sue. She solves entirely too many problems without help. This change is a very minor way of highlighting that while competent she's inexperienced.
Note that I would still leave things like her learning mind control as a force power on the fly. I like that she's crazily gifted in the force, and worked that into my changes in the 2nd movie.
Change #4- Leia is the Chancellor of the New Republic
The idea of there being both a resistance and a new republic is confusing, and inadequately explained. All we have to do is have Leia explain to Han (when they meet up) the current political landscape.
The First Order has pushed the New Republic back all over the galaxy. They're losing the war. Finding Luke and somehow assassinating Snoke is their only real hope. That's why the map is so important.
When the new death star fires it kills Leia's dream, and wipes out their capital worlds. We see that the New Republic is in full retreat, and get cut scenes from many different worlds where the First Order is opening assaults.
Leia is tragically wasted as a character. We could have been presiding over the death of her New Republic, something she's worked for decades to create. Not only is her son a Sith, but her life's work is being destroyed. This lends an emotional weight the current movie lacks, especially since we are 100% certain the death star will get blown up.
Episode VIII Changes
Those four changes to Episode VII pave the way for a much stronger Episode VIII, while maintaining most of Abrams's vision. That was the easy part. The real problems all start in Episode VIII, so lets roll up our sleeves to see what could have fixed it.
Change #1- The First Order actually has a brain
The Republic is jacked. Their capital worlds are destroyed, and their fleets are in disarray. The Last Jedi opens with The First Order assaulting the Republic base from the last movie.
POE DOES NOT FLY UP TO A CAPITAL SHIP BY HIMSELF, because if he did they would have blown him out of the sky while he was hovering there. In my version there no jokes about Hux's mom.
Instead, Poe is leading a squadron of fighters into combat against the dreadnought. The combat plays out as before, and he has an argument with Leia as before. He blows up the dreadnaught, but the cost is too high.
Instead of the bombs falling in zero G, they're actually gravity bombs that fall towards their intended target, which is why they work in space. They're too unstable to be used in missiles as extreme velocity can prematurely detonate them.
The scene ends with the survivors escaping into hyperspace. They flee to Coruscant, where the remnants of their fleet has gathered to repair and re-arm. The First Order haven't blown it up, because they want it as their capital. It will provide them with a legitimacy they currently lack. They need that world.
So what does this change accomplish? We're back to tone again. Jokes while your rebel base and fleet are being eradicated just fall flat. Especially when followed with a pilot sacrificing her life to detonate the bomb. Can you imagine a joke like this during the middle of the Empire's assault on Hoth?
Having the fleet go to Coruscant fixes one of Episode VIIIs most glaring problems. It's a poorly conceived, slow, space chase in a universe that has never used the concept of fuel, or demonstrated that a race like this is even possible.
It creates a fixed military target, and allows the audience to understand exactly what the stakes are. Leia's losing, and her pitiful fleet is arrayed around a world they can't hope to protect.
Change #2- Snoke doesn't emasculate Hux in front of his officers
See the title. Instead, Hux walks to his quarters to take the call, and has a tense conversation with Snoke who tells Hux to gather his fleets and prepare for a ground assault on Coruscant. He wants that world captured, and he wants it unharmed. No orbital bombardments. No disintegrations.
Hux was scary in Episode VII. There was a rivalry between him and Kylo, and he was a competent villain. Within the first 20 minutes of The Last Jedi he's fooled by a prank that most McDonald's shift managers wouldn't buy, and then torn down as an authority figure in front of his men.
He's not a threat. He's a joke. This dramatically lessens the tension, and leaves only Kylo as a credible villain.
Change #3- Luke doesn't chuck the lightsaber over his shoulder.
My earliest memory is sitting on a bumper at a local drive in watching Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker was my hero growing up. My idol. The man I wanted to be like. Not just because he had a lightsaber, but because he did the right thing. He encouraged his friends, and never gave up on his family, no matter what.
He was a real hero. One everyone around me agreed we all wanted to be more like.
Having Luke discard the lightsaber isn't just out of character. It flushes forty years of tone down the toilet. What do I mean by tone?
Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are set in different genres, but share the same tone. They are dark, gritty, and brutal. Bad things happen to good people.
Shows like The Good Place or Doctor Who, on the other hand, have a much lighter tone. We know that things will be okay. They'll work out. There will be a cost, of course, but they will triumph in the end.
Stories like Star Wars exist to inspire. Even the prequels, which we all knew going in would be a tragedy, were lighthearted and left us with a feeling of hope.
Luke throwing away his lightsaber and demonizing the Jedi tears down everything the previous movies built up. The Luke we know would never, ever do that. Not for any reason. Treat his own father's lightsaber with that much contempt? No this moment was done for shock value, and it's in poor taste.
Luke would have treated that lightsaber with reverence, and handed it back to Rey. He'd have said it no longer belongs to him. It belongs to her. And then he would have trained her.
I pretty much did that above. Luke is a hero. Changing the tone of the series and having him be a bitter old failure is the #1 sticking point for fans. It was unnecessary, and could have been handled much more deftly. See below.
Change #4- The Real Reason Luke is in Hiding Plus Rey's Training Montage
So how would I change this section of the movie? Luke would explain that the reason he's in hiding is so that Snoke doesn't find him. Snoke is older than Palpatine, and knows a lot more about the force.
We get a flashback of Luke and Snoke first meeting. Snoke kills one of Luke's students, and drains the force abilities from his mind. Luke fights hard, but barely gets away. He fears snoke, because Snoke can drain Luke's abilities. Training Jedi, fighting, was only making Snoke stronger. So Luke went into hiding to keep his Super Powerful Force Abilities TM from falling into Snoke's hands.
Luke knows that if he trains Rey she'll be killed, and drained. He knows how Snoke works. He'll wait for Rey to get powerful, and then he'll kill her. It's safest if she remains here, and learns. Going out there won't save her friends. It will only strengthen Snoke. Rey vehemently disagrees of course, and points out that Luke is abandoning the galaxy when it needs him most.
Luke and Rey have a training montage. Rey actually fails a few times, then succeeds. They focus on lifting rocks, since that's used in the end and shows that she actually learned the power instead of just spontaneously manifesting it like she does whenever she needs anything.
Rey has her force Skype with Kylo, and confronts Kylo with Luke's revelation about Snoke. Kylo is shocked. He didn't know why Luke was hiding, or that Snoke has this ability. Several of his knights have disappeared mysteriously. Maybe Snoke killed them.
He begs her to come to him so they can take down Snoke. If Luke won't do it, then they have to. No one else can.
The original Star Wars succeeded so well because it closely followed Campbell's The Hero's Journey. Proponents of The Last Jedi claim that they love it largely because it breaks this pattern. It suggests that hard work is meaningless. Either you're born crazy powerful like Rey, or you don't matter, like Finn.
That erodes the entire message of Star Wars, and it isn't doing kids any favors. Do you really want your child going through life thinking all effort is pointless? I prefer the message that if you work hard, and persevere through difficult circumstances that you will grow, learn, and eventually triumph.
Roughly six days pass between the beginning of Episode VII and end of Episode VIII. In less than a week a completely untrained Rey bests Kylo and Luke in lightsaber combat, plus masters the ability to force dominate, and lift as many rocks as Yoda.
Remember what happened when Luke tried to lift the X-Wing out of the swamp in Empire Strikes Back? He failed, got angry, and gave up... like most of us do when we're learning something hard. Then he tried again, and succeeded.
These changes make Rey believable. They show that while powerful she has much to learn and a mentor can be useful.
Change #5- The Assault on Coruscant
This would be roughly analogous to the scene where Kylo attacks the fleet and Leia is jettisoned out into space. Kylo and the First Order launch a direct assault on Leia's command compound, which is heavily defended.
The compound is badly damaged, and Leia is in the explosion. Instead of being blown out into space she's buried, and tragically killed. This isn't how I'd use her, but is an adjustment I'd make to save any horrible CGI being used to keep Carrie in the story =(.
Poe is desperately trying to rally the defenders, with Admiral Ackbar in charge. Then a lightsaber punches through the wall, and two Knights of Ren enter. One is a woman, and the other is a cool alien.
They start killing everyone, including Ackbar. Poe orders a retreat, and they fall back farther into the base. They're in real trouble, and have no idea what they're going to do. The Knights of Ren are unstoppable.
Chapter #5- Wake Up Finn
Canto bites, and never happened. There is no Finn trying to escape. Instead Finn has been in a coma the whole time, and wakes up when the explosions hit the base, and is lost and confused. He's found by a Republic soldier named Rose who was also trapped in a cave in. Rose quickly brings him up to speed.
The voice that wakes Finn up is Luke's. Luke guides Finn, even though he's still back on his planet. He tells Finn that he has the ability to be a Jedi, just like Rey. Well maybe not as strong as Rey, but he can fight. He gets Finn moving.
Luke does something similar with Poe, and guides him to a safe place.
The Knights of Ren are pushing deeper into the base, and Finn knocks some crates off a catwalk onto the alien Sith. The alien's lightsaber goes skittering away, and Finn snatches it up.
For one brief moment the music swells and we think that Finn is going to go toe to toe with our female Sith. Instead, Finn turns on his heel and flees while Rose gives him a comedic look of disbelief, then follows. The Sith chases them, but Finn is damned good at running and escapes her, still clutching his new lightsaber.
Finn runs into Poe and we get a bromance re-union right before their last stand. Tons of rubble block their escape. They're doomed, unless they can find someone with the ability to lift that rock.
Luke tells them both to be patient. The force provides.
Change #5- Rey saves the Day
Rey goes to Kylo and they confront Snoke. Kylo kills him exactly as he did. Rey and Kylo have the same falling out and she escapes on the Falcon.
She zips down to Coruscant, and lands near the rebel base. Rey can feel... something pulling her. It's Finn that she's sensing and eventually she locates him and the rebels. They have a force Skype, and Finn says they're doomed if she can't save them.
Rey reaches deep and triumphantly moves the rocks, saving Poe, Finn, and the rest of the survivors. She loads them up on the Falcon, and they blast off and escape.
Behind them the First Order is conquering the planet. They've taken Coruscant and now control the former seat of the Republic. All other major republic worlds are conquered or destroyed. The war is effectively over, and with Snoke dead it's now in Kylo Ren's hands.
Luke is still alive, and still in contact with both Rey and Poe. He's become a teacher again, thanks to Rey.
The movie ends with Rey, Poe, and Finn going back to Luke, and telling him that they need him. Snoke is dead. It's safe to end his self-imposed exile, and she needs his help killing Kylo and the Knights of Ren.
Luke shakes his head sadly. Snoke isn't dead. He has the power over life and death itself, planting the clue that maybe he really is Darth Plagueis. He'll be back, much sooner than anyone expects.
But we've bought a little time. He will train all three of them, and together they will end this once and for all, or die and usher in an age of darkness. It's time to bring back the Jedi.
What about Episode IX?
I have a full storyline in mind, and if you guys like this article I'll do a follow up detailing the plot. The quick version?
Darth Plagueis (Snoke) comes back and congratulates Kylo. He is indeed a worthy apprentice. Kylo wants to know why Snoke did it. What was the point?
Snoke explains that he wants to feed, but he's out of Jedi to feed upon. He's picked off a few of Kylo's less promising knights, but it's time for him to feed on a Jedi. Now, Luke Skywalker will come out of hiding, and Snoke can finally claim his power.
Luke reluctantly agrees to leave his planet, and goes with his trio of newly trained Jedi. It's clear that Rey is the most powerful by a huge margin, especially now that she's had more training with Luke.
Luke guides them to a world on the outer rim where a Jedi holocron is rumored to be buried. That holocron might contain the secret to killing Snoke.
The Knights oppose them on that world, led by Kylo Ren. They get into a brawl, with Luke and Kylo squaring off. Rey kicks the utter crap out of one of the poor Sith, while Poe and Finn handle the last one.