Episode VII: What V Would’ve Done

· Films & Video Games

Happy Lisp Day (get it? That’s a May 4th joke.).  Star Wars has not been good in nearly two decades, and its last moment of glory came in 2005 with the one-two punch of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Lucasfilm’s Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords.

History repeats itself in small ways.  In the sixteen years since 1983 and 1999, Star Wars‘s stature only grew not only from the strength of the original trilogy but the success of the merchandising – action figures, books, posters, cultural and even political reference points (President Reagan famously referred to his expensive yet effective space missile defense program as “Star Wars”), and video games.  The rise of video games from its penny-arcade origins (so to speak) to its mass household-entertainment status today is not a story that can be told without understanding the impact of Star Wars.  Even when the films saw special edition re-releases in 1997, fanboy crying about Lucas’s changes here and there paled in comparison to the millennial excitement of seeing those movies again (or for the first time) on the big screen.

The Prequels saw an end to Star Wars with more of a whimper than a bang, even with the third film’s box office receipts and generally positive reception.  Whatever was left of George Lucas’s own creativity and interest in continuing the saga from then on did not result in anything beyond a silly 2008 animated film that then launched a show that took at least three seasons to truly take off.  By 2012, Lucas had simultaneously wished to transition into the next phase of films, but had clearly given up his previous iron will to control it.  The rest is unfortunate Mickey Mouse history that bears no repeating.

Star Wars deserved something better than what it got, as did the generations who grew up with it.  “Deserve,” of course, is a tricky thing when it comes to this property.  George Lucas did not deserve what fans did to him during the Prequel saga.  Fans, regardless of their bratty and entitled behavior, did not deserve the condescension and sanctimony they got from the Kennedy Trilogy or the unworthy anthological entries in between.  What Star Wars needed, in other words, if we assume that the reins of creative control were going to be handed off from Lucas to someone else, was a clean break, a fresh start, and a new, independent reason to exist.

The purpose of this piece is simply to outline the basic story I would have written or encouraged a more talented person to write had the baton been passed to me instead of Disney.  It is not to say that there can never be a good Star Wars movie or TV show ever again, nor to suggest that Star Wars is cursed so long as it does not do what I think it should have.  Nor is it a projection of what I think George Lucas would have done had he retained control.  It is simply a hypothetical “What V Would Have Done” that I have written for fun.  Okay?  Okay.

For starters, let me repeat the cardinal sin of disregarding entirely the canon of the Expanded Universe.  No Thrawn, no Caedus, and no Vong; no nothing.  Movies must be their own creatures, even when they adapt from source material.  In this case, the “source material” comes from the original films, which matter more than anything else.

The second disclaimer is that no subsequent film should retain any of the characters from the original films except for Chewbacca and the two droids.  Luke, Leia, Han, Lando, and everyone else should all be gone, whether they met a tragic end or died of old age.  That also means – yes – no immediacy of any kind.  The new movie needs to start no less than a hundred years after the death of Emperor Palpatine and the destruction of the Second Death Star.

The third disclaimer, derived from the second, is that no future entry should center on the Skywalker family.  You can have a character who descends from them, but he cannot be protagonist because that would limit the imaginative reach of these new films.  When George Lucas conceived of Star Wars, he sketched out the entire story from the fall of the Republic to the rise of the Empire, and then to Luke’s campaign to redeem and save his father and then realized that he had accidentally written something like six films worth of material.  That was Lucas’s vision, and that story is also, for all intents and purposes, over.  So if Episode VII is to even exist in the first place, it must be a construction that preserves the feeling of Star Wars, yet also separates it from the central pieces of the original story.

So here’s a picture for you.  Instead of 40 years passing where everything suddenly gets reincarnated as a result of inexplicable galactic amnesia, let’s jump forward a hundred years, where the entire galaxy has been mostly balkanized.  There is a New Republic, but its jurisdiction ends with the inner rim because the galaxy still carries the scars of both the Clone Wars and the Empire.  It is a limited, stable entity that is less chaotic than the Galactic Republic used to be, but not overreaching to the point that regional governors directly control everything.

Within that New Republic (and maybe after 100 years you can’t call it “new” anymore, but just assume everyone still does), there is a new group of Jedi co-founded and organized originally by Luke and Leia.  It has no political power, and it does not participate in police or political affairs.  It is also not a large order; 25 Jedi max – enough to hold a fort if attacked, but not enough to branch out.

A key theme of the Prequels is that institutions have grown and stretched beyond their core capabilities, and have become corrupt and compromised because of it – subject to undoing from within. The entire galaxy was destroyed in the course of these continuous decades of war and tyranny.  Assume these lessons have largely been learned and everything is working generally well.  However, with no all powerful galactic republic, slavery has resumed in certain parts of the galaxy outside the Republic.  The Republic cannot do anything about this, but the people are generally content with that.  The central conflict in this film is not going to come from within, but from the distant outside.  However, the New Republic cannot be a mere “Resistance” faction either.  Nor can it be a small fish in a giant swamp; Episode VII should not have a terrifying leviathan serving as a substitute for the Empire again.

“Okay, Vivek; so far you’ve just given me a movie where things are fine and dandy.  Where’s the conflict?” I hear you say.

I just described the inner; now for the outer.  Beyond the outer rim, there is a humanoid-ish species of aliens who have never before been noticed.  I will call them Species X for simplicity.  For their entire existence, they kept to themselves on a distant planet, away from civilization with little interest or means to travel the galaxy or interact with others.  They have never participated in any major galactic events, and they are barely known by anyone.  Their history is not tied to the rest of the galaxy.

Over the past two decades, however, something strange has been occurring with Species X.  Small groups, seemingly without coordination, have been seen throughout the galaxy traveling various star systems, becoming educated and versed in the affairs of galactic and intergalactic life.  The Republic has become more aware of their existence, but what the galaxy has learned from Species X pales in comparison to what these elite groups have learned from the rest of the galaxy.  Since then, over the last few years they’ve returned home and have used the knowledge and technology they have acquired from their travels, business, trade, and education throughout the Republic to completely take over and consolidate power.  On the one hand, they’ve jump started their species by centuries technologically, and have massively improved standards of living.  On the other, their consolidation of power has resulted in the creation of a massively oppressive political and social hierarchy with absolute, totalitarian subjugation of the rest of Species X.  Their takeover is so complete that they’ve expanded to the rest of their star system and have built massive cities and bastions of prosperity over the bones and skulls of their conquered brethren and neighbors who were all technologically and organizationally inferior.  When the movie begins, they have won their system, but there are no signs that they intend to expand beyond it.

Alarm bells are sounding in the assembly of the Republic.  Everyone knows Species X is not an imminent threat, but the concern is that they will ally with other outer planets into a confederation that poses a threat, and further legitimize the practice of slavery. The Republic cannot liberate the galaxy, but if it can check the rising power of Species X, it might deter slavery in the future. There is a growing fever of anger towards them, which has resulted in the election of a new chancellor who has promised hostility.

Our main character (I will call her Anya) is a young Jedi who has never fit in with the rest of the tribe. She cuts corners, takes dangerous risks, opts for shortcuts, and thinks meditating generally doesn’t get you anything except your pockets picked. She and her master, who is mostly like her but more refined, have just returned from a failed mission to recruit a Force sensitive in the mid-rim, which resulted in them getting banished from that planet. As such, she’s confined to library overseer duties.

The new chancellor has promised swift military action against Species X, and he wants the help of the Jedi to do so. The leader of the Jedi abjectly refuses to get involved in any way, and prohibits any other Jedi from becoming so entangled. Anya is not so easily dissuaded. She begs to be sent, and both her master and the high command turn her down. The entire first third, of this film would be devoted to this central struggle while the Republic gathers for war and its general reluctantly agrees to let her come with him if she gets the Jedi’s blessing. Anya loses all tolerance for the Order and its platitudes about the dark side and her supposed aggression. She’s not angry or overeager. On the contrary – nothing has ever brought her to focus as the gathering clouds of this future war have. After finally meditating, Anya assembles a new lightsaber (a red one), surrenders her old green one, and leaves the Jedi. The high command tries to stop the Republic’s military from taking her with them, but the new chancellor does not listen, and neither does the general.

There are two plot twists, and the first, I am sure you have already guessed, is the fact that the rulers of Species X are Force sensitive. This is revealed around at the halfway point when the first mission – a Republic stealth effort on one of the outer moons of the X system to gather intel on their operations – goes horribly wrong and everyone on the team except Anya end up dead. Anya barely escapes with her life, and with the knowledge that not only are the leaders of X Force sensitive, but that X knew they were coming and were just as interested in humiliating the Republic, which they have now done. Their aims were exactly what the Republic suspected them to be, and this was the opening they needed to marshal the rest of their species into a conquering army. Humiliated, Anya attempts to return home to beg the Jedi to forgive her. The high command, however, smugly welcomes her back and offers her back her post at the library, but not before revealing that he has known all along that Species X’s leadership consisted of Force sensitives.

The high command saw in Species X an opportunity to grow the Jedi’s numbers if some of them could be siphoned away. Failure to recruit Force sensitives to the Jedi had become so concerning that the high command was willing to keep secret what he knew of Species X and what they were doing to their own. Anya, of course, is as dismayed as one could get from this news, and walks away without another word to anyone, not even her master, who did not know.

Meanwhile, the Republic’s force, eager to get back at Species X for the ambush that killed their scouting party, is preparing for a new operation – targeting a military training ground of involuntary recruits from one of Species X’s conquered and subjugated neighbors. Destroying this could effectively end the war before it begins, especially if the trainees can be turned against their masters. The plans are made without Anya – their assuming that she will not return or be part of any future operation.

The team has been training for the mission and every aspect of it, including a combat drop after disabling the ground cannons. The first part of the plan goes off without a hitch, but the team is scattered all around the area and is too slow to regroup. As such, they are captured before they can reorganize at the perimeter. While being transported through the school, the team’s captain makes a heroic sacrifice that frees the other men and gives them a fighting chance. They regroup within the school and start killing the guards. They reach the students and arm them, but the students have no desire to turn on their masters. Instead, the students become even more formidable than the guards, since they are trained by Force sensitives (imagine fighting like General Grievous). Species X has been ahead of the Republic in just about every way, and this seems to have been another trap. The men look up to see a giant Species X ship that looks like a Star Destroyer looms overhead.

But just when all hope seems lost, another parachute is seen opening from high above. Anya has returned and the Republic air support team has brought evac while engaging with the ships in the clouds above. She lands, takes command, and helps get the team out. They make it to the evac ships, but the students and their masters are too close and too many. Anya stays behind and orders the men to leave without her. They initially refuse, but she insists. When they see her ignite her red lightsaber, they know there’s no chance to stop her. They take off, and it’s one vs. fifty. The Republic has stalled just long enough to get its people out so that they can go home and report on such a sound defeat, not knowing whether Anya survived.

Horrified by the news, the Chancellor decides to step down, but at the last moment, Anya’s master convinces him not to. He – as the only one who understood Anya and why she did what she did – explains that this war may have been inevitable, and that the silver lining to everything that happened is that the Republic now has clarity on Species X and its designs on its regions of the galaxy. The other “good news” (so to speak) is that, though the Republic only sees defeat, whether Anya survived or didn’t survive the battle, she destroyed that training ground. If there was one thing she was good at, it was making a mess of things. The Chancellor asks him if he regrets not going with her, but the master shakes his head. Anya was meant to do what she did alone.

Back at the academy, a wounded, battered Anya, victorious over everyone, still sees the ship above. She then overhears from a communication device that the school will be destroyed in full. Mere seconds before the school is blown up, Anya escapes in the headmaster’s shuttle. As she flies away, she detects a Republic distress channel, which can allow her to call for aid. She turns off her communication and flies away alone.

The Original Trilogy was about a small rebellion against an evil Empire. The Prequel Trilogy was about how a great Republic can turn into an evil Empire. So it stands to reason that the only thing that could rhyme with these stories would be a new movie that centers on how a small Republic might turn into a great one. It takes the shape of a western by way of its main character – an uncivilized sort of figure who does not fit anywhere; not as a Jedi and not as a part of the Republic. There is a theme of conflict’s inevitability. The Republic and Species X both thought conflict was inevitable and moved toward it. Even those who abstain from it are in their own way opportunistic about it, and leaders who foster war oftentimes are merely reflecting their own people’s desires to fight one. Regardless of what happens in future episodes (I did not write my summation of this one with any consideration of sequels in mind), what happens in this episode is self contained, and Anya can simply disappear forever.

I have no idea if this story is any good, and I will never, ever write this screenplay. It’s not me. But I hope you enjoyed reading it, and I really hope you liked it more than The Force Awakens.

– Vivek

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