While opinions obviously vary, it’s quite clear that the third Star Wars trilogy does not deliver a ‘pure’ Star Wars experience. Just as the prequels suffered from over-use of CGI and pushing to be ‘family-friendly’ to the point of having close-to-no emotional impact, the new trilogy seems to suffer from over-reliance on nostalgia and a lack of a coherent vision. I mean, what is it about?
I think I have a good alternative. If I had to create a setting for a ‘post-original-trilogy’ Star Wars, here’s how I would conceptualise it.
First, imagine this opening scene:
A rickety starship zips across the screen on the background of a blue planet, heading deeper into space, and away from a swarm of Tie Fighters, screaming as they make chase.
Inside the starship, a young woman pilot is having an angry conversation with her ship. The ship responds in a droid-like voice. The woman – Rey – is trying to keep the ship steady while finishing hyperspace calculations, all on her own.
We see the Tie Fighters and realise they have green stripes painted on. The pilots inside belong to a species we don’t recognise. They’re about to shoot down the ship… when a different wave of Tie Fighters appear, with purple stripes, shooting them off, and then continue to… chase down the ship. The pilots inside these Ties are of a different species.
We see now that there are two somewhat-broken Star Destroyers behind, with different emblems and a bit of paint on each, fighting one another with waves of Tie Fighters and lasers.
Inside the starship, Rey manages to hit hyperspace and escape. Taking a breath of relief, she then turns to examine “the stowaway”, and we see a bleeding man, dying. He’s dressed in a manner you would expect from a Jedi.
[yes, my reimagining includes the blasphemous suggestion of having a cold open before the opening crawl, because we live in modern times and we have modern expectations, and there’s really no need to give an infodump as the first thing that’s blasted into our eyes, since we kinda already know what a ‘Star Wars’ is]
Everything New is Old Again
Several decades ago the Empire has fallen, but no new Republic has risen. No peace has come, and the galaxy has Balkanised into hundreds of political entities across the Core regions and beyond. For thirty years now, warring nations use old Empire tech against each other.
The main aesthetic is that of a used future, as was seen in the original Star Wars. But this time, there’s barely any shiny high-tech Empire gear to stand in comparison – all of the Empire gear (which still uses knobs and button, just like in the original movies) is old and only somewhat functioning.
There’s been barely any technological or cultural progress since the Empire because most nations fight each other and there’s barely any cross-border trading. Most production and development is halted, people mostly use the tech of the past. Many people think these are dark days, and the Empire was much better.
The simple truth is that the Rebellion wasn’t able to transition into a governing body for the galaxy. Instead, it is now known as the Union, a name mocked by many, since they don’t seem to manage to unite anyone. Most Unionists believe that the Emperor is to blame for their failure, because of how he built his government around himself, making sure everything crumbles when he dies. The Unionists see themselves as sort of policing power, trying to stop warring nations and bring them to the negotiation table, probably not even realising that’s basically what the Jedis used to do a hundred years ago. The Unionists are still using the same tech they used when they were the Rebellion, still fielding lots of X-Wings and such, and so occasionally people in need will call them to help pacify bandits and such. They can’t be ignored, but they’re not making any positive change in the galaxy.
As for the Jedi, if someone recognises the name, it’s just some old religion that grandpa vaguely remembers as being impressive. Whatever happened after Return of the Jedi – the Jedi as a group did not, in fact, return.
Chewie, We Can Never Go Home Again
I assume I should use in my reimagination the same main characters who appear in the third trilogy of movies. It’s not that I think they’re super-cool, but I’m willing to assume that they generally work, and it’s a matter of twisting some knobs, not rewriting from scratch.
Han Solo is master of a cartel. He lives on a world in the Outer Rim, and business has never been better. These days, everyone needs smugglers, and while it’s been ages since he flew a ship himself, he has dozens of pilots who do it for him. Chewie is no longer with him, and he seems to be bitter about this (but it’s actually because he sent Chewie on a mission, see below).
Princess Leia is one of the only ‘good guys’ in the Unionist council. Many of the others are corrupt, or have lost hope of the cause and are just going through the motions.
Rei is a junker pilot from Jakku, who was chosen by the Force. She has a cynical tone but is actually quite naive; like a young Luke she doesn’t really know a lot about how things are in the galaxy, but like a young Han she tries to cover for it by looking cocky and talking big.
I’m also cool with having Jakku, but it’s not a desert planet; until 30 years ago it was pretty cool, but now it’s a post-apocalyptic ruin, because of the destroyed Empire structured that exploded all over it (ancient sabotage, neglect, or both) and/or crashed into it. It’s a place that reminds you of a glorious yet horrible past, by being quite horrible right now.
We’ll have Kylo Ren as an anti-hero, opposing Rei, and one of the last Force-users alive. He doesn’t call himself a Sith, but he’s effectively one. He works a lot with a shadowy organisation that seems to know a whole damn lot about how to use Empire tech, and have excellent equipment, but he sees himself more like a mercenary than a ‘true believer’ in whatever their cause might be.
He’s also accompanied by Chewie, who pushes against his darker tendencies (and during the first movie, keeps him, generally, on the heroic side). Throughout the trilogy, Kylo learns of the existence of ancient Sith customs and during the 2nd movie he succumbs to the desire, comes to understand his dead uncle’s ‘religion’, and falls to the Dark Side.
Finn’s story is pretty much the same as in the movie. He belongs to the remnant Empire, one of several groups who see themselves as ‘true inheritors’ of the Empire. He joined because he wanted to be someone, but they’re super-cruel, so he’s out.
Poe’s story is pretty much the same. He’s a Union pilot with a heart of gold, who teams with Leia to help her escape when later the baddies in the council turn everyone against them.
BB-8 must stay exactly as it currently is.
Luke returns, but not in person; see below.
The Force is Ambiguous
The Jedi are basically gone, the Force is almost nowhere to be seen. The dying Jedi Knight from the first scene will die by the middle of the movie, and leave Rey his lightsaber, after pushing her on the trail toward rediscovering the lost arts. He’s one of the last surviving pupils of Luke, who famously went on a journey to discover ancient Force secrets and never returned.
Throughout most of the first movie, it should always be unclear if the Force is even a thing anymore, all appearances of it should be subtle, giving the sense of coincidental occurrences. The movie ends with Rey using the force to obviously move something, and also, she fights with her lightsaber.
She chases down Luke using holocrons (sort of Jedi hologram thingies) he left behind, retracing some of his steps in one or two places that we recognise from the first trilogy. She must also find R2-D2, who was made into a computer. This will be his last hurrah, we will not be seeing him later in the trilogy.
Eventually she finds him, during the second movie, but he’s been dead for a long time and only left a final holocron, this one saying “You no longer need me, but I will always be with you, Rey”, making it clear that he could foretell her arrival, proving he was a powerful Jedi, and also giving a very direct message for the viewer
This way we have a cynical, occasionally even grim or fatalistic Rey, confronting a kind, wise Luke, who helps her change and gain, well, a new hope.
Okay, But What is Actually Happening
I’m not sure about the actual plot, but I have several vague ideas regarding the opposition and the nature of the overarching conflict. If you want me to run this for you as a Star Wars RPG campaign someday, skip to the next headline!
Someone is systematically hunting Force users. A group that has its roots in the Rebellion, now the Union, is secretly hunting them and killing them. Light side, Dark side, doesn’t matter. They don’t want to let the Force ‘control the galaxy’. The fact that the galaxy looks worse than ever and is only failing more with each year isn’t their concern. In the first movie their agents have a plan that is thwarted and their leader is revealed; in the second they are mostly defeated; in the third, the ancient, pre-Republic powers they’ve awakened come to attack the galaxy, led by the group’s leader. The galaxy must unite before they’re all annihilated.
The secret group represents themes of stagnation and conformity, while the Force represents hope, initiative, and the will to bring positive change through action. The ancient annihilating power represents nature, and yes, this is totally about the Climate Crisis.
There are several smaller groups moving around the place, like there were in the first trilogy. Haughty Unionists, some powerful nations, the most powerful (and desperate) Empire remnant, or the like – some working together or actually are the secret group, but some are just people being people.
An Old Hope
So listen, even though most of this is barebones, I think it’s pretty cool. Star Wars was never about specific people or specific locations. It’s about the small-but-spirited fighting against the power-backed-by-authority. It’s a place where smugglers fly with wielders of mystical power, and face personal demons, a past they’re trying to run from, and a future they’re unsure they can achieve. It’s where a large-scale, awesome-looking mass-combat scene must happen at least once a movie.
At the same time, it’s also an existing franchise with tons of real-world expectations, and we should address them; I hope I managed to do so while enhancing the experience, instead of, as I see it in the actual new movies, mostly to appease and create ‘wow’ moments.
Or in other words: I like it that in The Last Jedi Luke managed to fight off the First Order using cleverness and a deep understanding of the Force, but I think I would like it better if we never see him except in message, so he can leave us imagining what and who he became while still giving us the wise advice we want to hear from a figure we admired years ago.