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Kylo Ren tearing through creatures on a narrow ledge of a rocky cliff face.
Wade Through Version 02
Illustration: Jon McCoy/Abrams Books

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The many versions of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker we didn’t see

New art book reveals canceled storylines

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was originally due to be released at retail on Dec. 20, 2019 — the same day the movie hit theaters, just as The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi had been two years prior. The book was ultimately delayed three full months to March 31, 2020, but the early plans allowed for a series of wild concept art pieces to leak online, thought to be related to an early version of a script written by Colin Trevorrow.

In the end, very few images connected to Trevorrow’s Duel of the Fates script made it into the final book. His name is not even included on a page listing the principle creatives involved in the project. What did end up in the 256-page volume, written by Lucasfilm creative art manager Phil Szostak, is no less remarkable and revealing. The making-of book paints the picture of a film that struggled to find its way from the beginning, and lingers on many alternate paths it could have taken to bring the Skywalker story to its conclusion.

Boolio, the green informant who is beheaded in the final film, shown firing the dorsal canon on the Millennium Falcon.
Boolio Gunner 05
Illustration: Lunt Davies/Abrams Books

After a preamble filled with spoiler-focused art from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Szostak’s narrative kicks off with the announcement on Sept. 17, 2017, that J.J. Abrams would be returning to direct the final film in the series. It follows his efforts closely, alongside co-writer Chris Terrio, as the pair try to tie together the many threads of a story spread across more than 40 years of cinematic history.

“I’ve never written a film as much as this one,” says Terrio at one point in the book. “It’s like the tide. There’s a new script every morning. But we just keep going at it and going at it, loosely thinking that it’s not good enough. It’s never good enough.”

An early version of Zorii Bliss, standing with a leopard-print cape a a lithe, dog-like creature on a slim lead from Star Wars concept art
Spice Boss Version 02: “When the gang boss changed to Zorii, J.J. wanted a character in the vein of Boba Fett, one who wouldn’t remove her disguise but would have a mysterious charisma and have some shared history with Poe. I evolved the basic gang helmet but wanted to elevate her overall look. J.J. was drawn to the design with the elongated back, so we developed this further and further, bringing in other design elements. The precious-metal finish would add status and mark her out as the gang boss.” —Calum Alexander Watt
Illustration: Calum Alexander Watt/Abrams Books

Szostak says that, early on, several major story beats were pinned down. These included details like a hidden fleet of First Order ships and a mysterious Sith temple. One of the first diversions in the script had to do with how Kylo Ren made his way to that temple. He was originally supposed to receive directions from a creature known as The Oracle, a massive parasite living on the bottom of a lake. The scene was eventually scrapped, but not before The Oracle was turned into a 14-ton practical effect.

Another major departure deals with early scenes between Poe and Finn. The pair were originally supposed to be embroiled in a World War II-inspired caper involving an Enigma-style coding machine. The top-secret technology would have been put at risk early on in the film when stormtroopers raided a pub on a snowy planet. The city where it all took place would eventually become Kijimi, the location in the final film where our heroes meet up with Zorii Bliss.

Finn’s story changed several times as well. At one point the former stormtrooper was supposed to find a way to defeat the First Order. Holding the vital piece of information would have been a long-lost sibling stranded on a garbage planet. That detail brings to mind Bracca, the junkyard world from Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

One of the sequences in the final film that came together last appears to be the festival planet known as Pasaana. That’s where we eventually find Lando Calrissian, and where Chewbacca is captured by the First Order. Things could have played out quite differently.

a near-final sequence from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker showing Rey, Chewbacca, Finn, C-3P0, and Poe on skimmers fighting off First Order stormtroopers on Pasaana.
Speeder Chase Version 06
Artwork: Stephen Tappin/Abrams Books

In alternate versions of the script, Rey, Poe, and Finn travel to a different planet entirely in order to visit a blind shipbuilder, an old woman with a connection to Rey’s youth as a scavenger on Jakku. Szostak writes that the shipbuilder character was eventually folded into Babu Frik, who started his own journey as a tiny chef de cuisine. The droid D-0 was originally conceived in order to take part of this sequence as well. It would have been just one of many similar machines that followed the shipbuilder around her home like ducklings.

Concept art of an early Babu Frick, a purple creature with green scales, a blend of a monkey and a lizard, sits inside a ball. He’s wearing a tiny spacesuit.
Nine-Inche Alien Version 01: The creature that would eventually become Babu Frik.
Artwork: Martin Rezard/Abrams Books

Perhaps the biggest potential changes in the tone of the script had to do with Poe. The final film uses him mostly as comic relief, but alternate versions made his role much darker and grittier. One discarded plan placed put him on a swampy planet teaming with pirates, taking his crew up-river in a nod to Apocalypse Now. Another version saw him captured by his old gang, a vicious group of drug dealers who had raised him since he was a boy.

Even after its mysterious delay, The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a far more generous and interesting book than I expected. Szostak pulls very few punches, and does an admirable job chronicling what sounds like a chaotic production.

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