Bringing Star Wars back to the big screen was no easy thing. That’s what makes the period in Star Wars history from around 2012-2015, involving the genesis of Episode VII and the first chapter of the Sequel Trilogy, particularly fascinating. It wasn’t enough to just make a new Star Wars movie; Disney and Lucasfilm had to resurrect a cinematic franchise that was dormant for a decade, return it to its former glory following a creatively disappointing Prequel Trilogy, and above all else, craft a fitting continuation of the medium’s most iconic story.
One of the people tasked with achieving all of this was screenwriter Michael Arndt. The Oscar-winning screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine was the first person tapped to bring Star Wars: Episode VII to life on the page when he was formally hired to write the film’s screenplay. Of course as we know, his vision is not the one that made it to the screen in 2015. He was eventually replaced, with screenwriting duties being handed over to Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams.
Normally, a writer getting replaced on a blockbuster movie wouldn’t be cause for speculation and hypotheticals, but the fact that we know some of what his ideas for Episode VII entailed, and how different they are from what we actually got in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, makes Michael Arndt’s script the basis for a compelling ‘what if’ question.
What if Star Wars: The Force Awakens had used the Michael Arndt script?
Why He Left Episode VII
It may have seemed like the completion of the Disney deal is what spurred the creation of new Star Wars movies, but that isn’t entirely true. Lucasfilm actually brought Michael Arndt on board to write treatments for all three films of the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy, working with George Lucas and consultant Lawrence Kasdan prior to the Disney purchase. Following the Disney purchase, Lucasfilm officially confirmed that Michael Arndt would be the screenwriter for Episode VII.
So what happened? Well, as is the case with most of the creative turnover in the Disney era of Star Wars, we may never have a complete picture, and can only go off of what we’ve heard and what’s been said. Supposedly Michael Arndt was struggling with the script, and with a release date set, the production simply didn’t have time to wait, so someone else had to take over.
Scheduling issues were also cited at one point, but it seems more likely that the time crunch and the all-powerful creative differences played more of a role. But regardless of why he left or whether or not he finished a complete draft of the script, we do know a fair bit about what Michael Arndt had in mind for Episode VII.
The Focus Of The Film May Have Been Different
Michael Arndt may share a screenwriting credit on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but what we know about his script paints a picture of a very different Episode VII than what we got. Furthermore, all indications are that the film changed significantly when J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan took over, and that it was their vision that largely dominated the final film.
The biggest reported difference between Michael Arndt’s Star Wars: Episode VII and what we got with Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the film’s character focus. Michael Arndt’s script apparently leaned into the generational aspects of the Skywalker Saga and focused more heavily on the offspring of Luke, Han and Leia (although it’s not clear whose offspring), with the trio playing more of a supporting role.
When J.J. Abrams took over, he supposedly wanted to focus more on the original trio to give them a fitting sendoff. Having now seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the focus isn’t as clear-cut as that. It’s really only Han Solo that plays a major role in the movie. Leia is more of a supporting character and Luke Skywalker isn’t even in the movie until the very end.
Maybe the difference with the focus of Michael Arndt’s script was simply that Han Solo wasn’t as prominent. But one character that might have gotten more shine, and maybe even a line or two of dialogue, was Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker.
Luke Skywalker Could Have Played A Bigger Part
One of the things that Michael Arndt has admitted to struggling with was Luke Skywalker’s role in the movie. In his early drafts, Rey’s home is destroyed, leading her to go off on the road and meet Luke Skywalker, but it just never worked. At a Q&A following a screening of the film back in 2015, as reported by Entertainment Weekly, Michael Arndt said:
It just felt like every time Luke came in and entered the movie, he just took it over. Suddenly you didn’t care about your main character anymore because, ‘Oh fuck, Luke Skywalker’s here. I want to see what he’s going to do.’
A bigger role for Luke Skywalker may seem at odds with the notion that Michael Arndt was focusing on the offspring of the Original Trilogy trio, but not necessarily. Luke was a MacGuffin in The Force Awakens and basically had no role, so anything would have been bigger than what he got. Also, it seems that a desire to focus on the newer characters is what made Luke such a difficult character to deal with for Michael Arndt.
Luke was too awesome and his arrival too exciting, and he kept overshadowing Rey. That’s why they ultimately pushed him to the end of the movie. So Michael Arndt’s final vision for Star Wars: The Force Awakens may not have included more Luke, but at one point it did, and it’s hard not to imagine how things might have been different if that original vision had held.
Depending on how it played out, I suspect that Luke’s eventual death in Star Wars: The Last Jedi might have gone down easier for some if we got to see more of him in The Force Awakens, especially if he really got to mix it up, green lightsaber in hand. Of course, if Michael Arndt’s script had been used, and Rey and Luke met up earlier, it would have fundamentally altered the direction of Episode VIII and probably that film’s controversial approach to Luke’s character.
Different Fates For The Characters
Michael Arndt’s ending for Star Wars: The Force Awakens would have also altered Episode VIII and beyond. As you know, at the end of the actual film, in an effort to rid himself of the pull of the light, Ben Solo kills his father, Han Solo. But that was a change made by J.J. Abrams. According to Michael Arndt, he thought that the story was about bringing Harrison Ford’s Han and Carrie Fisher’s Leia back together.
So at the end of Michael Arndt’s Episode VII, Han would have lived, and he and Leia would have reconciled their differences and gotten back together. This would have surely resulted in a different Sequel Trilogy overall. Han Solo would have been back in Episode VIII and we would have had the chance to potentially see the original trio onscreen together in that middle chapter, which is something many have lamented the Sequel Trilogy has missed out on.
It’s difficult to know exactly how Han living would have altered the arc of the story, but it seems likely that at least two of the original trio characters would have made it to Episode IX, and not just Leia. Han living may have also made Kylo’s struggle with the light more about him and his parents than what it has become with him and Rey.
At least as far as The Force Awakens is concerned, fans may have liked seeing Han and Leia get something of a happy ending. And Rey’s new mentor Han dying was an obvious parallel to Luke’s mentor Obi-Wan dying in A New Hope. So maybe if Han had lived, Episode VII would have felt just a little less like a rehash.Though one possible drawback to Han living and coming together with Leia is they could have pulled too much focus from the new characters moving forward.
Some of Arndt’s Ideas May Live On
There’s a lot we don’t know about Michael Arndt’s Episode VII and what his vision was for the Sequel Trilogy as a whole. Would he have killed Luke? What was his plan for Snoke and the Knights of Ren? Was Emperor Palpatine ever part of the long-term equation? We’ll probably never know the answers to those questions, but interestingly, it seems that some of the ideas from Michael Arndt’s time on Star Wars: Episode VII will actually make their way into Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Now, it is important to note that because he was brought on before Disney purchased Lucasfilm, it is difficult to parse which ideas from Michael Arndt’s script were based on George Lucas’ treatment and which ones he came up with after Lucas’ ideas were scrapped.
Some of the reported elements from earlier versions of The Force Awakens included a search for Darth Vader’s remains and a journey to the underwater wreckage of the second Death Star to recover information about the location of Jedi temples throughout the galaxy. If you’ve seen the trailers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, it’s clear that these elements will play a part in the story.
In the trailers for Episode IX, we see Rey and Kylo Ren in battle and destroying what appears to be Darth Vader’s helmet. So the Dark Side artifact will come back into the story, albeit not when and not necessarily how it was intended.
In addition, the trailers have shown Rey and friends approaching the wreckage of the Death Star, as well as her and Kylo standing in the Emperor’s throne room. That means a journey to the second Death Star will show up two movies after originally planned. With Luke now dead, this quest won’t be about finding the location of the Jedi temples in order to find the Jedi Master, but the team is definitely heading to the monument of evil for a reason.
So although he left Star Wars: The Force Awakens and his vision for the Sequel Trilogy largely changed after his departure, Michael Arndt still left his mark on a galaxy far, far away.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker blasts into theaters on December 20. Check out our 2020 Release Schedule to keep track of all of the big movies coming next year.