It has been fascinating to watch the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy unfold in the franchise’s new, Disney-owned era, not just because of the way things have gone, but also because of the ways they could have gone quite differently, and in some cases almost did. The production of these films has been a riveting saga unto itself. This has resulted in a myriad of ‘what if’ questions about the paths not taken and where they might have led.
So as we now approach the end of the Skywalker Saga and the first chapter of the Disney-Lucasfilm relationship with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, it’s worth taking a look back to examine these pressing ‘what if’ questions and perhaps do our best to answer them. And as far as ‘what if’ questions concerning the Sequel Trilogy are concerned, there is one that is more obvious, compelling, and meaningful than all the rest.
In December, the 42-year Skywalker Saga will come to a close, but the person who started it will not be the person who ends it. I’m talking of course about Star Wars creator George Lucas and the question that will forever be asked about Star Wars: Episode VII, VIII, and IX. What if George Lucas’ ideas had been used for the Sequel Trilogy?
To be clear, I’m not asking what if George Lucas directed the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy as he did the Prequels. That’s another question entirely and far less appealing. What I’m talking about and what I think most Star Wars fans would love to know is, what if, under the modern, Disney-owned Lucasfilm, George Lucas’ ideas and his vision for this story were used for the Sequel Trilogy.
We will likely never know the answer but if we search our feelings we can try to come up with one.
It Could Have Happened
Part of what makes this 'what if' so compelling is that it feels like we just missed it, like if one or two different decisions had been made this alternate history would have been our reality and the Sequel Trilogy films would have carried a ‘Story by George Lucas’ credit. That’s because back when Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012 with the intent of making new Star Wars movies, it also purchased George Lucas’ outlines for three new films.
Prior to the sale, George Lucas had tapped screenwriter Michael Arndt to write a treatment for the Sequel Trilogy based on his ideas. However, despite purchasing George Lucas’ outlines for the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy, Disney was not contractually obligated to use them. And as we all now know, Mickey Mouse took advantage of that little loophole.
Disney did not base Star Wars: Episode VI, VIII, and IX on the vision of the franchise’s creator and instead did its own version. J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan took over on script duties for Episode VII, replacing Michael Arndt -- who apparently struggled with his take -- and they ultimately went in a different direction. As Disney CEO Bob Iger revealed in his memoir, George Lucas felt betrayed when his script outlines and ideas for the Sequel Trilogy were scrapped.
We’ll get into the why of it all and whether or not the decision looks good or bad in hindsight, but the point is that George Lucas did have ideas of where he wanted the story to go that he clearly outlined for the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. And those ideas were not used, now residing the mysterious ether of what might have been, an expanded universe containing the canon that wasn’t.
What We Know About George Lucas’ Sequel Trilogy
There have been a lot of things said over the years, by George Lucas and others -- some contradictory -- about whether or not he intended to make three trilogies back when the originals were taking the world by storm. But there is evidence that he has had this third trilogy in mind for a long time.
It’s also possible and even likely that his vision for what Episode VII, VIII, and IX would be has changed over the years. So we don’t necessarily know his definitive vision and whether the story he had in his head in the late '70s and early '80s is what he gave to Disney when he sold Lucasfilm. So we can only go on what he’s said and what we’ve heard.
According to George Lucas himself, in James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, the Sequel Trilogy was going to go into the microbiotic world, where it would deal with the Whills, creatures that control the universe and feed off the Force. So George Lucas’ vision would have involved diving deeper than we ever have before into the nature of the Force that governs the galaxy far, far away.
The George Lucas Sequel Trilogy would have also, like the Expanded Universe (now Legends) books, focused on the grandchildren of Anakin Skywalker, with indications that they would have been more prominent in the story than the legacy characters. There have been contrary accounts as to the age of these grandchildren in Lucas’ outlines, with some saying they were teenagers, a dicey prospect that conjured images of Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace. But Lucas himself said at a Tribeca Talk that they would have been in their 20s.
Those grandchildren would have likely been the girl Kira, who would go on to become Rey, and Sam, both glimpsed in an art book for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It also seems likely Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker would have played something of the Obi-Wan Kenobi role training either his or Leia’s children, similar to what happened with Ben Solo.
What We Don’t Know
While we know that George Lucas’ Sequel Trilogy would have continued and concluded the story of the Skywalker family with the third generation, there is plenty that we don’t know. Beyond the children of the original trio and the returning Luke, Han, and Leia, we don’t really know what other characters these films would have included. And more critically, we don’t know what the story of these films would have been.
The lack of knowledge about the actual story represents a huge blind spot when trying to guess what George Lucas’ Sequel Trilogy would have been like. Based on the concept art for The Force Awakens, there are indications of things like Jedi killers and an Anakin/Vader Force Ghost, but it is difficult to discern what ideas originated with George Lucas and which ones were created by Michael Arndt or someone else.
George Lucas said that his films would have gone into the microbiotic world, but what does that mean and how big a part in the story would it have been? Would the Millennium Falcon have been shrunk down Fantastic Voyage-style to go fight Force germs? What was the arc of the story over the three films and what was the journey for the characters, both the new and the legacy ones, actually like? Who would the villains have been? What’s the central conflict?
It’s basically impossible to craft a detailed theory of what George Lucas’ Sequel Trilogy would have been like without these critical story elements. Yet while that makes this hypothetical difficult to evaluate, it also makes it an endlessly compelling mystery.
Disney's Decision Was Understandable...
While we’d all love to know what George Lucas’ Star Wars Sequel Trilogy would have been, the fact that we never got it is unsurprising and somewhat understandable. Disney had just purchased this massive asset in Lucasfilm and it was critical that it delivered a Star Wars movie that was a hit and relaunched this brand as a viable and potent part of the Mouse House’s business strategy moving forward.
George Lucas’ last Star Wars films were the Prequels and while those films are viewed a bit more favorably nowadays and were the Star Wars films for an entire generation of fans, the perception around them was terrible. It is understandable that Disney wanted to play it safe and appeal to the lapsed fans that disliked the Prequels by giving them a film that adhered to the style of the Original Trilogy.
Plus, based on the few things we’ve heard about George Lucas’ trilogy, you can see where alarm bells of concern might have went off. Having young leads likely conjured troubling comparisons to The Phantom Menace. It also seems like Disney would want to avoid the obvious parallels between the Whills and the microbiotic world (which almost seemed like Lucas trolling) and the much-maligned introduction of midi-chlorians.
There is definitely something of a grass is always greener quality to George Lucas’ Sequel Trilogy. Sure, a lot of people, including actor Simon Pegg, miss George Lucas’ influence on Star Wars now, but that is only with the benefit of hindsight after two Sequel Trilogy films, neither of which was universally loved. It’s entirely possible that people would have hated a trilogy based on Lucas’ ideas, another testament to a creator who fell out of touch, who tinkered and retconned too much and whose creation would be better off without him.
...But Perhaps Not The Right One
Despite the flaws of the Prequels, we still wish we could see George Lucas’ Sequel Trilogy, or at least know what it would have been like. There may indeed be a grass is greener mindset informing this desire, but there are also plenty of reasons why this 'what if' should have been what actually happened.
Besides doing right by George Lucas, the big appeal of a George Lucas Sequel Trilogy is that whether everyone ultimately loved it or not, it would have been the real story. In a way, the current Sequel Trilogy is just big budget fan fiction. We aren’t getting the true canon, what the creator of this story had in mind. We’re getting six parts out of his nine-part story. It's an incomplete vision and incredibly sad that we won’t ever get to know how his Saga truly ended.
This wouldn’t be so bad if George Lucas seemed to approve of the current Sequel Trilogy, but we know he doesn’t. So it’s hard not to want to see what the vision of the creator was from start to finish. There’s also reason to think that this wouldn’t have been a repeat of the debacle of the Prequels.
If George Lucas had directed Episode VII-IX that would be one thing, but the way we’re looking at this is if these films were still made at Disney using Lucas’ ideas, but with a different filmmaker. George Lucas is a great storyteller but not always a great director. If someone else had handled the script and directing duties on the Prequels, like Steven Spielberg or Ron Howard, using Lucas' ideas, you probably would have had three great films.
A Sequel Trilogy using his ideas could have had the benefit of George Lucas’ storytelling and creativity, while also having a more competent director like J.J. Abrams executing that vision onscreen. George Lucas loves to experiment and try new things and we can safely say that his Episode VII wouldn’t have been a rehash of A New Hope.
So the creator had some input, but how much of his input was utilized and will manifest onscreen is another matter entirely. But it is not outside the realm of possibility that while the journey was different, the Sequel Trilogy will still end in a place similar to where George Lucas would have taken it.
We’ll never get to see George Lucas’ Sequel Trilogy on the big screen. Nor will we see his vision play out in an alternate reality animated series (which would be awesome). And he definitely wouldn’t, and likely legally couldn’t, publish his Sequel Trilogy treatment for fans to read. Nevertheless, we will forever continue to wonder, what if?