A little over five years ago I came up with what I thought was a pretty neat idea. Remember that TV show Millennium? It only lasted three seasons and the third one was pretty lackluster. Well, a dedicated group of fans took it upon themselves to create the Millennium Virtual Fourth Season. It was an entire season's worth of episode scripts that not only brought the story to a satisfying conclusion, but it also fixed a lot of plot problems that had cropped up along the way.
It was the Millennium Virtual Fourth Season that led me to think about doing the same thing for the Star Wars saga, since there would be no more movies in the series after the third prequel. You know: all that about how George Lucas "originally" planned for it to be twelve, and then nine movies? What if someone tried to "figure out" what the last three movies would have been like? But this being Star Wars, it deserved to be a far more bold effort that simply putting out a script or three.
Here was the idea: extrapolate what a third Star Wars trilogy might have been like, had George Lucas chosen to make his film saga a nine-part story. It wasn’t going to be a "film" series per se (I doubt even the most tenacious Star Wars fans could have pulled this off as a fan film). But it was going to be more than three scripts either. There would have been the scripts, plus a lot of accompanying multimedia: pictures, animations, poster art, heck maybe even a soundtrack to download as MP3 files if someone wanted to give scoring it a try. It was going to be something akin to what Lucasfilm did with their "Shadows of the Empire" thing ten years ago (wow, ten years ago this month, I think!): market it as if it were a movie, but without a real movie to speak of. Part of me wonders if anyone would have tried to make custom action figures out of this, which I would have loved to have seen (particularly of this one character I had in mind, a really squat-looking Jedi, sort of like Gimli the Dwarf with a lightsaber). Have the entire thing put online for everyone to download and enjoy, and use their own talents to add to it for others to enjoy too.
I spent about a year working out the general story. It got announced on TheForce.net early in 2002... and then went nowhere. Part of it was my fault: so much started happening in my personal life that I didn’t get to dedicate as much time as I wanted to it. If I'd announced it a year earlier, a lot more headway could have been made with it. It’s weird 'cuz other than kick off the whole thing and take an "executive producer" role in guiding the general story along, I really wanted to take a "hands-off" approach to it.
This wasn't going to be one fan's interpretation of what happened after Return of the Jedi, where his take on characters and situations might vary considerably from whatever George Lucas might have envisioned. With a lot of people working on it, and holding ourselves accountable to the spirit of the saga, there would be far more assurance that the Virtual Sequels would have all the ingredients of vintage Star Wars storytelling: action, thrills, outrageousness, and of course humor. In a lot of ways this was going to be like the ultimate work of fan fiction. There's no way any one person could do a Star Wars pastiche and do it right according to whatever George Lucas may have had in mind. This was something that belonged to ANYBODY who wanted to contribute. And if someone had an idea that went wildly off-tangent from what I'd envisioned but was better than the original plan, well I was going to be all gung-ho for it. Guess you could say I was more interested in just starting the Virtual Sequels Project off, and then for the most part sitting back and seeing what my fellow fans could do with all their imagination and talent. Not that I wanted to take a lot of credit just for that, mind ya... I was just gonna be happy to see something like this going somewhere.
But that never really happened, not to the best of my knowledge anyway. There were some ongoing attempts to really make it take off, but so far as I know there hasn't been anything to date that's come of it.
Well, in case anyone ever wanted to know where I'd originally planned for this to be headed, here is the lowdown on the Star Wars Virtual Sequels Project...
In approaching what the Virtual Sequels would have been about, I took the approach that the Star Wars movies are a massive morality tale about power. The prequels are about discovering power. The classic trilogy is about struggling with how to use that power. The Virtual Sequels in my mind were to be the next stage in that: they were going to deal with learning when – and how – to relinquish that power, despite the desire to cling to it at all costs. I had that in mind, and something else that I thought would make the perfect ending for this multi-generational saga: I wanted to bring the Skywalker family back home.
Virtual Episode VII was to have taken place thirty years after the Battle of Endor. I figured that would be plenty enough time for Luke Skywalker to at least have a good start on recreating the Jedi order, both from new recruits and whoever may have survived the Jedi Purge (which we didn’t know was called "Order 66" at the time). It also would have allowed time for Luke to marry and have children who would be old enough to play central roles in the story. As for whom Luke would have married to, that was a no-brainer: Mara Jade. Some of the characters from the Expanded Universe were going to be used, but their backstories were going to be radically different than how they’ve played out in the established literature. I absolutely had to use Mara Jade. Her origin as a student of the Emperor would have been somewhat retained, and she and Luke would be married far earlier than where they were in the EU timeline. I wanted to use Mara and I wanted to use her and Luke's children as some of the main characters. In fact, I think it's safe to say that in my plan for the Virtual Sequels, it was in this third trilogy that the female characters of the Star Wars saga would really get their time to shine. Mara, her daughter, Leia… the ladies had a lot more "camera time" in this trilogy. Thrawn was going to come into play in Episode VIII, but other than his basic appearance he was going to be completely different from his EU incarnation. I envisioned him being this Attila-like warlord who would lead his armies out of the Unknown Regions, one more threat as if things weren't bad enough. He would have been a lot like the kind of threat that Count Dooku was in Episode II. Maybe a few other characters, like Leia and Han's children, would have made the transition. Han Solo himself died in tragic circumstances years earlier, alongside good buddy Lando Calrissian. Chewbacca was still alive though, and was honored for his bravery in the civil war by being bestowed the title of chieftain of all Kashyyyk... but I envisioned him being very much like the sullen king that Conan is at the end of Conan the Barbarian. Artoo and Threepio were naturally in the story: Artoo was going to accompany Luke's daughter throughout most of her adventures.
The Sith figured nowhere in my plan. As far as I'm concerned, Anakin Skywalker ended the Sith once and for all when he sacrificed himself to save his son by destroying Darth Sidious. Nor was there any more Empire, not even the most cohesive remnant of it. Palpatine's rule was something like Marshal Tito's in Yugoslavia: he may have been a very bad man, but he did keep the galaxy from tearing itself apart by ruling it with an iron fist. It was only after Tito died that his country began coming unglued and split into warring factions. That would have been the state of the galaxy for a few decades after the fall of the Empire: there would not have been an overnight acknowledgement throughout the galaxy of a new Republic's authority. And without that the galaxy would be rife with power struggle. Imagine a really bad Reconstruction era on a galaxy-wide scale, and that would pretty much describe the situation thirty years after the Battle of Endor. But look at how much wonderful literature – like Gone With The Wind - is based on the Reconstruction. Even without a central villain, there would have been plenty of storytelling possibilities.
But this is Star Wars, and a main baddie is needed. I had a character in mind, and I never really settled on what to name him but for the longest time I referred to him as "the Liege Golem". He was going to be this very shadowy figure, I guess you could say he operated a lot like Darth Sidious did in The Phantom Menace, but over the course of the story he would become a far more overtly-active persona than Sidious ever was. Golem would have really established himself as a worthy opponent in Episode VII, when he killed off a major good guy in a lightsaber duel. Golem – or whatever his name would have ended up being - wasn't going to be Sith at all. He was going to be one more example of what happens after a war, when there's all these unresolved problems and weapons laying around for anyone to pick them up.
Of all the problems that would come with the fall of the Empire, the most glaring in my mind was "what exactly do we do with millions... if not billions... of Stormtroopers?" It's not like they can all file for unemployment, is it? Well, I came up with a solution for what to do with all those Stormtroopers... but it was a pretty nasty one. I would even say that it would have been downright controversial. And it was going to have some very haunting repercussions for one major character, in a downright shocking way... but it was also going to allow for a personal redemption to take place too.
Okay, let's talk about how the episodes in the Virtual Sequels would have gone story-wise.
In the opening scene of Episode VII, two Jedi were arriving on a mission to the planet Naboo (sound familiar?). They were going to be the son and daughter of Luke Skywalker, who wasn't going to figure quite as prominently as one might think he would in the first part of a sequel trilogy. For more than twenty years there had been no trade or communication with Naboo. Luke was sending his children as envoys to re-establish contact with the planet... and also find out why exactly it had been cut off from the nascent New Republic. The reason for that would be discovered fairly early on, when the two Jedi find that Naboo has long been held captive by Stormtroopers from the old Empire. Without the Emperor or even a real government to serve, what Stormtroopers survived the Republic’s "solution" began organizing themselves into nomadic clans. For almost thirty years they'd been driven by a desire to survive and somehow continue a fight that was already lost a long time ago. They were using whatever old Imperial weaponry they could scavenge from the fallen Empire. Their numbers would have been dwindling down significantly, not only because of violent death but being clones they were aging faster than baseline humans. Well, these tattered remnants of the once-vast Stormtrooper legions had found a way to propagate: aided by a mysterious benefactor, they were using Naboo's vast natural resources to set up a massive cloning operation. And their sinister sponsor had provided them with a prime substance from which to replenish their ranks: the genetic material of the very first clone template... a man named Jango Fett.
That was one of the things I wanted to incorporate into the Virtual Sequels: tying them not only to the classic trilogy, but to the prequels also... just as George Lucas connected the prequels to the classics. And one of the things I was really looking forward to doing was to introduce the leader of the Gungans at this point in time, since Boss Nass would have been long gone. So we were going to meet an old, wrinkled and bitter Gungan who was once called something else, but now was known as Boss Jarrius. I thought it would be cool to have one of Jar Jar’s eyes sliced off too, and make him really decrepit-looking.
Well, long story short, Luke's daughter and son were going to make it to Naboo, find out what was going on, and run afoul of the clone clanners. They soon thereafter hook up with some of the natives. Realizing they needed to contact the Republic about this, Luke's daughter steals a ship while her brother stays behind (and would come to grow infatuated with one of the local girls) to try and rally both Naboo and Gungans to stand up and fight these guys. En route to Coruscant Luke's daughter had to land the ship on Kessel for repairs (after taking damage while escaping). Kessel was going to be Roughneck City. And it was in its spice mines that I'd planned for the "movie"'s "faster more intense" thrill ride sequence to take place. It was here that Luke's daughter was going to meet a young miner – no he wasn't going to be five years younger than her – who was going to wind up her ally on this planet. Partly because he conned her into it, but also because she kind of liked the guy, he wound up finally leaving Kessel and going with her to Coruscant. Luke and the Council – definitely more hands-on than it was in the days of Mace Windu and Yoda – decide to lead a task force to liberate the planet. What follows is a battle that takes place on the surface of Naboo, in orbit above it and beneath its oceans, where the cloning facilities were being put into operation. And it would be during this battle that we would really see Liege Golem revealed for the villain he is for the first time... before he KILLED Mara Jade in a lightsaber duel!
Yeah, I said that in my plan for the Virtual Sequels that the women would play a bigger role in this trilogy. Well, in this first act it was going to be a girl's turn to be the one who takes the tragic fall. Mara dies, but the cloning facilities are destroyed and the clone clans are finally repulsed from Naboo. Liege Golem is nowhere to be found... for the moment. For the first time in a half-century, Naboo is finally and truly a free world. And in the "film"'s biggest irony, Luke's son, who wound up leading the peoples of Naboo in fighting off their oppressors, despite not even being from the planet is elected to be sovereign leader of the Naboo... just as his grandmother has been sixty years earlier. So like Episodes I and IV, Episode VII was going to end on a happy, upbeat note.
Episode VIII was to pick up about five years later. The clone clans would still be a major nuisance, but the REAL problem was going to be a vast army that was coming out of the Unknown Regions, led by a strategic genius named Thrawn. I wanted very little to be known about these guys, other than they were really good at decimating whatever planets were in their way (one idea was that Thrawn was going to "carve" his name in kilometers-wide script into the surfaces of any worlds he conquered, as his way of claiming them). The Jedi and Republic were scrambling to figure out how to deal with this threat, but I also had in mind an interlude where Luke was going to return to the Lars homestead, where he grew up, for the first time since he buried the smoldering remains of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. It was here that he was going to reunite with childhood friends Tank and Cammie (filmed but not used in A New Hope). This was going to establish the Lars farm for when it was needed later on in Episode IX.
I came up with the biggest disaster of Episode VIII almost a year before 9/11, and to this day it creeps me out how similar my idea was to what happened in real life. Toward the end of the "movie" it had Coruscant being virtually destroyed: the last remnants of the clone army, believing they've been left with no possible way to win, lash out a final spiteful blow to the Republic. The clones were going to commandeer hundreds of Star Destroyers left over from the Galactic Empire, and send them all on a suicide course, smashing into Coruscant's planet-wide city.
The big revelation of Episode VIII was going to be when Golem removed his mask, and his face looked exactly like Luke's! It was to be a scene that brought to mind the Dark Side cave in The Empire Strikes Back. That was when Luke confronted his own Dark Side potential in a vision. There’s an old legend about the wizard Merlin having a "twin" brother, an opposite number to Merlin who was actually Merlin's afterbirth. That's what Golem was going to be to Luke. Remember in the Timothy Zahn novels how it turned out that Vader found Luke's hand after their fight on Bespin, and it was later used by Joruus C'baoth to create the Luuke Skywalker clone? Well, Golem wasn't going to be a clone per se of Luke... he was going to be Luke's severed hand itself! It was going to be revealed that Vader brought Luke's hand to Darth Sidious. Using advanced technology plus his skill in the Dark Side, Sidious was going to "grow" a whole new Luke out of that hand, to be an apprentice if Luke refused to yield to the Dark Side. So imagine Luke's original severed hand, with evil Luke growing out of it.
And it would have gone back to a lot of stuff from the Grail legends, about losing part of yourself and being changed into something more than what you were. Symbolically, Luke was cut off from his own Dark Side when he lost his hand – something that would subtly recollect the moment he looks at his artificial hand during the lightsaber duel in Return of the Jedi – and he grew to become wiser and more powerful because of it. But his own Dark Side potential had now taken form in Liege Golem, and Luke was going to have to confront that. Golem was what Luke would have become had he turned to the Sith, just as Anakin became Darth Vader, although Golem would definitely not be a true Sith at all.
Well, it was going to be revealed that the reason Thrawn's fleet came pouring out of the Unknown Regions was because he was being directed to do so by Liege Golem. This, and Golem's dealings with the clone clans, all figured into Golem's real master plan. He was orchestrating events in a way that the Jedi... and Luke and the Skywalker family in particular... would increasingly be tempted to use their power to intervene and take control of the situation. Until ultimately the Jedi would to rule the galaxy, with the Skywalkers at the top of the heap. Golem wasn't out to destroy the Jedi: he intended for them to take over everything. And this was important to consider about Liege Golem: to him, there was no distinction between Jedi and Sith. There was only power and the will to use it. To him the semantics or philosophical differences didn't matter at all. This was going to be revealed for the most part during the duel between Golem and Luke's daughter: who was going to be given the choice of surrendering now and letting all this carnage cease, or fight on and let the galaxy continue to burn. No limbs got chopped off this time... unless you count Luke's original hand getting severed (again) from Golem's arm. But don't worry he was still gonna be evil as they come.
The final scene of Episode VIII was going to be Luke's daughter and her boyfriend (the guy she met on Kessel... and he was gonna play a heckuva bigger role than I've let on here so far) looking down from the viewport of a Jedi cruiser onto the ruined landscape of Coruscant far below, with smaller vessels carrying survivors straggling into orbit. They decided that they can't put off their love any longer, not with how there are no guarantees. He asks her to marry him and Luke's daughter says yes. It was going to come across a lot like that final shot of The Empire Strikes Back.
Episode IX would take place two years later, and in my mind was going to be as sullen and apocalyptic as it could possibly be. And it was going to finally, once and for all, answer the problem of power and the Force. Luke was going to do something that would forevermore make it impossible for the Force to go out of balance. On the eve of the last battle (of the entire Star Wars saga, so it had to be pretty darned honking big), he was going to give his final command to the Jedi Order: whether the battle was won or lost, they were ordered to disband and disperse. The Jedi were to be scattered to the four winds across the galaxy. There would be no more Jedi Council, no more centralized structure for the Jedi. Never again would the Force be something reserved for an elite few: the Jedi were to flee, and wherever they were led they were to teach others what they knew about the Force. Luke was going to make it so that no one sect – or no one person – would ever use the Force to control the galaxy again. In this way Luke Skywalker was going to become very much a Christ figure: sending "missionaries" unto all nations to "preach" a message.
It was during the final battle that Luke's daughter (who at this point is pregnant, which I had no idea would be analogous to where Padme would be at this point in Revenge of the Sith), her husband and Luke would have their final confrontation with Liege Golem, with it coming down to a lightsaber battle between Luke and his own dark potential. Golem was going to be killed, and Luke would be mortally wounded. Liege Golem's forces (made up of Thrawn's army and a few others, including some former Jedi who left the Order) are beaten in the main battle and we see them defeated in skirmishes around the galaxy. The Jedi obey Luke's decree and scatter. The Republic is in ruins – maybe in even worse shape than it was at the end of Episode III – but with the Jedi now working abroad and throughout it, there is finally the hope of a real and lasting peace to come about.
As for Luke Skywalker, grievously wounded and near death, he commands his ship to be flown to Tatooine. His daughter begins to go into labor. With the suns setting they land on the outskirts of the Lars homestead, which Luke had given to Cammie and her husband. Luke's daughter is taken inside, and Luke tells his son-in-law to take him and Artoo in a landspeeder out into the Dune Sea. They come to a place far in the desert where Luke leaves the speeder, and in his final order to Artoo he entrusts the faithful droid with his lightsaber. Luke tells his son-in-law to leave him, but he refuses. Luke tells him to at least take the speeder a distance away. This his son-in-law reluctantly does, and when he stops he turns to see a ship has landed, with three beings of Yoda's race using the Force to lift an unconscious Luke into their vessel. The ship takes off into the night, leaving only Artoo behind on the desert floor. Luke's son-in-law retrieves the droid and returns to the Lars homestead, arriving just in time to see the birth of his newborn son. The Skywalker bloodline, which left Tatooine almost seventy years earlier, has finally come home.
The End. Roll credits.
Now, all of that is leaving out a lot of other stuff, like one thing about why Luke Skywalker realizes he must take his own family out of the bigger picture of the galaxy, and have it return to more humble roots. It's also leaving out something of a political scandal involving Leia. What I've just laid out is really a pretty rough synopsis of what was going to happen, per the original plan... which like I said could have changed radically according to the input from everyone involved in the Virtual Sequels Project.
A lot of different worlds were going to be featured in this: familiar ones like Coruscant and Tatooine and Naboo, but also newer locales like the barren landscape of Kessel. I've always like the idea of Tarkin's homeworld of Eriadu, a factory planet, and that was going to be used. By far the most disturbing was going to be a "cemetery world", where the entire planet was one massive graveyard... and where a terrible secret would be revealed about one of the main characters. And there was going to be a return to Dagobah and the Dark Side Cave... which at the time I was hoping would be investigated further in the prequels, but that never happened.
The Virtual Sequels were going to introduce a lot of new characters, but also bring back a lot of familiar faces from across the six movies that were really made. I already mentioned how Jar Jar Binks was going to be used. Well, I had a plan in mind to bring a Fett into the story... after a fashion. How it was going to be done is something I'm gonna keep to myself for now, but suffice it to say that if you know anything about Jango Fett's tragic childhood, you might be pleased to know that there was going to be a happy destiny for his progeny after all.
And right now I'm trying to think if I left out anything really important. Even if I did this monster of a post just hit nine pages of length in Microsoft Word, so I'd better stop while I'm ahead.
Anyway, there it is: the Virtual Sequels Project. Even if nothing ever really came of this like I'd imagined it would, I'm glad to finally have this out in the open, for benefit of anyone who might still remember this and wonder what in the world was this trying to accomplish. And who knows, maybe someday someone will take what I've just written here and try to do something with it. Nothing would please me more than to see that happen (well some things in this life would please me more, but you know what I mean).
Any questions? :-)