Concept art for the Rise of Skywalker posted by the artists hints at a very different climax for the film than that which appeared in the theatrical version. Perhaps most interestingly is art that shows a lightsaber duel between three characters.
The art doesn’t clearly identify who the three characters are. When asked the artist replied that they couldn’t reveal who the characters were supposed to be.
It seems like a fairly safe assumption to say that one of those characters is Rey as she is the central lightsaber wielding protagonist of the trilogy. But what about the other two? Let’s see if we can deduce from other concept art that has been released and posted who those characters are supposed to be. There is concept art of Kylo leading the Sith troopers. This would have to take place after Kylo had already turned away from the Dark Side in the theatrical version of the film. This would suggest that if Kylo was redeemed at all in whatever treatment or version of the script this concept art was based on it happened much later in the film. Given that Kylo is the only lightsaber wielding antagonist in the sequel trilogy, if he wasn’t supposed to be redeemed until much later (if at all), the obvious antagonist for a three person lightsaber duel is Kylo.
But who’s the third character?
Take a look at these two pieces of concept art below. Both show a character swinging on a rope and seemingly smashing through the window of a star destroyer, except the second picture clearly identifies the character as Finn.
Finn who is Force Sensitive and who J.J. Abrams showed frequently using a lightsaber in the Force Awakens. If J.J. Abrams wanted a three person lightsaber duel in his film that involved Rey and Kylo the most logical third person is Finn. Especially considering that’s nearly what J.J. Abrams did for the climax of the Force Awakens.
Here’s the really horrible part. There’s evidence that this scene was filmed and then cut.
During principle filming for the Rise of Skywalker John Boyega posted the following. The scuffs on his hands could easily have come from the rope swinging scene.
This post was part of a larger trend of Boyega being extremely enthusiastic about the final film in the sequel trilogy. A trend that abruptly reversed immediately after the cast screening of the film, when he and the rest of the cast saw the film for the first time.
John Boyega has since gone on to open up about the racism he experienced while working on the sequel trilogy, yet in the same interview he defends J.J. Abrams.
“Everybody needs to leave my boy alone. He (J.J. Abrams) wasn’t even supposed to come back and try to save your [expletive]”
However, there is another piece of evidence to suggest that originally a very different climax was filmed for the Rise of Skywalker. During the scoring process rumors emerged that John Williams had written a new variation on Duel of the Fates. The existence of this piece of music would be in line with John Williams’ brother’s comments that the score would contain references to every other theme in the Saga. There do appear to be two instances where this music was used. The Duel of the Fates Chorus is used very very briefly in the theatrical version of the film (0:04 below) and a new piece of music that merges a variation of the Duel of the Fates with the Imperial March was used as the background music for one of the TV spots for the Rise of Skywalker.
So it does appear that the rumors about that piece of music existing are true, it was just criminally underused. Why, if it was written, was it not used in the final film?
Firstly, John Williams uses a style of composition called Leitmotif in scoring the Star Wars films. Leitmotifs are repeated musical themes and cues that are used to stress recurring people, places, objects, ideas, etc. If John Williams wrote a new variation of the Duel of the Fates for the Rise of Skywalker, it’s because he wanted to stress a similarity between that scene and the previous uses of Duel of the Fates. It’s worth noting that if John Williams was only looking for a thematically similar scene for his Duel of the Fates Redux any of the fights between Rey and Kylo would have worked and Rey and Kylo teaming up against Palpatine would have worked. Yet none of those scenes used that music. That suggests that what inspired John Williams to write this piece of music was more than just a thematic similarity between the scenes. The concept art clearly shows what that missing piece of inspiration was. There was an inescapable visual parallel between the climactic fight sketched for the Rise of Skywalker and the iconic Duel of the Fates from the Phantom Menace. A lightsaber duel between two Jedi and a Dark Side user on narrow walkways high in the air. A beautiful bit of visual poetry between the first and ninth episodes in the Skywalker Saga.
Here’s the important thing to remember: John Williams doesn’t write scores based on story treatments, or concept art, or storyboards, or even finished scripts. He writes his scores based on his reaction to watching early cuts of the film. If he wrote a new version of Duel of the Fates for the Rise of Skywalker, it was because he saw this scene.
If you still don’t believe that’s what happened consider what John Williams, himself, had to say about the scoring process for the Rise of Skywalker:
“The process went along for about six or seven months for me where we’d write a scene that [JJ Abrams] had given me and then I’d complete the scene, possibly even record it, and he’d say “well that scene is not in the film any more. We’ve done something else. We need to replace it.”
Given that the new variation of Duel of the Fates was used, it seems as though it was one of the pieces that made it as far as being recorded by the orchestra and choir prior to Lucasfilm deciding that the scene needed to be removed. There is also the fact that John Williams wrote 3 hours and 46 minutes worth of music for the Rise of Skywalker, a movie that is only 2 hours and 22 minutes long. That’s more than enough music to cover a completely different third act of the film.
The most logical conclusion to draw from this is that originally J.J. Abrams intended for the climax of the finale of the Skywalker Saga to be a visual call back to the epic climatic duel from the Phantom Menace. John Williams clearly picked up on that and wrote the music to highlight that parallel. Lucasflim then decided that they didn’t want that scene as the climax of the film and instead sidelined Finn in favor of a (potentially earlier) redemption for Kylo Ren. If this is in fact what happened Lucasfilm owes John Boyega more of an apology than just a phone call from Kathleen Kennedy. John Boyega deserves to have Finn’s heroic arc restored with the Sequel Trilogy’s Duel of the Fates (and the story that leads up to it) taking its rightful place in the Saga.