So, as promised, I’m going to post a rough, semi-thought-out idea of how I’d have done “The Force Awakens’ that is, in my opinion, much better than what we got. I’m not putting a lot of thought and polish into this, so some things won’t work, and you won’t really get full, final-movie-quality dialogue. So there will be things that won’t work and things that will work. Also, I’m going to borrow from the EU as I see fit to make things work, and indeed am going to write this to insert the elements that I want to see. You may not share my opinions on that.
So, let us begin:
Let’s start with the opening crawl. I’d do it something like this:
Just when the New Republic was on the brink of finally defeating the Empire, the Chiss Grand Admiral Thrawn returned from the Outer Rim to take command. Joining with a former apprentice of Luke Skywalker and reforming the Empire as “The First Order”, Thrawn pushed the New Republic forces back. It was only the skills of Admiral Ackbar, Wedge Antilles, and the other great military leaders of the Rebellion that managed to halt the surge, leaving the galaxy in a precarious balance between the New Republic and the First Order.
General Leia Organa leads a Resistance movement in First Order space, secretly funded by the New Republic in an attempt to destabilize “The First Order”. She also has another concern, as Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi, has left in search of Tython, where the first Jedi temple was built, in an attempt to find guidance after his Jedi Academy was destroyed by The First Order, and has not returned.
A skilled Jedi pilot might have stumbled upon the key to finding Skywalker …”
And then we open roughly the same way, except that instead of Poe Dameron I’d put Syal Antilles here. After all, everything that Poe does in the movie is really what you’d get Wedge Antilles to do in the original trilogy, and Denis Lawson didn’t want to come back, so it’s a nice callback to the original movies. Here, I’d even have her drop hints that she came to that guy on the advice of her sister, thus dropping hints of Myri Antilles, and setting her up as a possible character in case they ever need an Intelligence source at some point. The guy who has the data doesn’t know what it is, and almost forgot he had it, but knows that Luke left it behind in case anything happened to him on his travels.
Now, the attack on the village commences. Here, with Finn, I’d take great pains to show him as being coolly competent in the battle, even leading men in the attack. I’d even have him stop Syal’s ship from escaping and help if not capture her himself. Kylo Ren can come down, end the battle dramatically, and then order Syal taken up for questioning. Another trooper can ask what to do, and Ren should hesitate, and then order the village wiped out. Finn will line up with the others, raise his weapon … and then lower it. This will just seem wrong to him.
Later, you can have him overhear that Syal is going to be tortured, or even have him ordered to stand guard outside while Ren does it by that general, where it will have the opposite effect of what she intended, as it will only make him even more clear that the First Order is actually immoral, breaking his conditioning.
After Ren gets the information from Syal, he goes to meet his mentor. At this point, the person leading the First Order is not Snoke or whoever he is, but is, in fact, Thrawn. But his mentor will be — and this will probably annoy some fans of the EU — Mara Jade, former Emperor’s Hand. Note that I’d have the scene where Ren asks to be saved from his light side tendencies right before he goes to get the information from Syal, because it’s important here, as Mara Jade will tell him that the time has come for him to lead the First Order, based on his actions on the planet and with Syal. Ren will protest that Thrawn leads. Mara Jade will insist that they can never restore the legacy of the Empre without a Sith in control. Ren will ask why she doesn’t do it. She’ll say that she’s not strong enough in the Force, but he is. The whole point here is to demonstrate that their goals are not mere power, and that they aren’t competing, but that they really do just want to restore Vader’s legacy here.
At any rate, Ren will ask what to do about Thrawn. She says to kill him. But when they go looking for him, he’s already disappeared. At pretty much the same time, Finn will break Syal out. If you really wanted to, you could play this as one of Thrawn’s brilliant plans, as he gives the First Order lots to deal with to mask his own escape. At any rate, the chase goes about the same, except that instead of the “thrown from the crash” sort of thing, Syal ejects him and then tries to land herself, with the line “Tie fighters have ejector seats?!?” “They do now!”. I’d make the escape much more competent than it was, and ditch the tether part, because that was both goofy and boring.
At any rate, after this Ren will ask Mara Jade what to do, and she’ll mention their superweapon, and that it’s time to use it. Ren will say that Thrawn thought that it was dishonourable, and Mara Jade will reply that that was his greatest failing.
Anyway, Finn is now down on the planet, and Rey has still hooked up with BB8. These scenes could be done better, but the content is all right. When they hook up with each other, I wouldn’t have her chase him down because the droid recognized the jacket. Instead, I’d have Finn trying to complete Syal’s mission, and so deliberately pretend to be a Resistance agent. Then the First Order attacks. In thinking about it, what I’d want is for Han Solo to fly in and rescue them, with suitable banter like “Why should I trust you?” “Well, you can go with us or take your chances with the guys shooting at you!” “Good point!”. I’d drop the “holding hands” part entirely. You can still have Rey fix things or shoot well or whatever, if you want to establish her toughness, but you can keep the thug scene for that.
Anyway, it turns out that while Han Solo has returned to smuggling, he’s still a member of the Resistance, sent there to get them. He has to go to that planet first, anyway, to get the final co-ordinates to the Resistance base (he’s still a bit on the outs). Much of the rest of the events can happen, even with Finn almost deciding to leave and deciding to stay when the attack begins. Syal can return to save the day, and they can end up at the Resistance base again, with Han clearly a member, but one who it is made clear never sticks around for long. What’s important here is to establish that Han didn’t completely abandon his growth from the original trilogy, but when his son Ren went bad he ran away, like he did in the New Jedi Order series … only this time, he didn’t manage to come back.
At any rate, soon after they see the demonstration of the weapon, and then Thrawn shows up, willingly, with Pellaeon at his side, explaining what the weapon does, why we wouldn’t use it, and that Ren and Mara Jade have no such compunctions, which is why he left, and offering to help them destroy it, which means that they have detailed information that doesn’t rely on what a janitor can remember. This works out well because Thrawn can take on the Ackbar role now that the voice actor has died, and it also allows for an interesting juxtaposition, as if you recall in “A New Hope” Vader was unimpressed by the Death Star, but those who are trying to restore his legacy are, which suggests that they aren’t all that true to his vision after all.
Finn protests that if they’re going to blow up the facility — they don’t need to blow up the whole flipping planet here — they need to rescue Rey first. Leia protests that they can’t risk it for one person. Finn says he’s going to go do it anyway. Leia says they can’t risk anyone important to go with him. Han says that he’ll go. Leia agrees, which is both indicative and, in fact, funny.
Thrawn gives them plans to get in and rescue Rey, and when asked why notes that if Rey has abilities with the Force, Ren might be looking for an apprentice, which sobers the room. They get down to the planet, but Rey has used her Force abilities to escape. Han and the others run into Ren, but she runs into Mara Jade and has to fight her with Luke’s lightsaber. Ren wants to kill Han to prove that he has overcome the Light side … but can’t bring himself to. They run to where Mara Jade and Rey are fighting … and Ren arrives just in time to see Rey kill Mara Jade. Rey and the others escape, and Ren escapes the destruction of the facility.
Back at Resistane HQ, they finally have the time to look at what Syal and BB8 have found. R2-D2 would have been established to be deactivated already, and what BB8 has is a message from Luke saying that the map to Tython is stored in R2’s memory, in case something happened to him. This disheartens them, until BB8 finds something else in the message: an activation code for R2. Using it, R2 is reawakened and displays the map … but I wouldn’t end it with Rey going to see Luke.
I’d end it with Ren, staring at the burned Vader mask and wondering how he can go on alone, with Mara Jade’s Force ghost saying that he won’t be. He laments that he failed, as he couldn’t kill his father. She notes the failure, but says that he can, still redeem himself and become a true — and the last — Sith, but that to do so “He will have to face Luke Skywalker again”. What this does is makes Ren’s path a reverse of Luke’s path, where Luke had to eliminate the Dark Side and Ren has to eliminate the Light Side. Sure, at the end of it all, we’re pretty sure that Ren will either be redeemed or killed, but the parallels should work well here.
And that’s the end. With even a modicum of skill, you can make it so that those well-versed in the EU will enjoy the nods, while those not familiar will get a pretty good idea of who all of these people are and the characters ought to work whether the audience recalls them or not. There are nice parallels and callbacks to the original movies, the superweapon serves a purpose, Finn isn’t comic relief, and it even contains more key female characters that “The Force Awakens” without having to shoehorn them in. On almost all grounds, in my opinion, it’s an improvement.