I've had this notion in my head for a couple weeks now and I kinda love it and kinda hate it at the same time. At first it seems like a maddening deus-ex, an excuse for a story that doesn't matter, but—oh, I just thought of a horrible way to frame it, too, bonus!—if it's done in just the right way (which I don't exactly know what that is) it could be awesome.
Okay, here it is: alternate universe created via time travel.
See? You hate it. Yeah, me too a little bit. Especially given the STAR TREK reboot, right?
But give the crazy talk a chance here. Let's say there's an original STAR WARS timeline and an "alternate" that is created by a change to the original. Both are basically identical until a specific moment in ROTJ. This way the history of the timeline of TFA, set 30 years after ROTJ, makes sense to us in the audience.
However, the events and history of TFA belong to the *original* timeline, and are decidedly darker than one would hope and expect. In the course of events, a Jedi—maybe Luke, maybe one of the ghosts, or perhaps an untrained Force-ful civilian like Leia—recalls a vision of a brighter future, based on a slight difference in how events unfolded in the story we know as ROTJ. And things are bleak enough that the Resistance have come up with a plan to take advantage of a device or spacetime phenomanomaly to make that difference happen in the past, and thusly reset things from that moment on.
Does that make sense? Not a lot, probably.
Okay, let me try it w some specifics. Let's say in the history of TFA, Darth Vader saved Luke on DS2 by killing the Emperor. However, instead of being mortally Force-lightninged in the process, he survives, seriously wounded. So, the Emperor is dead, the Rebels destroy the second Death Star, and Luke and Vader fly away to hide out on a not-sandy planet on the Galactic rim. With Imperial government and military leadership destroyed, the Empire is leaderless. The Rebels attempt to keep the Galaxy together with an interim government and senate, but can't sustain it, and the New Republic fractures into territories run by local governments, many led by ex-Imperials, criminals, and warlords. The Galaxy is in chaos. For years, Vader trains Luke in secret, and when he eventually succumbs to his wounds and dies, Luke returns as a shadowy figure who seeks to reunite the Galaxy thru military might and fascist rule, to finish what his father started (balancing the Force? ruling the Galaxy? exterminating the Tusken Raiders?). His identity is a mystery to most, but Leia senses that it's Luke. She does whatever she can to meet him face to face and confronts him with the Force vision that she once had of a better Galaxy. Things could go a lot of ways, but in the end Luke realizes that Leia's vision is worth fighting for, and breaking a lot of Jedi rules and physical laws for.
So Luke, along w Leia's children, use their abilities in conjunction with some creative navigation of the Falcon thru hyperspace to send a telepathic message to, or otherwise influence, the past. The result is that the events surrounding the Battle of Endor play out as we've already seen them in ROTJ. ROTJ takes place in the new/alternate timeline, not the original. The Emperor is dead, the Rebels destroy the second Death Star, and Luke flies back to Endor with his father's body, not completely a Sith Lord, but certainly in touch with his Dark Side.
Yeah, not great. I haven't figured out a great and perfect critical event that creates a divergent timeline and is also practically tweak-able somehow from a moment in the future. Ideally, the event that creates a brighter timeline would be some time-shunted act of sacrifice. For instance, that A-Wing that plows into the bridge of the Executor (if the Executor seriously crippled the DS2). So, in the original TFA timeline, the Executor is unmolested. But in the course of TFA, someone in an A-Wing is sent back to Kamikaze into the bridge, thusly destroying the super star destroyer.
I want the critical event to be part of ROTJ's story so that when TFA starts, we can't easily tell that this future is divergent, but maybe the event is earlier. Like maybe the gunners on Vader's Star Destroyer in STAR WARS blast Threepio and Artoo's escape pod and the Rebels never figure out how to destroy the Death Star. In TFA, the Jedi manage to influence that gunner into being more concerned with policy and conserving ammo than free target practice.
I know on the surface it seems like just the kind of thing that would cause fans to feel cheated by a gimmick, but I think if the story telling was good enough, it would be pretty satisfying, and enlightening. You get to see characters you know in wackadoo situations, unusual/unexpected relationships, but hopefully true to the selves that you already know. Love it when notions of fate and destiny are explored. Isn't there some truism about character being destiny? And hey, who doesn't love seeing the good guys with goatees? At least, y'know, if it's done right, right?
Or maybe it's some kinda sci-fi sideburn dimension. = )
Keep on keepin' on~