The Blade Runner movie that never got made was much sadder than 2049

Blade Runner could have looked very different if we got this much more tragic sequel in the '90s instead of Denis Villeneuve's 2049

It may have taken Ridley Scott 20-something years to finish editing Blade Runner, but it was 35 years before we got a proper sequel to the science fiction movie. At least Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 was worth the wait, a gorgeous blockbuster starring Ryan Gosling that recaptures the neon dystopia in all its dusty splendour.

Very much in the shadow of its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 has Gosling as a Nexus-9 replicant detective who becomes drawn into the mystery behind Deckard and Rachael’s disappearance in 2019. His investigation uncovers what became of their doomed romance, and some secrets that Tyrrell successor Wallace Corporation would like to keep for itself.

This wasn’t the only planned cinematic follow-up. In the ‘90s, a more direct continuation of Deckard’s story, based on K M Jeter’s novel Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human, entered early stages of development. It didn’t materialise, of course, but if Jeter’s book had been adapted, the cyberpunk franchise would look very different to what it is now.

The Edge of Human was published in 1995, and serves to continue Blade Runner as well as merge it with Philip K Dick’s book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, on which the original film is based. Characters and plot devices from the movie are blended with those from Dick’s book, creating a unified timeline.

In the months following their escape from Los Angeles, Rachael and Deckard are living in a small cabin on the outskirts. To slow down Rachael’s advanced ageing, she’s been cryogenically frozen in a Tyrell transport container. Deckard, alone, is planning their next step when someone who looks remarkably like Rachael appears on his doorstep: Sarah Tyrell, Eldon’s niece, and now the owner of Tyrell Corporation.

She’s the template on which Rachel was based – remember Rachel has her memories – and she has a proposition for Deckard. Find a sixth rogue replicant, and she’ll help him and Rachel disappear. With some reluctance, he agrees. Meanwhile, the template for Roy Batty kidnaps Dave Holden, the detective who gets attacked by Leon at the start of Blade Runner, and forces him to find the real last missing replicant – Deckard.

Harrison Ford in Blade Runner

A classic bit of cat-and-mouse, fuelled by suspicions and desperation. Old haunts from Blade Runner are revisited, and a couple from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, intermingling both texts. The world-building isn’t seamless, but its ambitions outweigh the slight incongruities.

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For instance, neither include replicants being mass-produced from pre-existing people, a sticking point in The Edge of Human. A black market in replicant repair and modification is introduced, a natural evolution on the overarching transhumanist themes. Anyone who retires or dies can be replaced by a ‘persynth’, a virtual simulacrum based on their archived personality. Roy tells Dave that those who’re employed to keep artificial beings in line are artificial themselves, implying that Blade Runners are all replicants.

The middle-ground Jeter strikes between Scott and Dick’s outlooks in expanding the universe manages to feel largely consistent with both, contrasting corporate terror with deeply human desires for bodily autonomy and personal recognition. The advent of replicants inspires a great deal of paranoia and anxiety over what it is to be human, for which there is little comfort.

Sean Young in Blade Runner

In that vein, Sarah resents Rachael, because she was her uncle’s right hand before the android version took her place. The Edge of Human doesn’t have the scope and scale of Blade Runner 2049, but it offers more of the philosophical milieu. It engages with the undertones of evolution and replacement, and late-late-late-stage capitalism finally folding in on itself under the weight of globalist bureaucracy.

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Sarah explains that the UN don’t want to take responsibility for the Nexus-6 models it commissioned, hoisting blame on Tyrell Corporation. In order to do this, Blade Runners are being retired to stoke fears that unless Tyrell is dissolved entirely, replicants will run amok. While all of this might not be true, it’s wholly believable, and enough to make Deckard feel like he’s in an impossible situation.

He’s dead no matter what happens, so he complies with Sarah’s demands. The Edge of Human’s body politic is just that, concerned with the political environment as it continues to burn itself down. It’s harder on the palate than 2049’s romanticism, and less pathological. But the unscrupulous corporate lore, allusions of philosophical work of Jean-Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche, and sheer despondency make it a strange, alluring work.

Blade Runner

Curiously, both Blade Runner sequels end in a similar position, with Deckard being free. In Blade Runner 2049, it’s symbolic, as he walks in to finally meet his daughter after being forced to give her up. For The Edge of Human, he escapes with Sarah, who’s secretly taken the place of Rachael, to a colony off-world. This was all a ploy to commit corporate subterfuge, and there was no other replicant.

We don’t know if Deckard knows that it’s Sarah. He could be choosing not to ask, deciding instead to enjoy the moment of calm while it lasts. Two books follow this one, and if this was where Blade Runner went, I think we’d all be doing the same.