By this point, the reshoots for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story have reached a near-mythical status, prompting much speculation about what the movie was like before Tony Gilroy got onboard to reshape the movie — speculation only helped by the fact that trailers and promotional material referred to scenes not in the finished product. What originally happened at the climax of the movie? Was there, many people have wondered, an ending where the crew lived? Well… yes and no.
In the latest episode of the Empire podcast, director Gareth Edwards admits that, yes, there was a version of the screenplay where Jyn et al. made it out alive — but that it was never actually shot.
“I think there was an early version [of the screenplay] — the very first version they didn’t [die] in,” he explained. “It was just assumed by us that we couldn’t [kill the cast] and they’re not gonna let us do that. So we’re trying to figure out how this ends where that doesn’t happen. And then everyone read that [first screenplay], and there was just this feeling of like, ‘They gotta die, right?’ And everyone was like, ‘Yeah, can we?’ And we thought we weren’t gonna be allowed to, but Kathy [Kennedy, Lucasfilm President] and everyone at Disney were like, ‘Yeah, makes sense.'”
So, now we know: those shots in promotional material where Jyn and Cassian are seen running across the battlefield in Scarif with the Death Star plans in hand (Skip to 1:21 in the video below) weren’t leading to a happy ending. But… what were they leading to, in that case?
It’s worth looking back at the original teaser trailer for the movie, released back in April, for another shot that’s missing from the final version Rogue One, for another clue. At the 1:17 mark, there’s a visually arresting glimpse at Orson Krennic seemingly walking on water towards scenes of destruction with dead Stormtroopers and smoldering ruins ahead of him, with it appearing to be twilight.
On the face of it, this makes little sense; the rest of the battle had taken place during the day, in bright sunlight. Would Krennic wait until some time after the skirmish to wander outside and see what had happened? …Actually, sure, that seems suitably cowardly and would be in keeping with his character. But what if it’s not actually twilight as such? What if it just looks like that because the Death Star is — as it does with Jedha — eclipsing the sun as it prepares to fire on the planet?
As I’ve already speculated, it seems likely that there was an entirely different showdown between Jyn and Krennic in earlier versions of Rogue One — perhaps one that didn’t see her needing to be saved by Cassian for no immediately obvious reason. Could there have been a version of their meeting that happens on the beaches of Scarif, with both knowing for sure that the Death Star is about to destroy the planet, meaning that neither side has any reason to hold back, emotionally or otherwise…?
(The idea of those two being obliterated by the Death Star mid-deeply emotional argument is perhaps just a little too bleakly comedic, however.)
In the same Empire interview, Edwards talked about the fact that the movie trailers featured so much material that wasn’t in the actual finished version. “There was a bit of a process to refining the third act in terms of specific shots and moments, and certain things just fell away,” he explained. “What happened was marketing loved those shots and said, ‘Oh, we’ve got to use that.’ And you say, ‘Well, it’s not in the movie,’ and they said ‘It’s okay. It’s what marketing does, we just use the best of whatever you’ve done.'”
As a marketing plan, it worked — although, it’s Star Wars; almost anything would work, I suspect, up to and including simply saying “It’s the new Star Wars movie” and leaving all the details out — but in the process, it created a phantom Rogue One that will perpetually tease fans with what could have been … at least until the alternate cut released for an anniversary years from now. Maybe then we’ll find out what really happened on Scarif.