Any Star Wars fan worth their weight in action figures knows that Rogue One had multiple endings. There were reshoots. And things changed. The first Star Wars story was an ever-evolving beast all the way up to the finish line, when it was released last December. Now, as the movie makes its digital debut this Friday, the team is revealing more secrets about the spin-off's conception and execution. And today, we get a look at that elusive original ending, which changed quite a bit over time.
The Rogue One team and Entertainment Weekly have teamed up for a week-long look at the movie. And to kick things off, they met up with screenwriter Gary Whitta to discuss just what was supposed to happen at the end of the movie. Whitta goes all the way back to his original Star Wars draft, where SPOILER ALERT, not everyone was so unfortunate to die on Scarif during the big end battle sequence. In fact, Jyn Erso and the character we now know as Cassian Andor, had completely different fates laid out in front of them.
As has been mentioned many times since Rogue One's release, the team behind the movie always had ever intention of killing all the heroes off. Only, they didn't think Disney would go for that. So in the first draft of the script, Jyn and Cassian had an escape plan in place, giving the movie a happier ending. Says Whitta about how it played out and changed over time.
"The original instinct was that they should all die. It's worth it. If you're going to give your life for anything, give your life for this, to destroy a weapon that going to kill you all anyway. That's what we always wanted to do. But we never explored it because we were afraid that Disney might not let us do it, that Disney might think it's too dark for a Star Wars movie or for their brand."
Cassian, who was called by a different name at the time, and Jyn Erso, who was a sergeant, both escape Scarif in those last moments, with the film getting its happy ending. But none of the others made it out alive. This ending was in play when John Knoll turned in his initial treatment. And the notion carried through Whitta's original drafts. But the Rebels still got their noble sacrifice. Says Gary about the changes.
"You have the darkness that's in the undercurrent of the story at that point, but you still have the rightness of why they're doing it. It doesn't feel depressing. It feels like you want them to succeed at any cost. It's a sport where the clock is ticking, and they need to just dive across the finish line. You do whatever you need to do to get there. It's a gauntlet that they're handing to Princess Leia. You get that moment where the crowd feels like it can cheer at the end."
So that argument had to be made to the Lucasfilm brass: the heroes would succeed in stealing the plans, but they should pay the ultimate cost for that victory. We were still scratching the itch that they all needed to die. Chris Weitz [who wrote another draft] thought we were right. They finally went off and fought for it. We told them, we feel they all need to die, and [Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy] and everyone else said to go for it. We got the ending that we wanted."
Bodhi Rook, Chirrut Imwe, and Baze Malbus didn't yet exist in the 'happy ending' version of the story. Sgt. Jyn was already an established Rebel soldier, and was never shown as a criminal recruited for a spy mission. These changes came late enough that the title Sergeant made it onto some of the Jyn Erso toys that went into stores.
"In fact, some of the toys that are sold still say Sgt. Jyn Erso. That's who she was, she was a sergeant in the Rebel Alliance. By the time we changed that, some of the toys were already in production. I have a Sgt. Jyn Erso on my desk, even though she's not a sergeant in the film."
In the original ending Jyn Erso still leads a strike force against Imperial troops. Cassian Andor's character was much different, and not just in name. But one consistent was K-2SO, the Imperial droid turned traitor. He was always part of the team from the get-go, and his demise was always imminent in the scheme of things, sacrificing himself for the greater good. Says Whitta about who lived and who died in those first drafts of the story.
"I didn't say everyone made it off. Kaytoo always died. Jyn did survive. 'Cassian' also survived. There were a lot of casualties on both sides, in both versions of the scripts."
The original ending had the Death Star emerging from hyperspace to destroy the base on Scarif and the Rebel incursion. There was no last-second broadcast of the plans from a satellite tower. Jyn and 'Cassian' escaped the facility with plans in hand, carrying the data tapes across the beach. A version of this ending was shot, and can be seen in the sizzle reel that was released at last year's Star Wars Celebration. Whitta describes how it was supposed to play out.
"A rebel ship came down and got them off the surface. The transfer of the plans happened later. They jumped away and later [Leia's] ship came in from Alderaan to help them. The ship-to-ship data transfer happened off Scarif."
As many know, Darth Vader's big moment at the end of Rogue One was not part of the plan. That was a very last minute inclusion. But in the original ending, Vader was still in pursuit. And he began attacking Jyn's shuttle as the Rebels transmitted the stolen information from the data tapes to Leia's ship. Vader succeeds in breaching the Rebel shields and he destroys Erso's shuttle. The audience would have been left wondering if Jyn and the other heroes made it out alive. But as Vader's Star Destroyer goes to chase after Leia in the Tantive IV, the camera would have panned to the floating fragments of debris from the destroyed ship. And it would have been revealed that Erso and Andor got away. Whitta says this.
"They got away in an escape pod just in time. The pod looked like just another piece of debris."
This moment would have served as an Easter egg, in reference to The Empire Strikes Back, when the Millennium Falcon drifts off with garbage from a Star Destroyer to stay hidden from an Imperial fleet. The filmmakers didn't like this ending, so they begged Lucasfilm and Disney to let them change it. It felt like they had to jump through one too many hoops to keep Jyn and her team alive. And Whitta felt the 'writing Gods' were telling them to sacrifice all of these new characters, no matter how much audiences loved them.
"We decided they should die on the surface [of Scarif,] and that was the way it ended. We were constantly trying to make all the pieces fit together. We tried every single idea. Eventually, through endless development you get through an evolutionary process where the best version rises to the top."
While some of these ideas were filmed, and some even made it into the marketing materials, none of these deleted scenes will be made available in the upcoming Blu-ray and DVD release. You can take Rogue One home on April 4. The home video release does contain some very in-depth documentary features that will further explore the making of the movie. If you can't wait for a physical copy of the movie, the first Star Wars Story will be available on VOD this Friday.