Rogue One opened huge at the box office over the weekend (sorry, dummies), proving that the franchise could branch out from the main saga and still bring in a giant audience. But as everyone–including us–seems to have noticed, the final film looks and feels quite a bit different than the early teasers and trailers would have led us to believe. There have been reports of significant reshoots all year, from the initial announcements to later revelations that Tony Gilroy oversaw major changes as reshoot director, to the point where he has an additional screenplay credit alongside Chris Weitz. Now that pretty much everyone has seen Rogue One in its final form, let’s dig back into the early glimpses to find out what the film’s story used to be, before the tinkering really got going.
Sympathy For The Rebel
Almost none of the dialogue from the above teaser trailer, released on April 7, made it into the film. It depicts a much more contentious mood when Jyn meets Mon Mothma, Cassian Andor, and the rest of the rebel leadership. They’re emphasizing how long she’s been on her own, her “reckless and undisciplined” behavior, and her laundry list of criminal charges. Her response is cheeky: she rebels.
Seemingly, the initial concept was for Jyn to be more combative–a suitable trait for a girl who saw her mother killed, had her father taken away, and was abandoned by anti-Empire extremists because she was a liability as a teenager. But the final cut backs off that portrayal, instead playing up more sympathetic characteristics early on in order to make the audience care about her plight. Star Wars protagonists don’t need to have a sunny disposition to be revered (all my curmudgeonly rogues, put your Han-s up!), but somewhere along the way Jyn-as-agitator got downgraded to Jyn-as-jaded-neutral-objector.
Then there’s the matter of Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) bellowing about what someone will do “when they catch you” and “if they break you.” At that point in the film he’s got a shaved head, so he’s presumably talking to a younger Jyn at the time. Perhaps there were originally more flashbacks to her training as one of his soldiers, as well a heavier emphasis on her decision to get off the sidelines and fight for a worthy cause.
The trailers also suggest the rebels know there’s a major weapons test and want reconnaissance done on the still-unknown, which would naturally lead up to the effort to steal the plans. The final film shakes that up as well: Jyn initially functions mostly as a way to get rebel operative Cassian into Gerrera’s base in order to extract information from defector pilot Bodhi.
The Scarif Heist
At some point in post-production, the fundamental structure of the third act, where the rebels convene to steal the plans on the paradisiacal planet of Scarif, was scrapped almost entirely. Gone are the scenes–shot at London’s Canary Wharf tube station–of Jyn, Cassian, and K-2SO running through the halls of the Scarif base. Also gone? The scenes of the entire Rebel team storming across the beaches of Scarif while Jyn holds the hard drive containing the Death Star plans. Most disappointingly, the scene of Jyn limping along the Citadel bridge toward a (potentially) menacing TIE Fighter got cut as well. Even clips uploaded to Star Wars’ official YouTube account as recently as last week have shots of this abandoned plot. Judging from that alone, the ultimate fate of most of Jyn’s team might not have been final until very late in production.
Rogue One feels like a war film, if a little heavy on the Saving Private Ryan Omaha beach parallels, and core to that is building a central group that figures out how to work together. The original plan–where the crew finds the hard drive, but then shuttles it to another location to transmit the plans up to the rebels–would’ve kept the team in one place rather than dispersing them throughout the Scarif facility. It bears noting here that Felicity Jones reportedly signed a two-film contract when she joined Rogue One; how that plays out is a mystery, but perhaps Jones will have a cameo as a younger version of her character. Or maybe killing off all the major characters wasn’t always the plan.
Regardless, think about that: Disney and Lucasfilm spent an extraordinary amount of money on a film in the biggest franchise on the planet where every single character who plays an integral role in the story dies. Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Alan Tudyk–none of them survive the film. Sure, it helps tie off loose ends in the continuity leading into A New Hope, but nobody was predicting a Disney movie where nobody makes it out alive. Even during the raid on Scarif, there’s no indication it’s a suicide mission until K-2SO gives his life to lock the archive vault. There’s no way to know how different the third act would’ve played out originally (well, maybe one way), but those beach scenes suggest the team stayed together instead of splitting apart and getting picked off one by one.
Sith, You’ve Been Gone
In telling a story about the theft of the Death Star plans, the most-anticipated bit of nostalgia was reserved for the possibility that the best villain of the series could re-emerge in his prime. Setting another film during the timeline of Episodes I-VI meant that Darth Vader might show up, and the initial trailer teased that connection, with a final shot of Vader standing in front of a glowing red display. There are also shots of Krennic and Vader conversing within an Empire ship, but once again, that’s not how things went down in the final film–though his brief appearances certainly didn’t disappoint.
The teasers and trailers suggested that Vader shows up on the soon-to-be-operational space station and hears about the “immeasurable” potential of the kyber crystal-powered main weapon from Krennic. Instead, it’s the military officer who visits Vader–at the Sith lord’s imposing castle on Mustafar, the very planet where Vader lost a lightsaber duel to Obi Wan Kenobi, burned alive in lava, and was condemned to a painful existence within his frightening cybernetic life-support suit.
In the former Expanded Universe, what Star Wars fans now call “Legends” area of the franchise’s output, Vader’s fortress is Bast Castle on the acid rain-soaked planet of Vjun. The Mustafar castle, then, is another example of the Lucasfilm Story Group taking an opportunity to weave a bit of the Legends material back into the canon (see: Kylo Ren). Vader still has a castle, but it’s now on a planet where he’s constantly reminded of a high-profile failure. (And it makes use of some old Ralph McQuarrie concept art of a “lava planet lair” that never made it into Return of the Jedi.)
There are countless Easter eggs littered throughout Rogue One that nod towards A New Hope–whether throwaway Stormtrooper exchanges or the return of Ponda Baba and blue milk. But the references don’t stop with the live-action features. Rogue One also acknowledges a number of characters from the Disney XD animated series Rebels: we hear Commander Hera Syndulla’s name spoken in a battle hangar; see Syndulla’s ship The Ghost during the pivotal battle at Shield Gate; and Jyn referencing “Black Saber” as a project codename in the Citadel. And those connections will continue–a younger Saw Gerrera, legs intact, will appear in a January episode of Rebels.
— Rebels Reactions (@RebelsReactions) December 17, 2016
Even when Lucasfilm introduces a new “standalone” category of Star Wars movie, it seems, there’s no such thing as being too interconnected.