Entertainment Weekly had the chance to interview Gary Whitta, who wrote the first draft for Rogue One, about what was altered in the film.
A different ending – how the Rebel heroes survived…
Once there was a way to get back home — at least for Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story filmmakers have said they always intended to kill off the entire Rebel team during their heist of the Death Star plans on the tropical world of Scarif. But in the very earliest script – before getting the go-ahead for that sacrificial ending – they came up with an escape plan.
“The original instinct was that they should all die,” screenwriter Gary Whitta tells EW. “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.”
So in the original treatment by John Knoll, and in the first script by Whitta, a few of the key heroes survived the final battle. But the creative team still wanted their noble sacrifice.
“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,” says director Gareth Edwards. “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.”
Gary Whitta said despite very casualties on both sides, Jyn and Cassian did survived in the early script.
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,” Whitta says. “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.”
In that early “happy ending” version, there was no Bodhi Rook, Chirrut Imwe, or Baze Malbus. Jyn was an enlisted Rebel soldier instead of a street criminal recruited on a spy mission.
In that early “happy ending” version, there was no Bodhi Rook, Chirrut Imwe, or Baze Malbus.
“In fact, some of the toys that are sold still say Sgt. Jyn Erso,” Whitta says. “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.”
She still commanded a strike force with a Cassian Andor-type character (“He was called something different back then,” Whitta notes) and the security droid K-2SO was always a part of the team.
The reprogrammed Imperial security droid K-2SO was always a part of the team.
So did everyone live to fight the Empire another day?
“I didn’t say everyone made it off. Kaytoo always died,” Whitta said. “Jyn did survive. ‘Cassian’ also survived. There were a lot of casualties on both sides, in both versions of the scripts.”
It never got anywhere near being shot, but here’s how the survivor ending to Rogue One would have went down:
The Death Star emerges from hyperspace to lay waste to Scarif and protect the Empire’s secrets by destroying the special weapons facility along with the Rebel incursion.
But this time there was no last-second broadcast of the plans from a satellite tower. Jyn and Cassian were to escape the surface of the beach world carrying the data tapes.
In the early version of the script, Jyn and Cassian escape from Scarif, what explains why they were seen in the Rogue One trailer running across the beach with the Death Star plans.
“A rebel ship came down and got them off the surface,” Whitta says. “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.”
Darth Vader was still in pursuit and began attacking Jyn’s shuttle as the Rebels tried desperately to transfer the information from the data tapes to Leia’s vessel. Finally, Vader was successful in breaching their shields and destroying the craft.
Darth Vader watches the Tantive IV running away with the Death Star plans just some minutes before he starts to pursuit the Princess Leia ship as we seen in A New Hope.
The audience would have been left fearing the heroes were dead. But as Vader’s Star Destroyer ventures off to chase Leia’s Tantive IV, we would have remained focused on the shuttle fragments floating in the vastness of space.
“They got away in an escape pod just in time,” Whitta said. “The pod looked like just another piece of debris.”
This echoes a similar trick from The Empire Strikes Back, when Han Solo allows the Millennium Falcon to drift away from a Star Destroy disguised in a plume of garbage – unaware that also camouflaged in that detritus was Boba Fett’s Slave I.
Don’t like that ending? Neither did the creators. That’s why they begged to change it.
About Jyn and Cassian, Gary Whitta said that “we decided they should die on the surface [of Scarif,] and that was the way it ended.
“The fact that we had to jump through so many hoops to keep them alive was the writing gods telling us that if they were meant to live it wouldn’t be this difficult,” Whitta says. “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.”