(Note: Spoilers for Rogue One contained within, there are.)
They were always supposed to die, say the writers of #RogueOne — but they originally feared that this dramatic cull would be too dark for Disney. Despite fighting for the epic, sacrificial gauntlet of the third act, the writers penned several alternate endings that they thought would be more suited to the House of Mouse.
As it stands, the explosive ending to Rogue One is one of the most fitting finales in the Star Wars saga. The spectacular final battle is filled with touching moments, from K-2SO finally being trusted with a firearm and Baze taking up his comrade’s mantra, to Jyn Erso’s last moment on the beach of Scarif. Yet it almost never happened.
Join me, and together, we shall go through all the alternate endings to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, along with some of the ways that other films in the saga could have ended in drastically different ways.
1. No Bodhi, Chirrut, Or Baze - But Jyn Survives
In an early version of the script, writers Gary Whitta and John Knoll devised an escape plan for Jyn Erso, who at that point was no criminal, but a rebel soldier. Apparently, Jyn was written this way long enough for the marketing team to run with it, releasing toys packaged with the labeling Sergeant Jyn Erso.
Gary Whitta told EW:
"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."
We'd wager that those toys will eventually sell for more than a few credits down the line.
That's not the most significant difference though. There was no Bodhi Rook, Chirrut Imwe or Baze Malbus in the Sgt. Erso narrative. Cassian Andor existed in some form, but was called something else. It must've been a lucky name because in that version, he and Jyn Erso survived the battle of Scarif.
According to Whitta, a rebel ship got them off the surface during their firefight, and the transfer of the plans happened later:
"They jumped away and later [Princess Leia’s] ship came in from Alderaan to help them. The ship-to-ship data transfer happened off Scarif.”
Much of the drama during that final encounter centred around transferring the plans from the surface of Scarif to the Rebel fleet. Which means the climactic space battle probably wouldn't have occurred in the Sgt. Erso version of Rogue One. That means no X-Wing acrobatics, no Hammerhead-class cruiser action, and no corridor of death for Darth Vader.
The Sith Lord originally was meant to show up after the plans had been transferred to Leia. He destroys Jyn Erso's shuttle before pursuing Leia and the Death Star plans, thus leading into the events of A New Hope in less bloodthirsty fashion. As Vader's cruiser disappears, however, the film's focus remained with the rubble of Erso's ship.
That's right, Jyn and the Cassian-character survived in an escape pod, their fates during the original trilogy remaining unknown. As a sad little aside: K-2SO was included in this version of the script and was still destined to die. "Kaytoo always died," Whitta said in his interview. Droids have the worst luck.
2. Director Krennic Chokes On His Aspirations
Whitta's "happy ending" script wasn't without its dark side though. He elaborated on the temporary survival of another character, one Director Krennic. In the theatrical release of Rogue One, Krennic suffers a somewhat ironic demise on Scarif, disappearing in the incinerating blast of the Death Star - the super-weapon he reared like a moon-sized child.
If there was a way for Jyn Erso and psuedo-Cassian Andor to survive though, there was a way for the greasy Krennic to do so too. Gary Whitta wrote a semi-plausible way for Krennic to have been sheltered from the Death Star's partial blast, which he himself admitted was always a bit of a reach.
As a book-end to the movie, Imperial forces found the surviving Krennic in the rubble and took him to the Star Destroyer to report to Darth Vader. The ever arrogant Director believes he's endured the worst, until Darth Vader turns pun into reality, murdering Krennic with his iconic Force choke.
How this worked into the narrative of Vader following quickly after Leia is uncertain.
3. Leia Really Was On A Diplomatic Mission
Down another of those roads not taken was a classic Star Wars planet and a throwback to Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Jyn and Cassian fled to Corruscant. Chief Creative Officer John Knoll concocted this ending before the other writers were even hired, showing how deep the desire to kill the main characters ran through Rogue One.
Jyn Erso and Cassian once again made it off Scarif, and once again were pursued by Vader. This time though, they attempted to lose him through a series of jumps through hyperspace. Unable to shake the Sith Lord, they headed to Corruscant. Knoll described the chase sequence:
“It’s a giant cloud of ships. Ten-thousand ships coming and going and they’re trying to get lost in that traffic but they don’t make it. There’s still an hour’s flight away from Coruscant and their ship gets damaged."
This traffic-heavy chase sequence idea is reminiscent of Obi Wan and Anakin's car chase in the first act of Episode II, which sets them on a crash course with bounty hunter Jango Fett.
This alternate ending to Rogue One would've put Jyn and Cassian in a much more convenient situation. With a fortunate twist of fate, Princess Leia has just taken off from Corruscant en route to her diplomatic mission to Alderaan as the Rogue crew arrive to shake Vader from their tail. Aware of the Princess's affiliations with the Rebellion, they "risk blowing her cover by transmitting the plans to her ship with the hope that this transmission won’t be detected by Vader".
This version would've ended with a star-crossed vibe as the dynamic duo realize their impending capture could jeopardize the Rebellion. They blow themselves and their ship to smithereens, rather than let the Empire get hold of them.
4. The Carbon-Freeze Bomb
Knoll elaborated on another Rogue One alternate ending which would've introduced a wacky piece of technology to the galaxy - first we need to talk about Cassian Andor the double agent.
In this version of the script, Cassian was an Imperial agent embedded in the Rebellion:
"Over the course of the mission he becomes aware that the Death Star actually is a real thing and it’s not just propaganda. The Empire really built it, intends to use it and its only purpose is a genocide weapon. He realizes a lot of what he’s been told is a lie and that he’s been on the wrong side."
Cassian's divided nature survived into the final film, centering around the turmoil he faces during the mission to assassinate Galen Erso, culminating in the act of going rogue with Jyn and the crew.
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The plot from there ran similarly to the previous alternate ending, in which he and Jyn made it to Corruscant - except there was one enormous twist.
"So he switches sides to the Rebellion and he realizes he can let everyone live.
They’ve got a carbon freeze bomb on the ship and the idea is that he forces everyone into the airlock. “I’m going to set this off and you’re all going to survive.” He sort of times it with one of the hits from Vader’s ship so he blows up the ship and sets off this carbon freeze bomb and everyone is frozen. Then on Vader’s ship they detect no life signs and they think everyone’s dead. And they’re like, “Where’s that ship the plans were transmitted too?” and they go. So I was going to leave our heroes out of the picture. It’s why they don’t show up in Empire or Jedi — they’re stuck in [carbon freeze].
Straight out of the gate, this carbon freeze bomb idea is crazy. So crazy that it just might've worked. Star Wars: Rebels has dabbled in never-before-seen Imperial prototypes, why not Rogue One?
Exactly why Cassian had this bomb may forever remain a mystery, along with what happened to the Rogue One crew after their Ripley-esque drift through space. This ending is easily the wackiest of the four, and is bound to polarize fans into those that long to see a carbon freeze weapon realized in the saga, and those that take this very idea as sacrilegiously anti-canonical.
"Give Your Life For This"
The writers were never enamored with any of these "happy endings" though, and while they tried multiple variations in which the characters lived, they kept coming back to the idea that the crew had to perish. Gary Whitta said:
“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...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.”
The best version was obviously the one that audiences got: the bold and daring sacrifice which is simultaneously devastating and triumphant.
Nevertheless, Rogue One isn't the only film in the Star Wars Saga that almost unfolded differently.
- Directed By: George Lucas
- Initial Release: 1977
One of the most iconic moments in A New Hope almost never happened. In an early draft, Obi Wan survived his encounter with Darth Vader. This was back when George Lucas had yet to concoct his saga-defining episode structure, back before Vader was even considered to be Luke's father. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Lucas elaborated on this iconic duel when asked if the studio was upset at the thought of Obi Wan's death:
Everybody was upset. I was struggling with the problem that I had this sort of climactic scene that had no climax about two-thirds of the way through the film. I had another problem in the fact that there was no real threat in the Death Star. The villains were like tenpins; you get into a gunfight with them and they just get knocked over. As I originally wrote it, Ben Kenobi and Vader had a sword fight and Ben hits a door and the door slams closed and they all run away and Vader is left standing there with egg on his face. This was dumb; they run into the Death Star and they sort of take over everything and they run back. It totally diminished any impact the Death Star had.
Compounding that lack of impact was the fact that Obi Wan was left grounded during the final act of the movie, when the Rebel Alliance takes their fight to the Death Star. Lucas discussed this in another interview:
"In the process of re-writing, and thinking of it as only a film and not a whole trilogy, I decided that Ben Kenobi really didn't serve any useful function after the point he fights with Darth Vader... I said, 'you know, he just stands around for the last twenty-five percent of the film, watching this air battle go on.'"
So Ben Kenobi might've survived. How that would've effected the rest of the saga is unclear, but his death certainly made the franchise more powerful than we ever could have imagined.
The Empire Strikes Back
- Directed By: Irvin Kershner
- Initial Release: 1980
The most iconic movie moment of all time? Search your feelings, you know it to be true. That's right, early drafts of Empire Strikes Back were without the mind-blowing twist that Darth Vader was Luke's father. In his exposition on The Secret History of Star Wars, writer Michael Kaminski presents a transcript of George Lucas discussing the fall of the Jedi Order as early as 1977:
"The Jedi were so outnumbered that they fled and were tracked down. They tried to regroup, but they were eventually massacred by one of the special elite forces led by Darth Vader. Eventually, only a few, including Ben and Luke's father, were left. Luke's father is named Annikin."
During the initial draft of Empire, written by Leigh Brackett, Annikin Skywalker actually appeared to Luke as a ghost during his training on Dagobah. Lucas didn't like Brackett's script, lusting after a darker ending to his second Star Wars installment. Before she could revise her version of the story, however, Brackett tragically passed away and Lucas took over script duties himself.
This is when he developed the Darth Vader twist. Up until this draft, Vader was not Luke's father.
Return of The Jedi
- Directed By: Richard Marquand
- Initial Release: 1983
Return of the Jedi is the most divisive film in the original trilogy, with fans polarized into loving and hating the fuzzy Ewoks of Endor. The teddies of the forest moon were initially supposed to be Wookies, and the final battle was meant to be a gritty ground battle set in a sprawling jungle. This Vietnam-aesthetic which was shelved and reused for Rogue One, isn't actually the most shocking potential ending for the original trilogy, as Lucas once wanted to go in a very dark direction with his life-affirming franchise.
In a story session with co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, Lucas spitballed his ideal ending after Vader sacrifices himself to overthrow the Emperor:
"Luke takes his mask off. The mask is the very last thing — and then Luke puts it on and says, 'Now I am Vader.' Surprise! The ultimate twist. 'Now I will go and kill the [Rebel] fleet and I will rule the universe.'"
This horrifying twist is foreshadowed in the ominous training sequence on Dagobah, in which Luke envisions himself in the mask of Vader. Kasdan immediately agreed that this is how he believed the saga should end, however, they both admitted that this series wasn't just for them: "This is for the kids."
There you go! Now you can imagine all the ways Star Wars might be different down one of those hyperspace routes not taken. Let us know what you think about the alternate endings in the comments below.