Rogue One - The Ending That Wasn’t Meant To Be
SPOILER & SPECULATION Heavy - Read at your own risk.
As most people know by now, the third act of Rogue One was extensively reshot. The earliest trailers for the film have loads of shots that not only aren’t in the final version, but contradict what we all saw on the big screen.
Putting together what could have been, and may once have been is purely to speculate with very few clues. And that’s what the rest of this article is going to do, without attribution.
Accept it or stop reading.
IO9 kind of missed the point in their article “The First Script for Rogue One Had A Completely Different Ending” As a statement, that’s fine, but then the article starts with “you probably noticed that much of what’s in the trailers is not in the movie.” IO9 makes the mistake (or wants you to) of thinking that that first draft was the version that was filmed and then reshot to make the ending darker.
From the sources that I’ve spoken with, the opposite is true. The final edit, after the third act reshoot, was not as dark as director Gareth Edward’s edit. Neither was based on the first draft that IO9 is referring to in this article.
On screen, we see the fates of each crew member. But in the trailers, at least one, K-2SO, is alive later in the story, in a place that we now never visit.
In the first version of the film, Vader doesn’t appear until near the very end. The earlier appearance of Vader in the final cut is really shoe-horned into the plot. I don't know if that was a reshoot sequence or not, but as others have noted, the planet (Mustafar) lacks the titled name that all other worlds get, an odd editorial decision, but possibly an oversight due to time limitations caused by the reshoots. The story works perfectly well with the whole Mustafar sequence edited out*.
On screen, Jyn and Cassian die on a beach, embracing each other, knowing that they’ve succeeded, but that they can’t escape their fate. It’s an oddly peaceful death-scene. It’s also not how they died before the reshoots.
The heroes have beaten their enemy, Krennic, and appear to be on the verge of surviving. Jyn, Cassian and K-2SO escape from the primary building, using a train/subway. Krennic chases them. There we see him outdoors, purposely stalking them. Jyn and Cassian join the rebel fighters.
Somehow, K2 dies, Krennic dies, and Jyn and Cassian board a ship and pilot it off the surface of Scarif and join the rebel fleet.
Note Jyn in K-2SO's seat.
Their sense of safety (and the audience’s) is shattered by the appearance of Vader. He is the enemy beyond their abilities, unstoppable malevolence, the Vader we have yet to really see on screen. Vader kills both Jyn and Cassian, quite possibly the rebel who gets Vader's lightsaber run through him and the hatch was originally Jyn.
Yet the plans for the Death Star escape, leading to the events in A New Hope**.
It’s the absence of Vader murdering of our heroes that has infuriated people that I've spoken with. It also explains why Disney felt the need to “Lighten the mood” from Edwards' first cut towards what we see now on screen. Yes, Vader killing Jyn even as she hands the plans over would have been cool, but it's a level of darkness that Disney decided they didn't want their name on.
* Just as The Force Awakens would work better if we hadn't had that whole Han and Chewie on another ship sequence mid-film - a sequence that was there solely to appease Chinese financiers and audiences.
** I hate that name.