It's no secret that Rogue One went through major changes during its reshoots. Many of the trailers for the film up to that point had clips and footage that would never make it to the big screen because part of those reshoots dealt with rewriting the ending for the film.
Over the last few days, many people on the creative team have elaborated on what the original ending would have looked like. From happier endings to different fates for the main characters as well as the villains, it has become very clear that Lucasfilm came up with a lot of ideas that were cut or changed both in the early and late stages of production.
John Knoll, the story idea creator for Rogue One (as well as Chief Creative Officer and Senior Visual Effects Supervisor for Industrial Light & Magic), has revealed two more possible endings for the film. In an interview with io9 he revealed one iteration of the story had Jyn and Cassian make it almost to the capital world of Coruscant while being chased down by Darth Vader.
"And the last jump they do, they try to get lost in the traffic that’s around Coruscant. 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 [and they're not going to make it].
So they discover that Leia’s ship has just taken off from Coruscant and is on its way to its diplomatic mission to Alderaan. They know that she’s secretly working for the Rebellion and they risk blowing her cover by transmitting the plans to her ship with the hope that this transmission won’t be detected but Vader’s ship."
Both Cassian and Jyn realize that if they're captured they'll be tortured into revealing information about the Rebel Alliance so they nobly sacrifice themselves by blowing up their ship with them on board. In this version it seems that the entire cast of the film wouldn't survive.
Knoll also revealed an idea that would explain how the characters in Rogue One could survive without appearing in any films in the original series. It involved Cassian as a double agent for the Empire and a pretty unique weapon.
"Then I had a version of it where the Cassian character, originally, was a double agent. He was a spy planted by the Empire into the Rebellion. And 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. 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]."
The only issue with this idea is explaining what is the actual use for a carbon freeze bomb is. In Empire Strikes Back its explained that carbon freezing is meant for transporting cargo. Why anyone would create a weaponized version of it, that just happens to be aboard their vessel, is anyone's guess.
Still, the carbon freeze bomb would make a good explanation for why those characters never appear in the original Star Wars trilogy, and make a great a call back to The Empire Strikes Back. We know that Felicity Jones contractually signed on for both Rogue One and a sequel so this idea would have left the door open for another film. It possible the filmmakers originally planned to have the next movie take place either post-Return of the Jedi or possibly even some time after Star Wars: Episode IX. With their fate sealed on Scarif, however, we'll never know for sure.
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