NB: The following contains spoilers for Star Wars: Rogue One.
The months leading up to Star Wars: Rogue One‘s release were full not just of geeky anticipation, but a certain amount of nervousness. Nervousness on account of one, oft-shared word that can either mean everything or nothing: ‘reshoots’.
You’re perfectly aware, we’re sure, that reshoots are standard part of making a movie: once principal photography’s over, it isn’t uncommon for certain gaps to appear in the edit, so a cast and crew will head back out and capture the bits they need to fill in the blanks. For the 2011 Statham opus Blitz, for example, editor John Gilbert went back out and filmed a few extra shots – or pick-ups as they’re often termed – to help smooth out the transition from an on-foot chase between hero and villain, and a climactic scene at a train station.
This year, however, the word ‘reshoots’ has taken on a somewhat darker aspect. Ahead of Suicide Squad‘s release, news began to spread that certain sequences were being reshot in order to add more humor. Likewise Rogue One, which, the stories went, was having as much as 40 percent of its duration reshot at the behest of its studio. Later news reports, either put out by unnamed sources or officially by Disney-Lucasfilm, admitted that reshoots were going on, but assured us that the sequences being filmed were far less drastic than the earlier rumors suggested.
Far from reworking 40 percent of the film, the additional filming was largely confined to refining character moments, according to sources quoted by Entertainment Weekly back in June – “It’s a lot of talking in cockpits,” one insider said.
Nearer Rogue One‘s release, however, actor Riz Ahmed, who plays former Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook, told the LA Times that “There were a ton of reshoots.”
Here’s what director Gareth Edwards said about the reshoot stories on the 12th December, mere days before Rogue One‘s release:
“When we did the pickup shoots, Tony came in to write the screenplay for those scenes, and because we shot it documentary-style and had so much material, essentially, we ended up being a bit crunched for time. So we all dove in and did different things: Tony did some second-unit on the pickup shoot and so did I, and we went from 600 visual effects to 1,600 visual effects.”
Really, when we share stories of reshoots on big films, we aren’t necessarily concerned with the technical ins-and-outs of what’s going on, so much as what it represents. In the case of Rogue One, Edwards had long talked about his desire to make a gritty war film set in the Star Wars universe; as word spread that screenwriter Tony Gilroy had been brought in to pen and shoot new scenes for Edwards’ film, the real question was, had Disney panicked? Had the studio balked at the idea of making a dark and tough Star Wars film, as Fox appeared to have done with Josh Trank’s ill-fated Fantastic Four?
If you’ve seen Rogue One, you’ll probably agree that, whatever went on behind the camera, Edwards’ original intent remains intact. Rogue One is indeed a gritty war movie where ordinary soldiers put their lives on the line for the greater good, and for us, it’s one of the most satisfying big films of 2016. But at the same time, you may have noticed just how few sequences from the film’s early trailers made it into Rogue One‘s final cut. Jyn Erso no longer gets her quotable line, “I’m a rebel – I rebel.” Mon Mothma’s dialogue changes in just about every trailer, and is different again in the finished film.
Watch the Rogue One trailers in sequence, and get a flavor of how the movie might have changed over time. Here’s one example: Forest Whitaker’s hair. In the version of Rogue One now in cinemas, Whitaker’s character, the Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera, is shown with short hair during the flashback scenes and with longer hair in the present. In Rogue One‘s first trailer, we see an early version of the scene where Jyn (Felicity Jones) is reunited with Gerrera on the planet Jedha, and he has the same short hair; in later trailers, and in the finished film, Gerrera has long hair.
Compare and contrast the following:
There are suggestions here and there that Rogue One‘s introduction to the adult Jyn may also have been quite different. In early trailers, Jyn is shown being led through the Rebel base on Yavin; look closely, and you’ll see she’s in handcuffs (“Can you be trusted without your shackles?”). In her conversations with Mon Mothma, Jyn seems much more combative and angry; the implication is that Jyn fights for the Rebels, but is known as something of a loose cannon who, in Felicity Jones’ own words, “absolutely hates the Empire, so whenever she sees a Stormtrooper it’s this completely instinctive reaction she has to just bash them in the head.”
By the third trailer, however, it seems that Jyn’s entire introduction has been changed. We see a sequence where Jyn’s freed from an Imperial transporter for the first time, and the earlier scenes of Jyn in her cuffs at the Rebel base and the more hard-staring version of the heroine are no longer shown. Jyn’s conversations with Saw also imply that she’s asking him to join the cause rather than provide information, though that could just be our interpretation of Jyn’s dialogue here – something else that didn’t make it into the final cut.
The most significant changes to the film, if we compare it to the footage in the trailers, appears to be in the third act. In both the promos and photographs taken on set, it seems that Edwards and his team shot a very different action sequence on the planet Scarif.
You may well recall the following shot, in which Jyn is shown limping across a platform as a TIE Fighter rises in front of her:
Or maybe the striking shots of Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) striding along the shore:
Far from teases made only for the trailers, these seem to be part of a very different conclusion, which involved Jyn Erso and her gang physically making off with the Death Star plans across the Scarif beach as the Empire’s forces close in. In the shots below, you can see Felicity Jones carrying what appear to be the plans in one hand and a blaster in the other. Similar footage in the trailer shows Jyn and Cassian (Diego Luna) running along and spotting the AT-ATs closing in from a line of trees in front of them.
So putting it all together, it’s clear that end of Rogue One was changed quite a bit; Gareth Edwards says that the number of effects shots almost tripled at Disney’s behest. So what happened? Well, the definitive answer probably won’t emerge for months or even years, but we can make a semi-educated guess by comparing the promo footage and the finished movie.
That Jyn and Cassian are shown running through the Imperial stronghold – the sequence shot at Canary Wharf tube station – and then along the beach suggests that Rogue One‘s final act would have contained a chase sequence. Rather than upload the files to the Rebels via satellite, Jyn and her team would have grabbed the plans from the archive and scampered back out of the building, with Director Krennic landing with his troops on the shore outside and attempting to cut them off.
It’s difficult to say where the TIE Fighter sequence fits into this; it could be that Jyn’s original plan was to upload the files, as we saw in the final film, but the TIE Fighter rose up and shot at her (something you can just spot in one of the TV clips), destroying the communication dish in the process. Jyn therefore has no choice but to physically get the plans off the planet.
Some of the most fascinating unused footage comes from the Star Wars Celebration clip shown off earlier this year. It shows Imperial officers fighting with Stormtroopers – again, something missing from the theatrical cut. Could it be that some of the Rebels had a separate mission of their own, infiltrating the Empire’s inner sanctum dressed as Stormtroopers?
A look at the still below lends weight to this argument. On the left, isn’t that Cassian dressed up as an Imperial officer?
Our thinking – and again, this is conjecture based on what we’ve seen – is that the final battle as originally devised was deemed too downbeat for comfort. As a result, a new third act was worked up, which consisted of more space battles and aerial combat and less death and destruction on the ground.
This might explain why, in the place of Jyn and Cassian fleeing along the beach with explosions going off everywhere, we had a more contained ending where they struggled to wrest the Death Star plans from the Empire’s archives. This way, Edwards’ team could reshoot the sequence at Pinewood Studios without going to the expense of flying everyone back to an atoll in the Maldives.
Again, it could be many years before we learn just what the script, as originally written, had in mind for Jyn and her band of Rebels. Whatever the changes were, there’s a happy ending to the whole story: Rogue One remains a thrilling, often superb-looking film, and even if the conclusion was softened a little, it’s still as gritty and bleak as Edwards suggested it would be.