Film history is full of stories of movies both ruined and saved in the editing room. Sci-fi flicks like Blade Runner, Brazil, and Alien 3 were neutered by skittish studios and later restored to great acclaim. Epics like Heaven’s Gate, Once Upon A Time In America, and Kingdom Of Heaven were botched and truncated before being reworked with deleted materials into leisurely paced, grandiose visions. Peter Jackson has made The Lord Of The Rings much longer; fans have made The Hobbit much shorter. We obsess over black and white versions of Mad Max: Fury Road, The Mist, and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Suicide Squad is a universal punchline.
But Star Wars movies—man, we love editing those fuckers. The prequel trilogies have been through a gauntlet, with fans gutting Jar Jar, splicing the films into a single movie, creating winsomely redubbed Chinese translations, and so on. George Lucas famously redid the original trilogy—to, shall we say, mixed reception—which then inspired a host of un-specialized reduxes of his redux. It keeps going.
Rogue One, though, seems uniquely destined to a future of endless fan re-creation. Before it even came out, there was endless talk about reshoots engineered to give the movie a lighter tone, to better match the other movies in the series. But since its release, the film’s editors, writers, stars, and director haven’t been able to stop tossing wood onto the fire of “what if?”
The internet is full of sleuths, already piecing together an alternate version from the original trailer. Here’s Jyn, apparently fighting a TIE fighter at the end of the movie; here she is escaping with the Death Star plans; here is a completely reordered introduction of characters in the movie. In a fuller interview with Yahoo!, the editors explain that the whole thing was originally assembled from other whole movies:
There was no screenplay, there was just a story breakdown at that point, scene by scene. He got me to rip hundreds of movies and basically make Rogue One using other films so that they could work out how much dialogue they actually needed in the film.
It’s very simple to have a line [in the script] that reads “Krennic’s shuttle descends to the planet,” now that takes maybe 2-3 seconds in other films, but if you look at any other Star Wars film you realise that takes 45 seconds or a minute of screen time. So by making the whole film that way—I used a lot of the Star Wars films—but also hundreds of other films too, it gave us a good idea of the timing.
An article in Polygon stoked the fires even further, declaring that “there’s enough footage left over for an entirely different Rogue One.” The Collider article they link to quotes actor Ben Mendelsohn as saying that “20 or 30” of the scenes have “enormous differences.” He doesn’t even really seem happy about it:
When you were watching it, were you like, “Oh, he went with that take that I was angry when I was playing it…”
Mendelsohn: Yeah. And there were a couple of times I was like, “Oh wow! He went with that. That one, yeah. Ok, I get it.” Because there were some scenes that I had seen as we were constructing and thinking about doing it this way or that way, and I had seen various scenes where we would come in and done something. And I’d seen the scene and it was cut this particular way and so we did the ADR, and then when I saw it the other day I was like, “Oh wow! That all—yeah now it goes like this.” So there is a bunch.
This is all fun to think about, but also a strange part of the long tail a movie like this has. Rogue One was a visually interesting movie—a pre-cyberpunk vision of retro-futuristic war, evoking the 1970s and the 1940s as much as it does other sci-fi. But it’s likely that this tantalizing vision of alternate storylines and scenes is the film’s great legacy, as if its theatrical release were only a preamble to its fuller director’s cut—which will inevitably be strip-mined for raw material to be recut infinitely on the internet. Star Wars fans never sleep.