The bittersweet ending of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story caught more than a few people off guard, even if the tragic fates of Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor seemed inevitable from the start.
If you still haven’t seen the spin-off, then consider this your enormous incoming spoiler warning. Everyone who has will remember that although the Rebel soldiers succeeded in their plot to steal the plans for the Death Star – which were passed to CGI Leia just in time – none of them made it off the tropical planet Scarif alive.
It was a gut-wrenching finale – and the one the filmmakers wanted from the start. They did, however, have a backup plan ready, in case Disney weren’t on board with sad Star Wars.
In a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, screenwriter Gary Whitta went into more detail about how his team were initially pessimistic about the ending we saw in the cinema.
“The original instinct was that they should all die,” he explained. “It’s worth it. If you’re going to give your life for anything, give your life for this, to destroy a weapon that’s going to kill you all anyway. That’s what we always wanted to do. But we never explored it because we were afraid that Disney might not let us do it, that Disney might think it’s too dark for a Star Wars movie or for their brand.”
The people in charge eventually went for it, but there was a happier version. In plan B Rogue One, both Jyn and Cassian survived. They managed to escape from the beach, plans in hand, in a Rebel ship that came to their rescue. They met up with Leia in space and transferred the crucial data, but only just before a chasing Darth Vader blew up their ship.
As Vader’s Star Destroyer turned its focus to pursuing the Tantive IV, the audience would have been thinking the heroes were dead. But being the happy ending, Jyn and Cassian emerged from the wreckage in an escape pod that just looked like another piece of debris. They got away.
Now, even in a science-fiction movie series where giant slugs run criminal empires and people routinely chop off each other’s limbs with glow-in-the-dark swords, that climax feels a bit far-fetched. Whitta certainly thought so anyway, which just made the creators more determined to get the outcome they wanted.
“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,” he told EW. “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.”