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Warning: major spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story are ahead!
In case it wasn't clear from the advertising and marketing, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story wasn't going to end well for the main characters. After all, their mission to steal the Death Star plans was practically suicidal. Sure enough, literally every member of the primary cast was dead by the end of the movie, but according to director Gareth Edwards, an earlier draft actually had a few notable survivors make it out alive. In his words:
The very first version, they didn't. In the screenplay. And it was just assumed by us that we couldn't do that. 'They're not going to let us do that.' So I was trying to figure out how this ends where that doesn't happen. And then everyone read that and there was this feeling of like, 'They've got to die, right?' And everyone was like, 'Yeah, can we?'
Gareth Edwards originally revealed this information in an interview with Empire, and while the original page has since been taken down, io9 has kept them in pristine condition. So rather than all of the principal players meet their end in Rogue One's climactic battle on Scarif, originally a few escaped the battle intact, mainly because Edwards and his crew were under the assumption that they wouldn't be allowed to kill off everyone.
Fortunately for Edwards, the folks at Disney and Lucasfilm weren't as strict as he believed. After speaking with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and other top brass at the studios, they were allowed to kill off each of the main characters in Rogue One. Not even Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor made it out alive! Edwards continued:
We thought we weren't going to be allowed to but Kathy [Kennedy, President of Lucasfilm] and everyone at Disney were like 'Yeah it makes sense/ I guess they have to because they're not in A New Hope.' And so from that point on we had the license. I kept waiting for someone to go, 'You know what? Could we just film an extra scene where we see Jyn and Cassian, they're okay and they're on another planet?' And it never came. No one ever gave us that note, so we got to do it.
Narratively speaking, it makes sense that all of Rogue One's main characters died, as within the Star Wars timeline, they're nowhere to be seen or even mentioned during A New Hope or subsequent stories. Sure a few could have survived, but by going the direction they did, the ending felt more shocking. Besides, the finalized ending of Rogue One flows seamlessly into A New Hope. Now the Death Stars plans are in Princess Leia's hands, and with Orson Krennic being killed by the very weapon he poured his sweat into for nearly two decades, Tarkin is the new overseer of the the planet-killing space station. The saga continues!
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is now playing in theaters, and click here to read our thoughts on the movie.