(SPOILERS FOR ROGUE ONE AHEAD)
It’s evident from the images released and footage seen in the trailers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story that the film originally had a different ending which featured the heroes of the film making a daring escape from Scarif as they charged towards AT-ACT’s on the beach and arrived safely back in the Imperial Cargo shuttle (you can tell from Cassian’s costume change). But it seems there was never any intention of the heroes surviving the third act of the film whether they made it off of Scarif or not. While speaking on the Empire Podcast for Empire Magazine, Gareth Edwards offered some insight on the decision to kill off all of the heroes by the end of the film:
“I mean, it’s a great Disney tradition isn’t it? For every single character to die in all their movies. I think there was an early version – the very first version they didn’t [die] in the screenplay. And it was just assumed by us that we couldn’t do that and they’re not gonna let us do that. So we’re trying to figure out how this ends where that doesn’t happen. And then everyone read that, and there was just this feeling of like, “They gotta die right?” And everyone was like, “Yeah, can we?” And we thought we weren’t gonna be allowed to, but Kathy [Kennedy] and everyone at Disney were like, “Yeah, 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 and I kept waiting for someone to go, “You know what, can you just film an extra scene where we see Jyn and Cassian, they’re okay, and they’re on another planet and la la la…” And [that] never ever came, and no one gave us that note so we got to do it.”
The choice to kill the characters as we can now call the original members of Rogue Squadron was absolutely the right choice. Not only does the squad get to die as heroes in an act of self-sacrifice for the Rebellion, their sacrifice lends deeper meaning to the destruction of the Death Star in the original Star Wars. I’ve heard some people say they didn’t feel the characters were very memorable in Rogue One to which I completely disagree. They may not be as iconic as Luke, Han, and Leia or Rey, Finn, Poe, and BB-8 but you’ll never be able to watch A New Hope ever again without having the heroes of Rogue One and the Battle of Scarif running through your mind the entire time. It’s an even bigger sigh of relief when Luke blows up the Death Star knowing their sacrifice, as well as Galen’s, was worth it.