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When Death is the Go-To Answer, Stop and Rethink

(Photo: Lucasfilm)

This post contains spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

After my first viewing of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I have to admit I was angry about the fact that all of the major characters died. I had expected one or two survivors, so the death of them all was both shocking and disappointing. Since then, I’ve come to accept the fates of the characters, having come to the understanding that it was, in fact, a suicide mission and that they weren’t going to give up after all that they had done in the name of the Rebellion.

That said, many viewers believed the characters were killed off because they’re not in A New Hope or the movies that followed.

One fan wrote, “I also thought it was pretty brave of them to kill everyone off, but I guess it makes sense since they’re not in A New Hope.”

Another one wrote, “I’m gonna be upset if everyone in ‘Rogue One’ doesn’t die… it’s the only way to explain that they’re not in ‘A New Hope.'”

Fans weren’t the only ones to think this way. Apparently, key creators in Disney also felt the same way, according to the director of Rogue One, Gareth Edwards, in a podcast interview with Empire (io9).

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?’

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.

What troubles me most about this mentality of “well, they have to die because they’re not in [insert movie here]” is that people forget where all of these events take place:

star-wars-opening-crawl

A galaxy far, far away….

A vast galaxy where multiple characters can exist in different parts and contribute to the same cause without knowing or having heard of each other.

Thane whispered to Yendor, “Who the hell is General Solo?”

“You know. Han Solo! Captain of the Millennium Falcon?”

The ship name sounded vaguely familiar, but Thane couldn’t quite place it.

Yendor’s eyes widened with disbelief. “Come on! He’s one of the guys who rescued Princess Leia from the first Death Star. You remember that, right?”

“I wasn’t with the Rebellion then. I didn’t join until right before Hoth.”

“Oh. I guess Captain Solo got captured by a bounty hunter right after Hoth.” Yendor’s lekku drooped. “So you wouldn’t know him—but, hey, he’s one of the best.”

Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

While some characters may be aware of the reputations of other characters, there are plenty more, like Thane Kyrell, who aren’t familiar. This passage from Lost Stars emphasizes the fact that not everyone knows everyone else and word doesn’t spread as quickly and widely as people think. Take the following excerpt from Star Wars Propaganda as another example.

For his safety, Rebel messagesmiths avoided publicizing Luke Skywalker’s name, but the tale of a young Rebel pilot with minimal combat experience who destroyed the Empire’s ultimate weapon was too powerful to keep secret for long.

Star Wars Propaganda by Pablo Hidalgo

While the tale of a young pilot who destroyed the Death Star circulated throughout the Rebel cells, Luke’s name isn’t as commonly known as one would think. (At least, not at this point in time.) Again, characters can exist in the same galaxy without crossing paths or learning about each other’s existence.

For someone to think that the answer for why a character isn’t around in the original films is because they died, I can’t help but feel that that’s a result of a lack of imagination. There are other fates out there other than death. Think back to when Ahsoka Tano first came into existence in 2008. Most fans believed she had to die during Order 66 because she didn’t exist in the content that came after. Dave Filoni pushed for something different, and the result was both mind-blowing and refreshing.

“When gone am I, the last of the Jedi will you be.” That’s what Yoda told Luke in Return of the Jedi. Just recently, the title for Episode VIII was revealed to be The Last Jedi. Additionally, the crawl for The Force Awakens refers to Luke as “the last Jedi,” so what does this mean for Ezra and Kanan? (And yes, I know Jedi is both singular and plural.) Again, most people went straight to the “they’re obviously dead” mentality.

Although Kanan is on the path of the Jedi, Ezra is not there yet. He’s training to become a Jedi, but he could easily carve out a new path for himself. Kanan, despite being a Jedi Knight, also has that potential. There’s so much room to play with when it comes to these characters that death, in my opinion, seems overrated. I know characters have to die eventually and that deaths are a way to express that the stakes are high, but it gets tiring when the automatic answer for why a character isn’t present during a certain event is because they’re dead.

That shouldn’t be the answer and it shouldn’t be the go-to solution on the creative side of things.

There’s a galaxy out there. Play with it and think of the many possibilities instead of holding yourself to just one.

Have thoughts you want to share regarding this topic? Write them in the comments section below.

twg-sw-divider

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About JM (823 Articles)
Content creator of The Wookiee Gunner. Contributing writer for Jedi News, Fangirl Next Door, and Fashioned for the Geek. Podcasts: @RebelsChat, @GalacticFashion, @Team_Kanan, and @StarScavengers. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

17 Comments on When Death is the Go-To Answer, Stop and Rethink

  1. God piece. I think about this a lot. I certainly don’t want Star Wars to be like Game of Thrones, it seems like that’s what some people think it would take t make it more “serious.”

    I do think some good guys dying helps the story along. Our heroes are resisting the empire, facing insurmountable odds. In Rebels many episodes features hundreds sometimes thousands of imperial troops dying as the Rebel crew destroy Star Destroyers and and other large ships, plus bases and fuel depots, all with no casualties (maybe the occasional A-Wing pilot). With those numbers it seems like victory will be easy for the rebels. The rebels look like the New England Patriots play agains a Pop Warner team of 11 year olds. The rebels should be the ones who are at a disadvantage, but it is always the other way around. Rogue One helped with this a lot.

    • Those are great points! The thing is Star Wars Rebels is only focusing on one very small group of Rebels: Phoenix Squadron. Their base is also very small. Storytelling wise, the losses for them can’t be great because then you would have killed off the entire cell. So it’s very fortunate for them that their successes have taken out large quantities of Imperials. That’s why Thrawn is after them because they’re too good at what they do and they need to be put down. Now, if EVERYONE in that cell comes out alive in the season finale, then I’ll say that’s a problem because there need to be casualties at that point. My problem is when characters are taken out because they’re not in the original movies. That doesn’t make sense to me because these characters live in such a vast galaxy. So the reasoning is ultimately what ruffles my feathers, hehe! Anyway, thanks so much for your comment! ^_^

  2. What a great post and I agree with so much of what you wrote! (even though I liked the death of the characters in Rogue One but for different reasons)

    I’m hoping that as we get more Star Wars standalone films, they will be more interested in playing in the galaxy sandbox and doing things completely different with stories and characters we’ve never even heard of.

    • That’s what I’m also hoping to see, so I look forward to the future stand-alone movies! Thanks so much for reading and for your comment! ^_^

  3. Filony is no different. He killed off Inquisitors exactly because they are not in OT. Such a waste of great characters.

    • First, it’s Filoni. Second, that was not the reason why they were killed, so don’t assign your own opinion to other people’s actions. The Grand Inquisitor killed himself because he knew that his failure would get him killed by Vader. He decided to take his own life than to suffer by Vader’s hand. Filoni and the writing crew wrote that way purposefully. Third, the Seventh Sister’s death proved that Ezra is not like Maul nor does he want to become someone like Maul. Again, done with a purpose in mind. The Fifth and Eighth Brother were casualties in battle. That’s to be expected. All of these deaths served a purpose or showed how easily they were overpowered. Finally, the point of this post is to remind FANS in the community that there are other fates for characters other than death. Just because they’re not in ANH, that doesn’t mean they died.

  4. Thank you for this article, Johna! The first time we went to see the movie, my husband was really disappointed by the ending but came to terms with it when we went the second time (and the third … and after watching A New Hope again). I totally see that having people die is seen as lazy storytelling. I have this problem, for example, with George R.R. Martin. “Yeah, surprise, surprise, next stop? The character’s gonna die.” In Game of Thrones / Song of Ice and Fire, death lost its shock moment for me (“What do we say to death? Not again!” ;)) ). As an author, I’ve moved away from the “everyone dies” trope and tried to find more interesting ways. I think, there are so many facets of character development to discover that go way beyond “is dead” or “is alive”.
    And nonetheless, I am okay with the Rogue crew dying at the end. It was okay for me, because it empowered A New Hope so much. The crawl text is their legacy now, and for me it makes sense that they are not around anymore, because the crawl text was made possible by their sacrifice. I think, it’s well done and I can live with the sweet pain of that. ;)
    But … to kill off Ezra and Kanan would feel cheap to me. It’s the cheapest way out. How much more interesting would it be if the story led somewhere else, somewhere new? Of course, my heart demands a happy ending for all of them, but my mind and my cruel sense of wonder want to see something dark and grim and grey and NEW.

    P.S.: Around “Twilight of the Apprentice” I re-read a role playing game rule book that can be applied to every possible setting – Fate Core. We play Star Wars with these rules. In RPG, there is a constant discussion about whether players only feel tension in storytelling if their characters are threatened to die every moment. I’m on the Fate side of RPG: There are things more interesting than death. Sometimes, a character death is a fine thing and evokes great emotions, but when it does, it should serve the story, and not occur like “Oh, I rolled a 1 while climbing, my character falls and dies … I guess I should make a new one.” And even in combat, characters getting away with wounds and losses are so much more compelling! While I read this chapter, I was instantly wondering if Dave Filoni had read it as well (haha), because the thing with Maul and Kanan would be a perfect example for Fate storytelling – taking consequences in a conflict that change your character concept for the rest of the game (from “Cowboy Jedi” to “Blind Samurai Jedi”). ;)

    • I’m so glad you liked it! I’m just always disappointed to see the “well, they must be dead” comments because that explains why they’re not there. No, lol! There is a galaxy out there. They can still exist doing something else. That’s what imagination is about! Anyway, thanks for your comment, especially the bit about the role playing!

  5. Well put Johna – I’m with you 100%. I really like Dave Filoni’s idea of the Rebels series taking place ‘just off to the side’ or however he put it – it was amusing to me that the Rebels cameos in Rogue One were all quite literally at the side of the screen ;) He’s shown with Ahsoka that you can do something much more mind-blowing by taking a less obvious route than simply killing the character off, I have to believe Ezra’s destiny has something else in store in for him (not Kanan though, sorry, I’m convinced he’s toast ;) )

    • Haha, poor Kanan! But yeah, Kanan is someone who I can see not surviving past a certain point because his death might serve some higher purpose. He’s also had a long life that’s been covered in the comics, books, and the TV series. It’s quite impressive what they’ve done with that character. I’m just tired of seeing the “Well, he can’t live because he’s not in ANH” or some other reason. Stop, please. Haha! Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. Grendelspyce // February 2, 2017 at 6:47 PM // Reply

    If anything the success of Rogue One (both critically and financially) made me feel that Disney may be more inclined now to kill off Kanan and Ezra at the end of Rebels. I’m a purist who believes that at the time of A New Hope there were only two Jedi left in the galaxy, Obi-Wan and Yoda. Making us care about Kanan and Ezra and then giving them glorious, meaningful and heroic deaths would be the best possible outcome for me.

    • Obi-Wan and Yoda may be the only Jedi in the galaxy, but there are plenty of Force sensitive people out there. The story line of the Inquisitors hunting those type of people down is an example of that. Kanan I could see not surviving because again, he’s on the path of the Jedi. Ezra is still learning and could move away from that and just be a Force sensitive person, like Ahsoka. Plus, Obi-Wan and Yoda isolated themselves. They had their reasons, obviously, but they’re somewhat out of the loop as to what’s happening out there in the galaxy. A heroic end for Kanan would be okay, a different fate for Ezra would be even better. Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting!

  7. I absolutely agree with everything you’ve said and really hope the ‘Rebels’ writing team find a way of dealing with Ezra and Kanan that a) pushes their own stories forward and b) doesn’t end with them dying before the events of ‘Rogue One’. Killing either or both of them off to avoid contradicting what Kenobi and Yoda said in the OT would be lazy storytelling. Not to mention the fact that Kenobi and Yoda have been known to tell the odd fib here and there. “From a certain point of view” and all that.. ;-)

    That said, I AM actually pleasantly surprised with Lucafilm’s decision to kill off the entire ‘Rogue One’ crew (I didn’t expect them to be that bold). Not because it explains why they aren’t around in ANH but because it hammers home the sad realities of war. They made the ultimate sacrifice so that so many others could survive. Frankly, I would have been disappointed if Jyn and Cassian had survived and walked off into the proverbial sunset.

    • Agreed! Their deaths really hammered that in. It just bothers me when people think the reasoning is because they’re not in ANH. So yeah, I really want the Rebels team to build on what they did with Ahsoka and really give us something that is beyond what people expect, which is for them to die because “they’re not in the OT.” If that’s what the writers end up doing, I would be very upset and it might be the cause for me to turn away from Star Wars. I know that’s a bold statement (and I probably won’t follow through with it entirely, hehe), but I haven’t looked at a Marvel (superheroes) comic book for years because of terrible storytelling. (There were other reasons why I plucked myself out of the Marvel fandom, but that was definitely one of them.) So we’ll definitely have to wait and see! Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • I imagine the same people are arguing that Thrawn will also be killed off because, hey, he’s also not in the original trilogy. It’s big galaxy. Maybe part of the Rebels crew will be sent elsewhere while Hera and Chopper help out at Scarif… ;-)

        This is very much a case of giving Lucasfilm the benefit of the doubt and seeing what the future brings. Hopefully it won’t drive you away from Star Wars because we need you here. :-D

  8. Well, let me put this in another perspective. Forget about the fan logic about characters dying simply because they were not in ep IV.

    As someone who does community theater (and has done a couple of cheesy indie films in Ohio) I can tell you the two greatest things any actor wants is:

    1) A memorable entrance into the story

    2) A memorable exit from it.

    The actors, I think, really took to the death option with enthusiasm because nothing makes a character more beloved and more memorable than leaving the fans with a sense of “what could have been”

    I think their deaths made them into legends, and Rogue One has become, in my mind, an epic saga. I know many fans who still feel an ache in their hearts at the possible romance between Jyn and Cassian at the very end, and that the moment was powerful.

    For the characters to die in this circumstance made them more epic than if they had lived.

    My love for the film is punctuated by the ending, and it felt right even though I would desire for them all to survive. The cast left us with the best possible impression, and made us love them all the more because of their tragic story.

    True, the death option is not always the best for characters we root for, and I have seen some character deaths that made me angry, made me feel cheated. There are some characters still alive in Star Wars whose fates are uncertain, and it makes me anxious. BUT when it is done right, it is magic. The fact that you still ache over their deaths proves the love we have for these characters :)

    • Oh, having all of the characters live and none of them die would be silly. One of my problems is when it’s done and it makes me feel cheated, like you said. Yeah, at times it can be magic, but it’ll take some time for me to process, like the end of Rogue One. My #1 problem is definitely fan logic. That’s why I wrote this because I needed to get that off my chest, hehe! I do, however, very much appreciate your input from an actor/theater point of view. I didn’t think of it from that angle. Thanks for sharing that! And of course, many thanks for reading and commenting! ^_^

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