It turns out that the spinoff movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story originated as the pitch for a live-action Star Wars TV series. Rogue One is part of Disney and Lucasfilm’s ambitious plans to release a new Star Wars movie annually, with the first three years in between the “main” installments (Episodes VII, VIII and IX) being filled by spinoffs set in different time periods, regions and even genres in the broader Star Wars universe, in order to space out the various production periods.
Rogue One is the first one of these projects (operating under the “A Star Wars Story” banner), exploring the story behind the Rebel Alliance’s pre-Episode IV: A New Hope theft of the original Death Star plans. It turns out that Rogue One’s premise was not newly-conceived for a film. A rough sketch of the new idea that ultimately became Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was originally drawn up as part of plans for a since-abandoned television series, instead.
Industrial Light & Magic legend and Photoshop co-creator John Knoll, who conceived of the Rogue One story in the first place, touched upon how Rogue One went from being a TV series to a movie, during a larger interview with CBR:
“It wasn’t until Kathy [Kennedy] announced this new slate of “Star Wars” films that, in addition to “VII,” “VIII” and “IX” that would be continuing the saga, that she also wanted to do these standalone adventure stories: stories that took place in the “Star Wars” universe but weren’t necessarily connected to that through-line. A lot of us were really intrigued by it. “That sounds like fun.” I thought that idea of the mission to steal the Death Star plans, telling that story could make a pretty good standalone feature as well.
I sort of did an informal pitch to a friend of mine at lunch, once. I said, imagine this, and kind of took him through the story. I got such a good reaction to it. Another friend asked me about it, so I pitched it, but this time it was a little more elaborate version of it. I had been going through this mental exercise of kind of thinking through more of the plot mechanics, and who these characters were. Could I work this out into a full feature film? Finally, I had this 20-minute version that I could tell that had, I thought, pretty good story logic, and pretty good characters, and all was very exciting, just beautifully meets right up to “Episode IV.”
Knoll further reveals that an estimated 50% of his own original pitch survived to become Rogue One – including the creation of at least two of the most popular characters and that surprise cameo at the end:
“Inevitably, things change a bit. I feel like about 50% of what I wrote survived, which is not terrible. A lot of the major characters are still the major characters that were in that first pitch. Jyn Erso was in the first thing I wrote, as was K-2, and Krennic, and even the character that got renamed but eventually became Cassian. So those were all in what I pitched originally. It still ended [the same]: the very last thing in the movie was with Princess Leia on the Blockade Runner as she gets the plans, and has to decide what they’re going to do.”