Anthony Breznican
January 12, 2017 AT 02:25 PM EST

There is an enduring mystery surrounding Rogue One: What happened to the crew of the Hammerhead starship?

They’re the ones (spoiler warning) who crash their vessel into a crippled Star Destroyer, ramming it into another Imperial battleship and using both to shatter the shield gate protecting the Empire’s research facility on Scarif.

Without the action of this Hammerhead Corvette, Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor would not have been able to transmit the Death Star plans to the Rebel fleet. And although there was no shortage of sacrifice in this battle, fans have been wondering if the crew of the Hammerhead was definitely among the casualties.

It turns out, the filmmakers debated about this, too. And the question has an answer…

Rogue One executive producer and Industrial Light and Magic visual effects supervisor John Knoll tells EW: “There was some talk about, ‘Hey, is this a suicide mission? Are all these guys going down with the Star Destroyers?’ I started pushing for this idea that maybe in one of the shots we could have all these lifeboats, the escape pods, shoot out of it.”

Picture this: As the mid-sized Rebel starship smashes the two Imperial goliaths together, driving them toward the planet below, a plume of small objects erupt from its undercarriage.

“We did an animation of that, but Gareth [Edwards, the director] thought it was a little distracting, so we turned that off,” Knoll says.

But the VFX team kept fighting for the lives of those Rebels, using some of the cutaway shots to justify an unseen escape.

“The last shot you see of the Star Destroyers crashing down through the gate — it’s a very subtle thing, and it would probably be hard to tell this – but the lifeboats are all gone on the Hammerhead,” Knoll tells EW. “It’s my story that the Hammerhead crew got into the life boats and made it out.”

So, the Hammerhead crew lives! … Sort of.

As fans know from the original 1977 Star Wars, these pods can’t really do much more than plummet.

“Our story was that they made it down to the surface of Scarif, and were standing around the beach going, ‘You know what, it isn’t so bad here!” Knoll says.

Then, as the Death Star fires up its laser … “’Hey, what’s that bright thing on the horizon?’”

You can hear more from Knoll, animation supervisor Hal Hickel, and Neil Corbould, who oversaw practical visual effects, talking about the battle of Scarif on EW Radio’s Behind the Scenes.

Much of the space battle was choreographed in advance, allowing the filmmakers to movie their digital “cameras” into almost any perspective, like a documentary crew.

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