Rogue one: StAR WARS A STORY Is about to REDRESS that balance.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the fate of every creature, war and political movement in a certain galaxy far, far away revolved around the skywalker family. anakin, his kids luke and leia, and his grandson ben have played Such pivotal roles in every
The first of the so-called “anthology” movies – standalone stories filling in gaps in the Star
Wars chronology away from the Skywalker family saga recounted in the “Episodes” – Rogue One literally goes back to the very beginning of the Star Wars phenomenon. Or, to be more accurate, the second paragraph of A
New Hope’s opening crawl:
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Rogue One tells the story of those previously unidentified Rebel spies and their mission – while we know what ultimately happened to those famous plans, we have no idea how they got there, or the fate of the people who obtained them.
“Normally you have a really good set-up and beginning to a film, and the big challenge is how to end it,” says Gareth Edwards, the
Monsters and Godzilla director taking the helm for Rogue One. “Usually that’s the thing they’re brainstorming a million times. On this one we kind of knew where we were heading, but it’s more about how we begin that journey. It was the polar opposite problem of what you usually have, and it felt like a better problem to have because I feel like films as you watch them should get stronger and climax at the end. So to sort of be confident in where we were going and know that there was this build-up that was going to hopefully be the reward of the film, it felt like a really good starting point.
“But just sticking Star Wars on a poster doesn’t make it a Star Wars film,” he adds. “We were trying to get that magical combination that we all grew up with – that mixture of epic canvas but with a sort of emotional core at the heart about a small group of people who are sometimes connected by family. It just felt very Shakespearean. It was what George Lucas was borrowing from when he did the originals.”
With the Skywalker involvement limited (we think) to a supporting role for Darth Vader (there was no way Lucasfilm was going to let the Sith Lord sit this one out), Rogue One features an all-new team of Rebel heroes – characters who, crucially, don’t have lightsabers and the Force to fall back on. They’re led by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a wild child who’s been living on her own since she was 15, and whose father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) may just hold the key to the Death Star’s powers – yet more daddy issues in the Star Wars series...
Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force,” declared Darth Vader, to a pigheaded Admiral Motti after he gloated about the undefeatable power of their new battle station in A New Hope.
Although the warnings of the Dark Lord did ultimately ring true and despite several subsequent annihilations, the empire’s intimidatingly designed moon-shaped base continues – as will be reinforced in upcoming prequel Rogue One – to be a looming threat in the Star Wars universe. This iconic symbol of mass destruction has, in various guises and stages of construction, made appearances in all but two movies to date, an unstoppable force to be reckoned with.
“The sets were really kind of simple but complicated and thus believable,” says oscar-winning set decorator Roger Christian, who worked on the original interiors of the Death Star at elstree Studios. “It looked like a functioning Death Star. [Production designer] John Barry wanted it darker so that it was almost black – to express that kind of evil look. It was just perfect in its simplicity: in a way like Albert Speers’s architecture design in germany, which was simple but very compelling when you looked at it. That was kind of an inspiration,” he says, referring to the imposing design work of Hitler’s infamous chief architect.
In contrast to the lived-in look of the Millennium Falcon, which Christian constructed using aeroplane scrap parts, the Death Star had a different approach and aesthetic. “It wasn’t like the used, old Tatooine world or the Falcon world, it was a much more engineered and precise world. We had to find anything that could be much newer looking; more like [what was accomplished] in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001.” The set decorator-turned-filmmaker (Black Angel, Nostradamus) has fond memories of working with production designer John Barry. “His talent was to understand what visually would express a character’s attitude. It was a huge set and expensive so we used this special back-forming machine and John found that he could back form plastic panels and stick those up so it had a kind of uniformity.”
The Death Star’s trash compactor set proved to be another challenge for Christian. “We built the pit and filled it with water and then I realised we were going to have the actors in there [laughs]! So I couldn’t put all the heavy scrap that looked really good in there as they would’ve got hurt and it would’ve sunk because it was too heavy,” he reveals. “In the end I got the plasterer’s shop to make them into polystyrene. The problem was whenever polystyrene breaks you see the white, so we also had to inject it so it wouldn’t spoil the shot.”
With Rogue One hinging on the recovery of the plans to the battle station, all eyes will be on how successful gareth edwards and his creative team have been in replicating the now iconic 40 year old design.
“So far, with what JJ Abrams achieved in The Force Awakens, they’ve been very reverent [to the originals] so it will certainly be interesting to see,” enthuses Christian. “When I was on the set of the original it was just awesome and when you see it on film it’s believable. To me that’s why the design endures: it doesn’t look like a science fiction set.”