Rogue One was inspired by A New Hope’s opening crawl. We analyse those famous yellow words for intel…
“Jyn is not like some of the other characters in other Star Wars films where it’s sort of been their pre-destiny to become the hero, that in some magical way it was always going to be the case that they would save the galaxy,” says Edwards. “Jyn was on a trajectory to have a totally different life, and something happens early on in the film and early on in her life that shatters everything and sends her on a different path. I wanted it to feel this was not someone who was born to be a soldier, that she was meant for something else and got forced into that life. This might not end well for her, and I think that makes you more invested rather than someone who’s just tough from day one and kicks ass all the time.”
Like The Force Awakens, Rogue One is anchored by a female lead. It’s an idea that existed in ILM effects whiz (and Photoshop co-creator) John Knoll’s original story treatment for the movie, and an element that Edwards was always keen to retain. “Part of the process of making this film was to look at the ingredients that make A New Hope and then flip a load of them and see what works,” he recalls. “The obvious one is that the hero is a male, so how about a female hero here? That seemed a good choice. It’s like with Alien, where the classic story is that they didn’t write Ripley for a woman, they wrote it for a man, and at the last minute did a casting choice change where it became Sigourney Weaver. I think if we swapped Jyn today to a male, there’s nothing in there really that would
“EVERYBODY HAS A BACKSTORY IN OUR FILM. EVERYBODY HAS SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED TO THEM THAT CAUSED THEM TO BE IN THIS SITUATION”
contradict that. Jyn’s not written as a girl, she’s written as a person, and it just happened to be a woman that we cast.”
While some veterans of the Rebellion are back in action – we’ve already seen Rebel leader Mon Mothma, Jimmy Smits has strongly hinted his Bail Organa will cameo, and we suspect there’s a strong chance of Princess Leia being back with her classic hairdo by the end credits – Jyn will be accompanied on her mission by a whole new team. And just because this is a Star Wars prequel doesn’t mean we have to have Jar Jar Binks – these guys would eat him for breakfast.
There’s Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna); his enforcer droid K-2SO (a performance-captured Alan Tudyk); blind, monkish worshipper of the Jedi faith Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen); his friend and protector Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen); pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed); and veteran Rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker, reinventing a character who first appeared in the Clone Wars cartoon). Edwards says he’s keen that each one of them should have a history – even if it’s not retold in massive detail on screen.
“What’s so good about the backstories in Star Wars is with Han Solo, even Luke with his father, you don’t get, like, a 10-minute conversation about it,” he explains. “You just skim that Han owes money to Jabba, and that’s kind of it, or you’re told in the first Star Wars that Luke’s dad was a pilot, and he was killed by Darth Vader. It’s very short little ideas, and they set your imagination running. Everybody has a backstory in our film, and everybody has something that happened to them that caused them to be in this situation [fighting the Empire]. We have an ensemble, so [it’s about] servicing all those characters in a way that doesn’t interfere with the pace of the film and the story – hopefully we’ve got the balance right, with enough hints and glimpses, but never the whole thing. Some novel can pursue what that story was about!”
Being set immediately before A New Hope puts Rogue One in a tricky position. We know what the Star Wars universe looked like in that time period because
we’ve been watching the original movie for nearly 40 years. But in the subsequent four decades, visual effects have moved on to the point where pretty much anything a filmmaker can imagine can be put on screen. How do you reconcile those two factors?
“We’ve tried to be careful with the whole seduction of CG,” Edwards reassures us. “It’s really tempting, because you can do certain things now you want to do them. And there’s a language to cinema that’s evolved a bit because of that, which is not the same language that you had in A New Hope, Empire and Jedi. So we’ve been trying to do things visually in the computer that you can only really do with models and practical filming, and we’re being careful to try and police that.”
KEEPING THE FAITH
In a similar way, the new spaceships and Stormtrooper designs (like the black-clad Deathtroopers) that feature in Rogue One have all been created to stay faithful to the X-Wings, TIE Fighters and other design classics they’ll be appearing alongside – after all, just because we didn’t see them in the original trilogy doesn’t mean they didn’t exist in some other far-flung corner of the galaxy.
“In your brain you think Star Wars is 50% sci-fi and 50% historical/real world, but it’s really like 90% historical/real world and 10% science fiction,” Edwards explains. “To the point where when they were designing all the weapons and the guns, one of the first faux pas I committed is they would show me ideas for guns for Deathtroopers. They’d have all these different designs and you’d say, this one feels too antiquated, this one feels like something they’d have in World War 2. They’d say that’s exactly the Stormtrooper weapon from A New Hope. [Back then] they were just grabbing real world guns and costume, and just doing a little thing to it that made it feel like
“I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME 30-40 YEARS AGO THAT I WAS GOING TO GET TO DO THIS; I WOULD HAVE SPENT MY WHOLE LIFE TRYING TO FIGURE IT OUT”
Star Wars – if you go too far it’s Flash Gordon, or it’s Star Trek.
“If you look at the [original designers] Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston and everyone else, they have a certain aesthetic that they can’t shake off, and it’s really great,” he continues. “You see a lot of repetitive shapes and ideas. An obvious one is that the Death Star looks very similar to the top of R2-D2’s head. It’s got all the same proportions, and you see these shapes recurring throughout, so the trick was to try and look at those shapes and subconsciously copy them and put them into designs. “But it’s like a dream situation to be trying to come up with the ship you didn’t see in the original trilogy that feels like it might exist. That took ages, about six months. There were literally thousands of designs – we didn’t go, ‘Okay, let’s design a U-Wing [referring to a new Rebel craft with a starring role in the movie].’ It’s let’s do whatever looks good and then we’ll pick a letter of the alphabet that it most looks like!” Of course, it wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie without a couple of new planets, and Rogue One is no exception – there’s the beautiful tropical island world of Scarif (played in real life by the Maldives), and Jedha, a desert planet that’s like a holy land for the Jedi (now public enemy number one in Palpatine’s Empire). Its presence is designed to show the other side of war, beyond the spectacular conflicts that usually form the foundations of the Star Wars franchise. “War’s not just fighting,” says Edwards. “I know it sounds silly to say that, but it’s also the aftermath and the price that you pay. Jedha’s supposed to represent the occupied territory and the consequence of not being able to do anything
against the Empire. The concept of that was that if we didn’t stop this thing, you’d witness this kind of oppression across the whole galaxy, so the film is peppered throughout with imagery of the consequence of letting evil take over.
“I didn’t want to purely make a war film,” Edwards laughs, “but there’s a lot of visuals in there that I really like and I was itching as a
Star Wars fan to see!”
MAKING IT REAL
And that fan element is likely to be a key factor here. Like JJ Abrams, Episode VIII director Rian Johnson, Episode IX’s Colin Trevorrow and the Han Solo prequel’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Edwards grew up on Star Wars, he gets it, it’s part of his filmmaking DNA. He waxes lyrical about playing with figures as a kid, and recalls conversations with his director of photography where they’d say, “‘This doesn’t feel right does it, that’s not quite
Star Wars,’ and we’d do a little tweak and it feels like Star Wars again.” Indeed, despite rumours of extra reshoots and other directors taking over the edit – all unconfirmed, we should add – Edwards certainly makes you feel like the movie is in good hands.
“I wish someone had told me 30-40 years ago that I was going to get to do this, because I would have spent my whole life trying to figure it out,” he laughs. “The problem is, I never in my wildest dreams thought this was going to happen. I thought George was going to make six films and that was it, and then when they did the Disney announcement, I thought great, I can’t wait to see those. And then when you think, ‘Hang on, I may be in the running, oh my god I’m going to get to do one...’ suddenly there’s this switch that flicks. Because when Star Wars gets it right it lasts for a lifetime.”
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens on 15 December.
Going on what we see in the Rogue One trailer, we suspect this is the base on Yavin IV – still the Rebels’ home in A New Hope. We all know that
Rogue One is about the mission to steal those infamous Death Star plans – it’s the movie’s main selling point. But this line hints at something else going on, that Jyn Erso and the team’s spy mission will take place against the backdrop of a major battle – a skirmish POTENTIAL SPOILER! the Rebel Alliance will win. The X-Wings in action and AT-ASTstarring ground assaults in the trailers would seem to bear this out. In Star Wars Rebels we see small Rebel cells and a nascent Alliance engaged in minor strikes against the Empire. The conflict clearly escalates significantly in the intervening five years. We’ve known for nearly 40 years that this means Darth Vader. Does this hint that the Sith Lord, already confirmed to appear in the movie, will be a major player in the final act? Perhaps Krennic brings him into play when he realises the plans have gone AWOL. Rumour has it that
Rogue One finishes just 10 minutes before
A New Hope kicks off. Does that mean the film will end with Leia, Captain Antilles, R2-D2 and C-3PO receiving the plans on the Tantive IV blockade runner? Director Gareth Edwards is reluctant to confirm. “It would kind of be a real spoiler,” he says, “but the film is definitely the events that lead up to A New Hope, and so how close it gets I want to leave for the audience to find out when they go see it.”
Wonder if he feels conspicuous as the only one not in black? Stormtroopers on their holidays! Okay, not really.
Will you be able to predict what Saw Gerrera does from watching The Clone Wars?
Deathtroopers by name… The opposite of that scene in Raiders?
The Rebel Alliance is (reasonably) safe in Erso and Andor’s hands.
Booked your IMAX seats yet? Because everyone needs a droid. Yes, but has he got Han’s shooting accuracy?