Rogue One has officially landed. For the Empire Podcast Spoiler Special – available later this week – we spoke to director Gareth Edwards in forensic detail, and gleaned some heretofore hidden secrets from the first Star Wars standalone.
WARNING: Spoilers for Rogue One from the start.
1. Directing Rogue One was like going back to childhood
I was two when Star Wars came out. You grow up with Star Wars figures and AT-ATs and X-Wings, and that's kind of what you're promised the world is like. And then suddenly you realise actually it's a massive lie, you realise life's actually very boring. Everyone [asks] “wasn’t it crazy doing Star Wars?” And you go, "no actually, it was normal, it was what they advertised in the brochure when we were kids and it was life that was terribly worse". And so getting to do Star Wars for two years was like going back to normal life, in a weird way. It's like what you thought it was going to be when you were little.
2. Rogue One is the only Star Wars film Edwards wanted to direct
Honestly, I don’t know what they’re planning for the rest of the films, but I feel like if [I was] offered anything else, even the sagas, I would have been like, “no, I want to do Rogue One,” because that’s connected to the film that started me off wanting to do filmmaking, wanting to do everything.
3. There was a crawl in the script’s first draft
The first screenplay that Gary Whitta wrote had a crawl in it – and you learn doing that that 'a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away' has four dots in it, not three. You get extra marks for that. And then at some point, probably like six months before we were filming, we were in a meeting, and they talked about not having an opening crawl, because these are standalone films, not part of the sagas. And if I'm honest, there was an initial kind of like, "whaaaa? I want the crawl!" The opening sequence is kind of the crawl of our movie. It's like the setup. And our film is also born out of a crawl – the reason we exist is because of a previous crawl, so it feels like this infinite loop that will never end. It's a small thing to give up to get to do Star Wars.
4. The famous ‘wipes’ do exist in other cuts
We did have versions of the film [with] wipes, and then it just felt like we were doing it because we could. The wipes are the cheesiest thing in the world. The only time you can ever do it and not be cheesy's in Star Wars. There’s part of me that wanted the wipes and things like that, but the film is supposed to be different. We were given a license by the studio to be unique from the others, and we just took that license and ran with it as an excuse to try and be a bit more out there.
5. That is indeed archive footage in the battle sequence
Very early on we talked about, "well, in theory the X-Wing pilots should be here." On our tour around the archives at Skywalker Ranch, at the very bottom of the basement there’s all these cans of film, and they said, "oh, they're the negatives from Star Wars". And you're like, "what? They exist? Have you gone through them all?" And they're like, "not really, we haven't yet". And you're like, "oh my God, someone should sit and just digitise all of this stuff, and I'd pay for it, I'll sit and watch it, can I do that?" And so we pulled out of the archives all the X-Wing pilot footage and some other bits and bobs and got them re-scanned. And they weren't perfect, obviously you can imagine they aged quite a bit, and they need a lot of clean up from Industrial Light & Magic. But I really wanted to have Gold Leader and people like that in there – just as a nod. And it was funny, because you do it for yourself as a fan, and you think, "I wonder how many people will notice?" But at the premiere, it got one of the biggest cheers when he showed up. I actually air-punched.
6. Edwards is really happy he got to include blue milk in his film
I love the whole blue milk thing. When I was 30 I went to Tunisia for my birthday and I drank blue milk at Luke's house. I don’t think we planned it, it was just there was this shot that had to dolly in towards the kitchen, and there was a glass, and we were like, “can we get some blue dye? Can we make this blue milk?” It wasn’t supposed to be front and centre, it’s just the way it turned out. But there's loads of little Easter eggs in there. To some extent it was hard not to turn it into an Easter egg full of Easter eggs. I feel there was a thousand things we could have done and we probably did like 50.
7. If you look hard enough, you can spot the director
I got a cameo in the film as well, I was at the very end. I'm not sure I should say [where]...
8. Edwards wanted to show a different side to Darth Vader
I'm jealous of moments like in Empire Strikes Back where you see the back of [Vader’s] head and you just go, "oh my God, that is so cool," and wanted to try and find something like that in our film. [The bacta tank scene] was actually a Chris Cunningham-inspired thing of the idea of being in milk [like in the Bjork music video] All Is Full Of Love. He’s really a burns victim, and it’s not going to be fun for him when he’s not in the suit – he’s going to be uncomfortable. I love the idea of showing that he’s vulnerable as well. Vader’s very, very bad, and so you try and just glimpse something of him that gives him some humanity, or it makes you empathise with him. Just seeing those scars and realising that he’s, you know, an amputee, and just reminding you of that before he does all his stuff, it makes you torn, I think. He’s just such a rich character, in so many ways.
9. Peter Jackson watched the Vader scene being filmed
We were at Pinewood, and Peter Jackson was in town. And we were like, "oh we should get Peter along, we should try and get him to come." I was there, about to shoot that scene, and I thought, "ahh, you know what, screw it", and I just wrote an email saying, ‘Peter, about to film Darth Vader if you want to come, it's happening now’, and he's like, ‘I'll be there in half an hour!’ And then he perfectly timed it, he walked in literally for that shot where it goes from darkness to the lightsaber turning on. Whatever I do in my career, whatever happens next, it's gonna be hard to top the honour of getting to direct that scene.
10. Gareth Edwards can’t believe he got to kill off lots of characters in a Disney film
I mean, it's a great Disney tradition, isn't it, for every single character to die in all their movies...? [laughs] I think there was an early version [where they didn’t die] in the screenplay. And it was just assumed by us that we couldn't do that, they're not going to let us [kill everyone], so let's try and figure out how this ends where that doesn't happen. And then everyone read that and there was just this feeling of, “they've got to die, right? Can we?” And Kathy (Kennedy) 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. And 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 la la la. And [it] never ever came, no one ever gave us that note, and so we got to do it.
11. That TIE fighter that didn’t end up in the film? There’s a reason Disney left it in the trailers
There was a bit of a process to refining the third act in terms of the specific shots and moments, and so certain things just fell away. But then what happens is marketing love those shots, and go, "oh, we've got to use that." And you say, "well, it's not in the movie". And they say, "it's okay, it's what marketing does, we just use the best of whatever you've done". And so there's lots of little things, but towards the end you go, "I know that's not in the film, but the spirit of it's in the film".
12. Grand Moff Tarkin actor Guy Henry owes his Peter Cushing ‘mimicry’ to Sherlock Holmes
[Casting director Jina Jay] sent me this clip one day, I remember I was with one of the producers. It was Guy Henry, and his whole way about him was like Peter Cushing. Guy Henry started his TV career in the UK playing young Sherlock Holmes. And to get into the role he'd watch all the old Peter Cushing Sherlock Holmes films. Because he tried to absorb that in his character and then became famous for that, he sort of kept Peter Cushing in him throughout the years. As soon as that clip ended, we just looked at each other and went, “we found him.” And then I had to go and convince him in a restaurant to do this. You're basically going up to an actor and saying, "now, you're going to be in a film. It's a big film. It's called Star Wars. But we're not going to see your face. You're actually going to look totally like someone else. And you're not allowed to tell anyone".
13. The last word of Rogue One is lifted from A New Hope
The dialogue is taken, yes, but not the image. It's a 3D [composite].