Rogue One brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first in a new series of Star Wars standalone films set in the universe fans know and love, an all-new epic adventure where a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction.
When Lucasfilm president and Star Wars producer Kathleen Kennedy first sat down with George Lucas as he outlined his plans to continue with the Star Wars saga and to make Episodes VII, VIII and IX, he also revealed another ambition: “George decided he was going to make more saga films, but he said he felt there was also an opportunity to tell more stories inside the universe,” explains Kennedy, “and to make films not related to the Luke Skywalker story.”
And so was born the idea of creating films that would complement the new saga films, but also allow Kennedy and the Lucasfilm team to explore the universe and experiment with different styles and different ways of telling stories.
Rogue One tells the story of a group of unlikely heroes, who in a time of conflict band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.
In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters). The story is by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, and the screenplay is by Chris Weitz (About A Boy, The Golden Compass) and Tony Gilroy (The Bourne series and Michael Clayton).
Creating the new Star Wars story, which developed over a two-year period, was like carving a sculpture, according to Gareth. “It’s like chipping away at a rock and gradually the story reveals itself to you. If you let it, the story tells you what it wants to be. You have to listen to it.”
The process of building the story is made even more challenging when working within such a thoroughly loved mythology like Star Wars.
“Every step of the way, we had to ask ourselves what makes something uniquely part of the Star Wars storytelling legacy, Gareth says. “We wrote down everything that makes a story a Star Wars tale. We all have different opinions, of course, but some of the absolutes are the epic backdrop, the story of a family relationship that has been splintered and torn apart, and the fundamental pull between good and evil.”
The Director’s Vision
Before director Gareth Edwards could focus on the important job of casting the film, he had to take a step back and think how he could give the film its own identity within the Star Wars universe and make it his own.
To do this, Edwards felt he had to take all that he knew about the films and take each element to its breaking point to find out what ultimately makes a Star Wars film feel exactly that, but equally, how he could make it fresh and exciting.
Kathleen Kennedy was very supportive of Edwards’ desire to experiment and to give the film its own unique personality: “The Star Wars saga films have a responsibility to maintain a continuity of tone and stylistic device. Things like the crawl at the beginning, and the wipes. But with the standalone films we’re relaxing some of those rules so that we can try stylistic and tonal experiments that depart a bit from what we’ve seen and are exciting.”
Edwards also wanted to make his film feel more grounded in reality and to give “Rogue One” a sense of gritty realism very reminiscent of his style of filming in “Monsters.” “What I wanted to do was to make ‘Rogue One’ more natural, more realistic and a little more organic; to make it feel like a real world. This is a time with no Jedi, no god to come and help the people who are under this massive threat,” explains the director.
To create the distinctive and contemporary look of the film, Edwards chose revered cinematographer Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, Foxcatcher) who teams with Academy Award–winning special effects supervisor Neil Corbould (Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan). Star Wars veteran Doug Chiang (Star Wars Episodes I and II, Forrest Gump) and Neil Lamont (supervising art director on The Force Awakens and the Harry Potter film series) join forces as production designers, and Neal Scanlan (Prometheus) returns as creature effects supervisor having recently won a BAFTA for his work on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Additional key crew include costume designers Dave Crossman (costume supervisor on The Force Awakens and the “Harry Potter” film series) and Glyn Dillon (The Force Awakens and Kingsman: The Secret Service costume concept artist), as well as stunt coordinator Rob Inch (The Force Awakens, World War Z).
Says Edwards: “With Rogue One, I tried to combine the best of both worlds. We had sets, like the spaceships, where you’d literally get sealed in so you could shoot 360 degrees and the only time you could open the door was when we said we were finished. We would do 40-minute takes sometimes, just repeat the scene over and over and get all of these different angles. It felt like a real vehicle that was really going somewhere. Outside, through the windows, was a 180-degree view of LED screens that had pre-rendered flight sequences on them. It was trying to create that feeling of really being in a real place. All of the happy accidents that happen from reality…when you make a CG-heavy movie, something so fantastical has to have a lot of CG, that planning and that contrivance can often make it feel fake and not as real as other movies. And so I was desperate on this one to make it as authentic as we could and have the audience really believe this was a real city or town and that this must really be unfolding because I don’t quite understand how they’ve done this.”
Casting The Characters
Filmmakers turned to one of the U.K.’s most talented young actors.
Felicity Jones plays the protagonist Jyn Erso, an impetuous, defiant young woman who lends her skills to the Rebel Alliance and undertakes a desperate mission.
Jones comments on her character, “I wanted Jyn to be as human as possible. She’s strong when she needs to be, she’s incredibly determined and she has to be tough when she doesn’t feel it. But at the same time there is enormous vulnerability.”
Playing the role of Cassian Andor, a respected Alliance intelligence officer, required an actor of unparalleled talent and experience, one able to convey intelligence, strength and determination and yet a vulnerability. That actor is Diego Luna.
Describing his experience making the film, Luna says, “The film has many layers. There are moments that are deep and dramatic and deserve a lot of attention and rigor as actors. Then there are scenes that are just fun and it’s like choreography. You’re enjoying and having fun with the beat.”
Chirrut Îmwe is a blind monk who is a skilled and artful warrior. The filmmakers chose Donnie Yen, a martial arts expert and one of China’s most popular and most respected actors, to play the role.
“Donnie Yen has so much wisdom like his character and he’s got great humor,” says producer Allison Shearmur. “He has a sense of artistry and performance that tells us so much about his character. There’s an elegance, a heroism, a nobility about both Yen and Chirrut.”
Baze Malbus, a pragmatic soldier, has grown up with Chirrut and will follow his closest friend to the ends of the universe. Jiang Wen, one of China’s biggest stars, was the perfect complement to Yen’s Chirrut and the perfect choice to play Baze. Of his character, Jiang Wen says, “Ultimately, he’s a good man at heart and very honest and is very loyal to his friend Chirrut. And Chirrut’s friends are his friends.”
Bodhi Rook is a cargo pilot who works for the Empire but changes course when faced with a harsh truth. Riz Ahmed, who plays Bodhi, says of his character: “Gareth described Bodhi as a guy in a war movie who isn’t supposed to be there. Everyone on the team is a soldier or warrior in some way and there’s this guy who is there by accident but realizes he has to step up and make himself valuable. He’s an everyman, someone audiences can relate to.”
Rogue One has its own creative and uniquely designed droid—K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial security guard now loyal to the Alliance. The 7’1” K-2SO is played by Alan Tudyk, who brings his sense of comedic timing and presence to the task of bringing the droid to life via motion capture.
“Alan is like all great comic actors in that, as funny as he is, he can pull at your heart strings as well,” offers Gareth Edwards. “We didn’t want K2 just to be the comic relief. There is something slightly tragic about him trying to find his place in the world. There are moments of fun, but Alan gives him a soul.”
Saw Gerrera is perhaps the most complicated character in this story and certainly unlike any other we have seen in the Star Wars universe before. Originally introduced in the animated series, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” Saw is an outlaw rebel, a man who believes that the Empire must be defeated, but at what cost? Is it acceptable to sacrifice the innocent for the greater good or does that make him as guilty as those he opposes? To play the role of Saw Gerrera, Edwards looked no further than Academy Award®-winning Forest Whitaker. “Saw is very clear about what he believes,” says Whitaker about his character. “He’s willing to do things he thinks are necessary to save the people.”
Galen Erso, played by Mads Mikkelsen, is Jyn’s father and a brilliant scientist. On becoming part of the Star Wars family, Mikkelsen says, “It’s a big honor to be part of this legendary film universe. Something very interesting to me about Star Wars is that it’s quite human, even though we have Droids and different kinds of creatures that look very different from the human race.”
Director Krennic plays a pivotal role in Star Wars history. He is the man behind the creation of the Death Star, a weapon he knows will allow the Empire to take full control of the galaxy through means of fear. Ben Mendelsohn signed on to play the villainous character.
Regarding casting Mendelsohn, Kathleen Kennedy comments, “Ben Mendelsohn was one of the first people Gareth [Edwards] started talking about for Krennic. He’s unsettling but at the same time there is a childlike quality about him. He’s very unpredictable and I think finding a villain that could be juxtaposed against Darth Vader was a real challenge. Ben has found this remarkable character you can’t take your eyes off on screen.”
Making Rogue One
Neal Scanlan who won a BAFTA Award and was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is once again responsible for creating the creatures that inhabit the world of “Rogue One.”
Gareth Edwards gave Scanlan and his team creative freedom and a chance to develop the characters in a new way. He wanted the characters to be spontaneous and that allowed the characters to evolve naturally. The end result is that the creatures are treated the same as the other actors on set, even to the extent that Scanlan asked the hair and make-up team to add dust, grime, sweat and grease to the creatures, just as they would any of the other cast.
Being the world’s leading authority on visual effects, executive producer John Knoll was able to introduce new and exciting technologies to the production of “Rogue One.” Knoll brought real-time visual effects to the set making it possible for Edwards to be able to gauge what the final world would like while he was actually shooting the film. The real-time visual effects would literally create the environment on the screen for Edwards to watch as the cast performed the scene.
Knoll also introduced new techniques when shooting the interiors of the ships as they battled through attacks by the Empire. Historically, although a craft may be placed on a gimbal to simulate movement, the exterior would often be blue or green screen but Knoll and his team built a giant wraparound LED screen that was 50 feet in diameter with a central band 20 feet high and had imagery play on the screens. By taking this approach they could add lasers that fly by in the space battle, creating a very realistic look.
The filming of ”Rogue One” primarily took place again at Pinewood Studios, but where possible Edwards also built sets in actual locations both in England and as far afield as Iceland, Jordan and the Maldives. Examples of the practical sets include the rebel base Yavin 4, an enormous set built to scale at 350 feet long by 200 feet wide; and the 58-foot wide, 21-foot high Death Star, painstakingly recreated from research and photographs.