[SPOILER WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS DETAILS ABOUT THE END OF ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY. DUH. IT’S RIGHT THERE IN THE HEADLINE]
Many of us had hopes for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but I don’t think we expected it to be as utterly incredibly as it actually turned out. After all, the words Star Wars Prequel is basically the geek equivalent of saying mean things about somebody’s movie that are very anatomically descriptive. However, director Gareth Edwards knocked it out of the park with a Star Wars movie that still felt very much Star Wars-y, but had a grit and edge to it unlike anything else in the franchise.
Helping to ramp up that uniqueness was the fact that this movie doesn’t have a happy ending. Well, not unless you’re some sadist who enjoys watching 99% of a movie’s primary cast die. Because that’s exactly what happens here as the entire team assembled by Felicity Jones’ rebel upstart Jyn Erso perishes in the assault on the tropical island planet of Scarif, as they attempt to steal and beam out the plans of Empire’s new superweapon: the Death Star. Even when Jyn, along with Diego Luna’s Rebel spy Cassian Andor, actually best villain Director Krennic, they still don’t make it out alive as the Empire clearly follows the Ellen Ripley Guide of Making Sure and totally destroys the planet from orbit.
Star Wars films have never been averse to massive death tolls (Order 66 anyone?), but it’s precisely because this is a smaller group that you’ve come to know and care for, and because Edwards doesn’t cheapen the drama with the usual Star Wars sheen, that it hits so hard when they all get wiped out. In short, this is not your typical Disney stuff. Especially since the House of Mouse is generally in the business of building new franchises, and you can’t do that with dead characters. So how did Edwards get sign-off from the higher-ups on this dramatic ending? Surprisingly easily, as it turns out, as the director explained to /Film.
[Laughs] The first ever screenplay by Gary Whitta…we were chatting about this and it was clear we were going to kill a lot of people. Potentially everyone. We just felt “There’s no way they’re going to let us do this. So for this first draft, let’s try to do the best version we think of with Jyn and Cassian surviving.” That what was written. And then [Lucasfilm president] Kathleen Kennedy read it and at the end she said “Shouldn’t they all die?” And we said “Yeah, of course. We’d love to, but can we do that?” And she said “We can do anything we want.”
That was quite early in the process though, before the purse strings holders at Disney, Lucasfilm’s parent company, got to weigh in. So surely somebody said something when they actually did, right? Nope. It seems everybody was on board with Edwards’ fatalistic vision.
And so I spent the next couple of years waiting for someone to say “Actually, you know, they should survive.” And no one ever said it. I remember…I think it was [Disney CEO] Bob Iger, when they did the first announcement of the cast of the film on stage and behind them was every main actor who was in the movie. There’s like nine of them or something and I was just thinking “Oh my God, every one of those characters is going to die.” I don’t know another Disney film that does that.
I’m quite proud of it, because it feels responsible. It’s responsible storytelling because it’s a massive war and war is not a great thing. You don’t come out of it as a better person, typically. The world might be better, but it usually destroys you. Showing that it comes at a price, this sort of…when we fight each other like this, it’s not a good thing. But it doesn’t make a great film. Utopian peace doesn’t make for interesting movies.
And peace was the very last thing on Edwards’ mind when he conceived of the film’s blusterous final act which sees the Rebels’ multi-pronged assault on Scarif. It’s in this section of the movie more than any other where Edwards totally follows through on his promise of Rogue One being a Star Wars wars movie, as everything from the soldier costume design to the battle plans to the cinematography evoked that sense of battle. And the filmmaker had some good sources of inspiration for this. And some neat tricks.
World War II films were a big influence. The inter-cutting in the third act, the triangle that’s going on, was trying to do… One of the best third acts in any film is, I think, Return of the Jedi. You have this ground battle, you have this really epic, really dynamic space battle, and in the middle of it all, you have this sort of soulful confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader. We wanted to find that sort of dynamic. So the ground troops are riffing off Vietnam warfare visuals and films likeApocalypse Now, stuff I grew up loving. The space battle was, to be honest, [inspired by]Return of the Jedi, one of the high benchmarks for space battles. And the high altitude confrontation between Jyn and Krennic was a more personal version of all these big events.
Having three things to intercut between is a lifesaver. Because just as one starts to get a little bit…as you’re slightly tired of one, you jump to another one. And you just keeping cutting around to everybody, telling everyone’s story. You can cut out all of the boring bits that way. I don’t know how you do action scenes now without doing parallel action. The first film I made [Monsters] had two characters in it and we never cut to anyone but those two characters. It was such a restriction to make a film that way. It was a nightmare. It’s a cheap trick of filmmakers, to keep having things to cut to when one thing gets a little uninteresting.
I can confirm that things never got uninteresting there at all!
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will be released on Blu-ray and DVD next month on 4 April.