Since the moment of Lucasfilm’s purchase by Disney was announced on October 30, 2012 we have known that we would be getting new Star Wars films. Not long after we learned that this would include both the main “Saga” films which tell the story of the Skywalker family but we also got news that we would see what has been alternatively referred to as “spin-off,” “stand-alone,” or “origin story” films. This latter class of films as we learned at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim (SWCA) are officially be called the “Star Wars Anthology Series.”
There were many early rumors of meetings with potential directors and ideas of characters around which these films could focus around, but the first real news about what would become the first film in the Star Wars Anthology Series, Rogue One was on May 22, 2014 from The Hollywood Reporter’s Heat Vision blog. THR writer Borys Kit who broke the news that Gareth Edwards would be directing and Gary Whitta would be writing the film. This news was shortly there after officially confirmed by Lucasfilm on StarWars.com in an announcement that quoted these two creatives:
Edwards: “Ever since I saw Star Wars I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life — join the Rebel Alliance! I could not be more excited and honored to go on this mission with Lucasfilm.”
Whitta: “From the moment I first saw the original movie as a wide-eyed kid, Star Wars has been the single most profound inspiration to my imagination and to my career as a writer. It is deeply special to me,so to be given the opportunity to contribute to its ongoing legacy, especially in collaboration with a film-maker as talented as Gareth, is literally a dream come true. I’m still pinching myself.”
In that same announcement it was confirmed that this would be the first stand-alone film and that it would be released on December 16, 2016.
On November 24, 2014 the entertainment website /Film reported a rumor that the plot of the first spin-off film would be about a group of bounty hunters stealing the plans of the Death Star for the Rebels. According to writer Germain Lussier:
“Recently, we learned a juicy rumor about the plot to Gareth Edwards and Gary Whitta‘s 2016 Star Wars spin off movie. The information came second hand from a single good source, so we began to dig. All we wanted was one more person to tell us we were on the right track. Literally dozens of people were contacted at all levels and while there were a few nibbles, we could never get a solid second confirmation. We contacted Lucasfilm, which declined to comment. So for that reason, take this story with a grain of salt and a huge rumor label.
That said, we think there is enough evidence to present you a rumored plot of the 2016 Star Wars spin off movie.
We’ve heard the 2016 Star Wars spin-off movie is about the group of people out to pull off the ultimate heist in a galaxy far, far away.
What the group is trying to steal is one of the most important linchpins in Star Wars history — they are out to steal the plans for the first Death Star.”
The rest of Lussier’s article goes on to discuss how this plot could fit into the Saga films’ stories. It is interesting that Lussier’s source seems to have been half right. This could mean a couple of things. The film in an earlier version could have been centered around bounty hunters and changed focused onto Rebel characters during re-writes. Another possibility is that the film could still feature bounty hunters working with the Rebels in their attack and the source simply didn’t have the full plot.
On January 9, 2015 THR’s Borys Kit struck again with news that having completed a first draft of the script, Gary Whitta was no longer working on the film.
Edwards was complimentary on the departure of Whitta saying,“Gary has been a wonderful, inspired contributor and I enjoyed working with him tremendously, I’m so grateful for all of his contributions. ”
While Whitta portrayed the departure as amicable and planned, “The year I spent working with Lucasfilm on this Star Wars film has been by far the most rewarding period of my entire career. As a lifelong Star Wars fan I’m deeply grateful to have had the rare opportunity to contribute to a new chapter in its ongoing cinematic legacy. The film is going to be amazing.”
Whitta followed up his official comments with additional comments on his Twitter feed @garywhitta:
My year of work in a galaxy far, far away is done! I’m onto my next project, adapting @mrmarkmillar’s STARLIGHT for 20th Century Fox!
— Gary Whitta (@garywhitta) January 10, 2015
Reaction to the #RogueOne title has been… really good so far? Is this still the internet? 🙂
— Gary Whitta (@garywhitta) March 12, 2015
Some interesting stuff may be able to be pulled out of these tweets. Whitta taking credit for the title could come with some future backlash from Expanded Universe fans. The word “Rogue” in Star Wars lore is so associated with Wedge Antilles and the pilots of Rogue Squadron that if that group of X-Wing pilots doesn’t feature prominently in the film there will no doubt be some disappointed and critical fans. At this point it appears that despite the title the film will not focus on Rogue Squadron in any meaningful way.
More interestingly Whitta refers to working on the film for a year. THR reports he had been working on it since approximately May of 2014 but that would only be about 8 months so it is possible Whitta’s work started even earlier. In fact during Star Wars Celebration, Gareth Edwards talks about going home for Christmas having to still kept his role as director secret.
“I kept it secret for six months. It was really hard, I didn’t tell anybody. My assistant at the time Shannon, who is here tonight, she knew because she had to set up the meetings with Kiri (Kiri Hart, LFL VP of Development), but everyone else in the world including my Mum and Dad had no idea. I even went home at Christmas and Star Wars, I talk about Star Wars all the time, I got Star Wars presents and things, and I am just sitting there going, ‘I’m directing the movie’ in my head but I couldn’t say anything and I played it really cool.
Suddenly right about May, I got a phone call from my agent and they said, ‘The Hollywood Reporter knows your doing it and they are going to leak it and tell the world in ten minutes, call your parents now.’ So I got on my phone and started to Facetime my Mum…”
Six months back from May 2014 puts the beginning of Rogue One closer to December 2013 or January 2014 and would fit in with Whitta’s comments about a year. Of course we do know that the idea for Rogue One came from ILM’s Chief Creative Officer/Senior Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll. We don’t know exactly when Knoll presented the idea of the story to Kathleen Kennedy (President of Lucasfilm). Kennedy joined Lucasfilm as co-chair with George Lucas in 2012 and was promoted to President of Lucasfilm after Disney’s purchase in late 2012.
According to Knoll,
“Shortly after Kathy came on board and we heard what the plan was, they were hearing what the plan was to do saga films and they also were going to be doing these films set in the Star Wars universe but weren’t necessarily part of that same through line. It was a very exciting idea, the Star Wars universe is vast and there are so many different stories you can tell.”
While Kennedy said, “I think I’d been in the job about 10 minutes” before Knoll came in to pitch the story that would become Rogue One.
What ever the exact moment that the idea began, it sounds like the initial reaction by everyone to the story was universally positive.
Knoll described his initial conception of and sharing of the story to friends at work at SWCA,
“I got thinking about what story would I really like to see told, and I sort of informally pitched it to a couple of friends of mine at the company, I did the quick five-minute version of it and I got pretty universal, ‘Wow, I really want to see that film, that sounds amazing,’ and one of the people I pitched it to was Pablo, Pablo being the vast storehouse of all Star Wars knowledge to make sure I am not proposing something that was going to be some major logic problem or violation and he was pretty enthusiastic about it as well. The last person I pitched it to in the company said, ‘You need to go make an appointment with Kathy and Kiri, and you have to go pitch this immediately.
I immediately realized, yeah I kind of have to because if you don’t the rest of your life you will wonder what would happen if I didn’t or hadn’t gone and done it. So I did I made an appointment with Kathy and Kiri and I pitched the 20-minute version of this and I got a pretty good response.”
It is funny that Knoll was described during the SWCA as humble because his characterization of the reaction to his story pitch seems to be very much in keeping with that characterization. Kennedy had a very positive reaction to the pitch,
“Well first of all, I think I’d been in the job about 10 minutes. John’s describing this like it took a little bit of time, but he was literally one of the first people in my office. Kiri joined us and he pitched this story, and what was going through my mind was, Oh my God, I am opening the flood gates if I say yes. The more he kept talking, the more I kept realizing, there is no way I am going to say no, this is a really really cool idea. So I said yes.
What you begin to realize is it doesn’t necessarily open the flood gates because Star Wars stories are not a dime a dozen. I think this is really really hard to do and really hard to get right. Thank God that is what Kiri and Pablo and everyone on my story team works so hard to try to make sure we do get it right.
We had a great time working on this with John and pulling it together, and I think it is really fantastic to offer opportunities inside the company where people like John who put so much effort into the work they’ve done over the years, as he has in special effects and ironically that’s where you came from too Gareth. But that we can now move into telling stories and getting them involved in the other side of the development process rather than just post, is very rewarding.”
Knoll’s pitch and Kennedy’s enthusiasm for it seemed to light a fire in Kiri Hart who immediately got the wheels moving on finding a filmmaker to fit with this project. She describes that process and how she found Gareth Edwards,
“So after John had pitched his idea to Kathy and I we were very enthused about it. I gotta say I love movies where people go through, try to do something very difficult. Right, so the idea of a movie where the group is faced with this daunting task. I was immediately invested in this and excited about it, and then as I do, I was immediately like how can I find the right filmmaker for this. Who is the right person?
I really feel strongly we should involve directors early in the process, so on a parallel track I had been meeting with filmmakers, both Jason McGatlin (SVP, Physical Production) who is my counterpart at Lucasfilm and my partner in everything I do there, he and I had both had different people tell us we should get to know Gareth, people like you (to Gareth). So we went to watch Monsters, we went and sat in a theater at Lucasfilm and watched it together, we came out really impressed and excited by what we saw there.
So I sent Gareth an email, which is I think how we got together. We had a great meeting, just a really fun meeting, what I was struck by Gareth was that he was a huge fan and incredibly knowledgeable but also was really humble about the idea of even approaching Star Wars and had a kind of reverence for it that I thought was really appropriate in this particular moment that we are in, where we know how much responsibility that we have and how important it is to get it right. I knew I could trust him to be someone who would care about that as much as all of us at Lucasfilm care about it. So we had a great meeting and I said, I am going to send you something. So I sent him a piece of paper. I sent it with my fingers crossed and my toes crossed, I was so hoping that he would respond to it.”
Edwards reaction to what he was sent from Hart and Lucasfilm is both humorous and understandable, the director was in the midst of working on Godzilla at the time and was no doubt in need of a well-earned vacation. Edwards describes his reaction to Hart’s email,
“I got an email and it had a password separate from the document. They are really paranoid about security at Lucasfilm. They really are. I decided because we are so busy with the film, that I’m not going to read this until the weekend,..I’m going to turn my phone off, just go away and hide and just read this piece of paper, the only time in my life that anyone sends “ready to do Star Wars?” is if there might be a chance of doing it.
So I did, I sat down on a Sunday and read it. I was honestly hoping that I hated it because I was in the thick of filming and I wanted a break, to take six months off, not do anything else for a while and reevaluate my life and this was going to go straight after finishing a film so I was like, ‘please be rubbish, please be rubbish, please hate it” but as I was going down the paragraphs I got to the end and I was just like, ‘Oh, Fuck!”
It was checkmate. I couldn’t sit in a cinema and know that someone else made this film. It was like everything, if you believe in the Force, everything was destined for this moment, so there was no option. I pretended there was, tried to play it cool, like I might not be available but..
It is the same with everybody, with actors and stuff, you meet people and everyone likes to be cool at start of the meeting after a while the excitement to getting be part of Star Wars overcomes them and they are like yeah, I’m free, I’m dropping everything, I’m available, don’t worry about the rate, we can work something out, I’ll pay you.”
It doesn’t seem like Edward’s characterization of the attitude to working in Star Wars is far off. Whether they dropped everything else or not, Lucasfilm is assembling a pretty impressive team working behind the scenes on Rogue One.
On January 26, 2015 THR reported that writer/director Chris Weitz who wrote the recently released Disney live-action Cinderella film would be taking over writing duties on Rogue One. An interesting side note one of the producers on Cinderella is Simon Kinberg who seems to be involved in almost every new Star Wars project on the big and small screens.
The addition of Weitz was officially confirmed by Disney’s Bob Iger at a shareholder meeting on March 12, 2015 along with additional crew members and the first cast member announced.
Crew revealed on March 12th were John Knoll, Simon Emanuel, and Justin McGatlin as executive producers, Kathleen Kennedy and Tony To as producers, and John Swartz as co-producer.
At SWCA additional crew members were confirmed, Greig Fraser as director of photography, Neal Scanlan as head of the creature team, Neil Lamont and Doug Chiang as production designers, Neil Corbould on special effects, Chris Scarabosio on sound design and Jina Jay as casting director.
I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you to check out a rather entertaining interview on HitFix by Kristopher Tapley with Greig Fraser,
And you’re doing a “Star Wars” movie!
And then I’m doing a fucking “Star Wars” movie, which is like – I don’t know about you but “Star Wars” is like my first film love, do you know what I mean?
For a lot of people, yeah.
Princess Leia was the first woman that I kind of went, “Yeah, she’s all right, that one.”
Which one is Gareth doing?
Gareth is doing a standalone film. Of course I do know some specifics, but it’s obviously something I’ve signed my kidneys away for.
Another major crew member rumored to be involved but not officially announced is Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat, who revealed in a French radio interview that he would be working on the film.
As Edwards went on to say about assembling a crew for Rogue One,
“I got into this because of Star Wars and so did everybody else. It’s that one job where you can literally get the best people in the world. No matter how unavailable they are, no matter how busy, no matter how much they have committed to other stuff, the second you say we are making a Star Wars movie, they kind of drop everything, they screw a lot of other people over, then they emigrate to wherever you are in the world and they join in the fun.”
The crew is only part of the team that Edwards and Jina Jay are assembling to bring Rogue One to life however, the actors involved in the project are starting to emerge.
In January 2015 rumors started flying hot and heavy regarding casting of an actress for the lead role in the film, names mentioned were Tatiana Maslany, Rooney Mara, Felicity Jones and Kate Mara.
While some early reports indicated that Maslany might be the front-runner for the project it was Felicity Jones who landed the coveted role. On February 3rd, THR reported that Jones was in talks to star in the project and that actors Aaron Paul and Edgar Ramirez were “on the interest list for the male lead.”
Jones’ casting was not confirmed by Lucasfilm until that same March 12, 2015 shareholder meeting presentation by Disney CEO Bob Iger.
Edwards talked about Jones at SWCA,
“Felicity is amazing is the simplest way to say it, she is fantastic. She plays, I think I can say this… a Rebel Soldier. When you meet real soldiers the thing about them, they’re just people, they are real life human beings just like everybody else. The idea someone took the situation that they can be strong the entire movie, it doesn’t feel realistic, like someone you relate too. We wanted in our film to see fear, humor, warmth, all those aspects that I think everybody has at various moments in their lives. Felicity demonstrates this in her body of work. She is the complete package and we were just very lucky that she was a Star Wars fan and dropped everything to come on board. “
No other cast members have been as yet confirmed by Disney or Lucasfilm for the project. Rumors have been flying around a number of actors regarding the film. The most recent report from Variety may give us the best picture about how the cast is taking shape. On May 13 Justin Kroll reported, “Director Gareth Edwards has found another rebel fighter to battle the Empire in “Star Wars: Rogue One.” Sources tell Variety that Diego Luna is in talks for a lead role alongside Felicity Jones and Riz Ahmed, with Ben Mendelsohn set to star as the film’s primary villain.”
Ben Mednelsohn in March and Riz Ahmed in April had both been subject of earlier casting rumors for the film. Another name that doesn’t seem to have gotten as much attention is The Wrap’s rumor of Sam Claflin as being eyed for one of the starring roles.
We likely won’t see official casting announcements for the rest of the cast of Rogue One until later this summer, most likely at Disney’s D23 expo August 14-16th. Why the delay? We know that filming starts this summer at Pinewood Studios in London and at other undisclosed locations around the world. There are two reasons that we aren’t likely to see a ton of Rogue One promotion. The fact that we have another new Star Wars film coming out first in Episode VII means that Disney and Lucasfilm are going to want to focus their promotional efforts on that film. The other reality is what I refer to as “Promotion Impossible.”
On March 11, 2015 just one day before Bob Iger revealed the titled to Disney shareholders, Lucasfilm filed a dozen trademarks for “Star Wars Rogue One” covering both the movie itself as well as an incredibly wide array of branded merchandise. Unfortunately for Lucasfilm they did not register and clear the title with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), while Paramount Pictures had done so for its film Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation which hits theaters July 31, 2015.
Why would the matter if these two film franchises have one of the words in their title be the same? Well, in short they fear that the general public is less than intelligent and discerning and could become confused. For a longer discussion of this actually very interesting issue I suggest you read THR and FilmStrategy.com‘s articles on The Butler which ultimately had to be released with the title Lee Daniels’ The Butler, John August’s discussion of why you can’t copyright titles and the Law Law Land blog also has a good discussion on recycled movie titles from 2010.
The gist of it is if you look at the case of The Butler and the fact that it’s title was blocked abased on a short film from 1916, you don’t need C-3PO to tell you the chances that Paramount could have caused massive headaches for Lucasfilm was pretty high.
As THR describes the agreement,
Sources say Disney didn’t clear its title, meaning Paramount could have fought to block Disney and Lucasfilm from using it at all, even though Rogue One won’t open until Dec. 16, 2016, long after Rogue Nation has come and gone.
Instead, the two studios quickly worked out a deal whereby Disney will refrain from referring to Rogue One this summer in any promotional materials aimed at the general consumer (an exception is a Star Wars fan event in April).
The wording of the agreement regarding “general consumer” may give Disney the room to talk about and show images from the set or cast reveals this summer at D23, whereas the earlier San Diego Comic-Con would probably be prohibited because it is for a more general audience.
In any event given the amount of leaks during the production of The Force Awakens it stands to reason that we will not be lacking in Rogue One news when production ramps up.
All this talk of Rogue One and yet I haven’t discussed the substance of the film so far. That is what you call saving the best for last.
Rogue One will be about “A rogue band of resistance fighters unite for a daring mission to steal the Death Star plans and bring new hope to the galaxy.”
This will be a film that is set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope and will be noticeably lacking Jedi. As Pablo Hidalgo said at SWCA, “I think you’re seeing now that the Anthology format allows us to do something as bold as having a Star Wars film without the Jedi as central characters.”
Edwards went on in more in-depth at SWCA about the setting and tone of the film,
“After Episode III, before Episode IV, and a clue could be that my favorite film of all time is A New Hope, so a little bit more towards IV.
It is basically in an era when there is no Jedi. Or they are all but extinct. It’s about the fact that God’s not coming to save us. We are on our own, we have to do this ourselves, we have to turn this around. The absence of the Jedi is omnipresent in the film. It hangs over the whole movie. It comes down to a group of individuals that don’t have magic powers but have to somehow help bring hope to the galaxy.
The word that gets used the most in meetings describing Rogue One, “Real. This is a real place we are really in. It’s hopefully going to feel very natural and subjective. The thing that interests me the most about it is, you know I love Star Wars it’s the best film ever made, but in terms of what was going on it was very black and white. The good guys were incredibly good, the bad guys were really bad. And our movie is basically the grey that leads to that polarized event that turns into A New Hope. It’s the reality of war, good guys are bad, bad guys are good, and its complicated, layered, very rich scenario into which to set a movie.”
Edwards also gave a very short but good interview to Flicks In The City,
Knoll went into a little bit a depth on how the plot of Rogue One fits into the larger Star Wars canon,
“So it’s already been said this is set between III and IV and details the Rebel mission to steal the Death Star plans and there is something really fun and challenging about writing something that fits into other events that are known. There is little constraints, put some dialogue in Episode IV, description in the crawl, constraints on the story, so you can’t do anything it has to fit logically into that framework. That was a really fun challenge to craft a really solid, logical story that fits those events.”
The constraints that Knoll is referring to largely come from the opening crawl of A New Hope,
A long time ago, in a galaxy far,
It is a period of civil war.
Rebel spaceships, striking
from a hidden base, have won
their first victory against
the evil Galactic Empire.
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.
Pursued by the Empire’s
sinister agents, Princess
Leia races home aboard her
starship, custodian of the
stolen plans that can save
her people and restore
freedom to the galaxy….
While Kiri expanded on how fitting the plot of Rogue One into the larger canon will be handled by her Story Group,
“One of the things that is really fun about what we are doing, because all of this takes place on a timeline. When there are things that feel like they are falling on adjacent places on the timeline we can look for ways for them to sort of talk to each other. But we never mandate that, we let the stories evolve in the ways that they want to. Obviously Dave Filoni and Simon Kinberg are doing an amazing on Rebels… The Story Group is facilitating the development of Rogue One as well, we will be just seeing what happens there. We are very much aware of the fact that things are happening on the same part of the timeline. There is opportunities there.”
At the convention Lucasfilm showed a single concept art image from the film, included below from StarWars.com.
Also shown at the panel was an ILM generated CGI teaser. No filming has been done on the film so this was merely to give a sense of tone for the film and the big reveal of the Death Star as playing a prominent role in the plot.
Lucasfilm has asked that no recording of that teaser be done and have been pretty diligent about removing pirated phone videos of the trailer off the internet. We won’t link to them here. But we can describe what appears.
At Star Wars Celebration Anaheim in April 2015, a ILM developed CGI teaser was shown exclusively to an audience in attendance. The teaser opens on an overhead shot of a jungle/forest river with Obi-Wan’s voice over from A New Hope in which he says, “For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times. Before the Empire.”
The camera is traveling up river towards an opening in the forest we see birds flying and a TIE fighter whines as we begin to see mountains and clouds, slowly the outline of the first Death Star appears in the atmosphere and we cut to the title card of the film with panicked radio chatter until both the title and the chatter dissolve into static.
The teaser was a total surprise at SWCA and was awesome to see on the big Celebration Stage screen. I certainly hope that Disney and Lucasfilm is able to show it to more fans in the future.
As Kiri Hart said at SWCA, “Part of the fun is finding stories that each of these filmmakers want to tell inside of Star Wars.” It certainly appears that in Gareth Edwards they have found a filmmaker that wants to tell this story, and I know they have found at least one fan that can’t wait to see it.