Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Director Gareth Edwards’ ROGUE ONE has landed almost under a heavy cloud of secrecy. Basically, we know as much as we should know about the highly anticipated film before we all clap eyes on it. That said, there’s a lot of fun facts that came out of the making of this eighth feature film in the franchise.
At the film’s recent press day in Northern California, the stars and filmmakers behind your newest favorite STAR WARS film, spilled the beans on everything you wanted to know.
Small Spoiler Warning: If you’ve already watched the watched the trailer, you can continue reading. For all others who want to go in as clear as possible, bookmark this piece and return later.
ROGUE ONE’s aesthetic was inspired by war photo-journalism. Director Gareth Edwards said, “One of the things we did was we took real war photography like photographs from Vietnam and World War II and the Gulf. We used this bit of software that John [Knoll] wrote for Photoshop and put in rebel helmets on the soldiers and rebel guns and some X-Wings in the background instead of fighter jets. Suddenly you looked at this stuff and it was really engaging, and everyone who came and looked around the building, they’d get to these images and go, ‘Oh my god! Wow, I really want to see that film!’ The studio loved, everybody loved it, and they would say like, ‘Just go make that.’ And that’s kind of what we went off and did.”
Felicity Jones found herself challenged playing Jyn Erso. We’re used to seeing Jones typically play in independent period pieces – and this is precisely what challenged her to take on the physically demanding role of Jyn. “It was very new, the whole kind of physical preparation, that side of acting. I’m kind of used to lots of talking in corsets. So it was really nice to be running around with a blaster and a baton to bash Stormtroopers with. It was an extraordinary process and you work very closely with the stunt team who take you through very kind of move and moment and support you throughout the whole thing.”
Diego Luna did military training to prep for his role – and watched APOCALYPSE NOW. Luna plays Cassian Andor, a flawed badass who helps get the rebels out of some pretty sticky situations. In order to prepare, Luna felt it necessary to do military training. “I spent two weeks with this ex-military in London, just taking about experiences and about the last 10 or 15 years of his life, and that gave me enough material.” He also drew inspiration from an iconic Francis Ford Coppola classic. “Because my character needs that kind of military structure and it’s a guy that is willing to risk anything for this cause. He thinks in a hierarchical kind of a structure.”
Ben Mendelsohn sung lyrics from FROZEN on set. He also sang a bit of Michael Jackson Edwards spilled. “Ben is so relaxed in front of the camera that he would start like just messing around – like he’s very playful. I thought he was reciting Shakespeare or something, like to get himself into character, and then I would listen carefully to the lyrics and realize he was singing “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson and even FROZEN.”
Go big or go home: The same lens that was used to shoot 1959’s BEN-HUR was used here. Edwards said, “Greig [Fraser], the DoP, was like, ‘Okay. This is fantastic but we also want to go back to the ‘70s with the analog kind of look in the movie.’ So he got hold of this Panavision lens that’s from 70 millimeter anamorph, that they shot BEN-HUR with this actual lens.”
Donnie Yen does not equate martial arts philosophies with the force. Yen plays blind warrior Chirrut Imwe and does get to show off his ass-kicking skills. However, that doesn’t mean he understood concepts of “the force” better. “I never thought about relating to the martial arts. We all have the force, it’s just we don’t realize it. It’s interesting to see [a] Star Wars story about reminding us the things that we neglect and forget. The force is – we always have that kind of ability. I don’t think of it as having the martial arts ability, it’s just being a human being – you do have the force.”
ROGUE ONE’s tone is similar to EMPIRE STRIKES BACK – but different. Edwards stated, “We essentially got license to be different on this movie and take a risk. The great thing about being a standalone film we don’t really have to exist for other movies to continue and so we could be brave. In terms of Star Wars that I love, tonally, I guess the one we’re aiming for was something like EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, where our movie, even though we take it quite seriously, there’s a lot of fun and humor in it.”
Alan Tudyk was on set performing for motion-capture. In the film, Tudyk plays the no-filter, no-nonsense ex-Imperial droid K2-SO. He’s CG, however, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t on set. He said, “I was wearing a full body jumpsuit sort of thing. Sometimes people wear cameras on their heads, sometimes there’s dots all over their face, they have balls all over their suit. The way that ILM did it, I wore a suit that was very comfortable, it didn’t have all of that restriction on it, it just had interesting designs on it which was very cool looking. It was like a luge costume from like the Italian team. I was on stilts so I was 7 foot 1, so I towered over everyone most of the time, and it was great, you know, just even at that height it colors how you move and helped me get into character.”
The most difficult scene to shoot was the opening scene between Orson Krennic and Galen Erso – and it was also the best. Edwards elucidated, “We went to Iceland to film the opening scene. Filming that scene with Ben and Mads, it was one of the hardest things we’ve ever filmed. We were freezing our tits off out there. The worst thing was is fog was coming in and then it suddenly disappear. So we’d set up these amazing shots and we’d be really excited and then suddenly there’d be a whiteout and you couldn’t see like three meters ahead of you. You’d have to wait and then suddenly it would clear.”
Ben Mendelsohn was star struck working with Darth Vader. I mean, who wouldn’t be?! Of his process working with Lord Vader, he said, “The first thing you have to do is just get over the fact that you’re doing a scene with Darth Vader. That took me a little while, because, you know, I’m a first generation fan boy. It took a little while to feel like I could answer him with some solidity, like we could have a discussion, as it were.” Edwards explained there’s more to this story. “Ben, he’s got this ability to be – if he wants to be – incredibly intimidating. We were in the middle of filming this scene with Darth and Ben was like, ‘Garth, need to talk to you.’ And I was like, ‘What’s the matter?’ And he just, ‘I need to go in the corner and talk to you. I need to have a word.’ And it was like, ‘Oh shit, here we go! What’s the matter?’ And we go over and I’m like, ‘You all right, Ben?’ And he goes, ‘It’s Darth f***ing Vader.’ And we both had this little moment where we melted and we could just admit it and then we turned round really professionally and we walked back.”
There probably won’t be a ROGUE TWO. Producer Kathleen Kennedy told reporters, “you know, when we came up with this idea to do the standalone movies, what’s liberating in many ways is the notion that we can come up with these stories inside the Star Wars universe that really have a beginning, middle and an end, and they stand truly on their own, and this does.” She also mentioned you won’t see these characters in any other film in the franchise, so you’d better wave goodbye as the end credits roll.
They are actually looking for a female director. Kennedy caught fire a few weeks ago for her controversial comments about female directors and their capabilities. She clearned this up, stating, “I, as you can imagine, have every intention of giving somebody an opportunity. If somebody actually moves through the process of making movies and wants to make a STAR WARS movie and shows that they have actually stepped into the role on that level, of course we’re going to consider a woman. That goes without saying.”
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY is now playing.