Now that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has been out in theaters for a month, the veil of secrecy has been lifted and we’ve learned quite a lot about about how the film came together. This is pretty typical for most movies, save for the fact that Rogue One went through some extensive reshoots to tighten it up.
Disney put an enormous amount of effort into Rogue One, bringing in writer and director Tony Gilroy in June to help fix up the film by writing new dialogue and directing some additional scenes, earning a screenplay credit for the film and a reportedly hefty $5 million paycheck for his efforts.
Looking over the wealth of information that’s come out about Rogue One, one can glean some interesting details about the production and how it could affect future installments of the franchise.
Some spoilers ahead for Rogue One.
Visualizing the film
Gareth Edwards appears to have taken an unorthodox approach to filming Rogue One. In an interview with Yahoo! Movies, one of the film’s three editors, Colin Goudie, noted that he began assembling a crude cut of the film in 2014 using nothing more than a story outline, cannibalizing scenes from hundreds of movies like Aliens and War Games, which helped them figure out how to structure the movie. Six months later, the team worked on creating pre-visualizations for the film’s biggest sequences. This looks as though it was monumental amount of work, and by necessity, it changed once the script was written and the cameras started rolling.
Reconceptualizing the story
Once production was underway, the film’s editors worked through reams of material to come up with a rough version of the film, knowing that they would eventually have to do some pickups and reshoots.
It’s not clear exactly when Disney stepped in, but Page Six reported at the end of May that Disney executives were “not fully satisfied with the first cut” of the film, and ordered reshoots shortly thereafter. Bringing in talent such as Tony Gilroy demonstrated that Disney had some real concerns and worked hard to retool parts of the movie.
At one point in the process, editor John Gilroy (Suicide Squad) joined the team, and the story was “reconceptualized,” leading to scenes that fleshed-out characters like Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). Cassian’s introduction and Jyn’s escape from the Imperial transporter on Wobani were scenes that came from that process.
According to John Gilroy, “things like that have a ripple effect all through the movie,” prompting additional tweaks throughout the film. Early trailer scenes that revealed Darth Vader on the Death Star, for example, ended up replaced with ones that took place in his castle on the planet Mustafar.
As the story was reconceptualized, the filmmakers did some of the usual work of trimming the film down in editing, streamlining the process at some point after that first trailer hit the web. There appears to be a much larger chase sequence toward the end, with K-2SO and Cassian dying on the beaches of Scarif. A recent video seems to show these deaths, and the trailers and Celebration Reel do show scenes where Cassian and Jyn are running across the beaches along with some rebel soldiers. There’s also a cool shot with Krennic walking across the beaches as well.
This ending seems to have been slimmed down to help keep the film on point: according to Gilroy, the number of characters and locations meant that the team editors had to balance out the action and battle scenes against the characters.
These changes were pretty significant, going beyond regular editing and trimming that most films get leading up to the film’s release. Speaking to Collider, Orson Krennic actor Ben Medelsohn noted that there were upwards of “20 or 30 of the scenes,” that were changed around, and that “there would be enormously different renderings” of the film.
According to Edwards, the ending of the film was also subject to a number of changes. Initially, they had allowed several of the film’s main characters to survive the film, hedging that Disney might not allow for such a dark ending. Disney and Lucasfilm opted to go ahead with the darker overtones, and the film ended up with the entire team getting killed in the final Scarif battle. This all happened before cameras started rolling, so there likely isn’t any cut of the film with Jyn and Cassian flying out to safety.
Some of the reshoots appear to have made the film even darker. While Princess Leia’s cameo was always planned, Darth Vader’s film-stealing scene in which he butchered a slew of Rebel soldiers to try and recover the plans was one of the many scenes that was added as part of the reshoots. According to John Gilroy, the scene had been “conceptualized” late in the filming process, and required the production to bring in a new actor, Daniel Naprous, to play the iconic villain.
Missing Trailer Shots
Looking at the first trailers and comparing them against the final product, it’s clear that there were some major changes from the earliest cuts and the final version that premiered in December. Some iconic shots, such as Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso in a hallway and Ben Mendelsohn’s Krennic standing on the bridge of the Death Star, didn’t make it into the finished film, while other footage suggests Jyn, K-2SO, and Andor’s last stand might have originally taken place on the beaches of Scarif, rather than on the Citadel tower.
What we’ve learned thus far is that a few of those trailer shots weren’t designed to make their way into the film in the first place. According to the podcast The Director’s Cut (via io9), the shots of Jyn and Krennic were just the crew of the film messing around with the cameras. “It was just a way for the crew of understanding, for now, we’re just going to do loads of random shit,” Edwards explained. “Don’t try to ask, we can’t explain. It would just be things I thought were a beautiful moment or ‘This is a great idea’ and a lot of the stuff in the trailer ended up through that process.“
So, what does this mean for filmgoers? Rogue One certainly looks to have gone through an unusually complicated production, which led to some anxiety around June when the word began to break. Many commentators worried about the potential shift from the film’s shift in tone from a war and espionage film to one that lined up more with the tone of A New Hope.
The final cut of Rogue One certainly connects to A New Hope, but it has been hailed for being a darker story in the larger Star Wars ecosystem. Ultimately, this appears to be an instance where Disney and Lucasfilm were willing to allow for experimentation, and dialed in the film as needed to fit with the larger mythos. This makes sense: it’s the first standalone film for the universe, and Disney wants to ensure that their purchase of Lucasfilm doesn’t turn off audiences. There was a lot riding on the success of Rogue One, standalone Star Wars films will make up half of the upcoming productions through 2020, but were untested until now. It’s not clear exactly what will happen to the franchise beyond the four remaining films that have been announced, but it stands to reason that similar films will be part of the mix.
While it’s good to see that Disney is willing to take the time to adjust the movie and dump resources into shooting new scenes and enacting major changes, Rogue One does highlight a much larger problem that many tentpole films seem to have: starting production with a release date, rather than an excellent story. Rogue One and The Force Awakens have each shown that the Star Wars franchise is well positioned for the future, but until the film starts with an excellent story, there will always be some form of cleanup and adjustment after the fact.