Flashback looks back on fascinating stories or artifacts of the past, not necessarily tied to today’s news but still relevant and sometimes extra-significant in relation to today’s ever-evolving context.
As we all know, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Movie” underwent major reshoots, apparently to salvage the film. Directed by Gareth Edwards, during the extensive reshoots, Lucasfilm brought on writer/director Tony Gilroy to rewrite the movie, direct the reshoots, and oversee the post-production process. OK, this is the context we know.
And years later, the seeming cynical fan take on “Rogue One” is that every scene that includes a character of substantial cannon from the original ‘Star Wars’ films was added in the reshoots. The fan thinking being—in at least the more pessimistic corners of the galaxy that— a nervous Lucasfilm, unhappy with their unfinished project, made filmmakers Gareth Edwards and Tony Gilroy add all the fan service in the post-production process to “sweeten” the film. At least, this is the myth upheld by many fans.
But much of that appears to be untrue. Gareth Edwards recently revealed that the appearance of Princess Leia at the end of ‘Rogue One’—long believed to be the biggest piece of fan service that was added after the fact—was in ILM VFX supervisor John Knoll’s original two-page pitch, a document that’s near-legendary and was what sold Kathleen Kennedy on the project years before it was made.
Likewise, the Darth Vader sequence at the end was something many fans assumed that Lucasfilm dictated to them on high, but, at least as Edwards and Gilroy have told it, they just felt like the film needed one more satisfying action beat before the movie ended, so they came up with the Vader sequence themselves to juice up the drama, especially as the entire principal cast had died. But it was on their own accord and not a studio note.
And maybe the “needed-fixing” elements of ‘Rogue One’ were more story beats and organic, emotional problems, and it wasn’t just Lucasfilm “meddling” with the process.
Take, for instance, the bold choice to kill off every major hero in the movie. In this old interview from 2016, Edwards recalls that he and screenwriter Gary Whitta—the earliest screenwriter on the project, mind you—actually wrote a draft where Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) lived and did so because they assumed Lucasfilm would never allow them to kill off all the main characters. And it turns out they were dead wrong about that.
“We wrote a version—because we felt we were killing everybody and we were like, ‘they’re not going to let us do this’—so we’ll keep Jyn and Cassian alive so that everyone else can die,” Edwards explained. “So we ended up with a scenario that was very similar until the very, very end, and at the very end, they end up living. And we liked it; it worked within itself.”
Then they took it to Lucasfilm, and they immediately were like, huh?
“And then Kathleen Kennedy read it, and she said, ‘Why didn’t they all just die?’” Edwards recalled. “Because I think she was expecting that, and then she got to that [point in the script], and it didn’t happen. And I think she was ready for it and wanted it. And we were like, ‘Well, we’d love to, but we thought we wouldn’t be allowed to do that,’ and she said, ‘You can do anything you want.’”
So they did, and they changed the script to kill off every main character. Still, then Bob Iger had to read it and Disney’s Alan Horn, and they were nervous about what their reaction and notes might be (“OK, we’ll see how that plays out,” he recalled. Then, they gave their notes and feedback, and Edwards and Whitta started bracing themselves for the input at the end. “And as we’re getting to the end,” he remembered. “We thought, ‘here it comes, here it comes,’ and [the Disney brass] went, ‘That’s it. Great.’”
“And we went, cool, thank you very much, and we’ll go do this,” Edwards said, remembering his stunned reaction to no one saying anything about their film’s outcome. “And then we walked out the room, looked at each other, and went, ‘[Wow], we can kill them all. And so we did, and the whole time I was waiting for someone to say no, ‘Actually, you know what, maybe we shouldn’t.”
Edwards discussed some of the original reasons why the characters living wouldn’t work. “They can’t officially live,” Edwards said about the dilemma of them being central to this plan but then being totally absent in ‘A New Hope’ and beyond. “Because if they escape and go to another planet and they’re not a part of ‘A New Hope,’ it just seems weird. It would just seem like they gave up and couldn’t be heroic.”
Obviously, in the end, everyone died, and ‘Rogue One’ became a great ‘Star Wars’ film about the cost of war, making the ultimate sacrifice for the next generation. But it is interesting to hear that, in many instances, the creative choices that many fans assumed were studio notes or creative decisions mandated were actually choices made by the filmmakers themselves.