For better or worse, modern day “Star Wars” movies have a reputation for behind-the-scenes chaos: fired directors, production woes and drama of that ilk. This ill repute began with the second film of the new Disney-owned Lucasfilm era “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the anthology war film directed by Gareth Edwards. During its production, word leaked that writer/director and celebrated screenwriting “fixer” Tony Gilroy (the Oscar-nominated “Michael Clayton”), known as one of the foremost (and expensive) script doctors in the game, was brought in to help the ailing film. Gilroy, who quietly worked on the script in the summer before production began, was asked to come rewrite on set and supervise the film before eventually (and very quickly) taking over and becoming the director of the major overhauling reshoots.
Other than the people that were there, no one really knows the extent of the ‘Rogue One’ reshoots exactly, but they were lengthy, expensive, reworked at least one character almost from scratch (Bodhi Rook played by Riz Ahmed) and reportedly reworked the entire ending. Many have pieced together all the clips in the original trailers that were absent in the final film and they do paint a very telling picture of a significantly reworked movie. But aside from a few actors, and Gareth Edwards politely tiptoeing around what exactly happened to merit such a narrative renovation, no one’s really talked until now. Least of all Tony Gilroy.
However, on the recent The Moment podcast with venerable screenwriter and “Billions” co-creator/co-showrunner Brian Koppelman (an excellent, must-listen-to podcast), Gilroy, promoting the upcoming film “Beirut” which he wrote, finally spoke about the problems with ‘Rogue One’ and became surprisingly candid doing so.
The conversation about ‘Rogue One’ began as a tangent. Koppelman asked the filmmaker if he ever wrote around a theme first and the answer was a vehement no, but Gilroy then segued into how writing to theme can apply when fixing and working on other people’s movies to get to the heart of their issues.
“If you look at ‘Rogue [One],’ all the difficulty with ‘Rogue’ and all the confusion of it, all the smart people [working on it], all the mess and in the end when you get in there, it’s actually very simple to solve, because you go, ‘oh, this is a movie where…everyone’s going to die.’ So, it’s a movie about sacrifice,” he explained, breaking down the theme.
He continued, “So, it’s all a question about why are these [characters], why are all these people going to sacrifice themselves? And you need to motivate them with a purity throughout the [story] and every scene has to be about the movie. And so, is that a theme, that everyone’s going to die, sacrifice? In that sense, in that film, yeah, I thought about it.”
Surprisingly, Gilroy wasn’t very reluctant to discuss the movie or its problems though sometimes he avoided details. “Well, everything was up in the air,” he said of the troubled production that sounds like it was fumbling around in the dark.
Gilroy said he took the gig because he was having trouble getting a couple of movies made and it felt like a chance to get back in the game and out of his writing den. “Here was a call to go do something—and I knew exactly when I saw what I saw [the rough footage], it was instantly clear the first thing that had to happen which was immediately attractive.”
The filmmaker never revealed what that thing was, but painted a portrait of a movie in distress, missing crucial elements and some characters who needed reworking. “I saw the purity that was missing and I saw, at least in terms of one or two of the characters—cause who knew how big the fix was going to be, who knew what people would do— I saw something very… if you do nothing else, do this.”
Asked to delve into details, Gilroy playfully skipped around. “I have to be careful because I don’t know what the statute of limitations… I’ve never really told… I’ve never done an interview about ‘Rogue,’” he said. “You know what the easiest thing to say is? You’ll understand this better than anything else, I came in after the director’s cut [and] I have a screenplay credit in the arbitration that was easily won.”
This is indeed significant. Gary Whitta was the original writer, Chris Weitz (“The Golden Compass,” “Twilight: New Moon“), but Gilroy did such a major revamp he earned the second screenwriting credit and it’s historically extremely difficult to earn a credit through WGA arbitration once the screenwriting foundations of a movie have been built.
Unlike most directors, Gilroy had no trepidation for taking on a “Star Wars” movie. “No,” he said when asked if he sweated taking on the movie. “Because that was my superpower. A) I don’t like ‘Star Wars’—not that I don’t like it, but I’ve never been interested in ‘Star Wars’ ever, so I had no reverence for it whatsoever, I was unafraid about that and they were in such a swamp… they were in so much, terrible, terrible trouble that all you could do was improve their position.”
Yikes, and keep in mind this is Gilroy obviously offering the safe version of the story. But he did praise Disney and the people involved in the film for doubling down on the major makeover he had proposed to give the movie.
“What else can I say that’s safe and germane, the gumption, the balls of Disney and Bob Iger and the people there to gamble on what they gambled on is astonishing,” he explained somewhat cryptically. “There were no assholes involved in the process at all, on all the upper level, there were no assholes, it was just a mess [and there was] fear, and they had just gotten themselves…and because it wasn’t really my movie… for a while, I slept every night. For my own movie, I wouldn’t sleep, but because it was somebody else’s movie…”
This last comment is fairly telling and is where Koppelman interrupted him to say, “Well, you weren’t going to have a director’s credit on the movie…,” but Gilroy does then seem to suggest that ‘Rogue One’ did become his movie.
“Right, well… at a certain point, it kinda tipped, at a certain point everybody’s looking at you like, [makes indecipherable noise, but one that suggests everyone’s looking at him for the answers], but through a lot of it I was pretty calm, I was pretty chill.”
Oh, to be a fly on the wall to hear the moments when Gilroy was no longer at ease on the movie. That said, it sounded like he loved the experience and what how he performed as a director. “I was in London, I was having a great time every day, I was throwing strikes every day, I was so happy to be engaged, my endorphins were firing, I was happy with what I was doing in front of me, I had… my god, [the production resources], it’s a Ferrari, man, oh my god. I had a great time.”
Asked if he would ever make his own “Star Wars” movie the answer is a flat out, unequivocal hard pass. “No, no, there’s nothing… I don’t like it. I don’t like it. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t appeal to me. But I don’t think ‘Rogue’ is a ‘Star Wars’ movie in many ways, to me it’s a battle of Britain movie.”
Interesting enough, Koppelman said Lucasfilm’s since-passed-on “Rogue One” producer Allison Shearmur, who guided “The Bourne Identity” franchise that Gilroy wrote during her time at Universal, had sung his praises 14 years earlier in a meeting, obviously not forgetting that experience when it came fix the embattled “Star Wars” movie.“Every word he writes.. even his emails are amazing. Every email you can feel this guy’s the best writer walking around.”
There’s likely no chance in hell, you’ll ever see the original quote-unquote “director’s cut” of “Rogue One,” so much as one still exists (it doesn’t), but it would be nice, if Lucasfilm, maybe twenty years down the road, excavates some of this stuff for “Star Wars” lore and archival purposes. Interview below and there’s so, so much more in there related to Gilroy’s career, his longstanding friendship with Koppelman, “Beirut” and more.