The Rogue One: A Star Wars Story panel at Star Wars Celebration earlier today certainly brought us some revelations, including an exciting behind-the-scenes look at the movie, but now we’ve got even more insight into what fans can expect from the first standalone Star Wars film. The movie takes place before the events of A New Hope and revolves around a group of rebels who are tasked with stealing the plans for the Death Star. Collider’s own Perri Nemiroff is on the scene at Star Wars Celebration, and she was able to speak briefly with director Gareth Edwards along with a small group of reporters about the film.
Edwards got a bit more in-depth about what fans can expect, offering up a lengthy tease about a very enticing location seen in the film: Jedah. Edwards likens Jedah to Mecca or Jerusalem, as it’s a location that serves as a spiritual home world of sorts for Jedi and those who believe in the Force. He also revealed his wholly unique shooting style for some of the film’s scenes which involved dressing the cameramen up in costume so they could blend into the shots.
Check out the full conversation below, and check back this weekend for much more of our ongoing Star Wars Celebration coverage. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in theaters on December 16th.
One of the things I really loved in the footage today was the planet Jedah and the whole concept. It feels like a whole different wing of the Star Wars universe is opened up to us. Can you talk about Jedah and how that fits in and how you guys envisioned the spiritual world?
GARETH EDWARDS: It came from the fact that the era that our film is set in in theory doesn’t have any Jedi. So the idea of having a Star Wars film that doesn’t talk about the Force—if you look at what George was great at is although he got a story about one thing, he’s implying a million other things in the background and ideas that are much wider, and obviously our film is using that and telling a story within it. But for me it’s like if A New Hope is kind of the story of Jesus, there must be a whole religion beyond that, and so it felt like what was it a thousand generations the Jedi were the leaders of the spiritual belief system, so it’s like there’s gotta be like a Mecca or Jerusalem within the Star Wars world. It felt very contemporary to have a situation where the Empire were imposing themselves on what means a lot to the spiritual side of Star Wars for their own reasons, their own goals, and within that area there’s a resistance that’s building and trying to fight back, but our characters end up having to go to Jedah and they basically end up getting pulled into their story a bit.
It’s just a beautiful—we went to Jordan to film and we built this set in Pinewood that was 360 degrees so you could kind of look wherever you wanted. Normally on a set the extras are told, ‘Okay on action you walk over there and on cut you stop,’ and we said, ‘Okay for the next hour you’re cooking food, or you’re doing this car thing,’ and the crew were wearing costumes so if the cameras turned around on them, they wouldn’t be in the shot. So we tried to keep it all flowing and the actors were given the freedom to go where they wanted and do the scene in a way that felt right. So there’s a lot of freedom and it had this organic, different vibe to it than you associate sometimes with Star Wars, and so that felt really exciting. As a fan, I wanted to go to these places. It’s gotta feel right, that’s what was a massive learning experience. There’s such a fine line in Star Wars, if you go just slightly to the left it’s not Star Wars, it’s another sci-fi movie that doesn’t feel right. And if you go slightly to the right, you’re just copying what George did. So trying to navigate this thing where it’s new but feels fresh was like the dance that was the process of making the film.
I really loved Jedah. The frustrating thing about it was that it looked so good and there was so much, I was dying because it can’t all fit in the film, it can’t all fit in the story, the film’s not about that but it’s an embarrassment of riches when you’re doing something like this. You just desperately want everything to be in everything all the time, and then you go back and look at the originals and you go, ‘Wait a minute, that guy I had the toy of that I used to play with all the time, he’s only in one shot.’ We were talking about droids and things at one point and it’s one of the weirdest things in the world when you’re getting paid to do a job and part of that job is, ‘Let’s all go and watch Empire Strikes Back.’ Someone gets out on their laptop and goes, ‘Quick quick, let me hit this scene’ and everyone’s trying to beat each other to it and then you get to this bit and you go, ‘Hang on, he’s only in one shot? I was obsessed with that toy as a kid.’ That’s the beauty of it is that the hope is there’s so much detail in this world—this film’s born out of that, like ‘What would that story be?’ It’s not a main event but it could be another film and that’s what exciting about Star Wars and I think that’s what, obviously, our film’s been born through. It never ends really, I think Disney are very smart.”
Now 20 years from now some guy makes a story about that guy in the background of Rogue One.
EDWARDS: I hope so. And I can go visit them and say things to them that make them have heart attacks. (laughs) They won’t care what I think.
So Jedah and Jedi, there’s a reason for that connection between the two? It’s not just a weird coincidence?
EDWARDS: No, the whole real backstory of it all is really more a thing for the canon and Lucasfilm, but I feel like it’s definitely—if you believe in the Jedi and you believe in the Force, it feels like Jedah is somewhere you should visit in your lifetime. It’s like a spiritual home of the Jedi.
Did you shoot any other pieces of the movie like that?
EDWARDS: Yeah, we tried to do everything like that, the reality is you can’t. There’s different styles. There’s that style, which was more going for realism and there was the classical, original trilogy style, which is very more considered and feels very imperial. So initially there was the feeling that Rebels will be this one thing and then the Empire will be this other thing, but as we got going we started mixing it all and it felt a lot better. I was really pleased with the vibe of the film in that it changes gears between those classical — what feels like the language of Star Wars — into something a bit more contemporary and back again. And you’re not jarred by it. The way I used to try to justify it was that this is a real historical event and George is on Tatooine with his camera crew, we’re on our planets with our camera crew, and there’ s there filmmakers on other planets with their camera crews. We’re not going to see those movies for a while, but everyone’s making just making their movies and they’ll all have their own little style and voice. It felt like, you have historical events like World War II and they grow films like Casablanca and Saving Private Ryan which are completely different, Star Wars can do like that. So it felt like, especially because we’re not part of the saga, we’ve got that license to try and branch out a bit.
From what we’ve seen from your film, it looks like everything very ground-based? Are there…Star Wars? Are there aerial battles and things like that? Or is it all planet based?
EDWARDS: There could be.
Was it hard for you trying to figure out how much to use Darth Vader? Because he’s such an iconic character. You want to use hime enough for people to be excited to see him, but not use him to take away from the film’s main villain.
EDWARDS: He’s got such a gravitational pull, the second he shows up you just get sucked into Darth Vader. So it was a process to try and figure out how to pepper that in in a way that felt right. When I read the first document, which is “this is what we’re thinking of doing” I was like “Oh my god, they’re going to do that film? Jeez.” And at the time I thought they must have sent it to hundred other people and I accidentally got it by mistake. Then I realized they were going to do it, and I was like “i could never live with myself to be two years from then and it’s coming out and this is happening and there’ some guy here going “yeah, so we filmed in 360” and I’d be going “God damn I could have been doing that!” So you have to do it…and I’ve forgotten the question.
Was it difficult to figure out how much to use Darth Vader in the film?
EDWARD Sure. So hopefully, it was like… I got pulled into making the film through my love of the original films, but then what was a clear conversation that happened early on at Lucasfilm is that we’re doing new things here, this is not a karaoke number or just pure winks and fan service. That’s not going to make a good film. This has got to be characters that you care about and there’s an opportunity to create new people and events that pull you in, so hopefully the goal is that you come to the film for all the reasons that we love star wars and you get sucked in and start to care about the new people and when you’re in the midst of all that and that’s going on, familiar things start to pass you by, you start to remember “Oh yeah, oh yeah” but the film should exist on it’s own terms. If all these film are ever just “And here’s that character you love, Yay! Here’s that other character you love, Yay!” All the time, that’s all they’re doing then they’re not really doing what George did, which is he tried to find stories that were about something, that were saying something, that you keep in your pocket forty years later, that stay in your head and are still affecting you.
As someone who loves Star Wars so much, do you get really aggravated when people ask you which characters are Bothans?
EDWARDS: [Laughs] Yeah, I don’t even want to start on that because this comes up all the time and you’re like “No, no…”
So do you explain it or do you just sigh and walk away?
EDWARDS: I don’t even have to because for every person who says that there’s someone on the forum just below them that goes “You idiot!”
For more of our Star Wars Celebration coverage, peruse the links below:
- 85 New ‘Rogue One’ Images Reveal Droids, Troopers, Locations, Creatures, and More
- ‘Rogue One’ Began as an Idea for George Lucas’ Live-Action ‘Star Wars’ TV Series
- ‘Rogue One’ New Trailer Description: Darth Vader Returns!
- ‘Rogue One’: Over 40 Images from the Star Wars Celebration Exhibit
- New ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ Footage Revealed in Behind-the-Scenes Video