IGN just hosted another Watch From Home Theater, this time featuring screenwriters Gary Whitta and Chris Weitz talking about everyone’s favorite Star Wars prequel, Rogue One. Their live commentary track was extremely entertaining and informative, offering new insight into key characters and plot points and also shedding more light on the ways the film changed during production.
If you missed the Rogue One WFH Theater, you can still check it out at the link above. But if you just want to know the key takeaways from the episode, read on to learn more about the new details Whitta and Weitz revealed.
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Rogue One’s Other Titles
The Rogue One team went through a number of different working titles for the film before finally settling on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Other possible titles included “Dark Times,” “Rebellion” and “Shadow of the Death Star.”
Whitta said, “We had a lot. At one point, John Swartz, who was one of the creative executives on the film, had a list and we all kind of voted on the ones that we liked. I contributed two. … Shadow of the Death Star and all these kind of fancy titles. One of the things that occurred to me, I went back and looked to all the previous films, and this continues to be true even with the sequel trilogy now being completed, the titles of Star Wars saga films are always either three words or four words long. They just all are. And so it occurred to me that one of the ways we could differentiate this movie from the rest is we had a title that was only one word or two words long. So like Star Wars: Rebellion, Star Wars: Rogue One, things like that. Let’s do a title that’s shorter so that even from the title of the movie, you know this is something that doesn’t necessarily conform to the unwritten rules of the saga films.”
There Was an Opening Crawl
Rogue One set an unusual precedent for the Star Wars Anthology movies by eliminating the iconic opening crawl sequence. However, it wasn’t always intended to be that way. Whitta revealed he actually wrote multiple versions of a crawl before it was decided eliminating the crawl would help Rogue One veer away from the usual Star Wars tropes.
Whitta said, “The way the movie opens is really one of the first interesting questions that [director] Gareth [Edwards] and I had: Should there be an opening crawl? I did write one. You’ll never see it but I did. I wrote more than one. Back when we were still experimenting with the idea of maybe doing one. But one of the things that we arrived at fairly early on in the process is that it was OK to liberate ourselves from the traditional storytelling language of Star Wars. And a lot of the visual tropes — the iris wipes, the opening crawl, things like that — we felt like the standalone movies had more license than the saga films to do something a little more different.”
The Quentin Tarantino Influence
When discussing the opening sequence where Director Krennic confronts Galen Erso and his family, Whitta revealed 2009’s Inglourious Basterds had a strong influence on his writing. Whitta was particularly inspired by the suspenseful opening act of Inglourious Basterds. “Gareth and I talked a lot about how much we loved the opening of Inglorious Basterds, if you remember that with the French farmhouse,” said Whitta. “This scene was very much inspired by that. Krennic is basically the Cristoph Waltz Nazi in this movie coming to interrogate the poor innocents who have to hide this girl.”
Jyn Erso’s Original Role
A great deal about the plot and direction of Rogue One changed during development, including the specific role Jyn Erso played. Early on, Jyn was envisioned as more akin to Jessica Chastain’s character in Zero Dark Thirty. She was the one who uncovered the existence of the Death Star and had to find a way of exposing the Empire’s plans.
Whitta said, “At one point Jyn was already a Rebel soldier. We toyed with various other possibilities — that she was a deserter, that she was a Rey-like scavenger, but obviously you can’t do that once you learn what the other hand of the Star Wars universe is doing.”
Lyra Erso: Jedi Knight
In another major change, Jyn’s mother Lyra was originally written as a Jedi, but Whitta said he was advised not to treat the movie as a checklist of Star Wars tropes. He said, “In the original version — and the kyber crystal was like the last tiny piece that was left — she was a Jedi in hiding. It was one of the first things that got killed, and rightly so. That was kind of a vestige of me as a fanboy wanting to feel like we were checking all the Star Wars boxes. I remember saying… this is going to be the very first Star Wars movie that doesn’t have a lightsaber in it. … Of course, it ended up not being true! We have an amazing lightsaber sequence at the end of the movie.”
Introducing Cassian Andor
Rogue One first introduces Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor at a space station in the Ring of Kafrene, where he meets with a spy who gives him intel about the Death Star. However, this scene was a relatively late addition to the story. Weitz said early on there was more dramatic irony regarding whether the rebels actually knew about the Death Star, but later drafts of the script eliminated that angle.
Like Jyn, Cassian’s exact role in the story evolved over time. Weitz said at one point Cassian was a double agent who wanted revenge on Saw Gerrera for the deaths of his loved ones.
Whitta said, “In a very, very early version of this, he was a Rebel soldier who was secretly working for Krennic. But then as he grew closer to Jyn and realized that the Empire had built this weapon, he’s like, ‘I never signed up for this. I never signed up for killing planets.’ He has a change of heart and flips to the Rebel side, but that’s after he’s exposed as a spy. And at that point in the third act, he kind of has to win Jyn’s trust back. That was all fun and interesting. I think they actually shot some of that stuff early on. But I think this version ended up being more nuanced and more interesting.”
Dantooine Almost Appeared
The movie features a return appearance of Yavin IV, one of the most iconic Star Wars worlds. But originally, the plan was to feature the Rebel base on Dantooine, giving fans a glimpse of the abandoned base alluded to in A New Hope. The change does make sense, given how little time separates the events of the two movies.
And as Whitta noted, the budget was also a concern. “Originally you saw the Rebel base is actually on Dantooine. And you see the Rebels evacuate Dantooine and move to Yavin IV. But it didn’t really accomplish anything in the story aside from a nod to Star Wars fans, ‘Hey, remember Dantooine?’ … But it didn’t move the story forward and it would’ve cost a ton of money.”
Borr Gullett as Hannibal Lecter
Rogue One introduces a fiendish alien creature named Borr Gullett, who psychically tortures Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook. Borr Gullett was originally portrayed much differently. Weitz revealed that Gullett was previously depicted as “a memory trader,” a sadistic, Hannibal Lecter-like person who revels in absorbing people’s painful memories. In that version of the script, Jyn would have been forced to trade her childhood memories for intel.
Weitz said, “The first version of him, this is my great sadness in life, on the cutting room floor there’s a Borr Gullet who is a memory trader. He lives on memories and he especially delights on traumatic memories. They feed him. They’re more delicious to him. At one point there was kind of a space-Hannibal Lecter scene where Borr Gullet made Jyn trade her traumatic childhood memories for information she wanted.”
Why Mustafar Is Never Named
Rogue One cycles through quite a few worlds over the course of its runtime, which makes the decision to include title cards for each new world a welcome one. The fiery world of Mustafar is the only one that isn’t introduced via title card. According to Whitta, that was an intentional choice so as to “preserve the mystery of that location” and not spoil Darth Vader’s appearance.
Whitta said, “This is a LEGO set! I can’t believe something I came up for in this film is a LEGO set now. I was like… Where does Vader go when he’s not working? He’s got to go somewhere. Where’s his crib. What does he do on his day off? And Gareth loves that scene in The Empire Strikes Back where you just get a glimpse of the back of Vader’s head. So [we were like] let’s take that and try to blow it out to do a more powerful version of it. And I really liked the idea that Vader is so physically ruined and so destroyed and so damaged that every now and again he has to completely take off all the armor and take what’s left of his body and put it in this bacta tank to kind of heal and regenerate. … And I love the idea of seeing him almost like a fetus in a jar, because it reminds us of just how little is left of him physically.”
The Force of Others
Rogue One adds to the mythology of the Jedi with the introduction of their ancient home on Jedha. The film includes multiple references to George Lucas’ early ideas surrounding the Jedi and the Force. Weitz said, “Originally The Force was called ‘The Force of Others’ by [George] Lucas, and I had Chirrut often referring to ‘The Force of Others’ rather than The Force.”
The concept of Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus being “Guardians of the Whills” also draws from Lucas’ early material. The Whills were intended to be Bible-like texts that inspire the stories chronicled in the Star Wars movies. Weitz even revealed there was talk of touching on the controversial topic of midichlorians.
The Origins of Scarif and Shuttle SW0608
Both the name of Scarif and the serial number of the stolen Imperial shuttle were inspired by Whitta and Weitz’s personal lives. Whitta revealed the name “Scarif” was actually inspired by a Starbucks barista who misheard his name. Weitz said the shuttle’s serial number is a combination of his child’s initials and birth date.
A Nixed Tusken Raider Cameo
The Rebels seen in Rogue One are a motley assortment of Star Wars human and alien species, but one more iconic species narrowly missed the cut. Weitz said he wanted to include a Tusken Raider among the Rebels, but Pablo Hidalgo of the Lucasfilm Story Group shot down the idea. Hidalgo was insistent that Tusken Raiders never leave Tatooine.
A Return of the Jedi Homage
Rogue One’s final space battle is considered by many fans to be the best in the series since Return of the Jedi. It turns out that was exactly the goal. “I still believe The Battle of Endor is the best Star Wars battle and we pay homage to that in RogueOne,” said Whitta.
The Lost TIE Fighter and Other Scarif Changes
Rogue One underwent significant reshoots and story retooling before seeing release, which resulted in a number of shots in the trailers that never actually appear in the film itself. According to Weitz, the shot of a TIE Fighter approaching Jyn atop the Scarif comms tower was never intended to be used in the final version.
The reason why other shots of fighting on the Scarif beach were cut is because this sequence changed quite a bit over time. Originally, there were two separate towers on Scarif, one containing the Death Star plans and the other the comms tower needed to transmit the plans. In that version Jyn had to fight her way across the beach to get from one tower to the other, and that’s where K-2SO was originally supposed to die.
Jyn and Cassian’s Relationship
Jyn and Cassian have a strictly platonic friendship in Rogue One, but that wasn’t always the case. Weitz revealed there was talk of introducing a romance between the two characters and thinks there may even be footage of those scenes. But in the end, he and Whitta found it “refreshing” to avoid a stereotypical Hollywood romance.
A Last-Minute Vader Addition
Many Star Wars fans would agree the final Darth Vader sequence is among the most memorable moments in Rogue One, but it was also one of the last scenes added to the film. Whitta said, “Colin Goudie, one of the editors on the film, said to Gareth [Edwards] it needs something at the end here. Gareth went back and shot this very late.”
It also turns out that none other than The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson was visiting the set on the day Vader’s action scene was filmed.
Whitta said there are no deleted Vader scenes, but there were other ideas for how to include the iconic villain in the film. “I originally pitched a version of that Vader scene in the hallway which was actually out on the beach on Scariff. Jyn and Cassian had gone up in the tower and the Rebels had kind of bunkered around it to prevent anyone from following them up. And the word got up to Vader on the Star Destroyer, ‘We can’t get up to the tower because the Rebels have blockaded it.’ And Vader says, ‘Put me on that beach. I’ll open the door for you.’ And he goes down there and just straight-up murders every Rebel on the beach. And that would’ve been a cool scene, but again, it never really got past the pitch process. I never wrote it. But I love the fact that the idea of that scene made into the movie in the hallway, which I think works better because it’s more contained. It’s more claustrophobic. You’re trapped in that room with him and I think that’s more scary.”
Another Leia Cameo?
Rogue One ends with a crowd-pleasing cameo of the late Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. At one point, though, there was discussion of including Leia earlier in the film. The idea was floated of inserting Leia into the crowded war room scene on Yavin IV. Instead, she remained unseen and sequestered aboard the Tantive IV.
For more in the world of Star Wars, check out the final trailer for The Clone Wars: Season 7 and see what Daisy Ridley has to say about the backlash to The Rise of Skywalker.