It’s going to be a “Star Wars” kind of month. As I described yesterday, over the weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Skywalker Ranch and Lucasfilm’s headquarters in San Francisco for the “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” international press junket.
The second day of the festivities featured our main event: a press conference with most of the cast of “Rogue One”, split into two groups and partnered with the movie’s director Gareth Edwards, executive producer John Knoll, and Lucasfilm’s current head honcho Kathleen Kennedy.
WATCH PRESS CONFERENCE PART 1:
During the first part of the discussion, Gareth Edwards commented on how it feels to have completed his own Star Wars film. “It’s strange. This is a very strange period in making a film, this little moment here, because for about two and a half years you’re really busy making it and your head’s down and you can’t really think about anything else. And now we’ve finished the movie and we haven’t released it. I feel like we’re pregnant, ready to give birth and share it with the world. It’s kind of frustrating, in a weird way.”
One reporter posed a question about why it’s already been determined that “Rogue One” won’t have a sequel. Star Diego Luna, who plays dashing Rebel leader Cassian Andor, was quick to nip that rumor in the bud. “We don’t know that yet. That’s a conversation we haven’t had.”
Kathleen Kennedy added, “We came up with this idea to do the stand-alone movies. What’s liberating, in many ways, is the notion that we can come up with these stories inside the Star Wars universe that really have a beginning, middle, and an end. And they stand truly on their own. And this does.” When asked if the new characters in “Rogue One” would show up in other Star Wars movies, she simply replied, “Doubtful.”
John Knoll put the conversation to rest by noting, “The sequel to ‘Rogue One’ is Episode IV. We’ve already made it.”
Edwards was asked what choices he made to differentiate “Rogue One” from the existing Star Wars movies. “When we started this whole process, it was one of the things Kathy would be asking the whole time. ‘How is this going to be different? We need to differentiate ourselves from the saga. And we started playing around experimenting.”
“One of the things we did was we took real war photography like photographs from Vietnam and World War II and the Gulf, and we put in Rebel helmets on the soldiers and Rebel guns and some X-Wings in the background instead of fighter jets. And so we looked at this stuff, and it was really engaging. And the studio loved it, everybody loved it, and they would say ‘just go make that.’ And that’s kind of what we went off and did.”
“It was also like being in a war. The film crew became like the characters, in a way. We were all literally in the trenches together trying to achieve this impossible task. The characters were trying to steal the Death Star plans, but as a group we were trying to make a great Star Wars movie. You feel like you’ve been through a battle together and there’s this connection we have now. No matter what happens, Diego, if I see you in twenty years, we’re just going to have that, like we’ve been through a war together, right?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Luna jokingly replied. “I had to be reminded every day I was getting paid.”
On the topic of what elements from the original Star Wars trilogy he felt he had to incorporate into “Rogue One”, Edwards explained, “The problem with Star Wars is that question takes about four hours [to answer]. There’s not an individual thing, ‘as long as you do this, it’s Star Wars, and you’re golden.’ You’ve got to do about a thousand different things and mix them all together and get the balance just right. It’s a really tricky thing to emulate what we love about the original, but feel like we’re telling a different story and it’s fresh.”
“We could have done a very specific genre film and stuck [the title] ‘Star Wars’ on it and said ‘that’s our movie.’ But George [Lucas] was always good at mixing the genres together and creating this very emotional mythological story that just happened to have robots and spaceships in it. There’s meaning behind it. There’s meat on the bone, and it took us a long time to try and crack that code and find all those different ingredients that it needed to have. It’s not something that you just do in a week. It’s a two-and-a-half-year process.”
Diego Luna spoke about what research he did to prepare for his role. “It was a mixture of everything. At the beginning, I started just with the script. That was already interesting enough for me to dig into myself and try to find this captain inside me. I guess the most important part was to do the military training. You have to establish a parallel [between] this galaxy far far away and the world you live in.”
“I spent two weeks with this ex-military [consultant] in London, just talking about experiences and about the last ten or fifteen years of his life. That gave me enough material. I mean, I love Star Wars. I love the films and ‘A New Hope’ is probably the first film I connected with. So I would go back to that film to find the connection again. But it was more about seeing war films. ‘Apocalypse Now’, for example, stuff like that. Because my character needs that kind of military structure, and is a guy that is willing to risk anything for this cause. He thinks in a hierarchical kind of structure and he has to start there in this film.”
Actor Donnie Yen, who portrays blind warrior Chirrut Imwe, discussed the relationship between Asian tradition and the concept of the Force. “I never thought about relating [it] to martial arts. I think we all have the Force, it’s just we don’t realize it. I think it’s interesting to see Star Wars stories like this as reminding us [about] things that we neglect and forget. And the Force, I don’t think of it as having the martial arts ability. It’s just being a human being. We [all] do have the Force.”
On whether or not Star Wars creator George Lucas had seen “Rogue One” yet, Edwards was hesitant to answer. But after receiving the okay from Kennedy, he related the story. “Two days ago, we got to show George the movie. And I got to speak with him yesterday. I don’t want to put words into his mouth but I can honestly say that I can die happy now. He really liked the movie, so it meant a lot. To be honest, it was the most important review to me — what George thought of it. He’s kind of God when it comes to Star Wars. It was a real privilege, and his opinion means the world to me.”
When discussion arose of the cast’s diversity, Kathleen Kennedy had a lot to offer on the topic. “I think it’s incredibly important to Star Wars, [and] I think it’s more important to the film industry in general. I think having casts that represent and reflect the world today, and having characters that people can relate to all over the world [is incredibly important].”
“This is very much a global industry. Fims mean something to people all over the world, and it was certainly important to this story. It lent itself very well [to diversity]– [this is] a group of people who come together in ways that are kind of inexplicable, but they share a very common belief. And they feel very strongly in their desire to do the right thing, and they work together incredibly well.”
As to the role of women specifically, Kennedy had this to say: “I found it really interesting when I first stepped into this job, and I started to look at, ‘What does it mean to be a female hero?’ And I think the character of Rey [in ‘The Force Awakens’], the character of Jyn [in ‘Rogue One’], these are empowered women that are not necessarily just taking on male characteristics. They’re genuinely female heroines. And I think that’s really important to the way we tell stories. I think it will make a difference.”
Asked about what it was like having toys made based on their characters, the cast had a good laugh. “Hot Wheels, that’s the weirdest one,” Luna remarked. “You know, I always felt sorry for those musicians that, for Christmas, give their own record as a gift. But I think this Christmas I’m going to be giving a lot of those toys with my face. It’s so cool.”
“My daughter, I gave her mine, and she went like, ‘No, no. Do you have Jyn’s?’ She loves Felicity [Jones]. But it’s a cool feeling, and probably in twenty, thirty years, it’s going to be really cool to open that drawer and find your toy.”
Alan Tudyk, who plays the quirky ex-Imperial droid K-2SO, chimed in, “There’s one that’s like [three feet] tall, and I have it sitting on my couch. Just kind of chilling at home. K2’s just there. It’s neat.”
On the somewhat darker tone of “Rogue One”, Edwards explained, “We essentially got license to be different on this movie, and take a risk. The great thing about being a stand-alone film, we don’t really have to exist for other movies to continue, so we could be brave. And that’s what we did.”
“I feel like, in terms of Star Wars [films] that I love, tonally, I guess the one we were aiming for was ‘[The] Empire Strikes Back’. That movie, even though we take it quite seriously, there’s a lot of fun and humor in it. And hope, [which] is the key thing. It’s about trying to achieve something. The story behind the movie is all these different people, from all these different backgrounds, that have very little in common, they believe in a good future for the world. They come together. And we all are better off when we work together than on our own. And so we just tried to make the most realistic version of Star Wars that we’d seen, and it involved a lot of different techniques.”
Luna expounded on that idea. “I think it’s a modern approach to Star Wars. We live in a different world today. If you revisit all the films, [each one is] kind of like a stamp of what was going on, and a reflection of the world back then, and ours has to do the same.”
On whether or not a viewer can appreciate “Rogue One” without being intimately familiar with Star Wars, Kennedy was adamant. “It’s absolutely a stand-alone. I think the great thing is that this could be a real introduction to the whole franchise for many people who haven’t necessarily followed it, or younger people who don’t know that much about Star Wars, and other parts of the world who don’t know that much about Star Wars. It really does stand on its own.”
Finally, Alan Tudyk revealed what it was like performing motion-capture for his character on-set. “I was wearing a full-body jumpsuit sort of thing. It’s such a new technology, even still. We’ve been introduced to it in a lot of different ways. Sometimes people wear cameras on their heads, sometimes just dots all over their face, [or] they have balls all over their suit. The way that [effects house Industrial Light and Magic] did it, I wore a suit that was very comfortable. It didn’t have all of that restriction on it.”
“And then I was on stilts, so I was seven-foot-one. So I towered over everyone most of the time. And it was great. Even at that height, it colors how you move and it helped me get into character. It was fantastic. It was basically just acting, but then the makeup and the costume came later. But because you’re on set, you are able to create a character with the other actors. Without that, you can’t tell a story with a true character who can react in the moment.”
Kathleen Kennedy had more to add to what Tudyk was saying. “Alan, I think you’re short-changing yourself a little bit, too, because you stepped into amazing iconography with robots in Star Wars. And when you figure that C-3PO and R2-D2 and now BB-8 [are so iconic], what was amazing about what Alan did was, he had to find what that individual sense was, so that he could create another robot in the family of robots in Star Wars. And I think he definitely did that. He’s going to be very memorable.”
Stay tuned to Inside the Magic tomorrow for part two of the “Rogue One” press conference, featuring the second half of the movie’s cast including Felicity Jones and Mads Mikkelsen. And keep checking back at ITM for all things Star Wars!
WATCH “ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY” TRAILER:
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, December 16th.