With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hitting home video in just a few weeks and director Gareth Edwards in attendance at SXSW for a different engagement, we were able to meet up for a spoiler-filled chat about the film’s third act. You may have already read our conversation about why the ending of the film was changed, but we also spoke about the Rogue One ending and that final battle’s giant body count…and how he thought he’d never get away with it.
Since everyone’s seen the movie now, let’s just talk about the ending. When in the process did you decide to kill everybody? Because you kill everybody in the ending.
[Laughs] The first ever screenplay by Gary Whitta…we were chatting about this and it was clear we were going to kill a lot of people. Potentially everyone. We just felt “There’s no way they’re going to let us do this. So for this first draft, let’s try to do the best version we think of with Jyn and Cassian surviving.” That what was written. And then [Lucasfilm president] Kathleen Kennedy read it and at the end she said “Shouldn’t they all die?” And we said “Yeah, of course. We’d love to, but can we do that?” And she said “We can do anything we want.”
And so I spent the next couple of years waiting for someone to say “Actually, you know, they should survive.” And no one ever said it. I remember…I think it was [Disney CEO] Bob Iger, when they did the first announcement of the cast of the film on stage and behind them was every main actor who was in the movie. There’s like nine of them or something and I was just thinking “Oh my God, every one of those characters is going to die.” I don’t know another Disney film that does that. I’m quite proud of it, because it feels responsible. It’s responsible storytelling because it’s a massive war and war is not a great thing. You don’t come out of it as a better person, typically. The world might be better, but it usually destroys you. Showing that it comes at a price, this sort of…when we fight each other like this, it’s not a good thing. But it doesn’t make a great film. Utopian peace doesn’t make for interesting movies.
When I last spoke to you, we had only seen the two big extended sequences, including the battle on Jedha, which reminded me of something out of Battle of the Algiers. The ending is a very different kind of action scene, more like a WWII-era Hollywood movie, a stirring portrait of sacrifice and heroism and so on. How’d you go about building this final battle? Any influences?
World War II films were a big influence. The inter-cutting in the third act, the triangle that’s going on, was trying to do… One of the best third acts in any film is, I think, Return of the Jedi. You have this ground battle, you have this really epic, really dynamic space battle, and in the middle of it all, you have this sort of soulful confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader. We wanted to find that sort of dynamic. So the ground troops are riffing off Vietnam warfare visuals and films like Apocalypse Now, stuff I grew up loving. The space battle was, to be honest, [inspired by] Return of the Jedi, one of the high benchmarks for space battles. And the high altitude confrontation between Jyn and Krennic was a more personal version of all these big events.
Having three things to intercut between is a lifesaver. Because just as one starts to get a little bit…as you’re slightly tired of one, you jump to another one. And you just keeping cutting around to everybody, telling everyone’s story. You can cut out all of the boring bits that way. I don’t know how you do action scenes now without doing parallel action. The first film I made [Monsters] had two characters in it and we never cut to anyone but those two characters. It was such a restriction to make a film that way. It was a nightmare. It’s a cheap trick of filmmakers, to keep having things to cut to when one thing gets a little uninteresting.
You can read the rest of our conversation, which focuses on the original ending and how it was reshot, over here. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits Blu-ray and DVD on April 4, 2017.
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