Posted on Wednesday, December 21st, 2016 by Peter Sciretta
Disney has released a bunch of books in connection with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which give us some insight into John Knoll‘s original pitch for the movie and Gary Whitta‘s original screenplay, as well as how the story evolved under Chris Weitz. I’m always very interested in the evolution of the creative process on this scale, and learning what might have been.
We’ve already delved into the missing trailer footage to try to deconstruct what may have been reshot, now join me as we look at the original ideas for Rogue One, from pitch to shoot:
- Discover the original title for Rogue One.
- Find out which character was originally written to be a Jedi.
- Learn which character was originally created for J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Hit the jump to find out what I learned.
I have read two of the new Rogue One books: The Art of Rogue One and Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide. Both of the books offer a fantastic deeper dive into the world of Gareth Edwards‘ Star Wars standalone movie. The Art Of hardcover is particularly facinating from a development perspective.
The Project Was Originally Titled “Destroyer of Worlds”
ILM executive John Knoll’s initial pitch for this Star Wars standalone story was a seven-page treatment titled “Destroyer of Worlds,” which was a few pages of story and alongside some character biographies. Knoll pitched the idea to Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm senior vice president of development Kiri Hart in May 2013 and they greenlit it in the room. Gareth Edwards wasn’t officially announced as director until a year later.
The Original Pitch Was a Smaller-Budget Heist Movie
John Knoll initially envisioned the film as a heist movie, Mission: Impossible meets The Hunt for Red October. He cut together a sizzle reel for reference and inspiration, relaying the tone he envisioned for the film, which concept artist Ryan Church described as “very militaristic, streamlined, and self-contained” with “limited characters.”
Initially, Knoll believed the film could be shot much more cheaply than the Skywalker saga episodes. Church called it “really low-budget,” and Knoll’s pitch initially called to reuse sets from Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be more economical.
Within months of the initial pitch, a concept art department was set up under Knoll, without a director or screenwriter, to explore blue-sky ideas of what the film could be. One piece of concept art titled “Computer Theft version 2” by Christian Alzmann (seen above) shows a large alien creature lugging a huge 5-foot by 3-foot computer through an Imperial hallway as Stormtroopers shoot from behind with blasters.
The Original Rebels Team Looked Much Different
The initial team of Rebels in this version was much smaller, with the characters themselves inspired by the capers, commando intelligence procedurals, and detective dramas John grew up with. The initial team consisted of “rebel commando Jyn Erso, rebel pilot Ria Talla, protocol droid K-2SO, and team members Dray Nevis and Jerris Kestal, along with aliens Lunak and Senna.”
Senna was a massive Chewie-type but even bigger than that. Lunak was a small alien creature who could “skitter into an air duct, almost like a little thief.” I kind of wish they were able to keep the alien characters as they would have added something interesting to the mix.
Krennic Was Originally an Imperial Spy in the Rebel Alliance
Krennic was originally an Imperial spy embedded within the team who would “covertly report back to an Imperial security bureau intelligence officer always at their heels.” That intelligence operator named Williz Cree and he eventually became the character Krennic is in the final film. (More on that below.)
Krennic’s early designs were based on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it character from A New Hope. There was a character sitting alongside Tarkin with a fine mustache and slicked-back hair and a white tunic. The early designs for the character adopted this look, but they added a black cape for good measure. Krennic eventually became an entirely different character than the man seen briefly in A New Hope.
Gareth Edwards Made Jyn the Main Character in This Ensemble Story
When director Gareth Edwards and screenwriter Gary Whitta came on board in May 2014, the project shifted from a lean ensemble heist movie to a kinetically-shot war movie with a big character journey. Some elements were retained but completely reconfigured. Krennic and Williz swapped names, Lunak and Senna were removed completely (later to be replaced with the Jedha duo), and K-2SO was retained but the black RA-7 droid evolved into something different.
Originally the emotional moments were more spread out throughout the team, but Gareth was more interested in telling the story from one point of view with her emotional journey at the core. So Jyn was upgraded from team leader to the main character and emotional core of the story. The question was: why would she be on this mission? What was driving her?
The idea was to make her stakes very personal. In early versions of the script, Jyn was given a mother who was in hiding from the Empire and a young brother she had to protect. Her father Galen was always intended to be the one responsible for designing a key component of the Death Star.
Death Troopers Were Originally Cyborgs
The early designs for the Death Troopers were based on the idea they could maybe develop a Stormtrooper that was in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, a middle version between a soldier and a droid. Krennic’s unit would be a mix of organic and mechanical with a helmet design that would make it clear that no human head was underneath. In the end, they decided to go with something more traditional looking, but taller and skinnier than traditional Stormtroopers.
The Ultimate Visual Guide notes that the Death Troopers “stem from a rumored project from Advanced Weapons Research division, designed to animate necrotic flesh” but “the troopers do not appear to be derived from this scheme.”
Jyn’s Mother Was Originally a Jedi
While the finished film has no Jedi, for a long time during development, Rogue One had Jedi around, even if they were only in the background.
Why was Jyn’s mother hiding from the Empire? Because she was originally written to be a Jedi. When screenwriter Chris Weitz came on board the project, they decided it would be more interesting to have a story without Force powers and instead explore a time of “broken faith, a galaxy without hope,” and normal people “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.” They wanted to show the absence of the Force through the planet and city of Jedha, as well as the former Guardians of the Whills.