Posted on Monday, December 19th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story did that Star Wars thing over the weekend. You know, that thing Star Wars has always done: make a crap-ton of money. And while the reaction to the movie seems to have been generally positive amongst fans and critics, one element of the film has already dredged up its fair share of controversy: the digital recreation of actors from the original trilogy.
But that is a conversation for another day. Literally. Someone on the /Film staff is already writing an article about it. Today, we’re going to talk about the other resurrection in Rogue One, the one that most people didn’t even notice. Several minor characters from the original 1977 Star Wars return via footage that was shot but never used for the first movie, only to be edited into the first standalone film nearly 40 years later.
No, they did not re-cast or digitally recreate pilots Garven Dreis (a.k.a. Red Leader) and Jon Vander (a.k.a. Gold Leader) for that final battle at the shield gate around Scarif. That is actually unused footage of actors Drewe Henley and Angus MacInnes that director Gareth Edwards discovered while touring Skywalker Ranch. As he told the Radio Times:
We went to Skywalker Ranch, and there’s the archives there. And as we’re walking around, and doing all the cool things and looking at the Millennium Falcon and trying on Han Solo’s jacket and things like that, in the back at the bottom was all these cans of film. And we said ‘what are they?’ and they said ‘Oh, it’s Star Wars.’ And you go… ‘has someone gone through all this?’ And it’s like ‘not really, they’re not fully like digitised at all.’
From there, Edwards and his team reworked the script to incorporate their unused dialogue (originally scripted for the Battle of Yavin) while ILM digitally inserted the actors into updated cockpits. The results are seamless and seem to fit right into the movie. While this functions as a wild nostalgic kick, this use of old footage also does something special: it takes the minor characters who die in the assault on the Death Star and instills them with a sense of true history. Sure, they perish in that particular fight, but they fought in, and survived, the Battle of Scarif. Rogue One has retroactively transformed them from “guys who die so Luke can rise up and save the day” to “proven and battle-hardened heroes whose demises mean a great deal because of their prior service.”
And yes, Edwards is aware that the fans noticed and that they approve:
At the world premiere in LA, there was this massive cheer at a particular point in the film. It was the only time during the premiere where I actually punched the air.
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