Rogue One A Star Wars Story - Scarif battle

There’s a tiny moment I loved in the footage, where we see this Stormtrooper on board a prison transport vehicle. His armor is covered in dirty and his body language just suggests that he’s exhausted. It’s so fascinating to see familiar iconography so humanized. 

There’s a shot that didn’t make the film. One of my favorites was when we were shooting in the rain and we had Stormtroopers and one of the actors was just tired. He sat down out his outlook post and was just slumped with his head down, like “I can’t take this anymore. I’m just exhausted.” It looked amazing. And we said “Don’t tell him! Don’t grab him! Don’t say anything!” We had to get the camera up there. We had a camera on a crane and I tried to get this shot of him without him knowing, while he was just contemplating, like he was lonely in the middle of all this craziness. We got some really great images, but as we put that sequence together, we just couldn’t put it in. That’s the frustration with Star Wars. There are so many good options available to you that are symbolic or just, as a fan, you’d love to see, but they can’t make the cut. The film’s two hours long and you’re telling a particular story and it’s just as much about letting things go as anything else.

You’ve talked a lot about photography from World War II and Vietnam helped inspire the look and feel of the film. One of the things that stood out to me while watching the footage was was how the Rebellion scenes feel like something out of a French Resistance movie, like a sci-fi Army of Shadows. It’s not just about blaster battles, but about hard decisions made in dark alleys. Did any particular movie help inspire this tone?

Yeah, things like The Battle of Algiers. World War II was a massive influence on the movie in general and in that particular area. The visual parallel between the Imperial officers and the Nazis is quite clear in the original films. [The Imperial-occupied moon of Jedha] became a mixture of different things and it was, to some extent, occupied Paris as well, with people just trying to go about their lives with this force that’s taken over [their home]. I think, to get the story right…you can get easily distracted by spaceships and robots. So what we would do was we would take all of the science fiction out of it and we would try to tell the story to one another as if it was World War II. Who would this person be? What are they trying to do? We did it as an experiment and it worked really well. Obviously, the Death Star becomes like the nuclear bomb, the race to be the first to have a super-weapon.

And Galen, who is Mads Mikkelsen’s character, got born out of that kind of conversation. There is a genius in the real world named Robert Oppenheimer who was responsible for developing the nuclear bomb. Later in life, he had real regrets about that and talked openly against them. That grayness I find incredibly interesting. Someone is trying to do the right thing, trying to be good, genuinely trying to end a war, and then it turns out they might have done something terrible and then trying to put something right again. That gray of the bad guys thinking they’re doing good things and the good guys accidentally doing bad things and life being more sophisticated than just good versus evil. This film is full of that grayness. Hopefully it doesn’t preach, but it’s definitely…nobody comes out of this movie clean. Everyone has a price they’ve paid to achieve their goal.

I’m glad you brought up Jedha. The action scene we saw that takes place there was the first Star Wars action scene that i’d describe as being genuinely scary. It often resembles a modern conflict in its visuals and it’s intentionally messy. The Rebel forces are depicted as insurgents. Is it hard to make this kind of relentless action also fun to watch?

When we were storyboarding, we got real war photography, gave it to the storyboard artists and said, “Do the Star Wars version of this shot.” So they would delete everyone and re-draw it like it was in Jedha. There was a load of great stuff that came from that, like people looking through windows and rooftops while tanks are going by and they’re waiting to do an ambush. And the civilians, the fact that people are going about their daily lives…we had a child in that one sequence. It felt like, when we passed through Jedha, it was important that it’s not a clean-cut thing. [Forest Whitaker’s] Saw Gerrera, in our movie, represents the extreme end of the rebellion. He’s someone that’s gone so far to be good that he’s gone right to the edge of what’s acceptable to achieve good that he’s nearly become the enemy himself and nearly doing the things that he’s accusing his enemies of doing.

We wanted [Felicity Jones’] Jyn in the middle of this spectrum of difficult decisions. We have bad people doing good things, good people doing bad things. Which path are you going to choose? What are you going to do with your life? In the world we live in today, especially with the global media and the internet, we see a lot more perspectives. You get more opinions from other countries and you can see that the problems we have are not clear cut. If there’s a story, if there’s a moral at the heart of Star Wars, it’s that we have to come together and work together to something good. When you work on your own, when you write off a particular culture, you’re never going to stop anything. In good science fiction, that shouldn’t be the surface layer. It’s life lessons that kids should carry, but they’re attracted to Star Wars because of explosions and robots and spaceships. I don’t think we’re doing our job if, at the core of it, there’s not a good moral life lesson for kids. I grew up with Star Wars and I think I leaned on it a lot more than I’ve given it credit for [for learning to] believe in myself and not giving up and trusting my instincts.

There’s a lot of fun and humor in it as well! I got very serious there.

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Rogue One is in theaters December 16.

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