When Gareth Edwards landed the gig of directing ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ it was a childhood dream come true. The man behind smart action flicks ‘Monsters’ and ‘Godzilla’ grew up obsessed with the galaxy far, far away. His girlfriend even took him to the exact place in Tunisia where the desert scenes in ‘Star Wars’ were filmed for his thirtieth birthday.
Unless you’ve been living on the swamp planet of Dagobah for the last year, you’ll know that ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ is the first in a series of spin-offs. A direct prequel to the 1977 original, it follows a ragtag of rebel soldiers, led by Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso, as they plunge into the dark heart of the evil Empire on a mission to steal the secret plans for the Death Star.
Ahead of its release on Friday, Edwards explains how ‘Star Wars’ made him the man he is today…
‘When I was a kid, my parents came home one day with a Betamax player. My neighbours had a tape of “Star Wars” so I went round and begged them to let me borrow it. I got about 20 minutes in and my Mum called me to have dinner. I remember eating faster than I’ve ever eaten, thinking: I know what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. And it wasn’t being a filmmaker, it was watching “Star Wars” over and over and over until the day I die. I never returned the tape!’
‘I had Star Wars pyjamas and Star Wars bedsheets. I’d make terrain out of them, mountains and things, and fly the spaceships through them. My favourite figures were the Tusken Raiders, the Sandpeople. They had these cool plastic cloaks that’d get weirdly deformed if you tried to tear them. I made that mistake.’
‘My fantasy was to live where Luke lived, to have that childhood. So for my thirtieth birthday, my girlfriend took me to Tunisia where they shot “Star Wars”. I woke up on my birthday in the hotel where Luke Skywalker grew up, then I watched the sun set over the salt flats like he does. She said: “You’re never going to beat this for your fortieth. You’ve peaked." But on my fortieth I was shooting “Rogue One”. I’m a bit screwed for my fiftieth now. I’ll have to go into space.’
‘I didn’t want “Rogue One” to feel like an easy, popcorn blockbuster, all glossy and false. We wanted a real wartime feeling, so we got books of photography from Vietnam and the Gulf War and Photoshopped rebel helmets over the soldiers, put X-wings and stormtroopers in the background. It was really effective.’
‘“The Empire Strikes Back” is the film that most inspired “Rogue One”. Specifically the trench sequence in the snow as the AT-ATs are approaching. What’s crazy about that scene is that it’s barely a couple of minutes long. In my mind it lasted half the movie. So for this film, I thought, let’s have more of that! I also looked at the third act of “Return of the Jedi”: guerrilla warfare on the ground, an epic battle up in space and Luke confronting Darth and the Emperor in this very Shakespearian climax. I love the way they cut between all three and crank up the tension.’
‘“Rogue One” is a period piece, it has to connect to the original “Star Wars”. But trying to come up with something that feels new but still part of that world is difficult. You’re on this really narrow path, if you go too much one way it’s some other science fiction movie like “Star Trek” or “Flash Gordon”, it doesn’t feel right. And if you go too much the other way you’re just copying George Lucas.’
‘We all wanted to make something real and authentic and beautiful. All of us, cast and crew, have been involved in independent films, then we’d all done a blockbuster or two. I didn’t want the actors to have to hit marks, I wanted them to be able to improvise. We’d shoot for an hour inside the spaceships without stopping, we’d be all hot and sweaty. The emotional state of the actors was pretty much what the characters were feeling. And I think the performances reflect that. There’s some really soulful, subtle stuff in there.’
‘One of my big fears was not being able to watch "Star Wars" again and get the same feeling. But actually, making “Rogue One” hasn’t ruined it for me at all. Though now, if I see a stormtrooper I no longer run up and have my photo taken. It just feels like I’m in the office again.’
‘I don’t have children, but if I did a big moment would be showing them “Star Wars”. And it’s going to be strange now, because I’d be thinking: Well, there’s another film before this that Dad made! But I’d still show them “Star Wars” first. Because it’s such a life changing experience. It changed my life. It made my life, really.’
'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' is in UK cinemas December 15.