If you watched the new Rogue One: A Star Wars Story footage, you probably thought, "This movie looks so different from other Star Wars film." You are correct. We spoke with the film's director, Gareth Edwards, and he talked about shooting the film in a way that seems radical for a world like Star Wars. Many of the action scenes in the trailer and new footage are in a sort of desert marketplace called Jedha, and it's a location that's extremely important to the film.
"We went to Jordan to film and we built this set in Pinewood that was 360 degrees so you could kind of look wherever you wanted," Edwards began. "Normally on a set the extras are told, 'OK on action you walk over there and on cut you stop.' We said, 'OK for the next hour you're cooking food, or you're doing this car thing,' and the crew were wearing costumes so if the cameras turned around on them, they wouldn't be in the shot."
Edwards shot many of the scenes in Rogue One in this incredibly organic, realistic way.
"We tried to keep it all flowing and the actors were given the freedom to go where they wanted and do the scene in a way that felt right," Edwards continued. "So there's a lot of freedom and it had this organic, different vibe to it than you associate sometimes with Star Wars, and so that felt really exciting. As a fan, I wanted to go to these places. It's gotta feel right, that's what was a massive learning experience."
Edwards felt, by shooting his film in this way, he was paying tribute to the legacy of the franchise by doing something new.
"There's such a fine line in Star Wars, if you go just slightly to the left it's not Star Wars, it's another sci-fi movie that doesn't feel right. And if you go slightly to the right, you're just copying what George did. So trying to navigate this thing where it's new but feels fresh was like the dance that was the process of making the film."
The style extended to the other side too. If the Rebels on Jedha were shot very realistically, the Empire got the opposite treatment. They were going to be shot in a more static, traditional Star Wars way to differentiate between the two sides of the conflict.
"Initially there was the feeling that Rebels will be this one thing and then the Empire will be this other thing," Edwards explained. "But as we got going we started mixing it all and it felt a lot better. I was really pleased with the vibe of the film in that it changes gears between those classical — what feels like the language of Star Wars — into something a bit more contemporary and back again. And you're not jarred by it. The way I used to try to justify it was that this is a real historical event and George [Lucas] is on Tatooine with his camera crew, we're on our planets with our camera crew, and there's filmmakers on other planets with their camera crews. We're not going to see those movies for a while, but everyone's making just making their movies and they will all have their own little style and voice."
One part of Edwards' voice that will come through in Rogue One has a spiritual element. Jedha is named that for a reason. It has a connection with Jedi, a group that — hypothetically — doesn't exist at this point in the story. The Empire thinks they're mostly gone. That gave Edwards a unique opportunity.
"The era our film is set in theory doesn't have any Jedi. But the idea of having Star Wars film that doesn't talk about the Force [just didn't feel right]," Edwards said. "If you look at what George was great at, we got a story about one thing, [but] he's implying a million other things in the background. Ideas that are much wider. And obviously our film is using that and telling a story within it. But for me it's like, if A New Hope is the story of Jesus or something, there must be a whole religion beyond that. And it felt like, 'for a thousand generations' Jedis were the leaders of this spiritual belief system, there's gotta be like the equivalent of Mecca or Jerusalem within the Star Wars world."
And that world will play a big role in setting up the story and characters of Rogue One.
"It felt very contemporary to have a situation where the Empire were imposing themselves on what means a lot to the spiritual side of Star Wars for their own reasons, their own goals. And within that area there's a resistance that's building and trying to fight back, but our characters end up having to go to Jedha and they basically end up getting pulled into their story a bit."