As some are no doubt aware, there’s something interesting brewing over at Lucasfilm, on the production of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The film, to be released this Christmas, tells the story of how the stolen plans for the Death Star found their way into the hands of Princess Leia Organa aboard her blockade runner in the first scene of A New Hope. The film had a great first trailer and many people are excited to see this gritty, different take on a classic Star Wars story, the first entry into the “off year” Star Wars films in the new series, falling between the huge landmarks of official episodes VII, VIII and IX. But apparently, all is not well behind the scenes as the film enters what should have been a steadily paced post-production and promotional period.
The scuttlebutt, in a nutshell, is this: Disney wasn’t happy with the first cut of the film. British director Gareth Edwards, who previously invested Godzilla with a bold, dark vision, delivered a film that was apparently too dark for Disney’s taste. Initial reports suggested a few re-shoots here and there, which is commonplace on big films, especially those that contain a lot of special effects, was the only remedy recommended. But now we’re learning that at least 40-50% of the film is going to be re-shot, and Edwards has been fired. Veteran screenwriter and director Tony Gilroy is now in London re-writing the script and planning the extensive re-shoots while the sets are being re-built.
Of course, all big films have re-shoots and inserts, but to switch directors and re-write the script halfway through… does not inspire confidence. One thinks of films like The Island of Doctor Moreau, or Supernova, films that were butchered beyond comprehension in post-production by a succession of directors, re-writes and re-shoots. It’s a bit surprising that Disney didn’t just take the Exorcist: The Beginning approach and just start all over again, because at least in that case we got Dominion, an intriguing (if imperfect) Paul Schrader film. In any case, it’s hard to read this sequence of events as anything other than a symptom of serious creative differences.
Let’s give Disney the credit it deserves: they know their audience, and their market. What they’ve been doing with Marvel is evidence enough of that. And let’s give our much maligned Uncle George his due as well: Star Wars is, on some level, a series for children. It’s one of the best examples of how family entertainment can appeal to everyone and not lose its edge (Pixar films also have this quality). But that is a very fine line to ride. Under Lucas, the prequels went too dark or too light — there was no in between. It’s entirely possible that Edwards made a great Star Wars film, but one that simply doesn’t fit with the rest of the franchise that Disney is building. Gone are the days when Tim Burton can make a film as sick and twisted as Batman Returns and Warner still makes toys from its characters and gives the film its own McDonald’s happy meal. Disney knows that the tone is very important if they’re going to maintain cinematic credibility while also selling toys at the Disney Store to the kids. Edwards clearly didn’t deliver what they wanted. So, back to the factory we go, for a refit.
The burning question is whether all of this will make Rogue One a better film. It will certainly make it a different film than originally conceived, and given the power imperatives of the film industry, it’s doubtful that a general audience will ever see Edwards’ rough cut (alas). So, that’s a question that may never be answered. All we’ll have is what Disney shows us this Christmas, which, of course, could still be very, very enjoyable.