After working with Imperial Death Troopers for so long making Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it didn’t faze director Gareth Edwards much when he ran into a couple full-sized decorative models recently when entering a Los Angeles mall.
“I kind of looked at them like, ‘Oh, cool, Death Troopers,’ and then suddenly stopped and thought, ‘Hang on a minute, this is my film. I’m never going to be in a position where it’s such already part of popular culture,’ ” says Edwards.
The dreaded Empire hasn’t been seen on the big screen since they were upended by Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. But with Rogue One (in theaters Dec. 16) — featuring a tale that takes place before the events of the first Star Wars film in 1977 — Edwards takes the reins of George Lucas’ bad guys, including the legendary Darth Vader.
The filmmaker blends the fresh and the familiar in Rogue One, which focuses on the construction of the weaponized battle station, the Death Star, and the Rebel mission to steal its plans. Blocky-winged TIE Fighters from Lucas’ original trilogy share space with more aerodynamic TIE Strikers. And Vader looms again as an antagonistic presence alongside Director Orson Krennic, a new Imperial officer played by Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline) and the boss of the darkly colored Death Trooper squad.
Because top men in the Empire such as Grand Moff Tarkin — played in the original Star Wars by Peter Cushing — are upper-class types, Edwards recalls Mendelsohn asking if he should adopt “a very posh English accent.” But the director preferred Krennic, the man in charge of the advanced weapons research wing of the Imperial military, not be a part of that boys club.“It feels like if the Empire ever have a job vacancy, they go to the Royal Shakespeare Company to headhunt people,” Edwards says. “I like the idea that Ben’s character was much more working-class” and rose in the ranks “through sheer force of personality and ideas.”
That said, the director adds, Krennic “hits a brick wall in the hierarchy where they won’t let him in the club and it’s going to turn into a them-or-us situation: either Krennic or Tarkin and the others.”
Working with Vader, though, was on another level for Edwards. Voiced again by James Earl Jones and featuring various actors inhabiting the old battle armor and helmet, Vader is used sparingly in Rogue One yet whenever he power-walked into a scene, everybody around morphed into a 4-year-old, according to the director.
“It’s like we're at the playground again and there’s this hero sort of standing there,” Edwards says. “You end up very respectful of him: Even though you know there’s a guy inside the outfit, you still talk to him like he’s Vader.”
While filming one of Krennic’s first scenes interacting with the Sith lord, in the middle of a take Mendelsohn called Edwards over, and the director was nervous something was wrong.
“He went, ‘It’s Darth Vader. We filmed with Darth Vader,’ ” Edward says. "And I was like,‘I know. It’s amazing, isn’t it?’ It was like no one wanted to admit that they’re having a little fanboy freak-out but everyone did. It’s impossible not to. He’s so iconic.”