The difficult shoot of Star Wars: Rogue One is well-documented. But are suggestions that Tony Gilroy ‘ghost directed’ the film overstated?
By most yardsticks, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a big success when it emerged in December 2016. Reviews were positive (if you care about such things, Rotten Tomatoes gave it an aggregate score of 86 percent), and it made just over a billion at the global box office.
All the same, Rogue One’s release had something of a cloud hanging over it. Months prior, there were repeated stories about the film’s fraught production; reports that, after initial filming had completed in February 2016, Disney executives had sat and watched a rough cut and disliked what they saw. As a result, a round of reshoots was ordered, though accounts conflicted over how extensive these would be. One story suggested that as much as 40 percent of the film’s footage was to be reshot; another source said that the reworked scenes would amount to “a lot of talk in cockpits.”
Just about everyone involved admitted that some sort of changes were ongoing, though: that June, Entertainment Weekly revealed that screenwriter Tony Gilroy had been brought onto the production to rewrite certain scenes and serve as a second unit director on any reshoots. The trailers, meanwhile, provided a clue to some of the changes happening behind the scenes. From one Rogue One trailer to the next, dialogue, action sequences, and even hair styles were markedly different.
By the time Rogue One had its premiere in late 2016 – and despite Edwards being named as director on the credits – the question of exactly who was responsible for the film’s success had become muddled. Some gossipy reports suggested that Disney was “in a panic” about Rogue One during production, and that the film had “fallen short” of what had been expected of it after the success of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.
Edwards maintained a dignified silence in promotional interviews. Tony Gilroy, on the other hand, was much more vocal about what went on during Rogue One’s making in the years that followed.
In a widely-shared 2018 interview on The Moment With Brian Koppelman podcast, Gilroy described the troubled production as “a swamp.”
“They were in so much terrible, terrible trouble that all you could do was improve their position,” Gilroy said, suggesting that the main sticking point between the filmmakers and Disney executives was the film’s ending. “If you look at Rogue […] all the confusion of it […] and all the mess, and in the end when you get in there, it’s actually very, very simple to solve. Because you sort of go, ‘This is a movie where, folks, just look. Everyone is going to die.’ So it’s a movie about sacrifice.”
Elsewhere, Gilroy added that, “I have a screenplay credit in the arbitration that was easily won.”
Although nobody at Disney and Lucasfilm formally explained exactly who was responsible for what, the sentiment that Gilroy had ‘saved’ Rogue One was a pervasive one, bolstered by stories that Gilroy had been given “north of $5 million” for his work on the film. The Hollywood Reporter’s somewhat bruising aside in one 2018 news story sums up the general thinking:
“Gilroy ultimately was paid millions for his work, and many consider him the film’s ghost director.”
How true is that, though? Is it correct to assume that Tony Gilroy essentially took control of the film when he was brought in, or is the reality more nuanced? It may have taken the best part of seven years, but Edwards finally weighed in with his own thoughts on the matter in a September 2023 interview with the Californian radio station, KCRW.
“The stuff that’s out there on the internet about what happened on that film… there’s so much inaccuracy about the whole thing,” Edwards said. “Tony [Gilroy] came in and he did a lot of great work for sure, no doubt about it. But we all worked together till the entire last minute of that movie… It’s always a team effort making a movie, especially a big, giant movie like that.”
Edwards elsewhere pointed to one of the sequences that was added late in Rogue One’s shoot – the intense moment where Darth Vader rampages through a Rebel ship, Lightsaber drawn. “The very last thing that we filmed in the pickup shoot was the Darth Vader corridor scene,” he said. “I did all of that stuff.”
Edwards said these words as part of his promotional trail for The Creator, his first film since Rogue One all those years ago. And perhaps the most telling thing about The Creator is just how much it looks like Rogue One – not just in terms of the way it’s shot, but the tone of its story and its production design.
One sequence, in particular, looks so similar to Rogue One that it could almost be interpreted as an easter egg:
What’s also noteworthy about The Creator and Rogue One is that, although they both featured work from the same cinematographer, Grieg Fraser (though Oren Soffer later took over on The Creator when Fraser was called away to make Dune 2), Edwards was equally hands-on during the filming of both movies. Where some directors of expensive mainstream films will happily sit in a tent, remotely watching footage being shot on a monitor, Edwards often operated the camera himself during the filming of both Rogue One and The Creator. Rogue One’s making-of documentary repeatedly shows Edwards on-set, filming various scenes; one of the discs on Rogue One’s Blu-ray release even has printed on its face a photograph of Edwards, camera on shoulder.
Irrespective of how much Gilroy rewrote or added to Rogue One, it’s fair to say that Edwards’ filmmaking stamp remains all over the film. It’s something that The Creator makes plain: as rag-tag freedom fighters battle the might of gigantic war machines, the stylistic parallels between it and Edwards’ Star Wars film are easy to see. The Creator could even be seen as a gentle rebuttal, of sorts, to those who’ve suggested that Edwards’ work on Rogue One was somehow diluted by reshoots or the suggestions of nervous Disney executives.
It’s also telling that, although Tony Gilroy continued working with Lucasfilm, having signed on as the showrunner, writer and executive producer of Andor – essentially a prequel to Rogue One, which is itself a prequel to A New Hope – it retains the same gritty visual style that Edwards (and Grieg Fraser) brought to their Star Wars movie.
Back in 2014, Edwards already seemed slightly exhausted following the experience of making his first big-budget studio film, Godzilla (“I’m gonna need a bit more [healing] cream before I go back to Hollywood,” he told me at the time). Having made The Creator on a relatively lean budget, without a vast studio weighing down on him, he recently told Comicbook.com that, although he’d consider making another franchise movie like Rogue One, it would have to be on his terms.
“There are things I would still love to do in that arena,” he said, “but I would only want to do them if I can use this methodology and bring a stamp to it… it’s like trying to escape the factory. If someone was willing to say, ‘Here’s the franchise, but go off and do it how you do things’ – that would be the best-case scenario, I reckon.”
— Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:
Buy our Film Stories and Film Junior print magazines here.
Become a Patron here.