After months of waiting Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is finally in cinemas with critics widely praising the Star Wars spin-off. However, as eagle-eyed fans have pointed out, numerous scenes from the trailers are missing from the final film. In a phone interview with The Independent, one of the film’s editors, John Gilroy — who previously worked on Pacific Rim, Nightcrawler, and Suicide Squad — spoke about those infamous reshoots. Along with confirming “a lot of the movie changed”, Gilroy talked about looking through the dailies from A New Hope, working on Suicide Squad, and whether fan reactions’ to trailers effects on the final film.
Q Were you a Star Wars fan beforehand?
Of course, I’ve always loved the Star Wars movies but not a fan the way I know there are fans. I wanted to make a movie that would please those people and people uninitiated to Star Wars.
Q Was there a sense of responsibility making this, knowing it was the first Star Wars spin-off?
Sure, I know there was a lot riding on the movie and they were branching out. Other films following this one. It was really important this one turned out well. It may have made me work a little harder, if not faster.
Q The film feels different to other Star Wars film, particularly the beginning with the planet hoping and name tags. Was there ever a worry this could be too different to the main saga, that maybe you had made it too unlike Star Wars?
I think all the filmmakers were gauging that, asking themselves that question all the way down the line. Naming the planets became very helpful to us. We didn’t have that opening crawl and we did have to bounce around these planets at the beginning to really set up this story. The title card was a new thing for Star Wars but was also very helpful. We decided it was a good change and what we wanted for the film. We wanted to keep it Star Wars faithful but also pressing the envelope of what we wanted a Star Wars movie to be.
Q I was reading how you watched the dailies from A New Hope. When you were watching those, were there any surprises or highlights from what you saw?
For my part, I was very much focussed — in terms of A New Hope Dailies — on the pilot footage: the Red Leader and Gold Leader. There were ideas about ‘Can we get them into our movie? Can we get them into the battle?’ Certainly — in the timeline — it was possible they would be part of that battle. It’s always very interesting to see dailies from a movie 40 years old. You watch the little mistakes, all the coaching, the directing, hearing George [Lucas] in the background.
Q Was it very different the way George was directing his crew and the way Gareth Edwards directed his?
No, not really. For that bit, you have an actor sitting in a fake cockpit. They have to pretend everything. “Now something’s coming from your right. Now you’re banking left.” It’s all pretty mechanical but it’s very interesting. I guess, in that sense, they were very similar. It’s a very artificial situation.
Q How did editing Gareth’s footage compare to working on other films? He’s very hand on, apparently.
I was given some free range to do things. I came on and helped shape a few things, to try some things, and I did. We had reshoots. In terms of being hands-on, I would say it was about normal for directors.
Q You mentioned reshoots. How much input did you have with those?
I came on a little bit later than the other two editors. When I came on, there was a plan, so we did some photography. I was very much set on the movie that you see. There have been other incarnations of the movie, with different scenes that were not used, but I didn’t think about them that much. I was thinking about the movie that we had to make.
Q In some of the trailers, there’s some very different footage.
They were trying different things, obviously, as they went along.
Q There was one where Jyn was holding the Death Star plans and running through what looks like a London tube. Was there another ending in sight at the beginning?
I’ve said we definitely changed things at the beginning, added scenes developing those characters, and that has a ripple effect through the whole movie. So, I know people have been watching and clocking the deleted scenes and saying, “I wonder how that fit in?” but I was mostly concerned with the movie you saw. I was there to put that movie together.
Q What were the other films that influenced you when working on Rogue One?
I don’t bring in any preconceived idea. I’m a firm believer that the film tells you what to do and you have to be a very good listener when you’re a film editor. I’m a conduit, I let the movie tell me what to do.
Q You worked on Suicide Squad earlier in the year. Because these two films feel very similar, in that both feature teams of strangers teaming up to do good. Did you see similarities between the two?
Suicide Squad had a Dirty Dozen sort of aspect to it, taking these misfits and putting them in a group. It’s funny, when I was putting Rogue One together I didn’t even think about that connection. But I can see how one would make that connection. There is some similarity.
Q It’s interesting that both those films had a lot of talk of reshoots and deleted scenes from the trailers.
A lot of things happened on Suicide Squad too. I’m not going to go into all that, but sometimes on these very big features, there’s a lot at stake. And when there’s a lot at stake, you need to get it right. Filmmakers need to feel they’re getting it right. So, people sometimes change their mind. People add different ideas and I guess you can say that about both these films.
Q Working on the CGI Tarkin and Leia, you must watch the actors and choose the scenes before the CGI is placed on.
With Tarkin, we had an actor playing him — Guy Henry — who is really acting. Then ILM’s task is to replace him with Governor Tarkin. We’re cutting and they’re doing their work and we’re trying not to make too many changes because every time I make a change I make a lot of work for people over there. Every frame has to be lavished on, every frame has to be right.
Q Were there any Star Wars tropes, like using the wipes, that you in particular wanted to put in the film?
The wipes were part of the film during its early inception. But we wanted to keep it original. We realised we really didn’t need them. And once you remove something you realise you don’t need, it fell away. We tried, gave them their run, and then they fell away. But the movie played better without them.