Next to last year’s three-block Star Wars: The Force Awakens world premiere which boasted over 5,400 attendees across three theaters, last night’s premiere of Disney’s franchise spinoff Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was indeed smaller, relegated to the Pantages Theatre Hollywood & Vine block.
That said, opulence was not spared on this spinoff prequel which is set to take the world by storm with an opening north of $280M this week.
C’mon – how often does a full-size X-Wing fighter takeover Hollywood Boulevard? And that wasn’t all: There was a full size TIE Fighter hanging out in the blow-up tent in the parking lot adjacent to the Avalon Theater. Getting these spaceships out of town is resulting in road closures until Tuesday at 6AM. It gives you an idea how we’re witnessing the fully armed and operational power of Rogue One‘s premiere battle station.
Last year’s Force Awakens premiere marked a 10-year revitalization, a Disney celebration of their $4B acquisition of Lucasfilm. It was literally akin to the Academy Awards with everyone but President Obama showing up.
Rogue was certainly big by Hollywood standards, but there was a difference between this year and last year, with more grandeur arguably heaped on an Episode movie, versus this stand-alone spinoff. Last night there weren’t any big speeches before the film by any of the pics’ producers or the film’s director Gareth Edwards. The celeb quotient was also pared down: The only legacy Star Wars actors in attendance were Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and none of The Force Awakens castmembers were there. But last night wasn’t about the Episode VII guys, it was about this new cast who showed up in full force: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, and Riz Ahmed.
And in case you were wondering what the reception was to this ambitious standalone Star Wars movie: The Pantages erupted in deafening cheers as the end credits hit, with rolling screams as each actor’s name came up. Without giving any specific details about the prequel away, “This is a fan movie made with all the toys at our disposal,” said Rogue One co-scribe Chris Weitz succinctly describing the movie, “We saw Star Wars when we were children and that’s where we’re coming from.” For anyone who played with Star Wars action figures as a kid, the movie truly is bliss.
Rogue One takes place moments before the onset of the 1977 movie and focuses on the ragtag group of rebels who steal the Death Star plans which are ultimately uploaded onto R2-D2 by Princess Leia. VFX guru John Knoll, whose credits include the 1997 releases and the prequels, initially pitched the idea for Rogue One ten years ago, and pitched it again following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. Knoll serves as EP on Rogue One. Gary Whitta began cracking the script followed by Chris Weitz who took the screenplay up to production, then handed it off to Tony Gilroy (Christopher McQuarrie’s fingerprints are apparently on the script too, though he is not credited). Gilroy worked on dialogue and reshoots over the summer.
Why go prequel and not character spinoff? Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn says that Rogue One “just came together”. Sure they could have put the Han Solo standalone first, “but we liked the space between Force Awakens when Han Solo dies, and the origins story. This felt like a good thing to slip in; filling the gap between the third and fourth chapters.”
Coming away from last night, it’s clear Disney has another hit on their hands after Episode VII last year made over $2B worldwide, the third highest movie ever at that level and the best stateside with $923M. Not to mention, with their brands, Disney continually churns out smart franchise movies that appeal both to fans and critics. Furthermore, when you’re dealing with such in-demand movies, you can’t test them around the nation if there’s a need to fix any quirks. Not in this social era when you’re trying to keep a lid on any surprises.
Horn credits Disney’s B.O. streak with its brands to “great filmmakers” and in the case of Star Wars, Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy. Rumors surfaced over the summer that there were reshoots on Rogue One. Explains Horn, “We did four or five cuts of this movie. We look for heart and humor and we look for consistent storylines and characters you can relate to. It’s also important to have diversity. We know we need to have size and scope or else the audience won’t say ‘I have to see it now and I have to see it a good theater.'” In regards to any significant additions to Rogue One since the summer, Horn said “We added humor where it didn’t exist as much before” with the studio chief giving full props to Alan Tudyk’s sarcastic Imperial droid K-2SO, a hunk of metal who gives Han Solo a run for his money when it comes to gab.
Stats have proved that tentpoles with diverse casts have delivered at the B.O., read Force Awakens ($2B), Furious 7 ($1.5B), Suicide Squad ($745.6M); the list goes on.
Next Christmas at this time, we’ll get Star Wars: Episode VIII and 2017 will mark the 40th anniversary of Star Wars. The Han Solo move goes into production next year for release during Memorial Day weekend 2018. 20th Century Fox’s Avatar sequel is slotted for Dec. 21, 2018, with sequels following in 2020, 2022, and 2023. Currently, Episode IX hasn’t RSVP’ed a date on the release calendar.
The writers’ m.o. per Weitz was to “figure Rogue One out as a fairy tale, which is what Star Wars really is; find the emotional logic behind that and the plot will follow.” A standard motif in Star Wars is the abandonment of children, or the separation of parents from their children: We see that with Luke and Leia post Revenge of the Sith, with Rey in Force Awakens, and from the Rogue One trailers it’s indicated that Jones’ Jyn Erso is separated from her Imperial engineer dad Galen Erso.
“That’s a classic fairy tale motif,” explained Weitz, “the dead or missing parents. The dual storyline in the movie with Jyn Ero was strong enough to hang space off of.”
In addition to Jones’ fierce Erso, Ben Mendelsohn joins James Earl Jones and Adam Driver (in Force Awakens) as one of those who can sublimely play a Star Wars baddie to complex levels. Mendelsohn’s Imperial commander – Death Star champion Orson Krennic – can’t get any respect. Mendelsohn said he largely left the humor out his performance, and to Tudyk’s K-2SO. “When you take on this type of perdition (in the character), you’re talking about a guy who is true believer (in the cause). The Empire is a tough office,” says the actor about Krennic. In the movie Mendelsohn’s Krennic gets to work opposite an old Star Wars character we haven’t seen in a while (can’t spoil who that is), and as far as the actor who plays him, Mendelsohn says about his peer, “He had the same body posture as the character, studied him and played him very well.”
Of the few notables outside the Star Wars universe who beamed in last night were Michael Douglas, Christian Bale, Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith, Chris Hardwick, Nathan Fillion, Terry Crews, Constance Zimmer, and Rainn Wilson. Star Wars creator George Lucas, unlike last year, was a no-show as well as Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams (who was actually listed to attend). Similar to last year’s after-party, attendees got the chance to take photos with Darth Vader and the new types of Rogue One stormtroopers, assemble Star Wars ships out of origami and play a round of the Star Wars Battlefront video game. Also attending were Walt Disney chairman/CEO Bob Iger, Disney domestic distribution chief Dave Hollis, Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, Lucasfilm chief and Rogue One producer Kathleen Kennedy, producers Allison Shearmur, Simon Emanuel, EPs Kiri Hart, John Knoll, Jason McGatlin and Rogue One composer Michael Giacchino.