This article was originally published at Den of Geek UK.
NB: The following contains inevitable spoilers for Star Wars: Rogue One.
Star Wars: Rogue One is a pretty dark and intense affair. This is, after all, a movie that reveals the human cost behind the stolen plans for the Death Star – plans that formed the jumping-off point for the much breezier A New Hope. But looking back through Rogue One’s earlier trailers, there are hints here and there that Gareth Edwards’ prequel – the first in a planned series of A Star Wars Story spin-offs – might have been darker still as initially conceived.
For one thing, there appears to have been an entire sequence in which Jyn Erso and her Rebels flee across the beach on the planet Scarif, their forces hemmed in by AT-ACTs on one side and Director Krennic’s troopers on the other. Details of how Rogue One changed during its reshoots have gradually emerged since its release in December, but it may be some time before we get the full story.
But then there are some of the story details revealed in the prequel’s accompanying books, The Art of Rogue One and Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide. Now, some of these background details may have never been intended to get into the final movie; others seem so carefully designed and labored over that it’s difficult to imagine they were intended to just provide glossy images in a book. But taken together, the details below provide an idea of the darker underpinnings beneath Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One.
This leaner, more robotic strand of stormtrooper was one of many ominous threats pitted against the Rebels in Rogue One. Aside from their sinister looks, there’s that voice – a high-pitched screech of indecipherable noises. According to The Art of Rogue One, these mechanical sounds are due to a special device mounted in the troopers’ helmets, which scramble their words in order to keep their words a secret – a neat bit of world-building for a passing detail in the movie.
In the Rogue One Ultimate Visual Guide, meanwhile, it’s explained how the Death Troopers got their name. The book states that it comes from a “rumored project from the Advanced Weapons Research division, designed to animate necrotic flesh.” Elsewhere, it’s explained that the Death Troopers are human, albeit with “classified augmentations,” which sounds disturbing all by itself. So are the Death Troopers somehow related to the Empire’s experiments into turning corpses into soldiers, or is this just the Visual Guide’s passing reference to Death Troopers, the 2009 Joe Schreiber novel which featured a Star Destroyer full of zombies? Probably the latter, though the mention of “classified medical procedures” might mean that something truly horrible has happened to these elite soldiers behind closed doors.
Certainly, The Art of Rogue One suggests that Gareth Edwards originally had a slightly darker look for the Death Troopers than the design that landed on the silver screen. “He wanted to make it clear through the design, to show that the brain was gone by giving them helmets that no human could actually wear,” says concept artist Christian Alzmann. “Red lights under the dome. They’d be like Lobot from Cloud City and could be controlled.”
Jyn Erso Was a Child Soldier
This morsel of information came up briefly in the film, but the fact seems far more stark when it’s written down in a book. The young Jyn, you’ll remember, was rescued from the Empire’s clutches on the planet Lah’mu by Saw Gerrera, the Rebel extremist played by Forest Whittaker. Jyn later says that Saw abandoned her at the age of 16, to which Saw replies that Jyn was already one of his finest soldiers.
The Ultimate Visual Guide confirms that Jyn really was “a child soldier in [Saw’s] private war against the Empire,” which means that she’d spent much of her formative years wielding a blaster and possibly killing people. Yikes. There’s a fair bit of evidence, just combing through the Rogue One trailers, that Jyn’s scenes with Saw were reshot and reworked during the film’s making. From what we’ve read here, some of those reshoots could have served to soften just how violent and disturbing Jyn’s childhood was.
Flicking through the Ultimate Visual Guide, one of the most disturbing images can be found on page 74. It’s of a waitress with the top of her head missing, a flat device roughly the size and shape of a Nintendo Wii sitting where her nose and eyes should be. This, we’re told, is one of the Decraniated: a group of wounded people who’ve been cybernetically augmented by a dodgy surgeon on Jedha. This augmentation, the book adds, is also rumored to strip the subject of their personality, so the woman serving tea in Gesh’s Tapcafe is effectively a zombie.
Over the page, there’s another disturbing character named Caysin Bog, another insurgency victim patched up by that dodgy surgeon, named Roofoo. Bog is entirely headless, and his intestines appear to be held in by some kind of harness. If you’re wondering why anyone would call themselves Roofoo, the Star Wars Wiki tells us that it’s the alias assumed by a far more famous character from the Star Wars–verse: Dr Cornelius Evazan, the seedy character who cornered Luke Skywalker in A New Hope and who made a cameo appearance in Rogue One. As the Ultimate Visual Guide reveals, Evazan’s crimes on Jedha were about as nasty as you can get: he’s been using his surgical skills to make mindless workers for the local coffee shop franchise.
Were the Decraniated – and Gesh’s Tapcafe – part of a scene that was ultimately cut, either for timekeeping or because the idea of zombie waiters was simply too grim for kids? Whatever the truth is, we’ll skip the coffee and blueberry muffin, thanks.
The Vibrancy of Jedha
Even in its finished state, Rogue One gave us enough of a look at Jedha’s local color to give its destruction plenty of dramatic weight. But the Ultimate Visual Guide gives us even more detail about the lives and characters of this ancient place; there are pilgrims of different faiths and from different planets. A cute-looking droid who shares his money with young street kids so they can get something to eat. A beady-eyed bounty hunter named Nik Hepho. That all these colorful characters – and others too numerous to list here – were snuffed out by the Death Star makes Jedha’s fate feel even more depressing.
The Origins of the Death Star and the Fate of Geonosis
Rogue One shows the Death Star’s completion, but anyone who’s seen the Star Wars prequel Attack of the Clones knows that its history goes right back to the Clone Wars era. Indeed, the Visual Guide fills in some of the Death Star’s back story between Attack of the Clones and Rogue One.
The basic idea of a planet-sized battle station originated with the Separatists on the planet Geonosis, and construction began in the planet’s orbit under the watchful eye of Director Krennic and Grand Moff Tarkin. It was thanks to the scientific genius of Galen Erso that the Death Star eventually got its world-killing superlaser, powered by the kyber crystals mined at Jedha.
In the meantime, the Empire was intent on keeping the construction of the Death Star a secret. So what did it do? According to the Visual Guide, “The Imperial military sterilizes Geonosis, killing its populace of billions.”
“This genocide,” the book adds, “goes undetected for years.”
How a Tropical Planet Reveals the Empire’s Evil
Unusually, Rogue One’s final battle doesn’t end on a dreary, rain-swept planet – the film saves that for the mid-point, where Jyn is reunited with her father, Galen – but on the tropical paradise of Scarif. The Art of Rogue One reveals that this was one of Gareth Edwards’ design ideas early in the film’s production, since the contrast between the planet’s natural beauty and the Empire’s brutalist architecture subtly contains the villains’ power and reach.
“You get the feeling of the loss of paradise and the loss of the environment itself to these industrialized canyons of the Empire,” explains artist Jon McCoy. “You don’t want to see that, to see this landscape ruined. It tells you what the Empire is, what they are about…”
The Dark Mysteries of Darth Vader’s Castle: A Glimpse of the Future?
You don’t need us to tell you that some of Rogue One’s most memorable sequences involved Darth Vader – not least his Sith-powered rampage towards the end of the movie. But Rogue One also gave us a look at Vader at his castle on the planet Mustafar. Now, you might have wondered why Vader would spend his spare time on a planet that is so full of tragedy and bad memories – the place where he had a major falling out with both Padme and Obi Wan, and where he sustained the injuries that turned him from Anakin into Vader.
The Ultimate Visual Guide puts it this way: “It is by the Emperor’s design that Vader lives in such an unforgiving environment.”
As well as serving as a reintroduction to the Dark Lord of the Sith, we can’t help wondering whether there’s also a little bit of seed planting for later Star Wars films in this sequence. Late last year, concept artist Doug Chiang explained in an interview on the official Star Wars website that Vader’s castle is a kind of “tuning fork,” designed to focus dark energy for Darth’s personal use.
The Visual Guide goes on to say that the building we see in Rogue One is “a stark, modern structure built over an ancient castle full of dark secrets.”
In The Art of Rogue One, Chiang goes a step further, stating that, “We don’t see it all right now, but the idea was that Vader’s castle was built over a natural cave – a Sith cave deep down below, in the lava field.”
Oh, and the gaunt looking chap in the robe shown bowing before Vader’s rejuvenation chamber? The book gives him a name: Vaneé. We can’t help thinking that Vader’s castle – and possibly also its denizens, if there are any left – might be making a reappearance in Star Wars Episode VIII or beyond. Could this Sith cave be the hiding place of one Supreme Leader Snoke? Only time will tell…