Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a breath of fresh air into the somewhat stale Star Wars franchise, especially after the painfully derivative, completely uninspired, by-the-numbers The Force Awakens. New characters took center stage, including yet another female protagonist, and with some support from some legacy characters including Darth Vader and CGI versions of Grand Moff Tarkin and a young Princess Leia; and it turned out to be for most fans, a very satisfying film.
At the helm of this epic film was a little known director by the name of Gareth Edwards.
So who is this Gareth Edwards we speak of? How did he make the jump into hyperspace and become part of the Star Wars universe as well as reboot one of the most popular monster film franchises of all time (read Godzilla)?
Gareth Edwards 101
Gareth Edwards was a Star Wars fan from the get-go. In fact, in an interview, he shared the story of seeing Star Wars for the first time and wanting to join the Rebel Alliance. Unfortunately, according to him, he learned that the Rebel Alliance was a “lie” but become hooked on filmmaking and decided it was going to be his career path.
The directors he considered to be his major influences were George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Quentin Tarantino. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham in 1986, and would later receive an honorary Master’s degree from the same university.
From there, he moved into visual effects and his work showed up in various programs that eventually showed up on the Discovery Channel and BBC. During that time, he made the leap doing visual effects; he admits that the first directing gig was for a TV episode on a TV series that hardly anyone watched and had a budget under $90,000.
In 2008, he took part in the 48 Hour Film Festival, and as luck would have it, they gave his group the Science Fiction Genre. It was game on. Forty-eight hours later, he and his crew delivered a complete short film that took top honors at the festival.
The film depicts a sentry hunting down a man of interest while remembering a small child-headed through the corridors of what seems to be a hospital, but is revealed in the final moments as something completely different. From viewing the film (below), one can see his cinema style influenced by his unofficial mentors.
The idea for Monsters was born during a trip to the beach. According to Edwards:
“I remember being abroad on the beach and watching these guys really struggling to pull a fishing net from the ocean. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but you could tell they were teasing each other about it and I thought it would be funny if, when they finally pulled it out, it had a giant sea creature on the end or something… Yet they were carrying on as if this was part of their everyday life.” (Empire Magazine, Issue #257, November 2010).
He ran with the idea, and over time, it morphed into a romantic Science Fiction drama feature film centering around a cynical photojournalist responsible for the safe passage of his boss’s daughter through the “infected area” of South America, overrun with massive octopus-like creatures from another planet.
His pitch received the immediate green light from Vertigo Films and his budget was $500,000. What Edwards did with that 500 grand was nothing short of remarkable. What was even more remarkable is that he would deliver the film under budget!
Finding the right combination of actors to play the photojournalist and the daughter would be essential in conveying the emotional gravity of the film.
As luck would have it, he found the actors who were an actual couple. The photojournalist would be played by Scoot McNairy, and the boss’s daughter would be played by Whitney Able. At first, Edwards wasn’t sold on Able; he thought she was too pretty, but then after some discussions, he realized that if he could deliver even a fraction of their real-life chemistry that it would be an incredible plus for the film.