Jyn and Cassian facing off with Krennic. Bodhi working communications. Chirrut and Baze fighting on the beach. The space battle. The Imperials. And finally, Darth Vader and the ending. Trying to put the many, many pieces that are part of Rogue One’s third act together wasn’t quite as hard as stealing the Death Star plans, but it sure wasn’t easy
“It was a very complicated third act,” Rogue One editor John Gilroy told io9. “There’s a lot of things happening at the same time. Our characters are at different places in the movie and we’re cutting from one to the other to the other. And you had to keep things clear, but you had to keep things moving.”
Gilroy is one of three editors credited on Rogue One and was brought in well after principal production was completed. He explained that at some point the filmmakers had decided on a new direction for the movie (he wouldn’t discuss it beyond that, unfortunately) and he was brought in to execute that new vision.
“This movie was supposed to be different than other Star Wars movies,” he said. “They were trying to push the envelope of what a Star Wars movie could be. And when you do that, you try to walk that line. You want to make it different but you also want to very much make it part of the whole Star Wars saga. So trying to find that balance was the biggest challenge.”
Some of the changes were character additions at the beginning of the film (detailed in this article) which reverberated through the rest of the film, truly coming to a head in the third act.
“For all the bells and whistles in the third act, the important thing is what’s happening with the main characters,” Gilroy said. “These are the things you follow first and you work out from there. So as wonderful and complicated as the star battle was, that had to fit into what was going on on the ground.”
When asked about how specifically all those different stories are put together, Gilroy compared it to physical construction. “It’s sort of like building a bridge from both ends,” he said. “We’re working closely with ILM. There are temporary shots they’ll give us. You put them in. They would amend things, we would amend things and we gradually got this thing down to a very exact cut”
But not only does the film have to make all the story lines clear, it has to clearly evoke the right emotions. Each character is given their moment of heroism, followed closely by their demise. And just then, in your darkest moments, Darth Vader emerges, he gets an epic action scene, and then bam, you’re effectively put right into A New Hope and the credits. Gilroy is equally proud of how that’s executed in the film.
“The emotional jump that you’re making was very well thought out,” he said. “I was very happy with how we moved people first with the poignancy of the death, then the amazing action sequence which you aren’t expecting and then seeing Leia for a moment knowing that, like 20 minutes later, the first movie is going to start. It moves your emotion to a different direction without manipulating you, I don’t think. It really takes you to a great place.”
But there was a good chance that wasn’t going to happen. Rogue One is the second movie in a row that Gilroy worked on with a rumored to be rocky post production. Before this, he worked on DC’s Suicide Squad. But the difference between the two, for him, is immense.
“I didn’t agree with everything we did on Suicide Squad,” he said. “But I did agree with everything we did on Rogue One. These things happen. These movies are very big, there’s a lot riding on them and sometimes it makes people change course or think of a new direction for their film before release.”