A new concept art book from Abrams Books details the birth of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
In The Art of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a 254-page hardcover with more than 300 full-color illustrations, author Josh Kushins relates the story of the movie’s inception. He writes that the initial treatment was a “relatively modest genre pitch” from John Knoll, chief creative officer at Industrial Light & Magic. The original title was Destroyer of Worlds.
Sources close to the project tell Kushins that when Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy heard Knoll’s pitch in May of 2013, she came out of the meeting “glowing.” Knoll got the greenlight to flesh out the concept soon thereafter, which was at that time just a few pages long. Top-tier concept artists were among the very first people brought in to do that work.
Initially, the main characters were very different than those we met in the final movie. As Kushin writes,
Tight and economical in its telling, Knoll’s pitch also envisioned a streamlined cast of characters to drive the story — leaning on tropes and conventions from his own childhood cinematic inspirations. ...
Among the unusual suspects populating Knoll’s cast of characters were rebel commando Jyn Erso, rebel pilot named Ria Talla, protocol droid K-2SO, and team members Dray Nevis and Jerris Kestal, along with aliens Lunak and Senna — all engaged in a series of breathless set pieces in search of a means to destroy the Death Star. Knoll took them through covert infiltrations and intrigue, followed by requisite escapes and evasions.
Rogue One’s villain, Director Orson Krennic, actually started life in Knoll’s treatment as an Imperial spy embedded inside Erso’s own team. As their adventures unfolded, the heroes would find that the Empire was always one step ahead of them, thanks to information sent up the chain to Krennic’s handler, Willix Cree.
One of the concept artists, Christian Alzmann, compared the treatment to the classic movie Force 10 from Navarone, released in 1978 and also starring Harrison Ford.
Director Gareth Edwards was eventually brought on to take Rogue One to completion. Together with several writers, including Gary Whitta who Kushins interviewed for the book, even more dramatic changes were made to Knoll’s initial treatment.
At one point after Edwards and Whitta joined on Jyn Erso’s mother was a Jedi. The giant alien Senna, originally designed as a massive, Chewbacca-like creature, had a tiny furry counterpart named Lunak. Both went through dozens of revisions before being cut from the film. In their place, another pair was introduced, the force-sensitive Chirrut Îmwe and the gun-toting heavy Baze Malbus.
Update: We’ve published a feature-length photo essay with exclusive images courtesy of Abrams Books.