THE countdown to Christmas’ biggest film premiere ‘Rogue One’ on December 16 is creating excitement as well as nervousness for Walt Disney Company, owner of the franchise.
Rumors have surfaced over the new ‘Star Wars’ spin-off from a number of quarters. One concerns the massive reshoot that has very likely skyrocketted costs. Another says Disney’s decision to ‘tone down’ the mood could backfire.
When a film like ‘Rogue’ runs 2 hours and 13 minutes, toning it down could kill ticket sales as well as put the audience to sleep.
Disney, which bought the ‘Star Wars’ franchise from creator George Lucas four years ago, denies reports of cost overruns.
But it becomes evident that after two years of filming, a “40% reshoot” this year is nothing to scoff at. In short, it better produce a wow effect. Or else heads will roll in at one of the world’s largest entertainment empires.
Two top Asian actors Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang share the top billing as part of the heroic rebel force on a mission to thwart the evil Empire’s conquest of the universe.
Hong Kong kung fu star Yen is best known for his ‘Ip Man’ and ‘Wong Fei Hung’ martial arts films.
Tangshan born Wen Jiang is known for an ample body of work that includes ‘Let Bullets Fly’ and ‘Sun Also Rises.’
The two stars may give ‘Rogue’ a safety net as they draw in Asian movie fans who may otherwise not find any connection to this sci-fi fare set a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.
Still, there is no guarantee ‘Rogue’ can repeat the stellar performance of the last Star Wars epic, ‘The Force Awakens’, which pulled in $936 million at the box office in North America alone.
Ultimately, it is going to show whether Disney paid too much when it bought Lucasfilm and the rights for $4 billion four years ago.
It could be a long time before Disney recoups the investment and longer if ‘Rogue’ fails to match its production cost of around “$150 million or more.”
No exact sum had been released so far, perhaps for fear it would alarm shareholders.
Also worrying is its creator Lucas’ absence in this production.
Lucas said he has cut ties with ‘Star Wars’ since ‘Force Awakens.’ He had sold the business and did not want to interfere with the new people in charge.
But ‘Force Awakens’ did so well because of its strong script by Lawrence Kasdan, who penned many Steven Speilberg-Lucas collaborations such as ‘Indiana Jones.’
There are no veteran heavy lifters in ‘Rogue.’
Explaining his parting of ways, Lucas said: “It’s like a divorce.
“You don’t go back to the house to check on your ex. You move on.”
And while Disney may claim they have his blessing for ‘Rogue,’ fans do not expect the same level of intensity as the original ‘Star Wars ‘Trilogy,’ which Lucas wrote down before the first one was shot.
The entire saga was broken in three parts, each with three episodes.
‘Rogue One’ was not one of them. It was conceived much later, the brainchild of John Knoll, a technical crew member working on the earlier films.
Knoll presented his idea to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. She liked it so much she “couldn’t say no.”
That was several years ago when it was reported that the company was seeking plots for a TV series for Star Wars.
The TV shows were cancelled but the script was kept alive because it contained so much commercial potential.
Knoll first started developing it after seeing the original where the commander of the rebel army tells hero Luke Skywalker to destroy the Death Star as many brave lives had been sacrificed to retrieve its blueprints.
The plans allowed Skywalker to penetrate the defenses of the deadly machine in the climax where he guided the final missile with his mind and blew it up.
Fast rewind to 2016 and we have ‘Rogue’ retracing the untold adventure.
This is the tale of those “brave lives who defied the Evil Emperor, Darth Vader and their Stormtroopers.”
While some may say it is a sure thing, Hollywood has shown time and again that sequels do not always guarantee anything. ‘Batman Versus Superman’ and the new ‘Ghostbusters’ are recent examples of mighty disasters at the box-office.
In this sense ‘Rogue’ is a gamble and an expensive one at that.
Since Disney took over the ‘Star Wars’ films, the production budgets have soared.
‘Force Awakens’ was originally thought to cost $200 million. But when it fetched $936 million, the studio confessed it actually coughed up $245 million.
Current guesses are about $150 million for ‘Rogue.’ But the heavy reshoot is likely to bring that amount higher.
The film is directed by Gareth Edwards and produced by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy.
The screenplay, written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, is based on a story by Knoll and Gary Whitta.
Rogue One stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, and Alan Tudyk
After principle shooting that began in August 2015 was completed in February 2016, Disney ordered a reshoot in June.
The film was only completed recently, triggering speculation that all was not well.
Disney was said to find the footage “too dark.”
Simon Crane and Tony Gilroy were brought on to assist with reshoots, for which the latter was paid over $5 million.
According to Edwards, “it was always part of the plan to do reshoots. We always knew we were coming back somewhere to do stuff.
“We just didn’t know what it would be until we started sculpting the film in the edit.”
Meanwhile Kennedy said: “There’s nothing about the story that’s changing, with a few things that we’re picking up in additional photography. I think that’s the most important thing, to reassure fans that it’s the movie we intended to make.”
Observers, however, say that when “script doctors” are brought in, there’s usually something seriously impaired with the production.
At the same time. Disney stocks failed to rally the past two weeks following the US Presidential election. The stock market is seen as a more honest bell-weather when it comes to gauging public perception.
At the weekend it closed at about $98.50, down 15% from its peak of $114.75
Top: A rebel starfighter fleet flies to do battle with the Evil Empire.
First inset: Hong Kong kung fu star Donnie Yen and Chinese star Wen Jiang jiun in ‘Rogue One – they could draw more Asian audiences to the film
Second inset: Felicity Jones plays the lead in ‘Rogue One.’
Below: Stormtroopers in armored machines attack the rebels.
By Cimi Suchontan