Filming behind the scenes with Rogue One
New Star Wars movie Rogue One based itself at Pinewood Studios near London and kept its main unit filming largely within the UK.
Gareth Edwards directed the standalone movie that tells the story of young rebel Jyn Erso who is recruited for a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star, the planet-destroying weapon designed by her father for the evil Galactic Empire.
Rogue One leads directly to the events of the very first Star Wars movie, which was released in 1977.
Among the largest sets built at Pinewood was the mountainous planet of Eadu, where a band of rebels clashes with the Empire’s forces during a savage rainstorm. The planet was in fact built as a vast indoor set on the Richard Attenborough Stage so that the production team could orchestrate continuous rainfall over the 10 days it took to film the action sequence.
“Gareth really liked the idea of a secret base, almost hidden,” says Doug Chiang, production designer on the film along with Neil Lamont.
“We built a set that we then needed to find a way to hide. It’s a dark mysterious planet, constantly raining and, in fact, always enshrouded in mist, which helped to cloud the design.”
The production team also built sets for the film’s rebel base at Cardington Airfield in Bedfordshire, north of London and not too far from Pinewood.
“We have actually been able to build a set of enormous proportions,” says Lamont. “At the front you see it as a massive temple with a long aperture, which is the entrance to the Yavin hangar and then inside the set measures about 350 feet in length by 200 feet in width.”
“You really get the sense of a fully operational hangar once inside,” says Chiang. “There are various crew and creatures rushing around mobilising against the Empire and we had enough space to feature full-size X-wings.”
A central story setting for Rogue One is Scarif, a tropical planet of sand beaches and palm trees that is home to an Imperial base. The production team used the Maldives in the Indian Ocean as the visual model for the planet. A small unit filmed footage in the Maldives but the location was largely recreated with a specially-designed set at Bovingdon Airfield in Hertfordshire not far from Pinewood.
“We shipped in 2,000 tons of sand in about 200 truckloads and imported over 60 palm trees from Spain and various greenery from the UK,” says Lamont. “We also needed to build a beach and the special effects team had the great idea of recycling water from the tank at Pinewood so it wouldn’t be wasted.”
The sleek modern visuals of Canary Wharf Underground Station in east London stood in for one of the main interiors of the Imperial base on Scarif. London’s Underground network is notoriously challenging to film in – Canary Wharf is in fact London’s second-busiest Underground station – so the Rogue One team had to film over just a few hours between 1am and 5:30am on a Sunday morning.
In addition to the UK scenes, the team shot scenes on the black-sand beaches of Iceland, which stood in for the windswept planet where Jyn Erso grows up with her mother and father. Jordan stood in for landscape shots of Jedha, a Middle Eastern-style holy city that was modelled on ancient Jerusalem and Masada in Israel.
The Rogue One producers received tax credit support of £20m to film in the UK and spent around five times that figure.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens was also based in the UK, as was Star Wars: Episode VIII, the next entry in the rebooted trilogy that will be released in December 2017. Another standalone film, this time telling the story of the young Han Solo, will also film in the UK in the coming months.
Images: Lucasfilm/Jonathan Olley/Giles Keyte