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When Gareth Edwards was a young boy in the United Kingdom, his parents took him to see Star Wars.
“I instantly knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story director recalled Monday during a keynote speech at SXSW. “I was going to join the Rebel Alliance and help blow up the Death Star.”
Years later, Edwards would, in fact, write a small cameo for himself in Rogue One, as a character who allows Princess Leia’s ship to escape Darth Vader, setting in motion the events of the original film, A New Hope. “Never ever, ever listen to anybody who tells you something is impossible,” he told the packed room toward the end of his presentation. “Because if you never give up, you sometimes can join the Rebel Alliance and help blow up the Death Star.”
That story was central to Edwards’ funny and heartfelt speech detailing his unlikely path from working in visual effects to becoming a director. “If this talk had a title it would be: How the f— do you become a filmmaker?”
Like many boys who grew up around the same time, Edwards, now 41, admired the work of Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino (he even had a Tarantino-signed Reservoir Dogs poster on his wall). But like many aspiring filmmakers, he also faced early roadblocks. So he began to teach himself visual effects, creating crude animations of dinosaurs and robots.
He continued to pitch his short films in an effort to get directorial gigs, but it was his animation that caught people’s attention. “I started getting this reputation as a kid who made graphics from his bedroom,” Edwards said. “I got so much work that I kept putting off and putting off making a film.”
It was a trip to Tunisia to visit the site of Tatooine in the original Star Wars — complete with a visit to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s home and a glass of blue milk at Luke Skywalker’s house — that inspired Edwards to make a commitment to directing. His first feature-length film was Monsters, which premiered at SXSW in 2010 and helped put him on Hollywood’s radar. Edwards recalled meeting with then-Legendary CEO Thomas Tull, who told him that the studio wanted to work with him. “I just started crying,” he said. “It was really embarrassing.”
Now, Edwards is just coming off Rogue One, which despite being plagued by stories of reshoots made just over $1 billion worldwide. Edwards shared a few stories from the making of the film, including that the name of the planet Scarif from the film was the result of a misspelling of his name on a coffee cup. “I must have said, ‘It’s Gareth,’ and they wrote ‘Scarif,'” he said to laughs.
He also revealed that The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson was on set for the Darth Vader scene from the final moments of the film: “The door opens and he’s like, ‘What are you filming?’ It’s one of those great moments where you go, ‘Shh.'”
Asked at the end of his speech about the decision to kill off all of the main characters, Edwards credited Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, who was the first to suggest the ending. “I kept waiting for them to go back on that decision. Until the last week, I still waited for that little ‘no’ but it never came,” he said.
And about those reshoots. Edwards suggested that it’s all part of the fluid nature of filmmaking today. He added: “If it leads to the result where people don’t shout at you from across the street and say you ruined their childhood, I’ll take it.”
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