Exclusive: Screenwriter Gary Whitta talks Star Wars: Rogue One, plus his new novel

Gary Whitta has the career that many of us would sign a Satanic pact to have: former editor of PC Gamer magazine, writer of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead Episode 1 (which won a BAFTA award), screenwriter of Book of Eli and After Earth... and now the screenwriter for the upcoming stand-alone Star Wars movie, Star Wars: Rogue One.

Whitta has been threatened by bounty hunters and lawyers alike if he reveals specifics about Rogue One. But we managed to get some general answers out of him. Here’s what we learned about Whitta and his work.

How did you get to write Star Wars: Rogue One?

[In 2014,] Disney had [announced it had] bought Lucasfilm, J.J. Abrams was going to make movies, and Star Wars was basically coming back in a big way. I was so excited, I instantly emailed my agent, saying, "I know there’s probably a hundred writers who are better placed, but the 10-year-old kid in me would kill me if I didn’t at least try to throw my hat in the ring for one of these films." I never really expected anything to come out of it. But I was on the list of writers they wanted to meet.

Lucasfilm approached me at what kind of seemed like a general meeting. Then they offered me this job. 

I had no idea it was going to be a movie, I just thought it would be a videogame or a novelization, or something. With my status as a writer, I never thought I would get something as high-profile as a [Star Wars] movie. It turned out to be the first of what’s known as the anthology films, the kind of the standalone films that will appear between the episodic the saga movies.

I’m still pinching myself that I got to work on it. It’s just been an amazing experience.

What do you think it was about your writing that attracted Lucasfilm to you?

I don’t know what it is about my writing that makes anyone call me up. We talked a lot about Star Wars, and I spoke to them about my passion for Star Wars. I don’t know, I guess something about that appealed to them.

Lucasfilm had a sense of the story they wanted to tell. It was a question of finding good fits for the ideas they knew they wanted to do.

Was there a story bible that you drew from, or did you create the world from scratch?

A little bit of both. [Lucasfilm] really want[s] to give their writers and their creative people a lot of freedom, to tell the best story possible. But they’re also aware of the fact that they’re building this very large interconnected universe, now with all the comic books, TV shows, videogames, and films everything is now canon. So everything they do now going forward is canonically connected and has to be consistent as part of the same universe. No one is making the movies or the comics or the TV shows in a vacuum; everything is part of this one big consistent universe.

Lucasfilm has a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge, you know. I know Star Wars fairly well myself, just as a fan, but they have experts there, people there who know the Star Wars universe inside and out. They’re also are very aware of what else is going on in the other movies, and what their overall plan is. 

What else, if anything, can you tell me about Rogue One?

I spent the best part of a year on the script working very closely with Gareth Edwards, who’s directing it. He’s one of the smartest filmmakers I ever met and also one of the few people I’ve ever met who’s an even bigger Star Wars fan than I am. I think he would rather die than not get to film right. He’s so committed to making a Star Wars film that everyone can look at and feel that honors the legacy of [the Star Wars] films.

I wish I could talk more about it in more detail, but there will be plenty of time for that next year.

I think it’s going to be a fantastic film.

Your novel Abomination is coming out July 29. Tell us about it.

When I’ve given it to friends of mine, I always give them a bit of a warning, you know, don’t read this if you’re easily disturbed. If you have a weak stomach, don’t read it late at night.

The original idea was to do a good old-fashioned monster story, almost like Frankenstein or Wolfman, but with a different setting: It’s set around the close of the 9th century in England, at a time when Alfred the Great, who is a character in the book, finally defeated the Viking invaders in battle but wasn’t able to rid them from the land entirely.

In an attempt to prevent the Viking from ever invading again, the English calamitously experiment with this dark magic ... but the magic gets out of control.

Last question: light side or dark side?

Light side. At [San Diego Comic-Con] there was an amazing open-air Star Wars concert. Everyone got a free lightsaber. They had blue ones, green ones and red ones, and everyone got to pick their own color. It’s like a quick personality test, what color you picked. I’m a bit suspicious of people who choose the red one. I mean, what does that really say about you?

I picked the green one.