One of the great things about Star Wars is that it inspires endless debates and opinions on a wide array of topics. Best bounty hunter? Most powerful Jedi? Does Salacious Crumb have the best haircut in the saga? In that spirit, StarWars.com presents From a Certain Point of View: a series of point-counterpoints on some of the biggest — and most fun — Star Wars issues. In this installment, two StarWars.com writers discuss which design in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ranks highest.
Vader’s castle is the best design, says Bryan.
When you’re looking at the design of Rogue One, there are a lot of things you can point to with awe. The work of Doug Chiang and his team was stunning, and they seamlessly bridged the eras between Star Wars films. But there’s one design that just takes my breath away every time I see it and it might be the best design in the film: Darth Vader’s castle.
From that first moment where we saw the lava fields of Mustafar and saw that imposing castle structure, I knew we were in for something special. The best designs tell stories, and how much story is packed into the very idea that Darth Vader recuperates on the planet he last saw Padmé and was turned into a machine by his old master? Every time I re-watch Rogue One, I see a new layer to the story being told by that design.
That first layer, obviously, is the idea that Darth Vader has decided to live out his days when he’s not marauding the galaxy in the very spot he had his darkest day. Then, you have to wonder about how the castle came to be, what inspired the design, in-universe. You can look to the Kyber Temple on Jedha for that answer, as Vader’s castle feels like the dark side version of such a place. It’s hot and unwelcoming, steam rises everywhere, a river of lava flows beneath it. It is menacing and strikes fear in the hearts of those who arrive. But how does it make Vader feel? It’s a fascinating question, and great designs help you explore those questions as much as they help you tell stories.
Then, we you think back to the history of Star Wars itself, you remember that Vader’s castle was a fixture in Leigh Brackett’s original draft of The Empire Strikes Back, and it was sketched by Ralph McQuarrie in the ‘70s. Chiang and his team fell back on that lost McQuarrie idea and brought it to life.
For anyone who loves the tragedy of Darth Vader, the inclusion of this one simple design was the perfect touch to an already great movie.
K-2SO is the best design, says James.
While Vader’s castle is a really sweet piece of architecture, it isn’t necessarily a design new to Rogue One, having been based on Ralph McQuarrie sketches. Now K-2SO, on the other hand, is a Rogue One original. The aesthetics of K-2SO meld together so much about what we know about his character: he’s an Imperial droid by design, but at the same time, he has a lot of personality through his rebel re-programming that shines through his appearance.
Let’s take his basic shape — he’s tall and gangly, with a round head. Not quite as imposing as a battle droid bristling with weapons or bulked out to look like a serious menace for all out combat. He’s physically tall, as if he sees things from a higher point of view — useful for having an overall view of the battlefield. Plus, I’m sure the Empire wanted their security droids to look nothing like the units of the droid army, which had thin-headed battle droids, and squat tactical droids. Wide hips that angle out the legs rather than have them push straight down like on a protocol droid mean this droid is ready for action, and not just shuffling around — his torso is built like a football player, but with a basketball player’s reach and runner’s legs — he can be the ultimate athlete. With his data spike concealed in his fist, he’s supremely more functional for accessing computers at any angle compared to your average astromech. Add on a chest panel that reminds the viewer of the chest armor seen on Veers and Thrawn when they are on the officers in charge on the battleground, and you’ve got the makings of a commander in droid form. With a round head with skull-like facial features, the KX series is scary, but in a more psychological way rather than just exuding lethality.
Now take that same form but turn him into a rebel. His above average height and spindly arms give him a sense of awkwardness that makes him more endearing. Add in a little hump on his back and a hunch when he walks, and he seems human, but not quite. Maybe those long arms and squat body also give a sense of a gorilla or hominid, and that suits the Rebellion well; they welcome freedom fighters of all shapes and sizes, not just those who can fit into standard armor. He’s a skeleton, but more a comical one rather than a macabre one, and that his personality matches his looks: technical, precise, a little grim, but with a sense of humor. K-2SO might seem to stick out with his Imperial markings, but he has something that nearly all rebels share and most of the armored troopers and droids working for the Empire don’t have — expressive eyes that can show where he’s looking or how he’s feeling. After all, a droid with a sense of sarcasm should have the ability to roll its eyes. Work in his posture with his stoop, and he’s not rigid and upright, but alive and laid-back. He’s a person in a body of metal rather than a machine just emulating the human form.
In The Art of Rogue One, a whole section is devoted to the evolution of K-2SO. Creature concept designer and senior sculptor Luke Fisher explains in the book, “He’s an imposing figure, but Gareth [Edwards] also wanted him to be appealing — for kids to be scared of him but also kind of drawn to him.” That’s why I think K-2SO is the best design in Rogue One: the design works for both an Imperial design and as an individual hero of the Rebellion.
Did the Rogue One team succeed in hitting Edwards’ vision? I’d say that the odds of success are high. Very high.
For more on the design of Rogue One, check out StarWars.com’s in-depth interview with Doug Chiang!
Do you have a favorite Rogue One design? Tell us about it in the comments below!
James Floyd is a writer, photographer, and organizer of puzzle adventures. He’s a bit tall for a Jawa. His current project is Wear Star Wars Every Day, a fundraising effort for a refugee aid organization. You can follow him on Twitter at @jamesjawa or check out his articles on Club Jade and Big Shiny Robot.