Rarely do you get to sit down with one of the writers of a blockbuster movie and ask, “So, what were you guys thinking when you wrote this?” But that’s what Ars editor Cyrus Farivar and I (and a bunch of Ars readers) got to do last week at Ars Technica Live with our guest Gary Whitta. He’s best known as the co-author of Star Wars: Rogue One, but that’s just one part of a fascinating career full of highs and lows.
Whitta told us how he got started by writing about video games for a living, eventually becoming the editor-in-chief of PC Gamer magazine. He moved from the UK to the US to expand his writing portfolio just when the tech industry went bust in the early ’00s, killing the company he worked for. So he decided to try a different path. He’d saved up enough money to take some time to work on screenplays, and he figured it was time to take the plunge. It took about a year of writing better and better screenplays before he was able to get a manager, but then he started selling his work. Of course, as he told us in hilarious detail, just because you sell something doesn’t mean it will get made.
And even if a movie does get made, that doesn’t mean you’ve made it. Whitta wrote The Book of Eli, which got mixed reviews (you either hated it or loved it), and he felt pretty good. But then he co-wrote After Earth with M. Night Shyamalan, which tanked horribly. Critics absolutely lambasted it and made fun of Jaden Smith’s performance. Gary thought his career was over, and he started mentally preparing to do other things. He focused on writing video games and published a novel.
Then, out of nowhere, his manager told Whitta that Lucasfilm wanted to take a meeting with him. He told us that he honestly had no idea what they wanted. Maybe advice on a video game? Maybe feedback on something related to fandom, because he was a lifelong fan of the franchise? The meeting itself was even more mysterious. The Lucasfilm people just asked him to talk about why he loves Star Wars. He must have impressed them because they followed up by sending him an encrypted PDF that turned out to be the early treatment for Rogue One.
You’ll have to watch the video above to get the full scoop on what it was like to work on Rogue One as well as Star Wars: Rebels. It was fascinating to learn more about what it’s like to be a creator working inside somebody else’s world, and how Lucasfilm keeps all its properties in continuity. He also told us about the process of writing in Hollywood generally and answered a lot of great questions from the audience.
Ars Technica Live is a monthly series filmed live at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland, CA. Join us next month on November 15 for another episode. You can also follow Ars Technica Live on Facebook.
Listing image by Ars Technica Live