Ahmed took the 'Star Wars' job thinking he would play someone else
Which paths through the galaxy weren’t taken? That’s a question Star Wars fans still have about Rogue One, and EW will be providing answers this week leading up to the movie’s digital debut on Friday. (It’s out on Blu-ray April 4.) Today in our Rogue One Revelations series:
Before he was Bodhi Rook, Riz Ahmed was playing a crazed, imprisoned engineer named Bokan …
Who am I?
That’s the soul-searching question of Bodhi Rook, the defecting Imperial pilot Riz Ahmed played in Rogue One, and throughout the Star Wars standalone film he answered that question with bravery and sacrifice. But in the original drafts of the story he didn’t even exist.
Ahmed took the job thinking he would play someone else.
“His name was Bokan, and he was actually Saw Gerrera’s engineer, living on a planet with a strong electromagnetic field, which meant that electronics were never working,” Ahmed says. “He was actually an Imperial engineer who had been kidnapped and kind of had Stockholm Syndrome. He had been living there for so long, he kind of lost it, like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now.”
Bokan was still a key to unlocking the Death Star’s weakness, so he was sought by both heroes and villains alike. The moon Gerrera was using as a hideout protected their little crew of insurgents from all search parties, and the Rebel team led by Jyn Erso originally wrecked its U-wing trying to track them down.
“We knew we needed to ditch the U-Wing and get them on that Imperial shuttle that they used at the end. In the finished film, you see that scene happen on Eadu,” says Gary Whitta, who worked on the early screenplays.
Before that evolution in the story, the Rebels crash-landed amid the electrical storms of Gerrera’s moon. “When they try to land, there’s a ship graveyard, and that’s part of the reason the Empire’s never found [Gerrera],” says Gary Whitta, who worked on the early screenplays. “Saw has modified his ships to survive in that environment but nothing else can land.”
As everyone knows who saw the film, Bokan became Bodhi Rook, the pilot from Jedha who led Jyn Erso to her captured scientist father. The name change was symbolic, Ahmed says.
“Bodhi means awakening,” Ahmed says. “He’s a character who goes through kind of an enlightenment.”
Director Gareth Edwards says they kept the same actor, even though the character changed so much, because Ahmed is good at playing conflicted decency.
“With Riz, we needed a person that was stuck in this life with the bad guys. He had gotten there by accident and the only way he could survive was to play along. Deep down he had guilt. He was going to be one of those characters that was going to help turn this around,” the filmmaker says. “He wasn’t brave at the start but found bravery in the end. Even though we changed the literal character, that underlining concept stayed intact. We thought it would be stronger if he wasn’t Saw Gerrera’s guy, but instead he knew Galen. Those sorts of things changed, but the desire for them feels similar.”
Ahmed also shed some light on the reshoots, revealing a different version of Bodhi Rook’s final scene. [Obviously, this is a major spoiler …]
“Actually he died slightly differently before, in that whole sequence of him running around with the plug,” Ahmed says. “There was actually this one shot that was about a minute long, and it was basically Bodhi ducking and diving from Stormtroopers to try and like get the plug to where he wanted it to go while Donnie and Jyn, when Chirrut and Baze were kind of flanking him.”
Think of it as hockey, with Bodhi speeding forward with the puck while Chirrut and Baze skate into to defend him on either side.
“Every time he’d get sprung by a Stormtrooper, Donnie would come out and Bang! then they would go down, and then Bodhi would have to crawl and jump over somebody, just to be caught again.Then Chirrut would pop up. It was almost, kind of an extended slapstick comedy sequence.”
Things got dark fast, however. “When he was running into the ship, he was shot and badly injured,” Ahmed said. “He has to crawl his way back onto the ship, and it was quite extended.”
It still ended with the same moment of triumph, followed by his demise in an explosion, but Ahmed says he’s glad they reshot that sequence.
“It’s right that it was truncated because it makes his death more unexpected,” he says. “It also allows some of the time that was taken up by telling that story [to focus on] the emotional story: what Jyn is going through there, and Kaytoo’s sacrifice. They opted to make it a more emotional film instead of just the bells and whistles kind of thing.”
BODHI’S UNTOLD FAMILY STORY
Ahmed also revealed some pieces of Bodhi Rook’s history that never made it onscreen. “Bodhi grew up on Jedha. It’s been a troubled planet for a long time. It’s occupied by Imperial forces, and I was thinking, ‘What makes you want to be a cargo pilot and just fly long distances for the Empire?’ I always imagined he was supporting maybe a single mother.”
In his mind, Bodhi was the only child from a poor family who agreed to work with the Empire because his mother was sick and had no one else to support her. “He’s taking a job, which a lot of people wouldn’t take. They’d think he was a collaborator with the evil forces,” Ahmed says. “He’s in a position of necessity rather than privilege, and I also think the desire to kind of fly and escape is a strong one. He’s someone who’s always kind of dreamed of escaping and leaving his home world behind, which also speaks to his ability to turn away from the political reality of Jedha.”
Then something happens that changes his mind and makes him turn against the Empire and try to help the Rebellion.
“In my mind, I think he would have lost his mother not too long ago, before we meet him, and that, in a weird way, makes him reassess,” Ahmed says. “It liberates him more. What he’s doing with his life, given that we’re only here for a short period of time?”
With his mother gone, there would be no one left in his life for the Empire to punish for his resistance.
Bodhi Rook went from the man who wasn’t there to the man with nothing to lose.
Check back to EW.com tomorrow for Day Five of Rogue One Revelations week: The famous planet we almost saw … and the TIE Fighter showdown that never was.
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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will be released digitally this Friday and will be available April 4 on Blu-ray.