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‘The playground is still George’s’: ‘Star Wars’ designer Doug Chiang says Lucas’ influence lives on

Mark Daniell.

By Mark Daniell, Postmedia Network

George Lucas may not have dreamt up the story for Rogue One, but the characters inhabiting the standalone Star Wars tale are ones that live in his ongoing universe.

“The playground is still George’s,” says Doug Chiang, who serves as vice president and executive creative director at Lucasfilm, the Disney-owned company that creates Star Wars movies.

Lucas, who sold his Star Wars empire to Disney in 2012 for more than $4 billion, doesn’t contribute directly to the new movies, but Chiang says his influence lives on.

“We’re grounding everything in the universe and worlds that George built,” he says in an interview to promote the release of Rogue One on Blu-ray. “But, we’re pushing the boundaries of how far we can go. In the previous years, when I worked with George, he was the guide. He could tell us. Now, we’re trying to figure that out ourselves. I love working on the edge like that.”

After working on the effects for Forrest Gump and Terminator 2, just to name a few, Chiang joined Lucasfilm in 1995 and helped lead the art department on some of the prequel films, beginning with 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

Now, he’s the driving force behind the visual design in the upcoming Skywalker Saga films (a.k.a. Episode VIII and IX) as well as the standalone anthology films, which include Rogue One and next year’s young Han Solo entry.

“Our path now, in the absence of George’s input, is knowing that he built this very elaborate universe over decades. So the questions we ask ourselves are: How do we protect that and how do we push the boundaries of (the new films) so that it fits in the Star Wars universe and adds something new?

“That’s a wonderful challenge to have.”

Rogue One was an invigorating project for the visual team because it led directly into Episode IV – A New Hope. The story centres around Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to help steal blueprints to the Death Star, the Empire’s super weapon. The same plans Princess Leia hides in R2-D2 at the beginning of Episode IV – A New Hope.

“Rogue One gave us an opportunity to do something more mature, more adult,” Chiang says. “It’s still grounded in the Star Wars universe, but it has a bit of an edge.”

Chiang, who will be in Orlando this week for Star Wars Celebration, says that the design team spent countless hours refining the smallest of details, pointing to the version we see of Darth Vader’s castle in Rogue One.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Why would Vader live here? Why is the castle built here?’ So the thinking was, maybe Vader comes here to rejuvenate. That’s why you see the tower is shaped like a tuning fork. Perhaps the tower is channeling the dark side of the Force.... even though it may not be cinematically explained, it’s all there.”

With the Star Wars cinematic universe being carefully mapped out for the next decade, Chiang says audiences will be surprised by how many stories there are still to come.

“Each of the new films, in terms of look and design, will be informed by the story. But the standalone films are giving us an opportunity to take some risks in creating something that’s a little bit unique.”

Twitter: @markhdaniell

MDaniell@postmedia.com