Zack Snyder Isn’t Afraid of Star Wars
Zack Snyder’s sci-fi epic isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel — but it’s not trying to, either.
You might have heard that Rebel Moon, the latest slow-motion odyssey from director Zack Snyder, is a smidge inspired by Star Wars. Snyder briefly entertained the idea of bringing his vision to that galaxy far, far away — but once Lucasfilm joined the Disney family, the director of adult-centric fare like 300, Watchmen, and Army of the Dead wisely chose to go his own way.
That’s not to say that Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire is completely removed from its influences. It’s hard not to think of Star Wars when Snyder’s loose take on a world-weary soldier (Sofia Boutella) and naive farmer (Michiel Huisman, Game of Thrones) stumble into a violent altercation in a boozy cantina. Or when Bae Doona’s cyborg assassin whips out two glowing red machetes to battle an evil arachnoid played by Jean Malone. Snyder knows comparisons to the franchise are inevitable. It’s something he takes in stride.
“People were like, ‘Were you trying to avoid anything?’ And I was like, ‘I mean, yes — but also, how?’” Snyder tells Inverse. “You’re going to knock into it somehow, whether it’s space fascists or swords that light up.”
Snyder isn’t trying to hide his reverence for Star Wars or any of the other fables that shaped his formative palate. If anything, Rebel Moon is meant to serve as a tribute to his inner child.
“This movie is really the product of, or inspired by, this ‘me’ from 1977 to 1987,” Snyder says. “I was forged on the anvil of Blade Runner and Alien and Aliens and John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian and Excalibur and Heavy Metal ... so when I made this movie, I wanted this kind of retro sci-fi, weirdo vibe to it.”
Seven Samurai in Space
Snyder once described his pitch for Rebel Moon as a riff on Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, set within a high-concept world akin to Star Wars or Heavy Metal. So once the movie found a home at Netflix, the director set out to assemble his own ensemble of rōnin and bandits, made up of some of the best genre actors around. Each of them effortlessly taps into the operatic, slightly self-serious tone that makes A Zack Snyder Film what it is — but when the cast and crew gather to talk about the project, they’re all overcome with a giddiness that speaks to their passion for Snyder’s vision.
Rebel Moon revolves around Boutella’s Kora, a reformed imperial soldier tasked with defending her new home from the all-powerful Motherworld. Kora offers a range Boutella rarely gets the chance to unleash in other roles, and the actor credits Snyder for offering her an “immense palette” to work with.
“He gave me a character who’s a badass, one who was going to have all these cool sequences,” Boutella tells Inverse. Rebel Moon is full of the splashy action that Snyder has been chasing for years, and Kora is often at the center of it, albeit reluctantly. “She’s trying everything she can to run away from it. That juxtaposition was fun to play on screen. To have a character that is shy and timid. I felt inspired by it.”
After imperial troops descend on Kora’s adopted homeworld of Veldt, demanding the harvest from the peaceful farmers living there, Kora recruits warriors to fend off the forces of the Motherworld. She’s joined by Huisman’s Veldtian farmer, Gunnar, on a quest that will take them across the galaxy in search of allies. The first addition to their party comes in the form of Kai, a shifty smuggler embodied by Charlie Hunnam.
Kai “exploded” off the page on Hunnam’s first reading of Snyder’s script. The director originally had Hunnam in mind for another character — the identity of which he won’t disclose — but the Pacific Rim star felt a stronger pull to the Han Solo-esque figure.
“For me, Kai was doing all the work, making all the decisions,” Hunnam says. “I was just there to be a body for him.”
Co-star Ed Skrein was also in consideration for a character wildly different from the one he wound up playing. Not unlike Hunnam’s connection to Kai, Skrein found himself drawn to Atticus Noble, an admiral of the Motherworld who speaks softly and carries a big stick.
“I was reading [the script] thinking ‘Oh, man, whoever gets to play this guy, this is the role of a lifetime,’” Skrein says. “He’s so fun.”
Skrein’s no stranger to villainy. He’s perhaps best known as the evil mutant Ajax in Deadpool or the evil cyborg Zapan in Alita: Battle Angel, but he was drawn especially to Noble’s “confrontational” nature and his world of “spaceships and armies and priests.” That Snyder had realized the world of the film so fully (but was still so open to collaboration) made joining the project a no-brainer.
“This has been a project that [Snyder] been working on for decades,” adds Huisman. “He had it so well planned out and thought through, and a lot of designs on his walls that he could share with us. But there was still room for collaboration, and that’s amazing for us.”
Building a Bond
Collaboration was crucial to building a strong rapport. From impromptu chess matches between Huisman and Hunnam (“We kept it going for a while, but it was clear that I was never going to win from Charlie,” Huisman sighs) to commiserating over workout routines in the gym, the cast of Rebel Moon had plenty of time to cultivate a bond outside of their characters’ shared sense of duty.
That downtime was crucial for the characters we don’t see much of in A Child of Fire, like Devra and Darrian Bloodaxe (Cleopatra Coleman and Ray Fisher). The brother-sister pair of freedom fighters are the most sought-after duo in the galaxy: Noble and his army want to make an example out of them, while Kora and her ragtag group want to recruit them to their cause. While the Bloodaxes and their rebel army aren’t around for very long in A Child of Fire, they make the most of their limited screen time. For Fisher, who portrayed Cyborg in Snyder’s Justice League, getting the chance to connect with his castmates beforehand went a long way in making years of history look authentic.
“We did get some time in the prep period to be able to just hang with one another,” Fisher tells Inverse. “Talk about our characters, talk about the rebellion specifically, and to be able to put some connective tissue to some of the backstory that we wanted to represent on screen.”
Any backstory we don’t see in Part One could be explored in a forthcoming prequel. Snyder is partnering with Titan Comics for House of the Bloodaxe, a miniseries set five years before the events of A Child of Fire. Hopefully, the comic will crystalize the Bloodaxes’ motivation in ways the films may not have time to do, not unlike what Andor did for its title Star Wars spy.
There’s still a fair amount of mystery surrounding the comic: Not even the cast has been able to read it just yet.
“We’ve seen a lot of images,” Coleman says. “We’ve been sort of working with the artists in terms of our likeness and stuff, which has been really exciting.”
What’s Next for Rebel Moon?
House of the Bloodaxe isn’t the only spinoff in the pipeline. Snyder has plans for video games and narrative podcasts to supplement his new galaxy. That so much is already in the works speaks to his enthusiasm for what could be a franchise all his own, complete with a lore that could rival the exhaustive work of J.R.R. Tolkien or Frank Herbert.
“I feel like eventually there’ll be some sort of The Great History of the Motherworld book that we put out,” Snyder tells Inverse. “We can’t not; it’s too much information.”
Snyder confesses that his book of lore “hasn’t stopped growing.” Not only have he and his co-writers worked out the comprehensive history of the Motherworld; the creative team also parsed out the myths that fuel this vast galaxy. “It starts at whatever their origin myth is, their genesis, and then it goes to their Iron Age and their Stone Ages and their medieval conflicts and how the royal family was really formed.”
So long as there’s a demand for more stories set in this universe, Snyder seems willing to explore and expand the Motherworld for years to come. Of course, the franchise’s first two films have to make a good impression. Cast and crew alike are tight-lipped about Rebel Moon’s forthcoming conclusion, titled The Scargiver and set to bow on Netflix next April. When asked what to expect from Part 2, most neglect to give anything away (“You better expect more badassery,” Fisher offers coyly, “and a lot more rebellion”), but promise that A Child of Fire laid the foundation for some exciting action.
“Everyone will have to face their own demons,” says Djimon Hounsou, who plays ex-Imperium general Titus in A Child of Fire. Kora recruits him to lead whatever fledgling army she can muster to stand against the Motherworld — and though we don’t see much of him in Part One, his responsibilities will only grow in The Scargiver. So too will his bond with Staz Nair’s exiled Prince Tarak, another would-be revolutionary recruited to the cause.
“You really get to see more and more how these relationships build between the seven of us,” Nair says. “We all have the same goal, but for very different reasons, and that brings out a different dynamic.”
Nair also teases a potential “role reversal” between Rebel Moon’s central warriors and the farmers they’ll end up training for battle. The Scargiver will be digging more into each character’s hidden depth, while also bringing out the “brutality” latent in its premise. Whatever Snyder’s goal, comparisons to Star Wars and its contemporaries seem less like a detriment and more like something fun to look out for. At the very least, Rebel Moon could be the latest “weird” sci-fi to become a cult classic. But if his cast’s passion is any indication, Snyder’s new world could one day eclipse the stories that inspired it.