The process of developing a character for film is extensive - the characters that wound up on screen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had little in common with the very first concept of the group, which featured an alien character, two women, and more drastic changes to the line-up. Even the individual characters that did appear on screen went through tons of changes from when they were first conceived to their live action debuts, though.
Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus have quickly become fan-favorite characters, but it took a long process to get them to how they appeared in Rogue One. The Guardians of the Whills found on Jedha, played by Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, wound up sharing a stark contrast to each other - Chirrut was a blind but devoted monk, while Baze was a militaristic soldier, and that had to happen at the design stage.
"Star Wars is very good at counterparts. You get these couples [of characters] – Han and Chewie, R2-D2 and C-3PO," screenwriter Chris Weitz pointed out in The Art of Rogue One book available now from Abrams Books. "Chirrut and Baze are another one of those dyads: a believer in the Force and a fighter who has no faith. They don't belong together, but they do. I arrived at this notion that chirrut was kind of like Baze's confessor in a very 'the Force' kind of way. So baze was able to lay his guilt onto Chirrut, even though he didn't believe in the Force, and Chirrut could believe in Baze's eventual redemption."
In developing their looks, though, they went through a huge range of character styles. Initially, Chirrut was entirely covered except for his eyes (um, presumably before he was blind), and Baze may have been a four-armed alien. The Star Wars minigun that Baze held came extremely early in the process, though, from artists Jamie Wilkinson and Adam Brockbank. At that point, both Chirrut and Baze had more militaristic looks for a time, with a more armored and weaponized look to the monk.
When they were into the second full version of Chirrut, they had clearly cast Donnie Yen, and were starting to look to his particular style, and possibly even some of his martial arts movies, for inspiration. That meant toning down some of the armor and armaments on Chirrut and going for a sleeker look. Interestingly, the red in Chirrut's look, later made canonically as a religious garment, started with Baze (about 23 looks into his character's design).
"Baze is like a combination of all your favorite elements of Star Wars cahracters," said designer David Crossman. "The partial armor, the boiler suit, the cool gun, the backpack. it was really driven by what we thought audiences would like, what you'd want to see in a mercenary character like this. Gareth [Edwards, director] really responded well to the red, so we put some red in Chirrut as well."
The nuance and care taken toward those characters eclipsed any others - K-2SO was the closest with close to 20 variations, compared to 25-35 for Baze and Chirrut.
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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in theaters now. Directed by Gareth Edwards, it's the first of the new standalone features from Lucasfilm and Disney, which take place outside the core "Skywalker Saga" of films noted by an Episode number. Rogue One tells the story of the small band of rebels that were tasked with stealing the plans to the first Death Star. The story spins directly off the opening crawl from the original Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. In that crawl, it read: "Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet."