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Werner Herzog crossed paths with Star Wars long before Mandalorian in the most random way
Just as it is the destiny of a Jedi to confront fear, it was Werner Herzog's destiny to star in The Mandalorian on Disney+. A respected filmmaker in his own right, Herzog began his unexpected path to the Star Wars universe with a chance encounter in Iceland, circa 2015.
It was there that cinematographer Greig Fraser was serving as director of photography for Gareth Edwards' Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The country's natural beauty served as the backdrop for the movie's opening scene on Lah'mu, which explains Jyn Erso's tragic backstory.
"It was a fair way away from anything, so we were all staying in these tiny little hotels," Fraser exclusively tells SYFY WIRE. "We’re there at the end of the day, we’re all extremely cold, and we’re drying off because it was all very wet."
The DP was hanging out in the hotel's common area when a friend of his from Digital Sputnik (a lighting company) walked in with none other than Werner Herzog. As fate would have it, the director was making a volcano documentary (2016's Into the Inferno) nearby.
"It’s like, ‘What?!’ So we all had a chat. It was filmmakers there doing two totally different projects, and I got to meet Werner Herzog, who is one of my heroes," Fraser continues. "I was like, ‘How weird?' ... If you know Iceland, it’s got about 15 people who live there, so to see someone like Werner in a tiny little hotel in the corner of Iceland [is crazy and] the most remote place on the planet where you can see someone."
Several years later, Herzog and Fraser found themselves working on The Mandalorian with creator Jon Favreau. Fraser was cinematographer for Episodes 1, 3 ("The Sin"), and 7 ("The Reckoning").
"For me and Werner, it came full circle," Fraser says. "[He] comes in and I said, ‘Werner!’ And he goes, ‘Hey, we met somewhere.’ And I was like, ‘You know where we met? We met in that little hotel in Iceland and we had a drink.’ And he’s like, ‘Oh yeah!’"
In The Mandalorian, Herzog plays the Client, a mysterious Imperial loyalist who tasks the titular bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) to bring back a target that turns out to be the infant we now know as Baby Yoda. Herzog instantly fell in love with the little puppet, while Fraser, who shot the pilot, had the immense challenge of finding the best way to introduce the world to an adorable legend.
"One of things that Jon did implore [from] myself and [Baz Idoine, the show's other cinematographer], which I give him full marks for, is that he felt that we always needed to see that little peach fuzz hair on the top of the child’s head," Fraser reveals. "And keep the light off his face a little bit … if you fully [light] latex, it can look a little bit unreal."
Fraser had a nagging suspicion that fans were gonna go nuts for Baby Yoda, and as such had to make sure the puppet was hidden when his own children came to visit the set.
"I texted my wife, who’d just arrived, and I said, ‘Listen, keep them at the gate for a while until we put the baby away,'" he recalls. "I explained to my wife that if my children had seen the baby, you can’t ask a child to lie and ask them not to say anything, because that’s just wrong. I said, ‘I’ll never stop the children from being able to tell their friends.’ I knew it was gonna be big enough that I couldn’t let my children see it. My 4-year-old daughter, I will say, is really annoyed with me, because she was like, ‘I just wanted to give Baby Yoda a hug.’ I’m like, ‘I’m sorry! I couldn’t!’"
The complete first season of The Mandalorian is now streaming on Disney+. Season 2 debuts on the platform sometime this fall. While Herzog's character was killed by Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) in the Season 1 finale, The Rise of Skywalker did teach us that some Star Wars characters need not stay dead forever. Let's hope the Client's side hustle was dabbling in the Sith's dark science.
Fraser's upcoming projects are Denis Villeneuve's Dune and Matt Reeves' The Batman.