Rebel Moon's 'more RoboCop' director's cut is 'bizarre' and 'brutal'

Zack Snyder's new sci-fi film doesn't need a fan campaign to get the director's vision released

Watch: Zack Snyder shares details of Rebel Moon director's cut

Zack Snyder's new two-part Netflix movie Rebel Moon is a Star Wars-alike movie with epic ambitions on the scale of its forerunner. But one thing that sets it apart from George Lucas's space opera is an R-rated director's cut.

Snyder says commercial constraints prevent most sci-fi epics from being too adult, as higher age-ratings exclude younger audiences — traditionally the target audience for the genre.

“When you see the other version of the movie," Snyder tells Yahoo UK, "it really points at and shines a light on the ironic nature of this sci-fi fantasy world that we’re very used to — certainly from a cinematic standpoint — being whitewashed by its budget. These movies can only exist at a certain intensity level because they are so huge.”

Rebel Moon (Netflix)
Rebel Moon (Netflix)

Snyder says that Netflix was keen for him to create a director’s cut because they wanted to satisfy “this other audience” that they were aware of. “It’s way more brutal,” says Snyder. “But it’s also more bizarre. It’s more Verhoevenesque, I guess if you want to think about it in those ways. It’s more RoboCop, you know, in the way that that uses violence as another character. Also, there’s a lot of sex in the R-rated version. There’s a lot of sex, and a lot of violence, and a lot of sci-fi fantasy.”

The director says the concept for Rebel Moon — which began life as a pitch for a Star Wars spin-off movie — was eventually turned down by Lucasfilm post-Disney buyout, likely because they weren’t in the market for an R-rated spin-off.

But the idea has been percolating in Snyder’s mind for most of his adult life; since his college days actually. In 2020, he finally began developing Rebel Moon as a series before shifting first to a film, singular, then taking a multi-part approach. Netflix liked what Snyder presented and here we are. Rebel Moon takes shape as two films, for now, with Part One — subtitled A Child of Fire — hitting Netflix on 22 December and Part Two – subtitled The Scargiver – in April 2024.

Watch a trailer for Rebel Moon

Even Denis Villeneuve said that one of the biggest challenges of Dune was make it NOT look like Star Wars, so ingrained is George Lucas’s space opera in the fabric of screen science fiction and the minds of audiences. That’s despite the fact that Frank Herbert’s novel Dune actually inspired Star Wars. But is this a problem for Snyder with Rebel Moon?

“It is and it isn’t,” Snyder tells us. “I wasn't afraid to acknowledge the reality of Star Wars' existence within the design world of everyone’s cinematic experience, especially within sci-fi. What I thought is cool... is that it does a great job of not making it ‘Star Warsy’, but I felt like there was clearly going to be some kind of at least mythological acknowledgement of Star Wars’ existence because I made the movie as a bit of a love letter to late ‘70s/early ‘80s fantasy sci-fi, whether it be Excalibur, whether it be Star Wars, or Empire [Strikes Back], or Conan the Barbarian, whatever. There’s a lot of that in it.”

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 13: (EDITOR’S NOTE: Image has been digitally enhanced.) Zack Snyder attends the Netflix Premiere of Zack Snyder's REBEL MOON - Part One: A Child of Fire at TCL Chinese Theatre on December 13, 2023 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emilio Madrid/Getty Images for Netflix)
Zack Snyder's new film Rebel Moon is on Netflix for Christmas. (Emilio Madrid/Getty Images for Netflix)

Snyder says they really focused on the fantasy aspect rather than the science. “There’s no real hard science in [Rebel Moon]. How do the spaceships work? I don’t care. It’s not really about that. And so in that way, because my eyes were wide open about where it existed in the cinematic landscape, I wasn’t worried about it as much because then we just had to dig in and start doing it our way, and whatever filtered through that was referencing other films was just our subconscious [minds]. It’s in there. We tried not to police ourselves too much.”

The cast concur. They unanimously refute any implication that there might have even been conversations about Star Wars on set. And, to be fair, just as Dune influenced George Lucas when he was creating Star Wars, so did Seven Samurai — a noted inspiration for Snyder on Rebel Moon — and Akira Kurosawa’s other films. That’s as well as those mentioned by Snyder above. There are similarities with Paul Verhoeven’s violent 1985 post-medieval adventure, Flesh + Blood, too.

Rutger Hauer in Paul Verhoeven's Flesh+Blood, a big influence on Rebel Moon. (Alamy)
Rutger Hauer in Paul Verhoeven's Flesh+Blood, a big influence on Rebel Moon. (Alamy)

“I’m a big Verhoeven fan, so…” says Snyder, insinuating that’s the reason for this parallel.

“Star Wars doesn’t have the monopoly on space,” says Game of Thrones actor Staz Nair, who plays Tarak, one of a group of heroes assembled by main protagonist Kora (Sofia Boutella) to fight back against the tyranny of the cruel ruling force of the Motherworld in Rebel Moon.

Nair references another Star Wars influence in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel John Carter of Mars. “I think anything great is usually inspired by something that came before it. [Rebel Moon], at least for myself, was such an individual entity that I didn’t have to look and say, ‘Why are we going too far Star Wars; [or] too left of field?’ This story is about humans – or heroes, not superheroes. There’s nothing larger or greater than the average person about us, it’s just that we’ve all decided to rise up and step up to the plate.”

Rebel Moon. (Netflix)
Rebel Moon. (Netflix)

Some of the cast watched Seven Samurai in preparation, with Ray Fisher taking inspiration for his portrayal of resistance fighter Darrian Bloodaxe — whose character is set to be explored further in a comic book series called House of the Bloodaxe — from the Japanese classic.

“There’s a posture that I take with the weapon that I mirrored off of a posture that Toshiro Mifune has in Seven Samurai when he’s slinging the katana over the shoulder,” says the actor. “I keep it on the shoulder most of the movie. It’s little things like that that you can pull from that pay homage to what helped inspire it. But also, make it your own.”

Djimon Hounsou, who plays another of the team of rebels assembled by Kora, General Titus, cites space as the only real similarity to Star Wars and points out: “We’re dealing with an epic story which literally has a lot of relevance in our today reality.”

Ray Fisher as Bloodaxe in Rebel Moon.(Netflix)
Ray Fisher as Bloodaxe in Rebel Moon.(Netflix)

The film touches on themes of colonialism and oppression, with Ed Skrein’s main antagonist Admiral Atticus Noble the face of villainy in Part One. He might be nobility in name, but how noble is he by nature?

“There are times where Noble uses his tongue instead of weapons and leads people along into situations that then become very violent,” says Skrein, who had antagonists such as Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas and Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds in his sights when crafting his character.

“But at the beginning he’s very disarming, and I’ve got in my notes to go in there and actually be noble, actually be charming, actually be kind and nice, and be genuine in those things. So there were times where I would step on set trying to be noble but that was only for the purpose of disarming some people before turning it on them and being very [ignoble].”

REBEL MOON: Ed Skrein as Atticus Noble in Rebel Moon. (Netflix)
Ed Skrein as Atticus Noble in Rebel Moon. (Netflix)

Noble was based on another – surprising – figure. “Olivia Colman from The Favourite was [Ed’s] inspiration for the voice,” reveals co-star, Staz Nair. “I think that’s such a wonderful way of giving a roguish, whimsical charm to him vocally which was really chilling to contrast with his visual look.”

In a film that presents its main protagonist Kora as a woman with a complicated backstory, there are shades of good and evil – or moral and amoral – within several of the characters. Charlie Hunnam’s Kai is a roguish Han Solo-type mercenary pilot recruited by Kora and her farmer partner from the threatened peaceful settlement of Veldt, Gunnar (Michiel Huisman). You might also notice shades of another Star Wars character in Kai: Benicio del Toro’s DJ from The Last Jedi.

Hunnam quotes a line from Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn’s seminal book The Gulag Archipelago: “It’s not verbatim – but ‘the line between good and evil runs down the centre of every living heart.’”

With the overarching story’s main villain, Balisarius (Fra Fre), yet to be explored in any depth, Part Two will likely probe Solzhenitsyn’s theory further as the Imperium chief comes to the fore.

Or perhaps we’ll see more in the planned Director’s Cut of the film. An R-rated extended edition set for release at some point in the future will be 45-60 minutes longer. Part Two will get the same treatment.

Rebel Moon premieres on Netflix in the US on 21 December and in the UK on 22 December.

Read more: Netflix