In the beginning of Interstellar Cooper follows an Indian drone. There are claims all over the internet that the drone was supposed to be Chinese in the initial scripts, but was changed to an Indian drone later on.

Why was this change done?

  • 2
    Is there any source citing original script had Chinese drone ? Because internet and rumors go hand in hand.
    – Rahul
    Nov 25 '16 at 12:49

Okay, I finally read the original 2008 script by Jonathan Nolan. First of all, the story was in many aspects, small as well as big ones, vastly different from the final film, the least significant of which would be the origin of the drone. It would really go beyond this answer to explain the entirety of the original story, an overwiew of which can be gained from this Wiki article. So I will try to concentrate on the parts that are relevant for understanding the Chinese origin of the drone.

First of all, it's not exactly a Chinese drone entirely. It's actually a Russian drone that was operated by the Chinese military. It doesn't seem too unusual that the Chinese government employs technology from a different country, though, especially if we consider that China and the US might be the major powers left during the last years (as suggested in the following explanation).

To the right, the dark shape of the Russian drone appears, flying low over the fields. Cooper jerks the wheel-- [...] Murph nods. Tom takes the wheel as his dad works the laptop, trying to communicate with the huge Russian drone. The screen fills with Cyrillic characters.


It's a Chinese military drone. Solar cells could power an entire farm. [...] Chinese mission control went down same as us, twenty years ago. It's been up there ever since.

But let's look at why it's even Chinese to begin with. In fact China plays a very significant role in the original story. On the ice planet Cooper's team visits later they actually find an abandoned Chinese colony of which robots are the only survivors and against which they have to endure a short fight because the robots are trying to adhere to their original programming and keeping everything secret. So China actually launched a secret exploration mission on their own decades before Cooper and his team arrive there. And in fact they even went as far as capturing the surveillance probes that NASA sent through the wormhole in order to keep the secret to them.

They got here twenty years ago. The human crew was killed by radiation the first day. But the robots survived. They built the colony and radioed home. But they didn't receive a response.

No one was listening.

It would go too far to say that China is an active antagonist in the movie, as the story suggests that their government is as run-down at the point of the movie as the American one anyway (and the colony is abandoned apart from a few stubborn robots), but the movie repeatedly suggests that there actually was somewhat of a conflict between USA and China in the past, if not even a war (and the only reason it died down seems to be that humans needed to concentrate on survival more than fighting).

Space probe. Never seen one like it, though. Looks like it's been to hell and back. [...] Lost, I guess. Guidance satellites would have been shot down by the Chinese twenty years ago.


(points at Tars)
Word of advice -- careful with that thing. When the war was over, they didn't know when to stop fighting.


Sergeant Liu speaks in the same even tones as Case -- they were probably built in the same factory before the war.

So in this scenario it makes very much sense that it is actually a Chinese drone and it reinforces that the US and China seemed to have been the only major players left on the global field when the earth started falling apart, or at least they were the ones fighting each other. And it's not too unrealistic a scenario. If you would want to pick one major global opponent for the US (be that economical or otherwise natured) that seems likely to remain strong in the future, China is a reasonable pick, especially considering their own strive towards space exploration nowadays (as also referenced in Gravity and The Martian).

But why was it changed to an Indian one then. Well, unfortunately we can only speculate on that. But first of all, the significance of China to the story has been entirely removed. The whole competition thought and the story of an individually existing colony has been stripped from the story in favour of a story that doesn't go into any detail about the non-US world. But afterall the entirety of the story has been restructured and many parts have been removed and changed for the sake of simplification of the story, from neutron stars, over fractal alien lifeforms, to a base within the 5th dimension and the development of a gravity manipulation device. The story has been largely streamlined in favour of a more emotional and personal catalyst for the events and a more optimistic and coherent tale.

But with all the other Chinese references removed, there was no need to keep the drone a Chinese one (although the drone itself was still an important element). And while I don't think this to have been a consideration for the larger-scaled story restructurings, the simple change from China to India might have had a much more pragmatic reason. As this roundtable talk with Christopher Nolan's wife and producer Emma Thomas suggests, they're well aware of the industry intricacies when working with China, having previously failed to get a release of The Dark Knight in China because of parts of it being set in Hong Kong.

But as she says, I doubt that had much of an influence on the bigger changes, rather than considerations about generally changing and simplifying the story. However, changing a drone origin from China to India (an equally reasonable nation to have had a surveillance drone program) is not too much of a stretch in order to have better chances for getting a release in such a big market as China. But as said, that is entirely speculation. At the end of the day, it just doesn't make as much of a difference where the drone is from as it made in the original sceenplay.

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