One of the biggest events that you can have a cinematic calendar year is the release of a brand new Star Wars film. With that in mind, there was little wonder that people were lining up to get tickets to midnight screenings of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story even though they were a little worried about the fact that this was a one-off story not featuring any of the stars of The Force Awakens.
It’s little surprise then to hear director Gareth Edwards, who made a name for himself with the low-budget alien flick Monsters say that when he was putting together this film he looked to the past and not the future for inspiration. “I think it’s funny because people think of Stars Wars as the future with lasers and stuff but it’s not it’s always been very grounded and historical in its influences,” he explains. “The second you start analysing costumes or guns you realise that they all have historical influences. You go around the props department, and they have all the guns out, and there is your favourite gun from Star Wars, and then they show you a gun from World War II, and they are pretty much identical. Even Han Solo’s gun is a gun from the World War II era with a few things stuck on it, and that is what is brilliant about George (Lucas) who knew if you took something and just pushed it a little left or right then where it normally is you can’t instantly recognise it. That’s really what Star Wars is all about, taking things that we are really familiar with and giving them a twist and making them that little bit futuristic.”
During the interview, Edwards also quickly reveals himself as a big fan of his leading lady Felicity Jones who plays Jyn in Rogue One. “She does make it seem so easy that you forget what she is going through sometimes. As amazing as it is to make Star Wars it is also very hard and whenever I found myself going through a hard patch and thinking ‘I think I have one of the hardest jobs in the world’ I’d just look to my left, glance at Felicity and then go ‘no you’ve got the hardest job in the world, carrying Star Wars’. Carrying a Star Wars movie, when you think about it, you really couldn’t ask anybody to do anything harder, and she never made it a problem.”
While many Star Wars fans were surprised that Felicity Jones was cast in a lead role in the film they were gob-smacked that the little known Diego Luna was picked as her male co-star, something that Edwards laughs at. “With Diego, you have one of the most likeable guys in the world. When Diego walks through a door, you just want to be his friend straight away. I don’t know what he has or how he got it, but he has it. So I was looking for the most likeable, lovable and relatable actor I could find, and that was Diego. When he showed up I was like ‘yeah this is the guy’, and I gave him a gun and gave him some training and could see that he could be a soldier.”
So with all the pressures of being a new director in the Star Wars universe was there anything that Edwards got to enjoy? “I really enjoyed the opportunity to tell a story that is magical but is told through the eyes of a normal person and how you don’t have to be superhuman to affect the world. That idea that you need to be a Jedi to do anything good in the world or to make a difference is the wrong lesson in Star Wars. The lesson in Star Wars is that no matter your background, no matter who you are, you can make a difference.”
The other man who has big shoes to fill in Rogue One is Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn who has the challenge of playing Orson Krennic, the latest Star Wars’ bad guy that joins the realm of Darth Vader and Darth Maul. Mendelsohn says that Director Krennic is really the ‘prime mover’ of the Death Star. “He oversees the entire Death Star,” he explains. “The Death Star is really his life. It’s his project and his everything.”
Mendelsohn laughs when he reflects on fans likening Krennic to a young Darth Vader. “When you have Darth Vader on the playing field you don’t have to worry because nobody is taking his spot. Darth Vader is one of the all-time great movie villains or whatever there will ever be. So, you don’t ever really have to stress out because nobody is ever going to top Darth so you can just do what you need to do because you’ve always got Darth and when you’ve got Darth things go okay.”
Speaking of the fans, Mendelsohn is aware that this role is perhaps like no other role he will ever play in his career again. “People believe in Star Wars,” he says his tone suddenly becoming serious. “People want to take it… and you have to give it your all. You have to give it all you have got because you don’t want to leave anything in the tank because you don’t want to leave wondering was there something else that you should have done or could you have tried this or tried that. You really want to give it absolutely everything that you can give it because it is Star Wars and it is very, very important in that regard. And there are a few series of films that are important but Star Wars is different. Star Wars is really in a league of its own.”
When asked about what it was like to work with director Gareth Edwards on the film Mendelsohn’s wide grin returns. “Nobody is happier to be working on this film than Gareth,” he laughs. “He is the happiest man among us. It’s more important to him than… it just means so much to him. Gareth is able to do such incredible and beautiful work with his visuals and his effects stuff; he’s really good at it. It’s beautiful, and it’s fantastic. I just think that you have a guy that kind of feels like the luckiest guy in the business in a lot of ways.”
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out now in cinemas.