Kathleen Kennedy’s ‘Rogue One’

There’s a little movie opening on Friday called Rogue One. This little movie is the latest in a little film franchise known as the Star Wars universe which is the fourth highest grossing film franchise in history. With Rogue One generating the usual mammoth fan excitement as per usual with a Star Wars film, the Star Wars franchise could be set to pass the James Bond franchise as the third highest after the Marvel and Harry Potter universes.

Directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) and produced by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, the film was written by Chris Weitz (American Pie, Twilight: New Moon) and Tony Gilroy (the Bourne series, Michael Clayton) based on a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta. The film’s score is composed by Michael Giacchino, marking the first live-action film in the official Star Wars canon to not be scored by John Williams.

Rogue One stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen and Alan Tudyk. Genevieve O’Reilly reprises her role as Mon Mothma, the leader of the Rebel Alliance. O’Reilly portrayed the character in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, but her scenes were cut. The film also features the return of Darth Vader.

Rogue One is set between Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (am I the only one who can’t get used to the new name?). It is set closer to the latter film and focuses on the formation of the Rebel Alliance and their efforts to steal the plans to the Death Star, an event that was referenced in the opening crawl of A New Hope. Jyn Erso, played by Jones, and a group of other characters band together to steal the plans from the Galactic Empire. Edwards has described the film as a grounded, war-based movie, one in which normal people have to come together to fight the Empire as opposed to relying on the Jedi or the Force.

President of Lucasfilm since 2012, Kathleen Kennedy is no stranger to blockbuster films. In 1981, she co-founded Amblin Entertainment with Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall. They went on make a few little successful movies including E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and the Jurassic Park franchise. Rogue One is the first film of the Star Wars Anthology series. Kennedy explained that the Lucasfilm team takes the process of creating a new film very seriously.

“We’re not trying to do this in a particularly arbitrary way. We’ve actually put a story group together that has very carefully looked at all sorts of things we’re doing whether or not it’s a saga film, a stand alone film, a game, even in the publishing that we do. We talk about all of that as kind of a connective piece so we have a very clear idea of what these stories are – not to set them up as sequels, but to inform those other stories in a sense of place or politics or where it falls into the mythological structure that George has created. We take it seriously and we think the fans do too. They want to feel as though there’s a thoughtful process in connecting these stories.”

As with last year’s The Force Awakens, Rogue One features a woman who is arguably the film’s lead. In this outing, Felicity Jones takes the baton from Daisy Ridley to portray Jin. Kennedy explains Jin’s character.

“She’s sort of distanced herself from people. She’s a survivor. She’s not particularly happy. She’s clearly been fighting her way through things and struggling. When we first meet her, she really defines a rebel character. The interesting thing is that the other characters we meet along the way that she comes in contact with, they all have their own stories. They’re all disconnected in some way. It’s interesting to watch how this band of rebels actually comes together and unites in solidarity around something really important that they need to accomplish.”

When Felicity Jones was nominated for an Oscar for 2014’s The Theory of Everything, her life changed. Jones’ life is about to change in a different way and Kennedy was thrilled to add Jones to the Star Wars family.

“The more we look into creating these fantastic female stars in the Star Wars universe, which is carried on from when George Lucas put the feisty Princess Leia in New Hope, I think she’s a real touchstone. She was then and continues to be with the casting of Daisy Ridley as Ray in The Force Awakens. Now with Felicity coming into Rogue One is just fantastic. She’s such a brilliant actress and she brings a sense of gravitas and importance to anything she does yet there’s a real whimsy to her too.”

Though he’s had a successful live action career, Alan Tudyk is becoming one of the industry’s most in-demand voice actors. This year alone, he’s lent his voice to Zootopia, Moana and now, Rogue One, where he provides the voice of the droid, K-2SO. Kennedy discussed how K-2SO, aka Tudyk, provided much of the film’s comic relief.

“There’s also a lot of humor in the fact that K-2SO is a reprogrammed Empire droid. All the rebels that interact with him are nervous that this is an enemy droid. They’re just being told by someone they don’t know very well, Cassian (Diego Luna), ‘oh don’t worry. He’s fine. There’s nothing to worry about. He used to work for the enemy, but he doesn’t anymore.’ You can imagine as all these different, disparate soldiers come together and feel that they need to trust and rely on K-2SO, they’re a little hesitant. But it turns out that he’s a great rebel droid.”

Though K-2SO might be the film’s biggest scene stealer, Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) provide additional comic relief. Kennedy explains their relationship.

“Chirrut is essentially like a monk. He’s someone who has deep respect for the Force and he cares about it very much. He recognizes that it’s sort of gone with the Jedi. It’s still very, very important to him. Baze is someone he’s known since they were kids. Baze is a trained assassin and they couldn’t be more opposite. But they deeply care about one another and they make this commitment to each other that they’re going to take care of these pilgrims who still exist on this planet of Jedha. They want to protect the planet so the pilgrims can continue to pray. Jedha is essentially the Jedi holy city and they are the two self-appointed guardians of the city. They have an interesting dichotomy together and they provide some fun humor as well.”

Though director Gareth Edwards is no stranger to blockbusters, Kennedy was more impressed with his vision for Rogue One than his resume.

“Not only did he love the story and was a huge Star Wars fan, but he immediately saw the opportunity to stylistically approach the story in a way we haven’t really seen with Star Wars movies. We’re looking for directors and other talent who grew up on Star Wars and can come into the fold and explore opportunities in a very different way to tell these stories and yet still have them be Star Wars movies.”

And Edwards wasn’t the only fan who worked on Rogue One. Many of the cast and crew grew up as fans of Star Wars and are now living out their childhood dreams of creating Star Wars films for the next generation.

“There’s no question that the people who come and work with us have a great understanding and they care about it deeply and want to share it with their families. That’s part of the power of the power of Star Wars is that you have the ability to take something that meant so much to you growing up, that’s still around, and share it with your friends. It really brings back that great feeling of going to the cinema and watching a movie where there’s such a cross-section of people of are having such a fantastic time. I think Star Wars represents that feeling.”

Rogue One opens in theaters December 16th.