Gareth Edwards’ exhilarating and astonishing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (our full ★★★★★ review can be found right here) has been in UK and US theatres for some seven days now, and chances are you’ve seen it. Perhaps more than once. This writer most certainly has. Now the film has been in circulation for some time, we thought it was apt to comment on something extremely important it promotes: diversity.
Now it is widely reported that studio filmmaking has a diversity problem. A large quantity of blockbuster entertainment projects a clinical image of caucasian Americana, with little room for the vast array of fellow ethnicities and cultures within the United States. You only have to look at this week’s core addition to the cinematic calendar to find a pure example of this in Passengers – Morten Tyldum’s beautiful white people sci-fi flick starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence (which is terrible, by the way).
Interestingly, of all the major brands within Hollywood, Star Wars has always championed diversity. It has produced a gaggle of strong and important characters from all walks of life; even providing numerous roles for the disabled and physically deformed. Heck, even the great James Earl Jones lends the voice to perhaps the most iconic screen villain in Darth Vader. However until J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens last year, we hadn’t seen a negro character serve so integrally to the core narrative. John Boyega’s Finn was (and is) a core protagonist in the newly developed Saga films which is something to seriously celebrate. A great start indeed. But with Rogue One – Edwards’ audacious first offering to the newly-realised anthology features – the playing field has been dramatically widened, and not just for the future of the franchise.
Considering the film has already crossed the $350 million mark (and this figure is prior to audiences enjoying any sort of Christmas holiday…) means an awful lot of rears on folding seats. When your content has such power to resonate with a viewership of this scale, you have the power to preach, too. Not that Rogue One is at all preachy – in fact, it is the grittiest, most muscular entry in the Star Wars universe – but it optimises the name to the fullest of potential. Here audiences are presented with a wayward gaggle of mismatched anti-heroes; an ensemble of criminals, fugitives, and traitors, all of multicultural, multilingual descent. Of the entire primary cast in Rogue One, only a single performer is a ‘traditional’ Hollywood persona – a white, heterosexual American male – and he plays K-2S0, the reprogrammed Imperial droid…
The film is led by Great Britain’s Felicity Jones, who plays the uncompromising and aggressive Jyn Erso – a rugged, scrappy freedom-fighter, serving as the very first leading female protagonist. Daisy Ridley’s Rey was obviously the core character in The Force Awakens, but she was never marketed in such a way. Throughout all the promotional campaigning, merchandising, press touring and more, it has been Jones at the very forefront. She is the face of Rogue One, and her character never even reveals her arms. To go back to Passengers, a core part of the branding has been Lawrence in a skimpy, sultry bathing suit, and her crawling across a table to Pratt in an overtly sexualised manner.
The direct supporting cast to Jones is controlled by Mexican actor and director Diego Luna as Captain Cassian Andor, Chinese martial artist and choreographer Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, British-Pakistani actor and musician Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook, Australian performer Ben Mendelsohn as Director Orson Krennic, Mandarin filmmaker Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus, Danish veteran Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso, and African-American screen legend Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera. Rogue One is also produced by a predominantly female team, lead by Kathleen Kennedy, President of Lucasfilm.
With such a broad talent demographic, all working together to achieve a common goal – much like the Rebels themselves – Disney’s mega-money commodity is making a conscious effort to overcome the many obstacles and frustrations of Hollywood cinema in our modern age. As well as being able to utterly enthral and captivate audiences like only Star Wars can, Rogue One can serve as an educational piece, too. We might all look, sound, think, and feel differently, but as a species, we are united as one. The Rebel Alliance might have the Death Star design schematics entirely in mind, but along the way, they find a rich representation of community and humanity, too.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out now in IMAX 3D and 2D in UK and US theatres.