If you’re going to make a “Star Wars” film, you better be prepared to make a “Star Wars” world, which is exactly what “Rogue One” director Gareth Edwards delivered on the first day of Star Wars Celebration when he introduced a packed audience to the planet of Jedha, which appears to play home to much of the new standalone film’s action.
During the “Rogue One” panel, Edwards described Jedha as “the Mecca of ‘Star Wars,’ where people go on pilgrimages” and one of the indicators that “people still believe in the Force and have that spirituality,” which is why they feel compelled to visit the desert-like planet. It also seems to be the primary home of many of the colorful characters that inhabit “Rogue One,” particularly main character Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones).
Filmed on location in Jordan, Jedha doesn’t look all that different than Luke Skywalker’s home on Tatooine or Ren’s world on Jakku, though Jedha looks more populated and organized than either of those desert planets. One possible reason why? When the action of “Rogue One” kicks off, the planet is being held by Imperial forces.
Edwards spoke to a group of journalists after the panel, during which he dove a bit deeper into the world of Jedha and how he hopes it will fit inside the preexisting galaxy of “Star Wars.” Oh, and no, the name “Jedha” isn’t a weird coincidence — it’s meant to remind people (both characters and the audience) of the power of the “Jedi.”
“If ‘A New Hope’ is kind of like the story of Jesus, there must be a whole religion beyond that,” Edwards said. “We felt like, for a thousand generations, the Jedi were kind of these leaders of the spiritual belief system. It’s got to be like a Mecca or a Jerusalem, but in the ‘Star Wars’ world.”
Edwards expanded on his comments from the panel, adding, “If you believe in the Jedi and you believe in the Force, it feels like Jedha is somewhere you should visit in your lifetime. It’s like a spiritual home of the Jedi.”
And Jedha promises to be more than just a spiritual center for the characters of “Rogue One,” it’s also a critical location for those who are yearning to break free.
“It felt very contemporary to have a situation where the Empire were imposing themselves on what means a lot to the spiritual side of ‘Star Wars’ for their own reasons, their own goals,” he said. “Within that area there’s a resistance that’s building and trying to fight back, but our characters end up having to go to Jedha and they basically end up getting pulled into their story a bit.”
Jedha is not the only new world “Rogue One” will explore — the film will also partially take place in Scarif, a tropical planet that uses the Maldives as its real world stand-in. The relative paradise of Scarif has already been shown in a series of pictures that feature Stormtroopers wading through crystal clear water in pursuit of something. It’s also the major focal point of the film’s newest poster.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Yet Jedha sounds like the key new planet of Edwards’ galaxy, and one he seems very eager to fit inside the rest of the existing galaxy.
“The way I used to try to justify it was that this is a real historical event and George [Lucas] is on Tatooine with his camera crew, we’re on our planets with our camera crew, and there’s filmmakers on other planets with their camera crews,” he said. “It felt like, especially because we’re not part of the saga, we’ve got that license to try and branch out a bit.”
Still, what would a “Star Wars” film be without a harsh desert to toughen up its characters? Jedha has something new to offer, but it’s got a flavor that remains very traditional indeed.
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” will open on December 14.