Ben Mendelsohn isn’t trying to best the biggest bad guy of all, but he may be getting close with his new turn in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” In the Gareth Edwards feature, the Australian actor stars as Director Orson Krennic, an Imperial bigwig who seems all too happy to carry out the whims of the Empire. But that doesn’t mean he expects to in any way overstep his boundaries, especially when it comes to Darth Vader.
“Well, I think it’s hard to go past Vader,” Mendelsohn recently told IndieWire when asked about where his new character fits in the hierarchy of “Star Wars” villains. “I mean, it’s pretty hard to go past him. It’s hard to think of anyone that tops it, the big guy itself.”
The first standalone film in the ever-expanding “Star Wars” universe follows a group of loosely assembled rebels — including Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen — who are dispatched to complete a mission we’ve long heard about but never actually seen dramatized: the theft of the Death Star plans. Mendelsohn’s Krennic emerges early on as their primary aggressor, an Imperial higher-up who has long been involved with the crafting of their crown jewel ship.
In some ways, he’s just kind of doing his job. And that’s how Mendelsohn, a longtime indie stalwart and beloved supporting actor known for projects as diverse as “Bloodline,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Mississippi Grind,” approached the role.
“I suppose you don’t necessarily approach them as a villain per se,” Mendelssohn explained. “What Krennic is going to teach us and take us to is a deeper understanding and experience of the Empire [and] what goes on, as it were, within that. I’m happy to serve basically.”
And Krennic certainly has plenty of baddies to serve, including Darth Vader, who appears in the film.
“I don’t think anyone is under any illusions that I’m out to topple Vader’s place,” Mendelsohn said with a laugh. “It’s the most iconic film villain in film history.”
Yet, getting away from the kind of iconography that so many associate with the franchise — even Mendelsohn himself — may prove to be essential to the success of “Rogue One.” As the first standalone in a planned series, all of which will operate and exist within George Lucas’ canon, the film is in the lucky position of occupying a beloved franchise while forging its own path.
“I think that the standalones have allowed them to throw out some of their rule book, some of their play book about how they want it to look and feel,” he said. “At times, you know, it doesn’t feel like a ‘Star Wars’ movie. It’s great to take all of the bones of ‘Star Wars’ and have a completely type of flesh on that bone.”
Part of the expansion and rule-breaking that went into making the film includes the introduction of not only new characters, but also new planets, like Jedha. “Rogue One” has often been referred to as a gritty war film, and Jedha — an occupied planet on the verge of political combustion — is an intriguing locale to set much of its action, including big battles and the first appearances of some of the franchise’s newest characters. Mendelsohn is a big fan of it, and what it means for the story itself.
“What we learn about Jedha and what we learn about the Force, I adore,” Mendelsohn said. “It’s one of my favorite things about this film. Jedha plays a crucial role in this story, but it’s by no means [just] the Battle of Jedha.”
Mendelsohn is, of course, hopeful that fans of the original series will gravitate to a film that’s still a bit different than its predecessors.
“I think people that are into this universe are going to be thrilled,” Mendelsohn. “And I think people that don’t know much about this whole universe are going to have a heck of an introduction if this happens to be the first ‘Star Wars’ film they ever seen.”
If nothing else, Mendelsohn assures newbie fans that “they’re going to find it very easy and they’ll be very well-informed about a lot of the rest of the ‘Star Wars’ films after they’ve seen this one.” In short, he’s hoping the Force will be with them.
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” will be released in theaters on December 16.