Ben Mendelsohn, the Death Star’s Greatest Defender

Jyn Erso is his biggest crush of the franchise, btw.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story may be set between the Jedi purge of Episode III and Obi-Wan and Yoda’s return in Episode IV, but that doesn’t mean that there is any break in the action. It’s a time of impending war, and average citizens in a rebel army must band together to stop the tyrannical Empire’s assault. But first they must locate the architect of the Empire’s most dangerous weapon, the Death Star and steal the plans. Otherwise, they risk ultimate destruction. Standing in their way is the Empire’s director of military intelligence and operations, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), and he’s determined to stop them at all costs.

SF Weekly spoke to Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline), the man behind the mysterious new supervillain, with hopes of uncovering secrets about the latest Star Wars movie.

Spoiler alert: We didn’t, but we still managed to learn more about the Empire’s latest rogue.

 What can you tell us about your Rogue One: A Star Wars Story character, Orson Krennic? Who is he and what makes him tick?

He is the director of military intelligence and operations for the Empire. He is in charge of keeping the Empire secure and safe. He’s very motivated to make sure that the Death Star project comes in on time, and that brings with it a lot of pressures and stresses.

How did you get the part?

Gareth Edwards had approached me to go and meet with him. So I went and spoke to Gareth, and he laid it all out for me. Then I, of course, said, “Yes.”

 What type of director is Gareth Edwards?

He is an actor’s director, someone who very much trusts his actors to bring something to the table and bring their interpretations and instincts to bear when portraying these characters. He’s also an incredibly passionate and committed fan of the series.

I read that it was important to Edwards that your character not sound like you’re from the Royal Shakespeare Company. Why is that?

I think he wanted to draw a distinction between Krennic and where Krennic had come from, and the officers that we encounter in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Krennic is someone that has come up being a great operative and a lot gruffer and someone that in his way does not really like that group of guys. However, I do think that after a certain time in the upper echelons of the imperium, he sounds somewhat like them.

Is Krennic a total villain or a more nuanced figure?

Although you can look at him as a villain, I don’t think of him so much that way. I think of the characters more by the surroundings than by the category. I’m aware of the category, but it’s not really the way I look at it.

What was your experience being on set of this big iconic franchise and seeing all the stormtroopers, deathtroopers, and even Darth Vader on the daily?

I often said, “If you’re at work and you look up and see stormtroopers all around you, then you really can’t have too much of a bad day.” It’s great.

You’ve said that you were always a Star Wars fan. What initially appealed to you about the franchise?

I saw it in 1977, when it first came out. So it was not like anything I had seen before then. I was really caught up in it all. It was Luke, Luke’s journey. It was that great group of buddies that he had with him. It was Hans Solo, Chewbacca; it really was the whole thing. I just got so affected by it.

How does Rogue One fit into the larger Star Wars story?

It is its own separate story, etc., but people, when they’ve seen it, particularly if they’re fans, are going to know where it lives exactly, between the third and fourth film. If they’re not fans, and this is the first film they’ve seen, then hopefully they get inspired to check out the other ones, because it’ll make total sense.

How does it distinguish itself from the other episodes?

I would say that it’s grittier and has more shades of gray.  And it’s also a much tougher film than the other Star Wars films.

Between Princess Leia, Padmé Amidala, Rey, and Jyn Erso,  who’s your number one crush among the Star Wars heroines?

Well, Jyn Erso, of course.

Will we see your character in the next Star Wars installment?

Well, we may well. But I don’t think I could confirm or deny that without causing a furor.

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