Rogue One's Diego Luna Never Thought He'd Be in Star Wars. Then Hollywood Changed.
A galaxy far, far away finally represents our own little planet.
BY Matt Miller | Dec 16, 2016 | Film & TV
For the last 40 years children have grown up picturing themselves in the Star Wars universe—learning to become Jedi, piloting X-Wings, firing lasers, and taking on the Galactic Empire. But for most of Star Wars' existence, the role of the hero was predominately reserved for the white male. After being dormant for a decade following its underwhelming prequel films, Star Wars returned last year with a cast that better reflects our actual world with The Force Awakens—where men, women, and people of color were heroes.
While the action is dazzling and the nostalgia rampant and heartwarming, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story's crowning achievement is in assembling the franchise's most diverse cast yet. Consider the team that makes up the titular squad that valiantly takes on the mission to steal the Death Star plans: It's led by English actress Felicity Jones and includes Mexican-born actor Diego Luna, Chinese martial artist Donnie Yen, British breakout star Riz Ahmed (best known for portraying the Pakistani-American student in The Night Of ), and Chinese actor Jiang Wen.
This is the Star Wars film we've always deserved, one that more closely resembles the mix of people found on our own little planet.
This is the Star Wars film we've always deserved, one that more closely resembles the mix of people found on our own little planet. And though it's long overdue, it represents a changing Hollywood, and a more globalised film industry.
Within the greater Star Wars canon, Rogue Onefills in the gap between The Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. As a stand-alone film, it works to expand on the greater storyline, and in this case shows the rebel forces fighting in the trenches of this war against evil. For the first time, this titular war seems real, as are the rag-tag rebels who put aside their differences to take on the tyranny of the Galactic Empire. We finally meet the brave men and women who risked their lives to stop death and destruction, and it turns out they look just like all of us—not just one American market.
Ahead of Rogue One's release, we spoke with Diego Luna about diversity in Hollywood and in the Star Wars universe, and what really makes this stand-alone film so special.
ESQ: I chatted with Alan Tudyk the other day and he really spoke highly of you. It sounds like you guys got along really well on set.
Diego Luna: It's difficult not to like that guy, that's a fact. He's one of the sweetest people I've ever worked with. Our characters have this connection. Obviously they're very good friends, and I think we truly lend a friendship to the characters. I think that energy and chemistry is there, even though he's playing a droid. The way we did it on set, I always was with him, you know? It was always him and I. I think that dynamic came across well.
There was a lot of tension on this set. It was very demanding. And for me, also, working in English requires so much of my attention, no matter how small the scene is. Every day, at the end of the day, my brain is fried. And he would just come with the funniest comments. He would break the tension with humour and sarcasm like no one else. Yeah, he's fun, and also great to watch. He could improvise on set a lot because he was going to be CGI-ed later, so it didn't matter if something went wrong because they would change it. So he had this freedom we didn't in some sense. And it was painful because there were many times when I found myself about to crack, just trying to hold from laughing. And he just enjoyed it so much.
ESQ: Yeah, I mean, it's just good casting. And I think what I love most about this upcoming film is that this is the most diverse cast in a Star Wars movie. I mean, for you, what do you think that says about the franchise and about Hollywood creating these roles?
DL: It gives me hope that these gigantic films that reach everywhere are finally representing the planet and not just one market. Today, the market is the world, and the diversity we experience every day is being portrayed [on film]. That is something to celebrate, you know? My feeling is that audiences are sending a message, and the message isn't heard. Audiences want to feel represented, want to be able to empathize with the characters and the stories they are seeing on the screen. And this is exactly that. I think the smartest part of this whole thing is that it's a modern approach to the universe of Star Wars. It's making a comment on the world we live in today. The first film, Episode IV, is a big comment on the '70s. And the Star Wars film that we were a part of is definitely making a comment on the world we live in, where the role of women is different, where we have this cultural and racial diversity that makes us stronger and richer.
Here we are telling a story of how a bunch of rebels, who are very different from each other, put those differences aside and work together, and how much of their strength is based on that diversity. So I think it's really cool to be part of this. And, again, I think it's the audience sending a message, and those who are making films are reacting to that. That is exciting. It's the audiences who have to shake the cinema to get what they want to see.
We are telling a story of how a bunch of rebels, who are very different from each other, put those differences aside and work together, and how much of their strength is based on that diversity
ESQ: Yeah, that's so true, and you had a great point. I was going to ask how this compares to the original Star Wars movies, or even the prequels. And I think you totally nailed it—that it's a reflection of what audiences want to see.
DL: Also, it's a great tool for a filmmaker to start a film saying, "This happens in a galaxy far, far away." Right? Because, by saying that, whenever you get too personal, you can say, "No, I'm not talking about you. This is a galaxy far, far away." But with this tool, you can actually make the most effective comments on the reality in which you're living. It is a great tool—it's a tool that George Lucas used in the '70s, and this film also uses it to send a beautiful message of unity and understanding.
ESQ: Yeah, it's so cool to see. Did you ever expect to be in a Star Wars movie? And what was your reaction to getting this role?
DL: I never, never even thought about it. I mean, I guess, as a kid, I probably sent enough messages to the universe that one day it became true. But now, as a professional actor, I never even thought about the idea. And when the news came to me that [director Gareth Edwards] was interested in me for a role, I was just, like, amused and couldn't believe it. I was so shocked. But when I finally got it, I was like, "I'm perfect for this! I've been getting ready my whole life for this job without even knowing it."
ESQ: You said you grew up watching the movies. What was the first time you remember seeing the Star Wars movies?
DL: I saw A New Hope on my Vidamax because I came a little late to the party. But I was the youngest of my cousins, so I remember my cousins were part of a universe I just wanted to belong in. I just wanted to be part of that fantasy. I saw it pretty young—at six or seven years old. And I've been a part of it since then. It felt like being a part of it made me feel like I was growing up faster. Sometimes as a boy, you really want to feel older and mature. And to me, these films represented that. It was like the step from watching the films your parents would play for you to making your own choices, you know? And this was one of my first choices.
ESQ: That was when you were living in Mexico, correct?
DL: Yeah, Mexico City. So that was a big challenge in this journey because I grew up with all these characters' names and all the gadgets and everything in Spanish, you know? So every time I would hear it, it would be like, "Oh, and then this thing comes in!" And I would be like, "What is that?" I would have to see the visual to understand and then would go, "Oh, you mean that!" My connection to this is in Spanish.
ESQ: That's fascinating.
DL: Yeah, I have to do the voiceover for Latin America. It was a cool process, you know. I realised a big difference between the films we grew up with and the films American audiences grew up with. There's a step you don't see: the interpretation of these dubbing actors. It becomes an adaptation no matter what. They adapted it, and it's kind of interesting to be part of that process.
ESQ: That's really interesting because you were talking about how this is a more global Star Wars film. How was the fandom and how was the experience different when you were growing up compared to in the United States?
DL: I mean, it has changed because of the gadgets we have, because of modernity and the way we communicate today. I remember, for example, what merchandising was back then. First, you would go to see the film without knowing anything about the film. Today, you know everything—you've seen videos, you read all the blogs, you read the reviews, you hear the music. You have everything, you have toys—toys come out three months before the film—so you own the universe before you even watch the film. Well, when I was a kid, it was the other way around. You would go and see a poster and probably one trailer that you would see in the cinema, and that was all the information you had. You would sit down and let the film surprise you and answer the questions you have.
Today, people go to the cinema with an opinion of what they're going to see before they even see it, which I think is dangerous because it takes away the magic of the experience of sitting down and letting things happen internally. But, I mean, times have changed. I'm just getting old, I guess. And we have to see it in this other way. When I was a kid, if I liked something from merchandising, I'd have to go to the toy store. Or if it was a popular one, you'd have to wait and they would call you, and then you would get it. And today, my daughter already went through playing a lot with the toys to not playing with them anymore. She's like, "OK, what's next?" They go so fast.
ESQ: You get to see the actual movie now. So I mean, growing up with it and being a fan, what was it like for you to step on the set and be surrounded by these X-wings and the entire universe?
DL: It was just like a dream. I was visiting one of my earliest dreams. It was quite incredible, the amount of work and detail that they actually did. It's kind of like an homage to how they shot that first film in the '70s. So most of the stuff is physical. The creatures are a great example. Probably today, they would put you against a green screen. In the Star Warsworld, you arrive to a place where there's an actor wearing a whole suit and has a mechanical mask that someone is operating from afar with a joystick so the face can make gestures and react and the eyes can follow you and the mouth moves. And then there's another actor making the voice. So you, when you're acting, you are seeing the creature, the creature is moving just as it will move in the film, and you hear the voice. You are interacting with a real thing, something you just have to react to instead of just imagining. And it's insane, it's beautiful, and it's so, so exciting.
From: Esquire US