Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Donnie Yen Interview

Donnie Yen talks about diversity, The Force, and designing action around character first in an exclusive Rogue One: A Star Wars Story interview.

Star Wars Rogue One - Donnie Yen Interview

From the earliest trailers and video clips from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story it was clear the first standalone anthology spinoff would be different. It had the most diverse cast of any Star Wars movies to date. It featured no Jedi and it wasn't pretty with the intention of offering a war documentary-esque visual spectacle. It even featured a blind man fighting a legion of armored soldiers using only a stick.

This blind man is Chirrut Îmwe and he's played by legendary martial artist Donnie Yen. Chirrut is a warrior-monk and the spiritual center of the team of Rebels attempting to stop the Galactic Empire from succeeding with their plans for the Death Star. We meet him on the moon Jedha, a place of worship for the Jedi Order and ways of the force. It's here where Chirrut enters the story and does so with an incredible action sequence unlike anything seen before in the Star Wars universe.

When we had the chance to speak with Donnie Yen we started there, in comparing this style of action against Stormtroopers and how it compares to his previous roles.

Rogue One Official Trailer 2 Still - Donnie Yen
Chirrut (Donnie Yen) in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I want to talk about Rogue One and how it compares to your previous roles. How does the action in this compare to your previous work?

Donnie Yen: I never really make that comparison. In fact, I don't make comparisons between any movies. I compare characters. All my actions, performances, all my films, they are driven by the characteristic. If I'm playing a cop, then I give him a particular style - I may not know that style, but as an actor I have to be responsible to do your homework and do your research and training and stuff like that. To play this character, he lives in this world. He's blind. He is, I believe, the spiritual center in the film. Therefore, automatically as an actor, without ever thinking about it, it slowly form together.

With that in mind, this character is a devout believer in the Force. Why is that? Did he grow up that way?

Donnie Yen: That's a backstory that we actually did a lot of back and forth discussions, research between actors, producers and director. So, that is something that's probably this thick of notes and research...

Star Wars Rogue One - Chirrut Imwe character poster
Chirrut Îmwe. A warrior monk with faith in the Force.

Secrecy and history. I get that. This film is not only more diverse but this character, in particular is also blind. Is that a character trait this character was born with or was that sustained from an injury - do we know?

Donnie Yen: That is a backstory that I'm not allowed to talk about.

Well, let's talk about the Force then. This character is the spiritual center of the team, as you say. We know there's no Jedi in this film, outside of Darth Vader, but can this character, when he's fighting, use the Force?

Donnie Yen: Did you see twenty minutes of it?

We saw a good half an hour, yeah.

Donnie Yen: I guess, well, what is the Force? It's really all in how you interpret the Force. As a person who, in nature, he is not fully capable, he fumble because of his blindness. If he was that skilled, obviously he's got something special. So what is that?

Donnie Yen in Rogue One

What would you say makes Rogue One different or special compared to other Star Wars stories?

Donnie Yen: I think the diversity of the cast, the look of the film, the story and the message - every film is definitely its own way but as you can see from that twenty minutes, this is a very, very unique, piece of standalone Star Wars franchise.

Now for my last question: Now that you've invested so much into this character and you're a part of this franchise, what are you personally most excited to see next from the future of Star Wars?

Donnie Yen: Maybe in Chinese language? [laughs]

That's fair! Thank you for your time.

Next: Exclusive Rogue One Interview With Diego Luna

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From Lucasfilm comes the first of the Star Wars standalone films, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” an all-new epic adventure. In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is directed by Gareth Edwards and stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, with Jiang Wen and Forest Whitaker. Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur and Simon Emanuel are producing, with John Knoll and Jason McGatlin serving as executive producers. The story is by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, and the screenplay is by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy.

Key Release Dates
  • Star Wars: Rogue One / Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) release date: Dec 16, 2016
  • Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
  • Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
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