Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, like every Star Wars film before it, introduces viewers to new inhabitants of the galaxy far, far away. The fresh faces have been the centerpiece of the marketing campaign, and fans have already become enamored with feisty heroine Jyn Erso, calculating villain Director Orson Krennic, and the droid K-2SO. Though the movie features the classic antagonist Darth Vader, the argument can be made that viewers are more excited to see the newcomers in action, in the hopes that they can become as beloved as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia.
One of the more compelling additions to the franchise is Chirrut Îmwe, played by Donnie Yen. A monk who believes strongly in the Force (but is not a Jedi Knight), his most noteworthy trait is that he is blind. That presents director Gareth Edwards with an interesting angle to explore, since never before has there been a visually-impaired main character in a live-action Star Wars production. As it turns out, Edwards has none other than Yen to thank for that.
In an interview with Jet Set Magazine (hat tip Comic Book), the actor revealed that he was the one who suggested Chirrut be blind in Rogue One. He did not elaborate on the reasoning for that decision, but it’s an illustration of Edwards’ flexibility on set. Yen told the magazine that he likes to be very hands-on when it comes to developing his characters, saying, “You’re not just getting an actor; you are getting a choreographer, a director.” Fortunately for him, Edwards went along for the ride and gave Yen the freedom to mold Chirrut in his own way. It’s fascinating to consider that the character was not originally written a a blind man, since it shows that the Lucasfilm story group is open to altering certain aspects. In the new canon, everything is connected, so Chirrut’s condition is something comic book writers, novel authors, and other creators will have to account for.
Yen was initially hesitant to join the project because he didn’t want to leave his family for an extended period of time during principal photography in London. However, he was swayed by his children, who “flipped out” when they heard their father was being considered for such a huge film. The fact that Rogue One caught Yen’s attention is an encouraging sign for its potential quality, since he has a specific criteria for the movies he signs on for:
“I just look for the types of films that I am passionate about and challenge me and are refreshing…I think mainly about the character.”
Star Wars is a property very much known for its characters. The spectacle and set pieces are what makes it premier big screen entertainment, but at the heart of the movies are stories about people and the struggles they face. That element makes the expansive galaxy feel grounded and relatable, forming a strong connection with the audience that’s lasted for nearly 40 years. The most recent trailers have hinted at some resonant emotional beats amidst thrilling battle sequences, so hopefully Rogue One can continue the tradition and deliver another powerful experience.