One of the things that really got my attention in the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story presentation today at Star Wars Celebration Europe was Jedha. It's a new planet in the movie, and it's described as the Mecca of the Star Wars universe. At a time when the Jedi are wiped out and many no longer believe in them, Jedah is a center for those with faith in the Force. But it's under Imperial control, and as a result things get tense. This is interesting to me, because it adds a religious element to the Rebellion against the Empire, which we have not seen much of before - just sort of spiritual tinges at the sides.
So when our group of press had a chance to chat with director Gareth Edwards alone, Jedah was the thing I immediately asked him about. Below is his answer to my request to tell us more about Jedha, as well as answers to some of my colleagues' smart follow-ups.
It came from the fact that the era that our film is set in in theory doesn’t have any Jedi. So the idea of having a Star Wars film that doesn’t talk about the Force... If you look at what George was great at is although he got a story about one thing, he’s implying a million other things in the background and ideas that are much wider, and obviously our film is using that and telling a story within it. But for me it’s like if A New Hope is kind of the story of Jesus, there must be a whole religion beyond that, and so it felt like what was it a thousand generations the Jedi were the leaders of the spiritual belief system, so it’s like there’s gotta be like a Mecca or Jerusalem within the Star Wars world. It felt very contemporary to have a situation where the Empire were imposing themselves on what means a lot to the spiritual side of Star Wars for their own reasons, their own goals, and within that area there’s a resistance that’s building and trying to fight back, but our characters end up having to go to Jedha and they basically end up getting pulled into their story a bit.
It’s just a beautiful—we went to Jordan to film and we built this set in Pinewood that was 360 degrees so you could kind of look wherever you wanted. Normally on a set the extras are told, ‘Okay on action you walk over there and on cut you stop,’ and we said, ‘Okay for the next hour you’re cooking food, or you’re doing this car thing,’ and the crew were wearing costumes so if the cameras turned around on them, they wouldn’t be in the shot. So we tried to keep it all flowing and the actors were given the freedom to go where they wanted and do the scene in a way that felt right. So there’s a lot of freedom and it had this organic, different vibe to it than you associate sometimes with Star Wars, and so that felt really exciting. As a fan, I wanted to go to these places. It’s gotta feel right, that’s what was a massive learning experience. There’s such a fine line in Star Wars, if you go just slightly to the left it’s not Star Wars, it’s another sci-fi movie that doesn’t feel right. And if you go slightly to the right, you’re just copying what George did. So trying to navigate this thing where it’s new but feels fresh was like the dance that was the process of making the film.
I really loved Jedha. The frustrating thing about it was that it looked so good and there was so much, I was dying because it can’t all fit in the film, it can’t all fit in the story, the film’s not about that but it’s an embarrassment of riches when you’re doing something like this. You just desperately want everything to be in everything all the time, and then you go back and look at the originals and you go, ‘Wait a minute, that guy I had the toy of that I used to play with all the time, he’s only in one shot.’ That’s the beauty of it is that the hope is there’s so much detail in this world—this film’s born out of that, like ‘What would that story be?’ It’s not a main event but it could be another film and that’s what exciting about Star Wars and I think that’s what, obviously, our film’s been born through. It never ends really, I think Disney are very smart.”
The whole real backstory of it all is really more a thing for the canon and Lucasfilm, but I feel like it’s definitely...if you believe in the Jedi and you believe in the Force, it feels like Jedha is somewhere you should visit in your lifetime. It’s like a spiritual home of the Jedi.
I love it. Jedha feels like the kind of expansion of the Star Wars universe I was hoping to see in The Force Awakens. Here's hoping Rogue One is great and that Jedha becomes a vibrant part of the universe.