LONDON — For director Gareth Edwards, the most exciting part of making Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had nothing to do with AT-ATs or Darth Vader. (Although those were pretty cool.) For Edwards, it was the chance to create his own world within the Star Wars universe — and that world is known as Jedha.
During Friday's star-studded Rogue One panel at Star Wars Celebration in London, Edwards revealed some tantalizing new information about the planet Jedha. It's a desert planet that often attracts spiritual pilgrimages. Known as the Mecca of the Star Wars universe, Jedha is the one place in Rogue One where "people still believe in the Force and have that spirituality." It's also the home of many of the Resistance fighters at the heart of Edwards's story, including Imperial pilot Bodhi (Riz Ahmed), warrior-monk Chirrut (Donnie Yen), and Baze (Jiang Wen).
At the start of the film, Jedha is seized by the Galactic Empire, which only further fuels the conflict between the Empire and the Resistance. Jedha's overall significance in the film is heightened by the fact that Rogue One takes place at a time when Jedi were thought to be extinct. In the Star Wars universe, Jedha is the spiritual tie to the Jedi and the Force — and its name isn't a coincidence. Jedha evokes the spirit of the Jedi, and for that reason, it becomes a base of sorts for the Resistance.
Speaking to a group of journalists after the Rogue One panel, Edwards explained the creation of Jedha and its significance in the galaxy.
"If A New Hope is kind of like the story of Jesus, there must be a whole religion beyond that," he said. "We felt like, for 1,000 generations, the Jedi were kind of these leaders of the spiritual belief system. It's got to be like a Mecca or a Jerusalem, but in the Star Wars world.
"It felt very contemporary to have a situation where the Empire would impose themselves on what means a lot to the spiritual side of Star Wars for their own goals. Within that area, there's a Resistance that's building, and they're trying to fight back."
For Edwards, Jedha wasn't just a crucial location for Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her ragtag group of Rebels; it was an exciting, albeit nerve-racking, opportunity for him to leave his permanent mark on the franchise — hopefully without screwing it up.
"There's such a fine line," he said. "If you go slightly to the left, it doesn't feel like Star Wars, it feels like some other sci-fi movie. And if you go slightly to the right, you're just copying what George [Lucas] did. Trying to navigate this thing where it's new and feels fresh was the process of making this film."
However, this being a standalone Star Wars project meant that there was a little more room to experiment. While there are definite moments in the film that will feel familiar to fans, Rogue One is very much its own story, complete with a darker tone and snarky droids.
“The way I used to try to justify it was that this is a real historical event and George is on Tatooine with his camera crew, we’re on our planets with our camera crew, and there’s filmmakers on other planets with their camera crews," Edwards said. "It felt like, especially because we’re not part of the saga, we’ve got that license to try and branch out a bit."
We'll see how far Edwards branches out when Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens on December 14.