“It’s been a long time coming” – Donnie Yen on diversity in the Star Wars universe

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Lucasfilm Ltd.

Hong Kong-born Donnie Yen has carved a name for himself as a martial artist, director, fight choreographer and, of course, as the star of the Ip Man movies.

As warrior Chirrut Imwe in Rogue One, he’s now thrilled to be part of the diverse Star Wars universe.

Inclusivity and diversity is a big thing in the entertainment business now. What do you feel the cast and characters in Rogue One contribute to its progress? It’s been a long time coming. It should have happened a long time ago. Making a movie itself, it should be directed towards all people and this whole planet is full of diversities so we are making a film to show everybody. For example, we have so many Chinese [in the world] so you’ve got to have a Chinese character and you have to have a meaningful character.

Why do you think LGBT+ people are drawn to sci-fi in general and the Star Wars universe in particular? I just think Star Wars movies aren’t complex movies story-wise but they carry the strongest message, and always have, about humanity. They promote the core values of human beings and especially today, when there are so many problems in the world, we need to make more movies like these.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Lucasfilm Ltd.

What’s the coolest thing about being in a Star Wars movie? The coolest thing, I have to say, are my lines. I get to say “May the Force be with you” and that is so cool. When I was read the script it was “That’s it, this role is for me”.

And what’s the coolest thing you get to do in the movie itself? Actually there are a couple of things they didn’t put in there that I thought could be interesting. I’m curious to see how the audience would feel if they’d been included. Maybe they’ll be on the DVD.

This is the second Star Wars film with a strong female front and centre. Is that a threat to your machismo? [Smiles] Not at all. I’ve been empowered by females all my life. My mother was a martial arts instructor. I studied martial arts with her when I was nine years old. My wife runs my company and she’s my partner. We live in an equal, liberal world. Obviously physically we are naturally stronger but as human beings everybody is equal.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Lucasfilm Ltd.

The rise of cosplay means people are going to be dressed as Chirrut. How does that feel? And if you were going to dress as a movie character yourself who would it be? My son was the first one to dress as Chirrut on Halloween in Hong Kong. And myself? I’d probably dress up as Darth Vader. He’s got such a cool outfit.

How do you rate your Rogue One action figure? [Laughs] It’s not bad. But I have many action figures from my other films. I have an action figure that’s 9ft tall. But obviously this is something that is going to influence a much bigger audience, especially with children. And if I have to pick one thing it has to be the Lego figure. That’s very cool.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out in cinemas now.

Words Simon Button

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