When martial arts master and Hong Kong superstar actor Donnie Yen was announced as playing a main character in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, fans of his work went nuts. While he's had a handful of Hollywood roles (even some genre work, hello Blade 2), nothing quite compares to Star Wars. As information about his character, a blind Force-worshipping (but not wielding) monk named Chirrut Îmwe came out, it was clear that his abilities would be used to great effect. When director Gareth Edwards saw Yen in action for the first time on set, in the already-famous scene of him taking down stormtroopers with just a staff on Jedha that we've seen in trailers and clips, he was blown away.
"That was cool. That was Donnie full on," Edwards told Comicbook.com. "It's pretty remarkable what he does. I didn't really have a full appreciation for him until he came on the set and did an action scene. He was [already] a great actor, and we got on really well, but it was only he did his first martial arts moment where I was like, 'Holy sh*t. This is not a human being!'"
You might think that Yen would draw on his martial arts training to link up to his character's connection with the Force, especially since much of the Force and the Jedi have taken inspiration from Eastern philosophy, but while shooting the film that wasn't on his mind.
"That's a good question. I never thought about relating it to martial arts," Yen told Comicbook.com when asked about what he pulled in from his mastery into his character. "What I think about the Force is we all have the Force, we may just not realize it. It's kind of like… I think it's interesting to see, to me, that a Star Wars story is about reminding us about things we collect and forget. The Force is – we always have this kind of ability; so to answer your question, having martial arts ability or having the Force is more about being a human being [than mastering something]."
That human connection is one that's been a focal point of the promotion for Rogue One, touted as being a more "personal" film in the Star Wars franchise. Of course, with Alan Tudyk sitting next to him, the opportunity for the comedic actor to crack wise was too good to pass up.
"Yes, I too have the martial arts ability inside me, just like you," Alan Tudyk joked to Yen. Hopefully we'll see Tudyk's droid character K-2SO and Yen's Chirrut Îmwe joking together on the big screen this week.
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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits US theaters December 16, 2016. Directed by Gareth Edwards, it's the first of the new standalone features from Lucasfilm and Disney, which take place outside the core "Skywalker Saga" of films noted by an Episode number. Rogue Onetells the story of the small band of rebels that were tasked with stealing the plans to the first Death Star. The story spins directly off the opening crawl from the original Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. In that crawl, it read: "Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet."