We all know the story of Star Wars: in 1977, film-maker George Lucas sealed his place in history with the unexpected sci-fi blockbuster hit, starring Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford's Han Solo, and the late, great Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa. The latest Star Wars movie, Rogue One, is proving itself to be a box office hit in its own right, all the more astounding given the film's a standalone that doesn't even feature the core cast.
Now, in an amazing twist, it seems that - as beloved as Star Wars may be to Western audiences - one of the stars of #RogueOne had never even seen the movies!
Meet Jiang Wen - The Star Wars Hero Who's NEVER SEEN Star Wars!
In conversation with Empire, the cast of Rogue One surprised us all with a revelation. Rogue One director Gareth Edwards was explaining that he took some unusual steps with Rogue One, not the least of which was casting the franchise's first Asian actors, superstars Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, as Chirrut and Baze. As he explained, the rationale was simple:
"It feels right that there'd be Asian characters in Star Wars, because it's got such Asian influences. And because it's Star Wars, you can kind of go for anyone: "Who are the best Asian actors in the world?""
To his amazement though, he learned that Jiang Wen — who played Baze Malbus — had never seen Star Wars! Adding to the humor of the situation, Edwards begged Jiang Wen not to watch it. He just found so much humor in the idea of Jiang Wen getting to the premiere of Rogue One without having seen the originals!
Why Hasn't Jiang Wen Seen Star Wars?
You have to understand that the world of 1977 was a very different place. Although we typically hear about the history of the Cold War with regards to the USA and Russia, relations between the USA and China had been pretty tense as well. It wasn't until 1979 - two years after the release of A New Hope - that the US established formal diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. China's official "One China Principle," which insists on Chinese ownership of Taiwan, remained a diplomatic roadblock even through the 1980s, although Ronald Reagan successfully built stronger relationships with the Chinese government.
However the end of the 1980s saw everything change; with the USSR falling apart at the seams, the Chinese government likewise faced calls for reform. Their response was brutal, with the famous massacre at Tiananmen Square. President George H. W. Bush took a conciliatory tone, reluctantly imposing sanctions but sending an envoy to China to assure the leaders of his support. As historian Warren Cohen notes:
"Businessmen in the United States, much like those in Japan and elsewhere, clamored for the opportunity to buy, sell, and invest in China. Beijing recognized that it need not carry out political liberalization to be guaranteed an end to the most onerous sanctions—and it did not."
As the decades have passed, the Chinese government has gradually relaxed restrictions, and allowed US movies to release in China. That said, the releases are highly regulated, with only a small number of foreign films allowed box office showings, while until this year the government appears to have imposed unofficial 'blackout' periods. This allowed local films to air without competition at peak viewing times, such as the Chinese New Year, mid-Summer and December.
Still, this historical background means there's a very simple reason Jiang Wen hasn't seen Star Wars. As he explains:
"When I grew up, there were no American movies in China. That was Cold War time, so no Star Wars."
Good News, Fans!
This is clearly just one of those amusing quirks of history, but in good news for Star Wars fans everywhere it seems Jiang Wen aims to fill that gap in his knowledge. No longer under Edwards' restriction, he told Empire:
"I will see it after I finish this movie, from beginning to end."
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There's a brilliant irony to the fact that one of the stars of Rogue One, the first Star Wars spinoff, hadn't actually seen the movies before he made his debut in the franchise. Given that the Guardians of the Whills are sure to crop up some more, we may yet see Jiang Wen return in other spinoffs, though presumably set at an earlier point in time.
By then, he's probably going to have watched the films!