Like a lot of kids Riz Ahmed liked Star Wars. Unlike most kids he grew up to be part of the franchise, playing pilot Bodhi Rook in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
“I was a fan,” says Ahmed, also known as Riz MC, who earlier this year starred in HBO’s The Night Of. “I remember watching the films the first time round with my older brother. I was about six or seven years old. They were kind of my only memory of watching any movie at all. They left a massive impact on me. I remember running around with my brother for years, acting out our own weird sci-fi stories. Even though I didn’t understand the storyline – I was too young – the level of imagination and detail that went into those movies…. It made an impression.”
Yet, while the originals left an impression on the younger Ahmed, it was only when he joined the universe himself that he realized his level of fandom might not have been quite at the level he had thought.
“It’s only now that I have met real Star Wars fans that I realize I wasn’t really a fan,” he says. “I thought I was. Star Wars fans are dedicated, loyal fans. I think the kind of vibe I’ve gotten so far is that they are really excited to see a film that both preserves the legacy and the inheritance of the Star Wars saga but is also something a little different, fresh, distinctive and separate from the other films. I think that can be a really tricky balance to achieve but I think they have really done that.”
Rogue One is the first standalone Star Wars Anthology film — upcoming movies in the expanded cinematic universe will focus on Han Solo and Boba Fett — and takes place after the formation of the Galactic Empire, shortly before the events of Episode IV: A New Hope.
The Rebel Alliance has recruited former criminal Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to collaborate with a team to retrieve the blueprints of the Death Star, the Empire’s armoured battle station capable of destroying entire planets.
Ahmed plays a recruit, a former Imperial pilot with strong technical skills. Producer Kathleen Kennedy calls the character “a troublemaker.”
“It is interesting she calls Bodhi Rook a troublemaker,” Ahmed laughs. “I sometimes wonder if she is talking about me on the film set. Bodhi is somebody who is thrust into a really unfamiliar set of circumstances. He is just an Imperial cargo pilot, an average Joe trying to earn a living. It is a company town he lives in, the occupied planet of Jedha, so he works for the Empire. He’s really thrust into a new set of circumstances that force him to reconsider his allegiances and what he’s doing in these turbulent times.”
Working beside Ahmed are Diego Luna, Donnie Yen and Forest Whitaker, making Rogue One the most diverse of all the Star Wars films.
“I think it just makes sense that our film reflects the society around us,” says the British Pakistani actor, “and also the audience watching the films. A story like Star Wars is a global story. It belongs to all of us.
“Audiences around the world are excited about Star Wars so it makes sense that when they think about who might be the best actors for these roles they cast their net really wide all around the world. ‘Yeah, we’ll have Ben Mendelsohn from Australia, Forest Whittaker from L.A. and Mads Mikkelsen from over here.’ I’m lucky to have been caught up in this net as well.”