It’s a daunting job to be a bad guy in the Star Wars universe, but actor Ben Mendelsohn’s Imperial Director Orson Krennic seems to be up for the task of playing the heel in Rogue One. He’s more Grand Moff Tarkin than Darth Vader, considering he’s a uniformed Imperial stooge, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to let Jyn Erso and the Rebel Alliance stop his well laid plans in trying to develop the technology needed to power the Empire’s ultimate superweapon: the Death Star.
The first standalone Star Wars movie is a bit of a breakout role for Mendelsohn, a veteran Australian actor who has been making waves in small indie fare like Animal Kingdom, The Place Beyond the Pines, and on the Netflix TV series Bloodline. But the intensity he’s been bringing to roles for over three decades will filter through to Krennic, and working class guy who finds himself in the middle of a galactic struggle with something to prove.
With all that in mind, here are a handful of essential facts about Director Krennic.
He’s Trying to Get the Death Star to be Fully Armed and Operational
The Emperor expects results, and to make sure the highly secretive project — building a planet-destroying superweapon — goes off without a hitch, he recruits Krennic, the director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial military. But in the Rogue One tie-in prequel novel Catalyst he isn’t quite that powerful yet.
Since his college days, the pompous math and science prodigy Krennic had a knack for designing and creating overly ambitious military tech, which is why Palpatine eventually assigns him to the project. Prior to the events of Rogue One, the project that has been going on for years in the broader Star Wars timeline. This is how the not-quite-yet-Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader can gaze out at the early skeleton of the Death Star at the end of Revenge of the Sith. But there’s one big problem, the fallout from which is probably what earned Krennic that promotion to director.
The project hits a snag as the Imperial team is unsure of how to make the turbo laser work. That’s quite the conundrum when your big intimidating super-weapon is supposed to make planets explode. The Emperor wouldn’t want a moon-sized battle station without equally threatening firepower, and Krennic offers to use his connections to try and make it function properly by any means necessary.
The Rebel Mission to Steal the Death Star Plans is Personal
Catalyst also tracks the budding creative relationship between Krennic and a young Galen Erso, the father of Rogue One heroine-to-be Jyn Erso. Galen’s scientific research sought to find a renewable energy source in kyber crystals, the natural resource that also power lightsabers, but abandoned it all once Krennic tried to sway him to use the research to help in the Death Star project.
Galen and his family — including Jyn and his wife Lyra — go into hiding on a planet called Lahmu, and Rogue One opens with Krennic tracking them down in order to conscript Galen into the Imperial army. The goal: Use his knowledge to help get the Death Star laser working with all that kyber crystal know-how.
According to Lucasfilm Story Group head Pablo Hidalgo, the Krennic and Galen dynamic is inspired by previous historical events. “It’s no accident that we’ve taken a look at the Manhattan project and what was happening at Los Alamos laboratories during the tail end of World War II,” he told USA Today. “Being able to look at that kind of thing through history and then apply the Star Wars filter to it is really fascinating.”
He Doesn’t Get Along with Darth Vader
Interpersonal squabbling isn’t uncommon in the early days of the Empire, and even the Dark Lord of the Sith himself was not exempt.
“There is a lot of palace intrigue going on in the Empire, with people conspiring to move up the ranks and sabotaging each other. There’s not a lot of loyalty there,” Rogue One executive producer John Knoll told Entertainment Weekly. It’s easy to forget that Darth Vader was just kind of a background Imperial tough guy to Grand Moff Tarkin’s supremely British bad guy in A New Hope. They might have had their differences over Vader’s devotion to the Force, but they basically wanted to destroy the Rebellion all the same. Krennic may want that final endgame too, but he sure isn’t going to ask Vader for help with anything — starting with the Force.
“Here is the thing about Krennic: His perspective obviously is that of a person who doesn’t understand the Force. And Darth Vader comes at everything from the perspective of understanding the Force,” Lucasfilm’s head of story development, Kiri Hart, also told EW.
Krennic knows Vader is the Emperor’s golden boy, but he also sees him as someone who stands in his way of that very status as well.
He’s a New Kind of Imperial Villain
Tarkin was decidedly upper class, with most of the Imperial officers in the saga so far following suit. Not so with Krennic. He’s a bad dude, but he’s a scrappy blue-collar bad dude trying to climb the ranks of the Imperial upper crust.
“It feels like if the Empire ever have a job vacancy, they go to the Royal Shakespeare Company to headhunt people,” Rogue One director Gareth Edwards told USA Today. “I like the idea that Ben’s character was much more working-class” and got there through “through sheer force of personality and ideas.” Unfortunately for him that personality and his ideas include forcing a guy to create technology that will enable the Empire to destroy entire worlds.