There are many things to marvel at in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Donnie Yen’s Force mantra, K-2SO’s robot quips, even Forest Whitaker’s bizarre basement octopus.
However the standout piece of “Rogue One” — an item that could very well stand the test of time next to Princess Leia’s hair buns or Han Solo’s blaster — is the bold, white cape worn by the evil Orson Krennic, played by actor Ben Mendelsohn. The cape unfolds a world of menace by simply gliding over a bloody beach or whipping through the rain without ever showing even the tiniest speck of dirt.
“Rogue One” might be hailed as a return to the grit and grime of George Lucas’ original films, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at Krennic’s hemline. Even on display at San Diego Comic-Con, the alabaster beast upstaged entire alien races, flanked by two fans so the costume would billow in the breeze. Clearly, this is one classy evil member of the Empire.
So how did this majestic menace become the focal point for “Rogue One”? Costume designers Glyn Dillon and Dave Crossman revealed that they had slightly less-than-grand plans for the franchise’s new villain.
“Krennic was always a simple character,” Crossman said. “In some of the old footage of ‘Star Wars,’ we saw one officer in a white pale uniform and we spoke with Gareth [Edwards, director] about it and decided it was a good way to go with Krennic.”
Both Dillon and Crossman tried to ground the fantasy characters of “Rogue One” in the real world by turning to real-life battledress for inspiration. For example, the “Rogue One” Rebel army was influenced by American flak vests and U.S. Army helmets from the Vietnam War. Originally, they wanted to dress Krennic in a (gasp) simple field coat.
Thankfully, they realized that this new addition to the “Star Wars” universe would need a “boost” to stack up to the villains of old. Plus, this was a space opera — for some characters it’s OK to lean into the fantastic.
“We wanted to embrace the ‘Star Wars’ villain and give him a cape,” Dillon said. So Krennic would get not one, but two varying versions of his white cape. The first is a shorter poncho seen earlier in the film. The second is a long status symbol that shows his ascension upward in rank through the Empire both in length and practicality.
For the actor, it was love at first whirl. “When we did the first fitting with [Mendelsohn], we went to his house and had him try it on,” Crossman said. “He got very excited and said, ‘Wait a minute,’ then went into the bathroom, swung the door open and stormed out through the room and into his back garden and twirled around.”
Once you put someone in a statement piece like that, good luck getting them out of it. “Initially, there are moments where the cape is only going to be worn in certain scenes,” Dillon said. “But once Ben was cast and he did a few goes in the cape, then he pretty much didn’t want to take it off.”
Mendelsohn found inspiration from his new uniform, dubbing it a Napoleonic-type look. “There’s a sort of feeling of solidity and grandeur that that cape just gives you,” Mendelsohn said while doing interviews at Skywalker Ranch. “It does a lot of that work for you.
“You’ve sort of got to be a mug to not take that costume into effect. There’s a lot of actors who say they don’t really know who their character is until they’re wearing his shoes. You can really say that with Krennic. You put that cape on, and you feel the job that you have to do, the challenge of that. Because it’s one thing to have this notion of pomp and grandeur, but to be able to achieve the purpose of making sure that Death Star is up and ready to roll — that matters. So it brings great power, but it also brings a great responsibility.”
As for keeping the thing clean, it probably helped that there were 12 different capes created, and an on-set dresser for Mendelsohn who could quick change any marred fabric after a battle or explosion. Plus, the gabardine fabric it’s made out of repels water; this way, when Krennic is striding across the waves of a distant planet, it doesn’t drag like a sack of wet laundry. This is a utilitarian field cape. And the costume designers are happy to point out that it’s a lot more durable than Darth Vader’s signature black wool look.
Their dedication to the accessory is unwavering: Even after months of white-cape cleanup, the pair never thought that maybe they should have gone with gray. In fact, you could make the case for cape envy on set. When asked whether other actors got a little green-eyed at Krennic’s style, Crossman joked: “Everybody wanted a cape.”
However, Dillon was quick to squash any rumors. “Everybody felt that they had their unique look, something good for their character. That’s what we try and do. It’s not gratuitous. We always think about the character and what it would be and what it should be. That’s kind of what drives it along. Cassian’s got his parka, Jyn’s got her waistcoat and her scarf.”
A lovely sentiment, but we can all agree: A scarf isn’t a cape.
Dillon and Crossman are not out of the cape-making business just yet, as they’ve both been given the job of reviving the look of character Lando Calrissian for Donald Glover in a yet-to-be-titled Han Solo spinoff feature. An accessory so important, it was mentioned in Glover’s announcement about his upcoming role. Fingers crossed for gold lining for young Lando.