Who Is Ben Mendelsohn Playing In 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'? We Run Down The Theories

The star of last week's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story trailer was undoubtedly Jyn Erso, the "reckless, aggressive, undisciplined" rebel fighter played by Felicity Jones. But surrounding her is a cast that looks positively stuffed with potential scene-stealers, like the imposing figure played by Ben Mendelsohn. There's not much we know for sure about the character at this point, other than that he's some sort of high-ranking Imperial officer with an uncanny talent for keeping his white cape clean even as he drags it through the mud.

Which, of course, just means there's lots and lots of room for theories and speculation. After the jump, let's run down some guesses about who this mysterious Ben Mendelsohn Rogue One character might be. 

Grand Moff Tarkin

Grand Moff Tarkin

With his distinguished bearing, prominent cheekbones, and silvery hair, Mendelsohn's character bears a reasonable resemblance to Peter Cushing in A New Hope, which has led some to wonder if he's playing a younger version of Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. But the uniform and rank insignia don't match up, as you can see for yourself. It wouldn't be impossible for director Gareth Edwards and his team to argue that Tarkin's role in the Empire has changed between Rogue One and A New Hope, given that Rogue One takes place a little bit before A New Hope, but it seems like an awfully dramatic change. Not to mention an unnecessary one. If Rogue One wanted to give us a younger Tarkin, there would be easier ways to do it than by putting forth an actor who looks vaguely like Cushing in an entirely different uniform, with some convoluted backstory to explain the apparent inconsistencies.

grand admiral thrawn

Grand Admiral Thrawn

Grand Admiral Thrawn is a character who originated in Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy in the 1990s — which, remember, are now considered non-canon "Legends." Though he's never appeared in any of the movies, Thrawn is a favorite among Star Wars diehards, and one many fans would surely love to see cross over into the official canon. Mendelsohn is wearing a white uniform like the one Thrawn wears, and he seems to project a similar aura of calculating leadership.

That said, Mendelsohn doesn't really fit the character's physical description at all, as Thrawn is supposed to have blue skin and red eyes. Plus, the rank insignia doesn't line up; Mendelsohn's is six red over six blue, suggesting a fleet admiral, while Thrawn is a grand admiral. While Edwards and company could, in theory, introduce a different version of Thrawn with a different look and a different rank, it seems unlikely he'd want to. Why create an unfaithful adaptation of a beloved character and thus risk the ire of fans, when he could just start from scratch with a completely new character? Not to mention there are already rumors Thrawn will enter the canon in a different way.

Wulff Yularen

Wulff Yularen appeared briefly in A New Hope and had a much bigger presence in The Clone Wars series. In A New Hope he wears the white uniform of the Imperial Security Bureau, not unlike the costume Mendelsohn is wearing. And Mendelsohn looks similar enough to Yularen's live-action and animated appearance that Rogue One could probably pass them off as the same character and get away with it. However, they aren't a perfect fit. Yularen seems to be a colonel in A New Hope, and Mendelsohn appears to rank higher than that. More to the point, while there's no hard evidence they aren't the same character, there's also no real evidence that they are, aside from this passing physical resemblance.

Harus Ison

Shortly after the Rogue One trailer dropped, actor Stephen Stanton, who voices Tarkin and others in Star Wars Rebels, suggested on Twitter that Mendelsohn's character could have something to do with James Luceno's (canon) novel Tarkin. It's unclear if Stanton actually knows something we don't, or if he's just engaging in playful speculation with fans. But just in case it's the former, some fans have combed through the book for potential character names and come up with Harus Ison, who was first introduced there.

This guy is the deputy director of the Imperial Security Bureau and according to the Reddit poster is described as "a brawny, white-haired, old-guard loyalist with a perpetually flushed face." He's a minor character even in the Tarkin novel, so this would be a pretty deep cut. Which is why this theory seems unlikely to pan out — though if it does, it'd be a fun nod at Star Wars' most obsessive followers.

Other characters from Tarkin that fans have suggested:

  • Armand Izard, the director of the Commission for the Preservation for the New Order.
  • Cassel, a commander in the Naval Intelligence Agency.
  • Mas Amedda, Palpatine's Grand Vizier and, we should point out, not a human.
  • Star Wars Aftermath reviews

    The Unnamed Fleet Admiral from Aftermath

    This is how deep the Star Wars universe goes: After Mendelsohn popped up in the Rogue One trailer, some fans on Reddit wondered if he might be playing a certain character who hasn't even been named in the canon. Specifically, the fleet admiral from the end of Chuck Wendig's (canon) novel Aftermath, which unfolds between The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Not much is known about this character, which means there's not a lot of evidence either way. However, it should be noted that Mendelsohn's rank insignia (six red over six blue, with one cylinder on each side) most closely corresponds to the fleet admiral rank. So... maybe? On the one hand, this would help strengthen the connection between the movies and the books, but on the other, there's no obvious reason for Rogue One to go out of its way to loop in such a minor character.

    Ben Mendelsohn in Slow West

    Someone Completely New We've Never Heard Of

    Honestly, if we had to guess, this seems the likeliest answer to the big fat mystery of who Mendelsohn is playing in Rogue One. For one thing, it's the option that'd give the Rogue One team the most creative freedom. And The Force Awakens proved that these Disney-era Star Wars movies aren't afraid to introduce completely unfamiliar characters into the canon who were neither referenced in the earlier films nor adapted from existing Expanded Universe (now Legends) stories.

    That's not to say he won't have ties to characters we know and love — he obviously works with the Empire, and this being Star Wars it's always possible he'll turn out to be someone's dad or something — but the character himself is probably someone we've never met. And that may actually be the most ideal outcome. The Star Wars galaxy is a big place of infinite possibilities, and Mendelsohn is the kind of actor who can make any character pop. Wouldn't it be great if he had the opportunity to bring a new, instantly iconic villain to the Star Wars universe?

    (Note: the photo above is of Mendelsohn in Slow West, which has nothing to do with Rogue One. But it's a really good movie you should watch anyway, and it's proof that Mendelsohn has been pulling off fabulous outerwear since long before he set out for the galaxy far, far away.)

    All right, readers, it's your turn. Who'd we miss? Or do you think Mendelsohn is playing a new character entirely?