Exclusive: Benjamin Hartley | A Pilot’s Perspective (Interview)
A FOTF exclusive Interview with Rogue One’s X-Wing Pilot: Red Seven
With the Skywalker legacy dominating the episodic entries into the lore of the Star Wars saga, a new series of anthology movies were commissioned to elaborate on the side stories set amidst the war between the rebellion and the empire. Sandwiched between the events of Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: A New Hope, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story introduced us to a period where the driving forces behind the rebel alliance were forging a path of resistance against the tyranny of the galactic empire.
With the rebel alliance in its infancy, the fans were witness to the arrival of classic Star Wars staples like the famous Red Squadron, a company of X-Wing fighter pilots that were thrust into the limelight during the attack on the Death Star in A New Hope. With the attack on the Scarif shield gate taking centre stage in Rogue One’s gripping finale, we were introduced to the pilots responsible for the mission’s success. One such pilot was Harb Binli, call-sign Red Seven. While a relatively recent addition to Red Squadron, Binli’s talent and tenacity meant he particularly excelled at strafing runs against point defence cannons.
The character was brought to life fantastically by actor Benjamin Hartley, a fresh face to the Star Wars fraternity, who will now be entered into the annals of every fans hall of fame. I recently had the chance to sit down with the man himself and probed him on his experience of filming Rogue One as well as the exhilaration of jumping into the cockpit of an X-Wing fighter.
Interview with Benjamin Hartley
Phil: Were you a fan of the Star Wars Movies growing up?
Ben: Yes, I was! I grew up in Africa during the 70s, so didn’t have that much exposure to A New Hope, but after we moved to Mexico in the early 80’s I had all the hype coming down from the USA and got into it then.
Phil: Which was your favourite movie and why?
Ben: I suppose I was the perfect age for Return of the Jedi when it came out — we saw it in the cinema then watched it over and over again on video. That film triggered fascination with the figures — I collected and played with them all. Not very ‘cool’, but I even built an Ewok village in a tree in the garden. My best ever swap was 2 speeder bikes that I picked up on holiday in the States for a Millennium Falcon from a kid at school in Mexico City. I subsequently watched the previous episodes and, like most, thought The Empire Strikes Back was the best film — though Return of the Jedi still remains my favourite!
Phil: Who was your favourite character and why?
Ben: I was crazy about Lando Calrissian in both films. I think I loved the fact he was a bit of an unpredictable scoundrel, though he came good in the end — and any past friend of Han Solo must have had an amazing backstory as well!
Phil: How did you come to be a part of Rogue One?
Ben: My foray into film all started off after I founded Military Film Services, a company that provides military and action specialists to the film and television industry. I am an ex-Navy helicopter pilot, and started the company with an ex-Royal Marines colleague Andrew Buckley, who is now a top Location Manager. We have worked on many great productions such as World War Z, Kick Ass, Edge of Tomorrow, Kingsman, Justice League, etc. we got a call to help provide a lot of the pilots and ground crew to the Yavin scene and it was too good an opportunity for me to not put myself forward for a role as well. I was lucky to be selected to be an X-Wing Pilot and I was also very fortunate to be an aviation advisor, helping the cast and production with some of the scenes in the various space craft.
Phil: How did your aviation experience apply to flying an X-Wing Fighter for the rebellion?
Ben: It gave a real sense of authenticity and realism to have actual pilots as X-Wing pilots in the film. Simple things like carrying out realistic walk-around’s of the X-Wing before a flight (a real-life procedure) makes the scene look extra real. There are also certain ways that military pilots might walk, hold their helmets, talk with ground crew etc. which will come across on-screen. Of course, when it came to advising the cast how to actually fly the spacecraft it helped immensely — how one might talk over the radio, the flying characteristics of the craft, rates of movement of the flying controls, and what sort of buttons and switches may be made at certain times during flight, also helped. The best thing of all though, was the fact that as a pilot I was lucky to be able to jump in and out of the actual life sized X-Wings on set — a boyhood dream and an experience I will never forget.
Phil: Did you train the entire roster of Rebel pilots how to fly?
Ben: No, the beauty of the company is that we provide people who have done the job before — so the private army on Kingsman was all made up of ex-Royal Marines etc., and most of the X-Wing crew were ex and still-serving Royal Navy and Army pilots. But I did train the cast the basics — most actors are so professional that they want to know all the detail that their character would know. They wanted to know exactly what to do at the controls, and have extra knowledge about flying which may make their performance that bit more believable. The whole cast on Rogue One were amazing, and it shows on-screen.
Phil: What was it like being inside the Rebel command base on Yavin 4 standing alongside Felicity Jones?
Ben: The Yavin base was incredible. The set designers and builders did the most amazing job. The base was huge, and even the walls were utterly realistic — like an old temple, damp, stone walls with growth and algae etc.… all the way up to the top — even where a camera shot would never pick it up. You would have to look so closely, and actually reach out and touch it to know it wasn’t real, and it’s that sense of pride and attention to detail that dominates the Star Wars universe by all those that work on it. I believe there will be some great behind-the-scenes stuff on the DVD/Blu-Ray and Digital releases of the film, which may show more of what I mean and will be well worth buying! Walking in there, in costume, for the first time, was the most amazing feeling ever. Every single person in there was blown away by how real it felt. Being surrounded by the hundreds of extras, droids, life sized X-Wing, with fully functioning cockpits. It felt exactly as you’d imagine — like you stepped into one of the films. The scene around the table was shot over a number of days. It was actually a very hard scene to light and shoot and when I had to take my place next to Felicity, it was just a case of remember your positions and reactions to help with continuity. It was all so realistic, with no green screen, so getting into the character and the moment was very easy indeed. We knew the gravity of the situation, we knew the future of the galaxy could rest on the outcome of that meeting, and when it came to it, we knew we may all have to battle insurmountable odds against the deadliest weapon of mass destruction ever. What is great, is that every person in that scene felt it too — it was a terrific scene to be a part of.
Phil: What was the biggest challenge of taking on the role of Harb Binli and did you enjoy your experience on set?
Ben: Being on set was incredible. It is very busy, with loads of crew, extras and cast, all having to be co-ordinated, fed, put through costume and make-up. It’s a real feat of logistics as well as one of creative endeavour. Being Harb Binli was much like being a pilot on an aircraft carrier — so it felt very familiar! But I guess the challenge of being a character in that universe is to not get over-awed and to act as naturally as possible without staring at all the things you know and love about Star Wars… the T-65s, C-3PO etc. etc.!!
Phil: Where did the name Harb Binli come from?
Ben: Sometimes the character names are vague anagrams — I guess mine may be the same.
Phil: Did your character survive the attack on Scarif?
Ben: Yes, my character survives the Battle on Scarif. Red Squadron was tasked with supporting the assault squadron, protecting the rebel fleet above Scarif and trying to take down the shield — unfortunately my wing mate, Pedrin Gaul didn’t survive (and that left his Red Five call-sign free for a certain young crop-duster to take for the Battle of Yavin!).
Phil: How do you feel about being idolised as a Star Wars character?
Ben: I’m both honoured and excited.
Phil: When can we expect to see a Harb Binli (Red Seven) action figure on the shelves?
Ben: I’m not sure when, or if, there will ever be one! There are so many characters that could be made into figures; it would really be the ultimate topping to the most amazing experience. From an obsession with the action figures growing up, to having your own figure….one can but dream!
Phil: If you could play any other Star Wars character, who would it be and why?
Ben: Though I loved Lando growing up, I guess Han Solo is the best character in the films. So, Han.
Phil: Are you looking forward to The Last Jedi?
Ben: Are you kidding me?!!
Phil: And finally…now that Rogue One is done and dusted, what’s next for you?
Ben: Unfortunately, we can never discuss projects until they are released!
In the finest Star Wars fashion, both new and exciting characters have been introduced in Rogue One and the fans have embraced them wholeheartedly. It is a true testament to the dedicated studio heads at Lucasfilm who continuously seek out the finest representatives for each and every department to bring Star Wars to life with stunning brilliance. With Benjamin Hartley on hand to bring his considerable piloting expertise to Rogue One, we were afforded a true experience that kept the movie both grounded and as realistic as possible. Ben Hartley has brought to life a stunning pilot in Harb Binli and I cannot wait to add his action figure to my collection of X-Wing pilots. (There’s a hint in there somewhere Hasbro!)
And finally, I would like to extend my personal thanks to Benjamin Hartley for giving up his free time and granting this exclusive Future of the Force interview
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is available to buy on Blu Ray and DVD now. be sure to grab your copy now and join the fight against the empire!
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Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!