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Why Cameron Monaghan wanted a ‘darker’ Cal Kestis in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

When we first met Cal Kestis in 2019’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, he was just a young Padawan. A redheaded kid draped in an unflattering poncho, Cal would grow into a full-blown Jedi by the end of the game. It was a classic Star Wars arc in video game form, but one that left players wanting more. It’s great that we got to see that growth, but who could resist the idea of a sequel where his newly awakened powers would be fully unleashed?

Cameron Monaghan, who reprises his role as Cal in next year’s Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, had that same itch. The Gotham and Shameless star was already thinking about where Cal could go next before Fallen Order was even out. Monaghan’s ambitions weren’t focused so much on what kinds of cool lightsaber tricks Cal could pick up between games, but rather how to bring more complexity to one of Star Wars’ newest Jedis.

“In the first game, he had a naivete and a wide-eyed nature that I love about Cal,” Monaghan tells Digital Trends. “But I think tha,t situationally, if you’re in such a desperate place for so many years and fighting and being a soldier and a tool for resistance, at some point, it’s going to start to change the way you see the world around you.”

I sat down with Cameron Monaghan ahead of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor’s grand reveal at this year’s Game Awards. The actor explained how Cal has changed in the five-year time skip between games and shared fresh details on the sequel’s new companion character, Bode Akuna. Monaghan explained the balancing act that comes with trying to stay focused on a character’s personal journey when working within a much larger, expanded universe — and he offered some praise for Andor too.

Back before a sequel was greenlit, when you were waiting to see if Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order would get one, what did you want to do with Cal Kestis if you got a second run with him?

When we were making the first game, we had inklings that we would maybe want to do more with it if it was successful. I’ll never forget when we had the wrap party for the first game and Stig Asmussen, the head of Respawn, was like, “What do you want to do?” I had this crazy moment where I was like, “Wow, I really wish I was more prepared for this!’”

But I was able to give a broad strokes answer: I wanted to see Cal a number of years on from the first game and see him mature and have a different outlook. A more complex, darker, more challenged character. In the first game, he had a naivete and a wide-eyed nature that I love about Cal. But I think that, situationally, if you’re in such a desperate place for so many years and fighting and being a soldier and a tool for resistance, at some point, it’s going to start to change the way you see the world around you. I wanted to explore what that looked like for Cal.

He’s been through some stuff, and I think over the last two years, we’ve all been through some stuff, man!

The big question I really wanted to ask was: What does it mean to be on the light side of the force? Especially what happens when you have situations that you can’t necessarily win and you’re faced with a challenge where there’s not necessarily a right answer. What does that mean to be a good person? Those were the broad strokes we said that night, and then our incredible writing team sat on it. They also had similar feelings about what they wanted to do, so they cooked that up for the next year or so and we started filming from there.

Having seen the trailer, it looks like there are a lot more characters this time. How have some of those relationships brought out new sides of Cal?

We see a number of allies – some are familiar, some are new. Specifically, we have a character named Bode Akuna that we introduce early in the game, who becomes an interesting ally. In many ways, it’s the first time we get to see a brother for Cal. [He’s] a companion who has been on a similar journey as him and has made different decisions along the way, but I think that they both understand and respect each other for it. And the actor who plays him, Noshir Dalal, is a very talented performer who brings this wonderful dynamic and energy. That’s one of my favorite things with this new game, the dynamic between Cal and Bode.

There are a bunch of great new characters, as well as situations and environments that inform and change the overall vibe.

The first game was kind of in a vacuum, but now Cal is part of Star Wars canon. He’s mentioned in novels, and there’s a sense that he’s part of the world. Did that change how you prepared for the character?

No. The fact that Cal exists in other media was always told to me from the beginning as a possibility. I think that it’s great to be able to explore him in a book or comic, but ultimately human beings don’t think of themselves as a situation outside of what is the present. At any moment, from one to the next, we’re generally trying to pick what our next move is and use the things we’ve been experiencing prior to inform what that decision is going to be.

I think it’s very important when playing any character — regardless of if you’re in a media universe — you can’t be like, “What is a Star Wars character going to do?” You have to say, “What is Cal going to do? What is his story so far, and what are we trying to do with that?” So that was the most important thing. Just trying to be present and create a performance that feels genuine and immediate from one moment to the next.

There is so much great Star Wars media happening right now, like Andor. What makes the Star Wars Jedi series so special in that landscape?

I’m a huge fan of Andor and what they’re doing. They’re obviously showing this side that is ground-level, grounded, this immediate perspective. I think that with any story, the question is always: what is the perspective? We’re seeing this story pretty immediately through Cal’s eyes and with his stories. I always wanted there to be this sense of adventure and this amazing build of scale, and to make sure we retain the fun and excitement, but not let that eclipse what, to me, is the emotional center: the relationship he has with his adopted family of sorts.

Something specifically this story brings is an emotionally complicated center where we’re exploring some challenging questions — questions this character has to face and what that’s going to show to him. He’s going to make decisions that I can’t wait for people to talk about. I genuinely want to see what people’s perspective is going to be.

There’s a very new look for Cal in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. How does that reflect the change we’re going to see in the character here?

Cal is older, as am I! And as we continue to get older, we shift and we change. He’s been through some stuff, and I think over the last two years, we’ve all been through some stuff, man! I think we wanted to visually mature the character and reflect what is going on internally with him. When we find him at the start of our story, he hasn’t had the chance to find a razor in a while. You can tell it’s desperate because he’s got the stubble, which apparently I do now too.

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor will be released for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S on March 17, 2023.

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