Rogue One is finally here and has more than an origins-story twist at work behind the scenes. Lucasfilm creative executive Rayne Roberts was one of the team members who were instrumental in getting it here, and she shared her own origins story of sorts in Atlanta on Tuesday with a group of teenage boys from area high schools just days before Rogue One’s release Friday.
Seated between U.S. Army Capt. Greg Wynn and publicity firm Liquid Soul CEO Tirrell Whitley, Roberts was a warm force in her black bomber jacket, boots and locs that cascade past her shoulders. Hollywood execs and the Silicon Valley ones in San Francisco, where she works, rarely look like her. But Rayne Roberts and her boss, Kiri Hart, senior vice president of development at Lucasfilm, are signs that smart, capable people, regardless of gender or race, are indeed going for it and getting their shot.
Working on the team that molds and shapes Star Wars was nothing Roberts imagined. Photography was the initial lure for the Pasadena, Calif., native, who traveled to the East Coast to study at New York University to feed that passion. In the early 2000s, she worked on the photo team at Vibe magazine, where shoots for the Soulquarians—which included Outkast, the Roots, D’Angelo and Erykah Badu—in the Juice issue with Eminem and Dr. Dre on the cover blew her mind. While there, she even personally shot Meshell Ndegeocello.
After a few years of producing photo shoots, Roberts switched gears and returned to her home coast to delve into producing, beginning with courses at UCLA. She made her rounds with production companies, but a stint at the Kennedy/Marshall Co., then the primary home to current Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, changed her life. In 2012 she joined the force and moved to San Francisco.
“Star Wars was something I was a fan of before, but I didn’t ever imagine that I would be working on the films,” she admitted to The Root. “But I am deeply filled with the core notion of Star Wars [in] that there’s this force, this energy, that binds us and connects us and influences everything that we do, is a very important idea and a very special idea to work with.
“So the fact that I get to go to work every day and figure out how to integrate that basic notion into all these different stories is really, really meaningful to me, and it makes me feel like the stories we are telling people are not only about individual characters but about how we are all connected and how we all have this intrinsic power that we can tap into when we are motivated to that can expand our reach and expand our potential in the world. and that’s kind of what Star Wars is.”
Working on a team of incredible women is an added bonus, she shared. “It’s phenomenal. We just did a whole piece in the Hollywood Reporter about how many women executives there are at Lucasfilm and how we all support each other and how we’re all mentoring each other, or a lot of the women are mentoring me and vice versa, and there’s a real inclusivity there and a real sense of teamwork and not a lot of competition, and it’s like a really special environment,” she explained.
That dynamic shows up on the screen in characters like Rogue One’s female protagonist Jyn Orso and Rey in last year’s The Force Awakens. “It’s not very hard for us to think what these female characters think or how they can be motivated or how they can be strong or driven, because that’s how we all are; that’s how our moms are and our sisters. So it’s nice to have that shorthand because people don’t have to stretch and think about how you realize these female characters.”
In the Star Wars Hollywood galaxy, those women also include Rayne Roberts.
Ronda Racha Penrice is a freelance writer living in Atlanta. She is the author of African American History for Dummies.