It’s an early morning at D23, Disney’s biennial convention, and Janina Gavankar is wide-eyed, bouncing with enthusiasm and ready to talk about E3.
If you missed her appearance at E3’s EA Play event last month, there’s a good chance you heard about Gavankar’s performance. Decked out in a Star Wars-themed dress designed by Elhoffer Design, Gavankar’s commitment to her role as Imperial solider Iden Versio in Star Wars Battlefront 2 and her enthusiasm for the show quickly caught on. Polygon even named her the best part of EA Play.
A month later, Gavankar is just as enthusiastic about her part in EA Play’s presence at E3. When asked by Polygon if she would ever consider going back to host other showcases — perhaps becoming the next Aisha Tyler, who made a name for herself as the best host of E3 while working with Ubisoft — Gavankar froze.
“That cripples me with excitement,” Gavankar said. “I’m paralyzed by the idea of anyone allowing me the opportunity to do that. I’ve wanted to be a part of the games industry for so long in any capacity that anyone would let me be a part of.”
Gavankar said she was worried that people might have been condescending about her performance at E3, calling her out for taking it so seriously when others in the past have not. Now having done it, she added, it’s an experience she would like to replicate both for EA and other studios if the chance came up.
“I’m so happy that people are not trolling me for being as nerdy as I am,” Gavankar said. “I’ve been really honest and made myself really vulnerable and that can be really dangerous. Because I’ve done that before in Hollywood and that has not gone well for me.
“But in the games industry, you’re surrounded by like minds and open hearts. It’s been so special and, really, so unexpected.”
With a single-player campaign in Battlefront 2 that spans three decades of Star Wars — the campaign takes place between the events of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and Star Wars: The Force Awakens — there’s a lot riding on her elite TIE Fighter-pilot character. Not only will she represent what has happened within those three decades, but as a member of the Imperial side, she’ll have to get people to understand her character.
Gavankar has spoken about Versio in the past and she admits that she isn’t expecting players to empathize with her character and the Imperials. Gavankar added that from her perspective, and the perspective of other Imperial soldiers, they couldn’t give a damn about whether players were empathizing with them.
“I don’t think the Imperials are worried about your empathy,” Gavankar pointed out. “We have bigger things to worry about like the thousands of people that the Rebels just exploded before our eyes and our dead emperor. So, screw your empathy, but we have some work to do.”
That being said, however, Gavankar said she couldn’t help but get attached to the character she plays and the story she was carrying out. While others might not empathize with Versio, Gavankar said she gets where the character is coming from and believes in her mission.
“There’s a book coming out [Battlefront 2: Inferno Squad] and, the book is really good, but it also gives you the backstory about the dawn of the Inferno Squad and it’s highly emotional,” Gavankar said. “There’s something that happens at the end of the book that is so emotional that, when I was sitting at home playing a game, I had to pause it and I just started crying because I was feeling her life.
“I was feeling grief for her. Iden hasn’t had a simple life and she’s had a complicated existence and of course I have empathy for her.”
With so much attention being paid to Versio and the Inferno Squad, one of the most logical questions is whether or not Versio could be incorporated into other Star Wars properties. With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story setting a precedent for the franchise, by exploring a period of time that until now was only canonical in books and comics, could Versio even get her own movie?
Steve Blank, a creative executive at the Lucasfilm Story Group, told Polygon that Battlefront 2 is now a resource for the Story Group to pull from and, while they can’t get into specifics, that means it’s very much canonical.
“In the way that we are building out the continuity, in the way that we think of Star Wars as a galaxy and all the stories that we’re telling, as we craft real world chronology and as we move forward, we are always using each new piece of content as a resource and as a well of information,” Blank said. “We’re always paying attention to it to make sure that it a) always lines up and b) we can pull different characters or locations or whatever it happens to be to use in different settings.
“I can’t go into any specific details, but I can say that Battlefront 2 is now a resource for us.”
Gavankar, naturally, is very excited by the idea of Versio’s story continuing in some way. Whether that’s a TV show, film, comic or game, Gavankar said she’s infatuated with the character and is more than willing to continue playing her.
Star Wars: Battlefront 2 will be released for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One on Nov. 17. A multiplayer beta for the game will be available for all users on all platforms from Oct. 6-9. EA Access subscribers will get a two-day preview of the beta beginning Oct. 4