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How Did Disney+’s “The Mandalorian” Actress Gina Carano Learn That She Was First In Line For The Role Of Cara Dune?

The ex-MMA star tells that story in this exclusive bonus clip from Chris Connelly's feature, which resulted in part from an ESPN producer's love of combat sports and Star Wars

The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars series, available only on Disney+, started streaming Nov. 12.

Gina Carano as “Cara Dune”

But in October at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland Park, worlds collided when ESPN reporter Chris Connelly, producer Kelsey Puckett and actress Gina Carano convened for a sunrise interview that is appearing on ESPN platforms.

The Mandalorian features Carano, a former MMA fighter (7-1 record) who portrays an “ex-rebel shock trooper” named Cara Dune (as depicted in the inline photo). As she reveals to Connelly in the clip above that’s exclusive to Front Row, Carano originally thought series creator Jon Favreau was offering a part as a “female Chewbacca.”

Connelly, in his myriad roles as a storyteller for Rolling Stone, Premiere, MTV and ABC News among many other platforms, has nearly 40 years experience interacting with key figures in the Star Wars universe.

And ESPN associate producer MMA Kelsey Puckett might have been even more of a natural for this feature. Puckett is not only a Star Wars fan but also a devotee of MMA and Carano. She pitched the idea to interview Carano, whose brief but successful MMA career from 2006-09 inspired many of today’s female UFC fighters.

Connelly gives Front Row details on the storytelling in the Q&A and sidebars below.

How did the ESPN feature idea come about?

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It was the excellent [ESPN senior managing producer] Lydelle King of the Features Unit who brought the idea to my attention and asked me to take part; we’ve worked together for years on “My Wish,” among other projects. Lydelle introduced me to Kelsey Puckett [see sidebar below], a really talented young producer who’s been covering MMA for us and also has a longstanding love of Star Wars.

They and [ESPN Vice President, Original Content & Features] Craig Lazarus and [Vice President, MMA Production] Glenn Jacobs, worked with the ESPN Synergy Team to score us this interview, and in addition managed to get us a primo location at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland Park. You can see the Millennium Falcon in the background of our sunrise interview.

Gina was willing to get up bright and early to talk with us the day before what I think was a weekend’s worth of interviews, for which we were also most grateful. Kelsey later spoke with both the stunt coordinator Ryan Watson and executive producer/director Dave Filoni about Gina and her work on The Mandalorian. Throughout the process, I very much benefitted from Kelsey’s encyclopedic knowledge of MMA and its history, especially in terms of the ways in which Gina inspired some of the UFC’s biggest stars.

Watch the digital version of the Connelly-Carano interview below.

Kelsey Puckett produced the videos.

Profiling Carano Allowed MMA Producer, Star Wars Fan To Combine Best Of Both Worlds

ESPN associate producer MMA Kelsey Puckett loves combat sports and Star Wars.

Thus, profiling Gina Carano was right in Puckett’s wheelhouse.

“I pitched the piece when I heard that Gina had been cast in the upcoming Mandalorian series,” Puckett said. “As I’m a fan of both MMA and Star Wars, the idea was something that I was really passionate about. It meant a lot to me to feature the story of someone who’s not only inspired me but also laid the foundation for women to thrive in MMA for years to come.”

Puckett practices Muay Thai, a discipline Carano also competed in, and Jiu Jitsu.

Puckett attended Michigan State but developed a love of MMA while growing up in Laguna Hills, Calif.

“Fights were always on in restaurants on Saturday nights,” she said. “I became an MMA fan after the first time I saw Chuck Liddell knock out Randy Couture [in UFC 57 in 2006]. His fighting style was so exciting. I was hooked.”

Her parents allowed her to watch Star Wars after she became a fan of another iconic movie franchise.

“I watched Star Wars: A New Hope after my parents let me watch Indiana Jones [in Raiders Of The Lost Ark and subsequent films] since Harrison Ford was my favorite actor as a kid.”

Ford, of course, starred as Han Solo in the Star Wars movies and as Indiana Jones.

Connelly’s Star Wars Connections Span Nearly 40 Years

“I do have some history covering Star Wars,” Chris Connelly says with his trademark modesty.

What a history it is, as illustrated in the photos and captions above. They represent just a portion of Connelly’s reporting on the Star Wars universe.