LONDON—The very idea of a stand-alone “Star Wars” movie seemed to be counter-intuitive, but the heist story at the heart of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” was built on one line in the crawl following the title credits in 1977’s “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.”
Now, that line has become a movie in itself, becoming the first live-action “Star Wars” film to follow another (“Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens”) in just one year.
“Rogue One” is essentially Episode 3.5, as it happens in the years between “Episode III—Revenge of the Sith” and “Episode IV—A New Hope.”
At the Star Wars Celebration Europe, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said, “We’ve done sequels, prequels and now we have stand-alone stories.” These new ones are also being called “Star Wars Anthology” films.
“Rogue One” revolves around the planned theft of the Death Star plans, with the Rebellion assembling a ragtag bunch of assets to counter it. Key to the mission will be the determined, resourceful criminal Jyn Erso played by Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything”).
Jones said Erso is different from other “Star Wars” lead characters. “She’s not a character asking, ‘Who am I?’ She knows who she is and that propels her story forward.”
Joining Erso on the mission are right-hand man Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), among others.
“Rogue One” has two Rebel operatives played by Asian superstars, the blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang).
The veteran Whitaker, who, like many in the cast, is making his “Star Wars” debut, said Gerrera, the leader of this bunch, “will do what is needed to be done. He’ll do it by any means necessary.”
The “Rogue One” panel was enthusiastically hosted by Captain Phasma herself, Gwendoline Christie, and featured all the cast members. Making an imposing entrance at the panel by appearing in full costume with a bunch of Deathtroopers was Ben Mendelsohn, “Rogue One”’s big bad Director Orson Krennic.
“He’s a different kind of ‘Star Wars’ villain. He’s an Australian ‘Star Wars’ villain,” joked Mendelsohn.
The idea that “Rogue One” was going to be a different kind of “Star Wars” film was exemplified by the choice of director in Gareth Edwards (from 2014’s “Godzilla”).
“I watched ‘A New Hope’ every day as a kid until the Betamax tape broke,” Edwards said, while describing the making of “Rogue One” as an “insane, surreal experience,” punctuated by set visits by George Lucas and Mark Hamill. “I just met Luke Skywalker.”
The action in “Rogue One” happens on planets we’ve never seen before, such as the mysterious Jedha, where the lost Jedi are considered part of what may be a religion, and the tropical Scarif, where Shoretroopers—tropical Stormtroopers—do battle by the shore and palm trees.
Secrecy around “Rogue One” was a big deal at Star Wars Celebration, where fans saw the “Rogue One” poster for the first time.
But the biggest revelation from the “Rogue One” panel was the exclusive new trailer, which ended with the confirmation that Darth Vader was, indeed, appearing in the movie, which will open in cinemas in December. This announcement was met with raucous applause.
Being essentially the first full-length live-action “Star Wars” film that isn’t an “Episode” film yet is in canon, “Rogue One” represents something new for the franchise.
“It is a perfect bridge into the new type of movie we want to do,” Kennedy said. “This is our opportunity to expand and build on a new set of characters in a familiar setting and time. It’s a blend of old and new, an amazing celebration.”