It’s hard to pin down the single greatest moment of Star Wars Celebration. Impossible, actually. From being in a room with 4,000 fellow Star Wars fans and seeing the new trailer for The Force Awakens, to the Star Wars Rebels Season 2 premiere, to learning more about Rogue One–how could I choose? That said, Sunday’s panel featuring Gareth Edwards (Josh Trank was unavailable to make it) delivered more tidbits than I anticipated. Edwards appeared on the main stage with Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy, Kiri Hart, and Pablo Hidalgo and Industrial Light and Magic’s (ILM) John Knoll. We didn’t get all the secrets about Rogue One–and I wouldn’t want to, it’s too soon–but I walked away with goosebumps.
The focus of the panel was clearly the standalone films which Lucasfilm is dubbing anthology films. Kennedy said it was George Lucas’s idea to not only pick up the main saga again and move forward with a sequel trilogy but that he was “also really interested in exploring [all] the stories that might exist inside the universe.” Hart said they’ve been meeting a lot of amazing writing and directing talent and that it’s been fun to play matchmaker and to find the stories each filmmaker wants to tell within Star Wars. She said it’s an “opportunity to do things a little unexpected.”
Unexpected as in a movie that takes us on the ground of the Rebellion alongside the soldiers. Hart explained that after John Knoll pitched this concept to them, she had the challenge of finding the right director for Rogue One and Edwards came up in conversations. They met, Hart saw Edwards had reverence for Star Wars, and she sent him a piece of paper. Edwards said, “I was honestly hoping I would hate it.” He was in the middle of filming, he wanted to take the next six months off, and he wanted it to be rubbish. But that wasn’t the case. He said, “I couldn’t sit in a cinema and know someone else made this film.”
Plus, his enthusiasm for the Wars goes deep. For his 30th birthday, Edwards traveled to Tunisia to visit the Lars homestead. He shared photos from his trip during the panel and the kicker? He packed blue food dye so he could drink blue milk in the home of Luke Skywalker.
Rogue One seems practically made for Edwards to direct. Since shooting doesn’t begin until this summer in the United Kingdom and around the world, Edwards didn’t have footage to show off. Instead he worked with ILM to cut together a teaser. It was as vague as vague can be, but it didn’t matter. It’s new Star Wars, and the pan over a forest planet with the Death Star looming in the atmosphere and crackling pilot chatter over the Rogue One logo made the room explode in applause and cheers.
The official summary for the film: A rogue band of resistance fighters unite for a daring mission to steal the Death Star plans and bring a new hope to the galaxy. Typing that sentence gave me goose bumps. This isn’t a film about Jedi. This is a film about real people in the trenches fighting against the Empire and Felicity Jones is one of the Rebel soldiers. Edwards said the absence of the Jedi hangs over the movie. Here, it comes down to a group of individuals who don’t have magical powers. Edwards said “real” is the word used the most to describe the tone of the film. It’s not black and white, good and evil. It’s a time of war. This is the gray area leading into different times.
Rogue One takes place in between Episodes III and IV, more towards IV, and yes, that is covering the same time period as Star Wars Rebels. Hart said they’re very much aware things are happening on the same parts of the timeline and hinted there are opportunities there.
Rogue One is scheduled to hit theaters on December 16, 2016. Crew members revealed at the panel include director of photography Greig Fraser, special effects supervisor Neil Corbould, casting director Jina Jay, sound designer Chris Scarabosio, co-production designers Doug Chiang and Neil Lamont, creature effects supervisor Neal Scanlan, and co-costume designers Dave Crossman and Glyn Dillon.