Whether or not the first standalone Star Wars spinoff movie Disney plans to release in 2016 brings back some characters from Episode VII or the original trilogy remains a mystery, but at least one major rumor has just become true.
Multiple reports pointed towards the possibility that Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) were frontrunners for the lead role in the first Star Wars spinoff to be directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla). As it turns out, Jones has officially landed the gig, as part of a set of announcements Disney made today during an investors meeting.
Felicity Jones will play the lead in Star Wars: Rogue One, the first franchise spinoff for Lucasfilm and Disney, which will open in theaters December 16, 2016. The release date holds true to statements from Disney execs about annualizing the Star Wars movie brand, with standalone character-focused movies filling in the schedule gaps between core episodic installments.
On that note, Rian Johnson's Star Wars: Episode VIII also got an official release date for just five months after Star Wars: Rogue One. More on that here.
Rogue One is the title for the first film in a unique series of big-screen adventures that explores the characters and events beyond the core Star Wars saga. Rogue One will be directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla) and written by Oscar nominee Chris Weitz (Cinderella, About a Boy, Antz). The first actress cast is Felicity Jones, who garnered an Academy Award nomination and critical acclaim for her performance in The Theory of Everything. The idea for the story of Rogue One came from John Knoll, an Academy Award-winning visual effects supervisor and chief creative officer at Industrial Light & Magic. He will executive produce along with Simon Emanuel (The Dark Knight Rises, Fast & Furious 6) and Jason McGatlin (Tintin, War of the Worlds). Kathleen Kennedy and Tony To (Band of Brothers, The Pacific) are on board to produce and John Swartz (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) will co-produce. The film starts shooting this summer in London and is due for release on December 16, 2016.
Expect more details and casting news in the near future. As Jones was only listed as testing for the part a few weeks ago, so to have names including Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) and Édgar Ramírez (Deliver Us From Evil).
A script for Star Wars: Rogue One is already in place and currently undergoing revisions by Chris Weitz and some rumors point to the story including younger versions of Boba Fett and Han Solo, and potentially a plot to steal the Death Star plans. The subtitle Rogue One hints at the origins of Rogue Squadron, the Rebel Alliance's elite pilots who take on the most dangerous and important of missions against the Empire - a major component of the (non-canon) expanded universe fiction Disney may pull elements from.
Similar to how Rian Johnson was brought in to takeover for J.J. Abrams in helming Episodes 8 & 9, the standalone spinoffs were part of the plan from the get-go. Disney isn't shy about making it clear that they are attempting to build a larger, shared universe similar to what their Marvel Studios has done with The Avengers brand, and going forward it wouldn't be surprising to see two movies per year under the Star Wars banner.
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Star Wars: The Force Awakens releases in theaters December 18, 2015. Star Wars: Rogue One releases in theaters December 16, 2016.