The prophecy came true. Felicity Jones and Rian Johnson are both joining the Star Wars universe, and Lucasfilm has revealed the first spin-off movie will be called Rogue One.
Johnson, the filmmaker behind the high-school noir, Brick, and the time-travel crime saga, Looper, has finally completed negotiations to pick up the lightsaber baton from J.J. Abrams and make The Force Awakens followup, Star Wars: Episode VIII.
Meanwhile, Jones—a recent Oscar-nominee for The Theory of Everything—has also wrapped up talks to star in the first stand-alone film, separate from the new trilogy but a new look at the broader Star Wars universe. That film, to be directed by Godzilla filmmaker Gareth Edwards, will be Rogue One.
That film starts shooting this summer and it arrives in theaters Dec. 16, 2016.
Episode VIII will arrive in theaters May 26, 2017, which is 40 years (plus one day) from the release of the original Star Wars film in 1977.
Although it was well known that both Jones and Johnson were in serious talks to enter the ever-expanding realm of Star Wars movies, and Johnson hinted via Twitter that the rumors were true, it only became official today, after Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Robert Iger revealed the news at an investors conference.
So what is Rogue One about? Lucasfilm didn’t reveal any story points, but Star Wars fans know the name as a reference to the leader of the Rebel’s elite group of fighter pilots—also known as Rogue Leader.
Luke Skywalker was one. Although he was just a rookie pilot in the original Star Wars: A New Hope, his success destroying the Death Star earned him a promotion. By the time of The Empire Strikes Back, he was Rogue One, leading the other Snowspeeders into battle during the siege on the ice planet Hoth.
Chris Weitz, an Oscar nominee himself with 2002’s About a Boy, has written the screenplay, and Knoll will executive produce Rogue One alongside Simon Emanuel (The Dark Knight Rises) and Jason McGatlin (War of the Worlds), with John Swartz, currently working on this December’s The Force Awakens, co-producing.
Lucasfilm credited the idea for the story of Rogue One to John Knoll, a visual effects supervisor and chief creative officer at Industrial Light & Magic, a multiple Oscar nominee who won for the effects in 2006’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm, will produce with Tony To, whose credits include the HBO WWII miniseries Band of Brothers and The Pacific. To’s involvement actually is the biggest clue about what to expect.
If we’re getting a starfighter story, a Top Gun in another galaxy, hiring To as producer suggests Rogue One may be aiming for a grittier feel, a soldier’s story, something from the front lines of the ever-raging battle between good and evil.
Rogue Squadron was also the subject of some beloved “expanded universe” video games, including a 1998 game for Nintendo 64 and a handful of sequels on later platforms. Author Timothy Zahn also pioneered development of the group in his 1991 novel, Heir to the Empire, while Michael A. Stackpole wrote a series of X-Wing based novels focused on these pilots.
As for Episode VIII … less was revealed about that movie, which is to be expected given that Episode VII, The Force Awakens, remains deeply secret.
Johnson will both write and direct the movie, and he has been joined by his longtime producer, Ram Bergman, who helped him make Looper, Brick, and The Brothers Bloom. Bergman also produced Don Jon, so those hoping Joseph Gordon-Levitt may join the Star Wars world in some capacity can rest easy knowing, at the very least, they have his number.
Johnson’s other credits include some of the most memorable episodes of AMC’s Breaking Bad, including the final-season episode “Ozymandias,” which is iconic among fans of the show because … well, just watch it. Why would we spoil what happens?
There is also a second spin-off in the works, an unspecified film from Chronicle filmmaker Josh Trank, and Iger has indicated that more may be on the way. Two years ago, highly placed sources within Lucasfilm told EW that two concepts being pursued as stand-alone films were a young Han Solo tale and another focusing on Boba Fett and his rival bounty hunters.
Have those been scuttled, or are they simply still under wraps until later?
As Yoda once said: “Always pass on what you have learned.”
Of course, that little green Jedi also said: “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”
In a related video, Star Wars features prominently in EW‘s “Mishaps in Space” supercut: