By Anthony Breznican
August 15, 2015 at 09:12 PM EDT
Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm
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The battlefield is shifting from the stars to an actual field. The cast of Star Wars: Rogue One was announced Saturday at Disney’s D23 fan expo with the revelation that this story will dive into the muck and smoke of a ground war.

Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) introduced the full cast via video from the United Kingdom, where principal photography began just over a week ago. He didn’t have much to say (they needed him on set, he joked), but the news came in rapid fire after that. 

“We just shot our first ever scene, and we’re just about to shoot our second scene, so I have to go,” Edwards said. “I look forward to sharing everything with you at the cinema in 2016.”

Felicity Jones, an Oscar nominee for last year’s The Theory of Everything, had previously been the only cast member revealed, although there were plenty of rumors about various actors who may be joining her.

Now we know for sure, even if we have no idea who they’ll be playing: Diego Luna (Milk, Killing Them Softly); Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline); Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler); Mads Mikkelsen (NBC’s Hannibal); Hong Kong action star and martial artist Donnie Yen; Jiang Wen (Let the Bullets Fly); Riz Ahmed (Four Lions, Nightcrawler), and Alan Tudyk (a veteran of another space war in Firefly and its big-screen spin-off Serenity), who will give life to a motion-capture character.

The movie focuses on a story hinted at in the original 1977 Star Wars film — in fact, it’s what launches the entire journey. Someone stole the Empire’s plans for the Death Star, which is why Darth Vader intercepted Princess Leia’s ship on its “diplomatic mission” in the first scene of that movie.

But who stole those schematics? Who is responsible for helping Luke Skywalker and the rest of his X-Wing squadron know where to kick the Death Star right in its exhaust port? And what cost did they pay for that?

The rough-riding characters you see above will answer those questions.

Rogue One takes place before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope and will be a departure from the saga films but have elements that are familiar to the Star Wars universe,” Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said in a statement. “It goes into new territory, exploring the galactic struggle from a ground-war perspective while maintaining that essential Star Wars feel that fans have come to know. Gareth is such an innovative director and I’m so excited to be working with him and the extraordinary ensemble cast he’s selected for Rogue One.”

The idea for Rogue One was proposed by John Knoll, a visual effects supervisor and chief creative officer at Industrial Light & Magic, and multiple Oscar nominee who won for the effects in 2006’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. (Incidentally, he and his brother, Thomas, invested Photoshop.)

Knoll is executive producing the film along with Allison Shearmur (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Cinderella), Simon Emanuel (The Dark Knight Rises, Fast & Furious 6) and Jason McGatlin (Tintin, War of the Worlds).

Tony To, whose credits include the HBO WWII miniseries Band of Brothers and The Pacific, had previously been announced as one of the producers, but his name was missing from Saturday’s announcement.

The look and feel of the movie can be guessed from the crew Edwards has assembled:

  • Cinematographer Greig Fraser, best known for Zero Dark Thirty, Foxcatcher, and Bright Star, is known for capturing the beauty in harrowing circumstances.
  • The special effects supervisor is Neil Corbould, who unleashed hell in Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and Saving Private Ryan.
  • Production designers will be Star Wars and Lucasfilm vet Doug Chiang, who worked on the Star Wars prequels and Forrest Gump, and Neil Lamont, the supervising art director for the Harry Potter films and Edge of Tomorrow.
  • Stunt coordinator Rob Inch (World War Z, Captain America: The First Avenger) will be throwing bodies through the air with crunching, dizzying effect.
  • Assorted creatures will be crafted and tamed by Neal Scanlan (Prometheus) who did the same for The Force Awakens.
  • Rogue One is slated to arrive in theaters on Dec. 16, 2016.

    (Contributing: Jessica Derschowitz.)

    Complete D23 Expo coverage

    ‘Jurassic World’ filmmaker will direct ‘Star Wars: Episode IX’

    ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ panel: Harrison Ford delights crowd

    ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’ cast announced as fight shifts from space to a ground war

    Disney announces ‘Star Wars’ will be part of its theme parks

    ’Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ star Daisy Ridley joins Instagram ahead of D23

    Marvel shows off ‘Captain America: Civil War’

    Disney enchants with live-action movies ‘Beauty and the Beast’ & more

    Ellen DeGeneres makes a splash with long-awaited ‘Finding Dory’

    Disney announces Jack and the Beanstalk animated film ‘Gigantic’

    Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson makes surprise appearance for Disney’s ‘Moana’

    Photos: Proof Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson had a blast during D23

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