It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Those were the first words to ever appear in a Star Wars movie, in the opening crawl of 1977’s A New Hope. Now, almost 40 years later, we are going to see those words finally come to life with the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which will tell that story when it debuts on Dec. 16.

But while Rogue One directly leads right up to the events of Episode IV: A New Hope, it may feel closer in tone to a different Star Wars film. We found this out when we sat down with stars Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso) and Diego Luno (Captain Cassian Andor) for a SiriusXM Town Hall that will air on Entertainment Weekly Radio (Channel 105) later this month.

“The one that we always would come back to would be The Empire Strikes Back,” Jones says. “And I remember with [director Gareth Edwards], we’d keep coming back to it as kind of an inspiration and a reference point. I feel like Mark Hamill’s performance in that really captures absolute authenticity, and so that was really our kind of benchmark for Rogue One.”

Jones adds that there’s a grittiness in Empire that fans will also see in Rogue One, a grittiness the actors often had thrown right in their face — literally. “Constantly all the way through, nothing was fake,” she says. “ It was never too much makeup. We were always having mud thrown at us throughout the whole shoot. And sand. And then Gareth would be like ‘No, their hair’s too neat! The hair’s too neat!’ and be spraying sweat and everything. It was just to get this immersive feel so that when you’re watching the film, we want everyone to feel like they’re actually there and going through the experience with these rebels.”

Costar Diego Luna points out that even in a grand story like this, the emphasis is squarely on what is happening with the characters at the center of it. “The tone is very intimate,” he says. “And you wouldn’t expect that when you’re in a Star Wars film, and when there are ships and creatures and droids. I remember moments when Gareth was like — and I was witnessing — with the camera this close to Felicity, and behind there are explosions and guys running, and he was interested in just the reaction, while all of that is actually happening. From an outsider perspective, that can look very irresponsible — like, what are you guys doing? — but he was there capturing that reaction that is unique and that can just happen if you are there in the middle of a battle.”

To see Jones and Luna discuss the film and its connection to The Empire Strikes Back, watch the video above. And make sure to tune in for the full SiriusXM Rogue One Town Hall on Entertainment Weekly Radio (Channel 105) Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. ET.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Movie