By Mary Sollosi
December 09, 2016 at 01:34 PM EST
  • Movie

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… you know what happened. A Skywalker gave new hope to the Rebel cause, the Empire struck back, the Jedi returned, etc. But what about before that? (But not too long before that — after a phantom menace threatened the Galactic Republic, the clones attacked, and the Sith got revenge…)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which partially fills that gap between the prequel and original trilogies in the Star Wars timeline, hits theaters Dec. 16. In the meantime, EW has an early Christmas present for Star Wars fans: Our ultimate guide to the new movie is on newsstands now, providing key context for the new film within the Star Wars universe, inside scoop from the cast, photos from the set, and critical commentary on all things Star Wars from EW writers.

The latest installment in George Lucas’ pop culture colossus, directed by Godzilla helmer Gareth Edwards, takes place just before the events of A New Hope, about two decades after those of Revenge of the Sith. It tells the story of the small band of rebels tasked with the near-impossible mission of stealing the plans to the Death Star. (Later, of course, Princess Leia would hide the stolen plans in R2-D2, who would try to deliver a message to Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine, where Luke Skywalker lived with his aunt and uncle…)

The EW special issue begins with a highly personal foreword by Edwards himself, who remembers watching the original Star Wars on VHS every day as a child. The director’s youthful obsession with the film (and wish to become Luke Skywalker) made him want to become a filmmaker in the first place, and has continued to inspire him throughout his career. “To be offered what’s essentially the prologue to A New Hope,” he writes, “it felt like destiny in a way.”

To help Rogue One viewers orient themselves both geographically and chronologically, the special issue includes a detailed timeline — chronicling the saga’s history from the Blockade of Naboo all the way to the events of The Force Awakens — and a map of the galaxy, along with a breakdown of the four major regions within it. There’s also a character guide introducing fans to the rebels at the heart of Rogue One, with exclusive interviews with actors Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso), Diego Luna (Cassian Andor), Forest Whitaker (Saw Gerrera), Donnie Yen (Chirrut Imwe), Jiang Wen (Baze Malbus), Riz Ahmed (Bodhi Rook), Alan Tudyk (K-2S0), Mads Mikkelsen (Galen Erso), and Ben Mendelsohn (Director Orson Krennik).

In addition to the new faces, the latest Star Wars installment is bringing back some familiar characters too, and Jimmy Smits and Genevieve O’Reilly — playing, respectively, Senator Bail Organa (after his prequel appearance) and Mon Mothma (before her Return of the Jedi appearance, in which she was played by Caroline Blakiston) — both spoke to EW for the special issue about their characters’ return to the big screen.

Finally, EW’s army of Star Wars-obsessed writers offer their thoughts on the Star Wars saga and the significance of this expansion in the collector’s issue; among other essays, critic Chris Nashawaty makes the argument that Darth Vader is truly, definitively, the greatest movie villain of all time, while Darren Franich tackles the thorny question: Will Rogue One inspire fans to reconsider the much-maligned prequels?

“When I was young, I always thought my hero was Luke Skywalker. But as I got older I began to realize it was actually George Lucas,” Edwards writes in the foreword. It’s been almost 40 years since A New Hope hit theaters, but in all that time, Lucas’ creation has never failed to thrill fans both old and new — nor has it ceased to evolve. Only one week left until the newest chapter.

You can buy the Rogue One special collector’s issue of Entertainment Weekly on newsstands now, and keep checking for more exclusive coverage of the movie every day leading up to its release. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters Dec. 16.

  • Movie
release date
  • 03/31/15
Complete Coverage