Everything We Learned From The 'Rogue One' Press Conference

The morning after watching 28 minutes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I joined the rest of the gathered press as we reconvened at Lucasfilm for a full day of interviews (which you can read right over here). But before that, we assembled for the group press conference, moderated by StarWars.com's Andi Gutierrez. In attendance were Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, director Gareth Edwards, visual effects supervisor (and story creator) John Knoll, and actors Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, and Riz Ahmed.

The result was a sprawling morning that covered everything from the genesis of the film's unique look, to George Lucas' reaction to the final cut, to Kathleen Kennedy addressing her previous comments about women directing Star Wars movies...to Alan Tudyk's very, very tight motion capture jumpsuit. Here's everything you need to know.

Rogue One TV Spot

The Cast Literally Just Saw the Movie

Although the gathered press was able to see nearly a half hour of Rogue One prior to the conference, Gareth Edwards revealed that the cast had just seen the finished movie days earlier and that it was frustrating to not share it with everyone else:

Gareth Edwards: It's strange. Obviously, this is a very strange period in making films. For about two and a half years, you're really busy making it and you have your head down and you really can't think about anything else. And now that we've finished the movie but haven't released it, I feel like we're a little bit pregnant, at the due date, and just waiting to give birth and share it with the world.

Alan Tudyk: My water broke! [Awkward pause] Bad timing.

Gareth Edwards: It's kind of frustrating in a weird way to not be able to show you all of the movie now. The cast got to see it for the first time two days ago and it went down very well.

Diego Luna: It's fantastic, yeah?

Star Wars Rogue One - Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, K-2SO

No, There Won't Be a Rogue Two

When asked about Kathleen Kennedy's recent statements about there not being a sequel to Rogue One, the assembled cast all mimed confusion and horror before laughing.

Kathleen Kennedy: [To the actors] I know this is devastating to everybody...

Diego Luna: We don't know that yet! That's a conversation we haven't had!

Kathleen Kennedy: When we came up with the idea to do the standalone movie...what's liberating in many ways is the notion that we can come up with these stories inside the Star Wars universe that really have a beginning, middle and and end. They stand, truly, on their own. This does.

But will any Rogue One characters show up in future movies? Start planning your death pool, because when asked about this directly, Kennedy offered a cryptic answer amidst laughter:

Kathleen Kennedy: Doubtful. Tears. A lot of tears. Diego, are you alright?

Diego Luna: No!

John Knoll: One way to think of the sequel to Rogue One is that it's episode four. We already made it.

Alan Tudyk: And we can't be in that!

John Knoll: Not without some substantial rework.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story - Scarif battle

Visual Inspirations

When asked about how Rogue One is different from the other Star Wars movies, Gareth Edwards explained a simple origin story – real life photography plus Star Wars iconography plus a little bit of Photoshop (the now-common program that was coincidentally designed by Rogue One VFX supervisor and story creator John Knoll):

When we started this whole process, one of the things Kathy would be asking the whole time was "How is this going to be different? We need to differentiate ourselves from the saga." We started playing around and experimenting and one of the things we did was we took real war photography like photographs from Vietnam and World War II and the Gulf and we used [Photoshop] and put Rebel helmets on the soldiers and Rebel guns and some X-wings in the background instead of fighter jets. So we looked at this stuff and it was really engaging. Everyone who came and looked around the building and we showed them things and they'd get to these images and they'd go "Oh my God, wow. I really want to see that film." The studio loved it, everybody loved it, and they'd say just go make that. That's kind of what we went off and did.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story - Wen Jiang as Baze Malbus, Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe

On Cast and Crew Bonding

Even the smallest film productions are stressful affairs, so a project as large as Rogue One really took it out of everyone involved. Gareth Edwards himself compared it to fighting in a war:

Gareth Edwards: It was kind of like being in a war. The film crew became like the characters in a way. It's sort of a cliche that the process of making a film becomes like the story you're telling, but in this case, we were all literally in the trenches together, trying to achieve this impossible task. The characters were trying to steal the Death Star plans, but as a group we're trying to make a great Star Wars movie. You feel like you've been through a battle together. Maybe I'm speaking for myself here, but I feel like there's this connection you have now... [to Diego Luna] No matter what happens, Diego, if I see you in like in twenty years, we're just going to have that. Like we've been through a war together.

Diego Luna: I don't know what you're talking about...I just had to be reminded every day that I was getting paid. [Laughs]

Rogue One A Star Wars Story - X-Wing Starfighter

On Making Rogue One Feel Like Star Wars

When asked about what he borrowed from the original trilogy for Rogue One, Gareth Edwards explained that best way to capture Star Wars is to borrow from a mixture of different influences:

The problem with Star Wars is that questions takes about four hours [to answer]. There's not an individual thing: "As long as you do this, it's Star Wars and you're golden." You've got to do a thousand different things and mix them all together and get the balance just right. It's a really tricky thing to emulate what we love about the original but feel like we're telling a different story and it's fresh. But for me, we could have done a very specific genre film and stuck Star Wars on it and said "That's our movie." But George was always good at mixing the genres together and creating this very emotional, sort of mythological story that just happened to have robots and spaceships in it. [...] There's meaning behind it. There's meat on the bone. It took us a long time to crack that code and find all those different ingredients we felt it needed to have. It's not something you do in a week and you go "Let's just go make this." It's a two-and-a-half-year process.

Edwards later explained that Rogue One is tonally similar to The Empire Strikes Back, but it mostly sets out to be its own beast:

We essentially got a license to be different on this movie and take a risk. The great thing about being a standalone film is that we don't have to exist for other movies to continue. So we could be brave and that's what we did. I feel like, in terms of Star Wars that I love, tonally, I guess the one we were aiming for was Empire Strikes Back. Our movie, even though it's...we take it quite seriously, [but] there's a lot of fun and humor in it and hope is the key thing. It's about trying to achieve something. The story behind the movie is all these different people from different backgrounds that have very little in common, [but] they believe in a good future for the world and they come together and we're all better off when we work together than on our own. We just tried to make the most realistic version of Star Wars that we've seen and it involved a lot of different techniques.

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Rogue One's Opening Scene Directly Inverts A New Hope

While it wasn't entirely intentional, Gareth Edwards noted that the opening sequence of Rogue One acts as a weird mirror of the first scene of the original Star Wars:

We went to Iceland to film the opening scene and it didn't occur to me until later, but when you think about A New Hope, the very first time you see the antagonist come in, Darth Vader, it's black guy in a black cape surrounded by Stormtroopers. And in the opening of [our] film, there's a guy in a white cape surrounded by black stormtroopers. It's all these subconscious things where we're trying to take what's familiar but invert it, twist it.

rogue one: a star wars story international trailer 2 rebel base

Who Is That Cassian Andor Guy?

Diego Luna, who plays Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor in Rogue One, was specifically asked about how he built his character:

It was a mixture of everything. In the beginning, yes, I started just with the script that was already interesting enough for me to dig into myself and try to find this Captain inside me. I guess the most important part was the military training. You have to establish a parallel to this guy in a galaxy far, far away and the world you live in. It was very interesting. I spent two weeks with ex-military in London, just talking about experiences and the last ten, fifteen years of his life. That gave me enough material. I love Star Wars and I love the films. A New Hope is probably the first film I really connected with, so I would go back to that film to find a connection again. It was more about seeing war films, you know? Apocalypse Now, for example. Stuff like that. My character needs that kind of military structure. He's a guy who is willing to risk everything for this cause. He thinks in sort of a hierarchal kind of structure. He has to start there at least, in that film.

Rogue One Extended TV Spot

George Lucas Has Seen Rogue One

We recently learned that George Lucas had visited the set of Rogue One, but Gareth Edwards revealed that the creator the Star Wars universe has now actually seen the complete movie. Spoiler alert – he liked it:

So, two days ago, we got show George the movie. We all had a phone call and I got to speak with him yesterday. I don't want to put words into his mouth, but I can honestly say that I can die happy now. He really liked the movie. It meant a lot. To be honest, and no offense to anyone here, it was the most important review to me, what George thought of it. You guys are important too, but he's kind of...God. [laughter] We're in the middle of doing press and you one interview and another interview and suddenly they said "We need to take a break." And I was like "I'm okay." And it was like "No, we need to take a break." [...] We go into a room and they say "George wants to speak with you." And they made the call and I was like uuuugggghhhh...and I will take that conversation to my grave. It was a real privilege. His opinion means the the world to me.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story - Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso and Diego Luna as Cassian Andor

Kathleen Kennedy Says a Woman Can Direct a Star Wars Movie

In one of the press conference's few tense moments, Kathleen Kennedy was asked about her recent comments where she said, "We want to make sure that when we bring a female director in to do Star Wars, they're set up for success. They're gigantic films, and you can't come into them with essentially no experience." Haven't men without much experience making large films been given a chance to helm large studio movies? Kennedy claims the original quote was taken out of context:

That's not true. This gentleman [motions to Gareth Edwards] did Godzilla before we hired him to direct the movie. That quote was taken out of context and I, as you can imagine, have every intention of giving somebody an opportunity. If somebody actually moves through the process of making movies and wants to make a Star Wars movie and shows that they have actually stepped into the role on that level, of course we're going to consider a woman. That goes without saying.

When asked to name a female director who could be a good fit for Star Wars, Kennedy declined to answer:

I think there's many. And I've talked to most of them. There are many out there.

There are two ways to read her response: either she's deflecting the question or she's deliberately not mentioning any names because she doesn't want to drag any names into the public and potentially derail a future project. I certainly hope it's the latter.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story

On the Importance of Diversity

Since both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One both feature diverse casts, Kennedy fielded a question about the importance of representing men and women of all races in the Star Wars universe:

I think it's incredibly important to Star Wars. I think it's more important to the film industry in general. Having casts that represent and reflect the world today and having characters people can relate to all over the world...this is very much a global industry. Films mean something to people all over the world. It was certainly important to this story. It lent itself very, very well. This is a group of people who come together in ways that are inexplicable, but they share a very common belief and they feel very strong in their desire to do the right thing and they work together incredibly well and having that sense of diversity as people come together was really important to our story. Every movie has reasons for why you cast certain people, but I think what we're doing today is being much more mindful of that and I think it's important.

Later, Kennedy spoke about the importance of creating strong female heroes in these movies, especially since the internet has the wrong idea about what it means to be a strong woman in a story:

I think it is really important. I found it really interesting when I first stepped into this job and I started to look at what does it mean to be a female hero. And when you started to look, certainly online, at imagery, it was pretty shocking what came up. I think the character of Rey, the character of Jyn, these are empowered women that are not necessarily just taking on male characteristics. They're genuinely female heroines. I think that's really important to the way we tell stories.

rogue one clip

On Kicking Stormtrooper Ass

When asked about finding her inner warrior to play Jyn Erso, Felicity Jones said she simply had to tap into the fact that her character despises the Empire with every fiber of her being...and get a little stunt assistance, of course:

In Jyn's head, it's very clear. She hates the Empire. So anytime she sees Stormtroopers, she has this very clear instinct to take them down. So I just tapped into that energy that Jyn has. I had never done that kind of thing before. It was very new, the whole kind of physical preparation, that side of acting. I'm kind of used to lots of talking in corsets, so it was really nice to be running around with a blaster and a baton to bash Stormtroopers with. It was an extraordinary process and you work very closely with the stunt team, who take you through every kind of move and moment and support you throughout the whole thing. I was very lucky to have great support from the stunt team.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story - Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe, Wen Jiang as Baze Malbus, Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso

The Cast Reacts to Their New Action Figures

A touchstone moment for any Star Wars actor involves the moment when they first receive a small plastic version of themselves. Naturally, the assembled cast was asked to talk about what it's like to be immortalized as action figures:

Kathleen Kennedy: I was laughing to myself as these guys were all standing in the hall as we were waiting to come in here because they were all scrutinizing the toys that are lined up [on display] there.

Andi Gutierrez: You guys are Hot Wheels now.

Diego Luna: Yeah, Hot Wheels. That's the weirdest one. You know, I always felt sorry for those musicians or those writers who for Christmas give their own record as a gift. But this Christmas, I think I'm going to be giving a lot of those toys. It's so cool. When I saw my kids playing with them, it was perfect. It just made complete sense. My daughter, I gave her mine and she was like "Nah, do you have Jyn?" She loves Felicity. It's a cool feeling. Probably in twenty, thirty years, it's going to be really cool to open that drawer and find your toy. I like Alan's because it doesn't have his face. And it doesn't do the voice, so he cannot really say it's his toy! [Laughs uproariously in Alan Tudyk's direction]

Alan Tudyk: [To Diego Luna] Mine is a lot bigger than yours, I should say. There's one that's like this tall [uses his hand to measure about a foot off the ground] and I have it sitting on my couch, kind of chilling, chilling at home. K2's just there. It's neat. They don't make just one action figure of you. There's like five. And a car! Although yeah, I don't have a car...yet.

Of course, Donnie Yen has been a superstar in China for years, so the four-inch Chirrut Îmwe is not the first time he's seen a toy version of himself:

Donnie Yen: I have...quite a few. [Enormous laugher from cast] The biggest one I have is like nine feet tall. [To Alan Tudyk] Bigger than you, baby.

Alan Tudyk: Yours could just crush mine with your foot!

Of the cast, Riz Ahmed has the most sentimental and moving reaction to seeing a toy version of himself:

I did get an action figure. I was very pleased because I think he's a lot better looking than I am. I think they accidentally modeled it on Diego or something! It was a kind of surreal, amazing moment to be honest. I remember playing with those toys as a kid so to be a part of that universe, in plastic, is an amazing thing.

rogue one: a star wars story international trailer 2 at-st on jedha

On Michael Giacchino's Score

While composer Michael Giacchino (stepping in for the brilliant John Williams) was not present, Gareth Edwards spoke about his work and implied that he may be the biggest Star Wars fan working on the film:

Michael did an amazing score for us. He's a massive, massive, massive, massive Star Wars fan. I think a lot of us compete for who's the biggest Star Wars fan working on the film and you go around his house and walk in the door and in his main front room is a 13-foot framed poster of A New Hope. So we'd joke "You didn't have to do that for us" and he'd be like "No, this has been up for like thirteen years." He said he listened to the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack to death as a kid and I think the vocabulary of that music is in him. It just poured out. There's particular moments in the film, musically, especially toward the end, that are truly stunning and very emotional. I think he just knocked it out of the park. We're very lucky.

rogue one: a star wars story international trailer 2 galen

Rogue One Is Intended to Be a Completely Standalone Movie

When I watched the extended preview of Rogue One, I wondered if newcomers or casual Star Wars fans would be able to understand and appreciate the film. Kathleen Kennedy claims this is the perfect entry point for the uninitiated:

It's absolutely a standalone. I think the great thing is this could be a real introduction to the whole franchise for many people who haven't necessarily followed it or younger people who don't know that much about Star Wars and other parts of the world that don't know much about Star Wars. It really does stand on its own.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story - K-2SO

Creating K-2SO, the Motion Capture Droid

While the hulking security droid K-2SO was created digitally by ILM, Alan Tudyk was present on set wearing a motion capture suit and standing on stilts for all of his character's scenes. When asked about this particular process, Diego Luna can barely contain his laughter:

Alan Tudyk: Diego is very funny about certain aspects of my costume. I was wearing a full body jumpsuit sort of thing. It's such a new technology, even still. We've been introduced to it in a lot of different ways. Sometimes they'll wear cameras on their heads, sometimes there's dots all over their face, they have balls all over their suit. The way ILM did it, I wore a suit that was very comfortable and didn't have all that restriction on it. It just had interesting designs on it–

[Diego Luna starts giggling]

John Knoll: It was cool looking.

Alan Tudyk: It was very cool looking! It was like a luge costume from the Italian team. It didn't have the colors, but still! And I was on stilts, so I was seven foot one and towered over everyone most of the time. It was great. Even at that height, it colors how you move and helped me get into character. It was fantastic.

Diego Luna: It wasn't!

Alan Tudyk: It was basically just acting, but then the make-up and the costume came later. But because you're on set, you are able to create a character with the other actors. Without that, you can't tell a story with a true character who can react in the moment to some of the stuff Diego is throwing at you. You need to be able to throw it right back!

Rogue One A Star Wars Story - K-2SO

The Importance of Having Alan Tudyk On-Set

Gareth Edwards also emphasized just how important Tudyk's presence on set was to the entire character:

Gareth Edwards: There's a feeling...you can't help it, because it's CGI, there's a feeling on set which is "If we change our minds, if we want to change his performance a little bit, it's the computer and we can worry about that later..."

Alan Tudyk: You kept saying that!

Gareth Edwards: We shot the whole thing as if K2 was...whatever Alan did on set, whatever it was, was exactly what K2 was going to do in the film. No offense, but when Alan would screw up a few times, we'd do multiple takes, even though you'd think "Can't we just animate this stuff?" You can't. What we learned was that on the very few occasions where there were times we wanted to tweak something, we'd go "You know what, just do something a little different to what Alan did" and every single time it didn't work. We had to be true to Alan's performance all the time. Even when we wanted to tweak something, we got Alan back and we re-recorded him on film and copied his performance because he is K2. All of the humor in the film that is really funny is just this guy improvising. He was given freedom to do whatever he wanted and there shots we couldn't use because sometimes I was holding the camera and I'm laughing and the camera is rocking up and down. There's stuff we can't even talk about. It was hilarious.

Rogue One Star Wars k-2so

...and Alan Tudyk's Balls

And then, after everyone had a chance to say nice things, Diego Luna was unleashed:

Diego Luna: I can tell you the truth now! [laughs] When they go "You're going to do a science fiction film and you're going to work with droids," you have the feeling that you're just going to have to imagine everything. Here, we were interacting with an actor and making choices. After the first month...because the first month, we just couldn't look at [Alan] because he did look ridiculous. It was the tightest pajamas ever. Because he had these stilts, you were always the height of his balls. It was quite intimidating! He's really tall, right? When he had to run, there was a version of [K2] that was just a backpack–

Alan Tudyk: The backpack of shame.

Diego Luna: Without the stilts, with the face of K2 on the top [of the backpack]. It just looked so cheesy, like so badly done, like suddenly they went for the Mexican version!

Rogue One Footage Reactions

A Brand New Camera Was Built to Make Rogue One

Although "What kind of camera did you shot on?" has entered the lexicon of bad film Q&A questions, Rogue One is the rare movie to actually have a genuinely fascinating answer to that query. It turns out that two different companies had to team up to blend cutting edge camera tech with old school lens technology to achieve a very specific look. As Gareth Edwards explained:

We had the difficult task...we were kind of making a period piece as well. We're making a film that sort of, we'd say to the crew and the designers, imagine this is set in 1977. Don't do anything we couldn't have done back then in terms of aesthetic. That applied to the camerawork to some extent. Obviously, in today's cinema, we've got this 4K projections and things going on IMAX. This brand new camera had come out, from ARRI, and it was incredible. It was like four times the resolution of normal film cameras. But Greig [Fraser], the [director of photography], was like "This is fantastic, but we also want to go back to the '70s with the analog kind of look of the movie."

So he got this Panavision lens that's 70mm anamorphic. They shot [the original] Ben-Hur with this actual lens. For the first time ever in cinema, ARRI and Panavision, which are two separate companies in the film industry, came together to make one camera for Star Wars. It was incredible. For those who are technically minded, the result is you get this very narrow depth of field so if you're focused on me, the background is quite blurred and the foreground is quite blurred. It was a nightmare for the focus puller. There was this young guy called Jake and he performed a miracle because there were battle scenes and we didn't put marks down and we were just running in there with the camera and he was always getting the focus. We didn't drop any shot out of the movie because it was out of focus. I think a lot of the beauty of the film is down to the cameras that we used. It was like a modern version of the past.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story - Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic header

The Hardest Scene...and Ben Mendelsohn's Singing

Gareth Edwards says that the hardest scene to film was the opening sequence, where they were forced to battle Iceland's natural elements. However, these hardships brought out an amusing anecdote: Ben Mendelsohn sings songs between takes to get himself into character:

Gareth Edwards: Filming that scene, with Ben [Mendelsohn] and Mads [Mikkelsen], it was one of the hardest things we've ever filmed. People say "What the hardest scene you ever did?" I think it was probably that one because we were freezing our tits off out there. The worst thing was fog was coming in, so we'd set up these amazing shots and we'd be really excited and suddenly there'd be a white out and you couldn't see three meters ahead of you. You'd have to wait and suddenly it would clear. And these are two of the most incredible actors in the world and it was just so good to put them up against each other and let it unfold. Ben is so relaxed in front of the camera that he would start messing around. He's very playful. I thought he was reciting Shakespeare or something to get himself into camera. I would listen carefully and realize he was singing "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson! And even Frozen, I think.

Ben Mendelsohn: I did sing a bit of Frozen.

Gareth Edwards: What was it? "We used to be friends" or whatever?

Ben Mendelsohn: That's right! Yeah, yeah, yeah, I did the "we used to be friends" [song]. It's escaping me now. [NOTE: he's thinking of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?"] But yes.

Mads Mikkelsen: [With a perfect deadpan] I remember it vividly.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story - Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera

Will More Television Characters Show Up in Future Movies?

In Rogue One, Forest Whitaker plays Saw Gerrera, a character originally introduced in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars television series. However, Kathleen Kennedy says that there is no master plan for bringing characters from other media into their films:

You know, that isn't really the approach that we have. We don't sit down and start isolating a list of characters and then build stories around those. We are starting with the stories themselves and if some of those stories might come in to what it is we want to do or say, we'll consider it then. That's not part of the strategy.

darth vader rogue one

You Don't Direct Darth Vader

As we've seen from the trailers, Darth Vader plays some kind of role in Rogue One. As you'd imagine, the most famous villain in movie history left quite an impression on the cast and crew:

Ben Mendelsohn: The first thing you have to do is just get over the fact that you're doing a scene with Darth Vader. That takes...that took me a little while. Because I am a first-generation fanboy. It took a little while to feel like I could answer him with some solidity, like we could have a discussion, as it were. That took a little while. Darth, his gestures and his mannerisms are so familiar that finding someone that can execute that in a way that is fluid is its own skill set. That requires a certain amount of thought and consideration when you're doing it.

Gareth Edwards: You all know Ben's work. He's got this ability, if he wants to, to be incredibly intimidating. In the entire process of making the film, he was a kid in a candy store, had an amazing time. I kept thinking "I wonder if there will ever be this moment where I'll ever see some of the characters he's played pop out." We were in the middle of filming a scene with Darth and Ben was like, "Gareth, I need to talk to you." And I was like, "What's the matter?" And he goes "I need to go to the corner and talk to you. We need to have a word." And it was like uh, shit. Here we go. What's the matter? And we go over and I'm like "You alright, Ben?" and he's like "No." And it's like "What's the matter?" And he goes "It's Darth fucking Vader." And I was like "I know!" And we both had this moment where we melted and we could just admit it and we would turn around really professionally like "Okay, we'll try to fix that" and walk back.

Edwards also explained that they had to rehearse the Darth Vader scenes without a costume because you simply do not direct Darth Vader:

Gareth Edwards: You can tell when he's coming on set. We learned that we should do the rehearsals and walk through a scene without the costume because as soon as that helmet goes on, it's too intimidating. You can't direction to Darth Vader. He tells you what he's going to do. Then what happens...film sets are really noisy and suddenly it just starts to get quiet and you're chatting with someone and "Why has it gone so quiet...?" And in comes Darth Vader and the whole crew is just like five-year-olds. It happens to everybody. And then you think, "Oh, shit. I have to go over and speak to him." And you have to snap out of it. It's probably one of the highlights of getting to do this film. You're very aware of it. Everyone there is very aware of it. You become the most popular person in the world the day you're filming those scenes. You look around and –

Ben Mendelsohn: Everyone turns up. Everyone turns up when Darth is there.

***

For additional details, you can read my already published one-on-interviews with Gareth Edwards, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, and Riz Ahmed. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens on December 16, 2016.