Side story will debut in Dec. 2016; boasts Godzilla director and award-winning cast

For those of you that missed it, on Saturday the Walt Disney Comp. (DIS) announced that it would be making a spinoff series of films focused on the famous fictional "Rogue Squadron" of the Star Wars Universe.  The Rogue Squadron was introduced in the original Star Wars movie -- Star Wars Ep. IV: A New Hope -- as the X-Wing spacefighter squadron that Luke joins ranks with and which successfully destroys the first Death Star.

The Rogue Squadron movie has been the focus of a number of science fiction books and comics over the years.  Fans of that work shouldn't get too excited -- Disney has already made it clear that it's not necessarily treating the Star Wars "Expanded Universe" as canon, but rather simply as inspiration.  

Nonetheless it's likely that the popularity of the Expanded Universe fiction on the topic played a role in convinced Disney of the commercial potential of a Rogue Squadron side story.

The new movie is titled "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" and will hit theaters on December 16, 2016.  It has already begun principal photography.  The film will focus on the Rebellion's mission to steal the plans for the Death Star, that came just before Star Wars Ep. IV.  Hence this side story will come a good deal before the upcoming sequel trilogy that begins in December 2015 with Star Wars Ep. VII: The Force Awakens.

Star Wars Rogue One

The cast includes:
  • Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)
  • Diego Luna (Milk, Killing Them Softly)
  • Ben Mendelsohn (BloodlinesMississippi Grind)
  • Donnie Yen (Ip Man, Blade II)
  • Jiang Wen (Let the Bullets Fly, Devils on the Doorstep)
  • Forest Whitaker (The Butler, The Last King of Scotland)
  • Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt, Casino Royale)
  • Alan Tudyk (performance-capture character) (Con Man, Trumbo)
  • Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler, Four Lions)
Star Wars Rogue One
Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Felicity Jones, Jiang Wen, and Donnie Yen (left to right) lead the star-studded Rogue One cast.

Directing that Oscar- and Emmy-decorated cast is Gareth Edwards.  Edwards is best known for his solid remake of Godzilla in 2014.  He also the directed last year's indie-sci-fi flick Monsters: Dark Continent.  For those who haven't seen the film, it's surprisingly solid and spins a surprising compelling story of alien invasion-meets-war in the Middle East.  While it flew largely under the radar, Monsters is sort of representative of Edwards' general style.  His strength is gritty, grim sci-fi war pics (side note: he just might be the perfect director for a Starship Troopers remake).

With that in mind expect this Star Wars film to be less light-hearted and more adult-themed/gritty than the mainline series.  That follows in line with the Expanded Universe material on the Rogue Squadron, which can be summarized as "sex, military comraderie, and death".

Disney also announced plans to introduce a number of seasonal and long-term Star Wars themed exhibits at Hollywood Studios in Florida and Disneyland park in California.  While hardcore fans might fantasize about a full blown Star Wars-themed amusement park, Disney is trying to offer the next best thing, integrating Star Wars attractions into its existing sites.

Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain
One of the planned Star Wars-themed attractions will be a rollercoaster.

Some may see this as a shameless cash grab, but hey, no one's forcing you to go.  And at the end of the day these theme parks will help to ensure that new generations stay familiar with the iconic characters and fictional factions of the Star Wars universe for decades to come.

Sources: Star Wars [press release], [press release]

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