Star Wars Celebration Europe is in full swing, and "Star Wars" fans from all over the world are gathered in London, U.K. Attendees are being treated to new information about the upcoming film in the saga, "Rogue One," slated for a Dec. 16, 2016 release. This new standalone movie tells the story of the rebel spies who managed to steal the plans for the first Death Star. Those are the very plans that were delivered to Princess Leia so the events of "Star Wars: A New Hope" could unfold.
At a panel dedicated to the new film, with Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma in "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens), and with the cast and crew in attendance, Lucasfilm offered the world a window into the inner-workings of the film and its story. Here are some of the high points:
1. The planet Scarif is a new location to "Star Wars"; the tropical paradise of the Maldives stood in for its shooting location. The Maldivian Army, glimpsed in the trailer, new poster and publicity shots released through Entertainment Weekly, stood in for the Stormtroopers you see in the photos and video of beach scenes. According to director Gareth Edwards, the Maldivian soldiers had never seen "Star Wars" and weren't terribly impressed with anything that was going on. When asked by the director if they felt stupid in the armor, he reported that they said, "Yes."
2. It was officially announced (after several unofficial leaks and rumors) that Mads Mikkelson of "Hannibal" and "Casino Royale" fame plays a character named Galen Erso. He's the father of Felicity Jones' character, Jyn Erso, and is a scientist. As Mikkelson put it, "At one point he invented something so beautiful and so fantastic, it might change the universe."
3. Edwards confirmed that James Earl Jones will be reprising his role as the voice of Darth Vader in "Rogue One." During the trailer — played exclusively to attendees of Star Wars Celebration while online viewers of the live stream got a replay of the sizzle reel shown earlier in the panel — Vader's trademark breathing was heard, but not his voice. The teaser trailer culminates in one final shot of Darth Vader reflected on the mirrored floor of the Death Star.
4. Some of the action in "Rogue One" takes place on a planet called Jedha, and although the Jedi have been eradicated thanks to the efforts of Emperor Palpatine, many of the galaxy's inhabitants still believe in the Force. According to producer Kathleen Kennedy and director Gareth Edwards, Jedha is a spiritual site that pilgrims still visit to pay their respects. During the events of "Rogue One," it's occupied by the Empire.
5. London's Canary Wharf Underground station served as a shooting location for "Rogue One." According to Edwards, filmmakers had all of four hours to dress the entire set, disguising the fact that it's a bustling transit station, and get their shots. When London travelers arrived the next morning, they had no idea that a chase had been filmed between the Rebels and Imperials there and had wrapped just minutes before the station opened.
6. Forest Whitaker is playing a character named Saw Gerrera who made his debut on the animated show "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." Gerrera was originally conceived by George Lucas for the never-produced live-action "Star Wars" television show and has since been mentioned in the books and other animated shows leading up to his reveal in "Rogue One." Whitaker watched the "Clone Wars" episodes his character was featured in to gain a better understanding of where he came from, including his training by Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano.
7. Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn made a very dramatic entrance to the panel, dressed in full costume for his character Director Orson Krennic, including a seriously envy-inducing cape. Mendelsohn later rejoined the panel in civilian wear, but he couldn't spill much about the baddie he portrays in "Rogue One." Krennic's costume is also on exhibit at the convention, and the gallery card displayed with it gives some hints. It states that the Imperial officer is "obsessed with the completion of the long-delayed Death Star project," and that he's "cruel but brilliant." Sounds like the perfect villain!