Felicity Jones joins ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’ and ‘Episode VIII’ sets 2017 release

One of the reasons fan speculation makes my job difficult is because many people do not understand the difference between fan speculation and news, and in a world where bloggers blur that line all the time, things spread and become fact, whether they are or not.

For the last year or so, it has been “common knowledge” that the first stand-alone “Star Wars” film was going to be about Boba Fett. I've seen that printed hundreds of times now. I've seen people discussing it as if Disney had announced it. And I'm sure for many people, they absolutely believed it as fact.

Truth is, it was only ever a rumor, and for the last year, I've taken a fair amount of heat for saying that I was fairly sure Gareth Edwards was not, in fact, directing a Boba Fett movie. The other rumor that was very popular was that they were doing a heist movie about the spies who stole the Death Star plans before “A New Hope.”

Today, the first official news about the stand-alone film has been announced, and unsurprisingly, all of the rumors were wrong. “Star Wars: Rogue One” will star Felicity Jones, and the official “Star Wars” website describes it this way:

'Rogue One' is the title for the first film in a unique series of big-screen adventures that explores the characters and events beyond the core Star Wars saga. Rogue One will be directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla) and written by Oscar nominee Chris Weitz (Cinderella, About a Boy, Antz). The first actress cast is Felicity Jones, who garnered an Academy Award nomination and critical acclaim for her performance in The Theory of Everything. The idea for the story of Rogue One came from John Knoll, an Academy Award-winning visual effects supervisor and chief creative officer at Industrial Light & Magic. He will executive produce along with Simon Emanuel (The Dark Knight Rises, Fast & Furious 6) and Jason McGatlin (Tintin, War of the Worlds). Kathleen Kennedy and Tony To (Band of Brothers, The Pacific) are on board to produce and John Swartz (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) will co-produce. The film starts shooting this summer in London and is due for release on December 16, 2016.

First thing that jumps out at me is that they've dropped Gary Whitta's name completely, which is a shock. Whitta was back at Lucasfilm as recently as the last few weeks, and everything I'd heard about the process was that Chris Weitz came in to continue the work Whitta had done, not throw it out completely. I wonder if this is an official credit or just reflects the current configuration of things. I also thought it was kind of amazing to read that John Knoll, ILM's big-brained FX master, gets a story credit on the film. Fans will recognize that “Rogue One” is the designation given to the leader to the Rogue Squadron. Luke Skywalker held that title at one point. I'm curious to see who or what it refers to this time.

Rian Johnson is now officially confirmed as being the writer/director of “Episode VIII,” and that's interesting if only because no one aside from George Lucas has ever held both of those jobs on a “Star Wars” film. Johnson's long-time producer Ram Bergman joins Kathy Kennedy as a producer on “Episode VIII,” and I was delighted to see that they've set a May 26, 2017 release date for the film. That will by my 47th birthday, and it's only one day off from being the 40th anniversary of the original “Star Wars.” I think that sounds like a delightful way to spend the day with friends and family, and a fantastic way to celebrate four decades of magic and wonder that this franchise has given to fans.

“Star Wars: Rogue One” will be in theaters December 16, 2016.
“Star Wars: Episode VIII” will be in theaters May 26, 2017.