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Felicity Jones Reveals How She Landed the Year's Biggest Role in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Pick up PEOPLE’s special issue, Star Wars: The Secrets of Rogue One, on newsstands now — including a special Star Wars virtual-reality bonus with goggles included! And watch People Special: Star Wars Rogue One on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the PEN app on Apple TV, Roku Players, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, iOS and Android devices.

Felicity Jones has already earned an Oscar nomination for her breakout role in 2014’s The Theory of Everything—and starred with Tom Hanks (Inferno) and Spider-Man (The Amazing Spider-Man 2). But now, her career is really about to skyrocket — straight into outer space.

Jones, 33, joins the Star Wars universe as the franchise’s newest lead in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first-ever standalone movie set in that galaxy far, far away. She says the decision to join the beloved franchise was a no-brainer.

“It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences when you read a role like that,” Jones says in the exclusive video above as PEOPLE counts down to Rogue One, which arrives in theaters Dec. 16. “I just was like, ‘I have to do this.’ ”

 

Jones plays Jyn Erso, the film’s tough heroine, who leads a band of rebels in a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star.

“My agent said there’s a fantastic leading female role in the upcoming Star Wars that I think you’re really going to love,” she says in PEOPLE’s Stars Wars: The Secrets of Rogue One special issue. “That was my first encounter with Jyn, and I went from there.”

After meeting with director Gareth Edwards at 5:30 in the morning to have a “hushed” conversation about the film and learn more about her character’s story, the actress says she was immediately drawn to Jyn’s strength as a woman — and as a fighter.

Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm

 

“Jyn is a fantastic character to play,” she says in the issue. “She is incredibly resourceful, a determined streetwise young woman. She has a real independent spirit. She’s a good leader because she has great empathy for people around her. And she’s not afraid to say when she needs help.”

Check out PEOPLE’s Stars Wars: The Secrets of Rogue One, on newsstands now and featuring a virtual-reality bonus including goggles (here’s how to assemble them!). To watch the full experience and explore more exclusive virtual reality content, download the LIFE VR app for iOS and Android or visit time.com/lifevr.

If you don’t have goggles, check out the 360° video above, explorable by clicking and dragging your mouse across the screen. You’ll visit the Rogue One set and go behind the scenes of a battle between rebels and stormtroopers—a stunning interactive experience available exclusively from PEOPLE. Then get goggles and experience it in virtual reality!