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, or click here to order now! 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.
The new special issue Star Wars: The Secrets of Rogue One is on newsstands today with everything you need to know about the first-ever standalone Star Wars movie, including exclusive photos, interviews with the stars, behind-the-scenes details and a virtual-reality bonus with included goggles.
In Rogue One, a band of rebel fighters embarks on a desperate mission to steal the plans to the Death Star before the Emperor can crush the rebellion — the plans Princess Leia would end up hiding in R2-D2 at the beginning of 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope.
“The opening crawl in A New Hope, about rebel spies managing to steal plans to the ultimate battle station — I just kept thinking, ‘That’d be a really good movie by itself,’ ” says John Knoll, the chief creative officer at Industrial Light and Magic (the visual effects arm of Lucasfilm), who came up with the idea for the film.
After Knoll pitched the idea to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, she decided to swap it with Han Solo to be the first standalone Star Wars story to hit the big screen.
“Most films start with an idea, and then you have a million options of where to go,” director Gareth Edwards tells PEOPLE in the special issue. “We knew how we had to end, and had a million options how to begin.”
At the front of the battle line is Jyn Erso, the film’s fierce heroine, played by Felicity Jones.
“She is incredibly resourceful, a determined streetwise young woman,” Jones tells PEOPLE. “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. We see her being rather capable in difficult situations where she needs to fight.“
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But she’s not a traditional hero. Notes Edwards: “Jyn is not perfect to be the savior of the galaxy.”
The special issue features exclusive interviews with the cast, including Capt. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk).
The creators of the new Star Wars movie are also giving PEOPLE readers the opportunity to dive into the beloved galaxy with fully immersive virtual-reality experiences using VR goggles. Download the LIFE VR app for iOS and Android or visit time.com/lifevr to try it out. (Don’t have goggles? They’re included in the issue! Click here for an easy guide on how to assemble them). If you don’t have goggles yet, check out 360° video versions of the experiences on PEOPLE.com — below, an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Rogue One set during a battle scene.
And from the costumes and set design to the new creatures and special effects, the movie’s creative secrets are also detailed in the special issue, with exclusive interviews with the masterminds behind the creation of the Rogue One universe, behind-the-scenes photos and never- before-seen stills from the film.
“We approached it as if these were set designs that George [Lucas] had built for Episode IV but he never shot on,” says concept artist Doug Chiang of creating a set that not only paid homage to A New Hope but allowed the stories to connect on a visual level.
Then there’s the return of Darth Vader.
“You’re not Darth Vader unless you have James Earl Jones’ voice,” says Edwards. “That recording session was definitely a fanboy moment.”
With less than three weeks until the highly anticipated release, Mendelsohn, who’s loved Star Wars since his childhood, promises that fans won’t be disappointed.
“You’re going to be shocked and awed by what comes,” he says. “This story will not be forgotten.”
Come back to People.com every day until Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters Dec. 16 for more exclusive videos, photos and secrets from the year’s most anticipated movie. Check out all our coverage at PEOPLE.com/starwars.