We saw part of 'Rogue One': Here's what we learned

Brian Truitt
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Spoilers! Some plot points are discussed, so if you want to go into Rogue One as fresh as possible, read no further.

There’s no signature opening crawl. But from the very start, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story makes a strong statement about embracing its place in the sci-fi universe while also pushing the status quo of the massively popular franchise.

Felicity Jones stars as rebellious new heroine Jyn Erso in 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.'

Journalists got a sneak peek this week at 28 minutes from the first standalone Star Wars movie (in theaters Dec. 16), which introduces the backstory of new heroine Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a key member of the Rebel Alliance group tasked to steal the plans for the Empire’s Death Star (famously blown up in 1977's Star Wars). From the looks of things, the new film is taking audiences to new worlds, putting them in the trenches of war with the good guys and adding some spy-game spin rather than sticking to George Lucas' old formula.

Here's what we know after getting a look at a few scenes and a sizzle reel:

Drama's going down in the galaxy. In director Gareth Edwards' Rogue One — set just before the original movie — the audience meets Jyn as a young child when she's given a necklace with a Kyber crystal (the Force-attuned material used to power a lightsaber) by her mother Lyra (Valene Kane). At the same time, a shuttle carrying Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and his Imperial Death Trooper squad arrives at the Erso homestead to find Jyn's dad, scientist-turned-farmer Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Wanting to keep his family safe, Galen confronts Krennic (who wants Galen's help on the stalled Death Star construction project) and balks when the Imperial officer talks about the superweapon of mass destruction bringing peace to the galaxy.

Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) prepares to tussle with a battalion of Stormtroopers in 'Rogue One.'

Like Rey, Jyn has her life torn apart at a young age. Daisy Ridley's The Force Awakens heroine was left on a desert planet by herself as a child, and Jones' character has a similar life-altering incident: A tragedy occurs in the Krennic situation, Galen is taken and Jyn runs for her life, hiding in a cave and ultimately being found by Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a veteran of the Clone Wars (see: the prequels).

The heroes have squad goals. Years later, Jyn is a prisoner in an Imperial labor camp on Wobani, and Rebels bust her out when cargo pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) tells the good guys that Galen is a major key to the Death Star project. The team starts to take shape: Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is shown as a Rebel secret-agent type who has informants in the underworld, assassin Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) is a trigger-happy sort, and his blind monk buddy, Force-sensitive warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), beats up a battalion of Stormtroopers when the Rebels ambush Imperial forces in Jedha City. (Jyn is also aces at taking out bad guys with a baton or blaster.)

Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droid buddy K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) in 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.'

There's a new droid in town. While little BB-8 stole scenes in Force Awakens, the droid to watch in Rogue One is K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial robot with attitude played via performance capture by Alan Tudyk. In the Jedha attack, he gives Jyn some lip after she shoots a lookalike machine (“Did you know that wasn’t me?”). He also smacks Cassian in the face when they get stopped by Stormtroopers and the human Rebels are posing as the droid’s “prisoners”: “There’s a fresh one if you mouth off again,” he warns Cassian.

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